October 5th, 1993 – There was tremendous excitement entering the 1993-94 hockey campaign for the New York Rangers. The team had a nice mix of veteran leadership and promising young talent ready to prove the previous season was an aberration and looking to take the next step that they were unable to do two years earlier after acquiring the East’s number one seed. New coach Mike Keenan gave the Ranger faithful reason for optimism with his no-nonsense hard nose coaching style, excepting nothing less than every player’s best efforts. Now in his fifth season, goaltender Mike Richter was given the starting job after the off-season trade of John Vanbiesbrouck, but had a lot to prove. Veteran goalie Glenn Healy was brought in as Richter’s backup, and Richter clearly new this was his moment to prove his worth.
The season got under on Tuesday night, October 5th, 1993 with the Rangers playing host to another Original Six franchise, the Boston Bruins. All-Star defenseman Ray Bourque was in a minor contract squabble with management, but not enough to keep him out of the lineup. As I waited for the Long Island Railroad on my way to the game, I struck up a conversation with a man who told me Bourque might sit it out. I always enjoy watching great talent, but that got me excited, it would’ve made the Rangers chances for victory slightly easier. Nevertheless he was playing and he contributed as well.
The energy at Madison Square Garden was at an incredibly high level as the lights went out and the players and coaching staff were introduced. The Rangers built the already fired up Garden crowd by notching the first goal, as future Hall of Famer Mike Gartner got things going in the first period. After the Bruins tied in the second, the Rangers caught a break when the puck was covered in the crease by a Bruins defenseman awarding the Rangers a penalty shot. Keenan tabbed Alexei Kovalev but the second year winger shot the puck wide keeping the game tied, and that was a moment to remember, as far as this game went.
A three goal third period by the Bruins was too much to overcome for the Rangers as they dropped the opener despite final period goals by Kovalev and Esa Tikkanen. The patchwork Rangers defense had a combined plus/minus rating of -3, allowing 31 shots on goal in a 4-3 loss. That’s where that failed penalty shot resurfaces. Veteran defenseman Ray Bourque, in his 15thseason contributed with an assist and a +2 plus/minus rating. Mike Richter allowed all 4 goals and took the loss.
Leaving the Garden it was a somber mood, and most people on the train and around the building had looks on their faces similar to those after a playoff ouster. However, this was the first of a long 84 game schedule and this group of players knew, no matter how much you struggle, or how good you are, there is always room for improvement.
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