It is the legendary move of iconic leaders in New York history.
Joe Namath came first, leading the Jets to a Super Bowl III victory. Then came the Messiah.
On May 25, 2014, The Captain, Mark Messier fulfilled his words he had spoken to the media a day before.
“WE’LL WIN TONIGHT” was the headline, and that was what the Rangers did.
Mark Messier went out and scored a hat trick, defeating the rival New Jersey Devils in Game 6, sending the series back to MSG for a deciding Game 7.
The rest, as they say, is history.
[MATTEAU! MATTEAU! MATTEAU!…and that other thing that will last a lifetime.]
The captain did what the captain should do that day. He led in voice, and he led on the ice. Coming off a loss that put the Rangers on the edge of defeat, Messier delivered.
“I think I was so focusing in on trying to direct my attention to the team, and by doing so I forgot, or I miscalculated, that other people might be looking at the guarantee — or not so much the guarantee, but would be reading the same article that I intended for the players to read,” Messier said. “And so, at that point, I didn’t really care because my intention was directed at the players.
It was what he was brought in to do: Be the man and slam the door on decades of futility. On the night the Rangers needed him the most, they knew who to look to.
It ended with a beaming smile, a cup raised over their heads, and a parade down the Canyon of Heroes.
20 years later, a new group of Rangers and sitting in a similar position.
Coming off a major loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3, where the group from North of the Border finally drew series blood (both figuratively and literally), the need to regroup and find a way to not fall down a hole of revenge is pertinent.
But this Rangers team could not be more different than the one who had Mark Messier’s back-page bluster and resolved.
No, this Rangers team instead sent away their captain, Ryan Callahan, in a near-deadline trade for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s longtime ‘C’, Martin St. Louis. And while MSL had the pedigree to lead, and the Rangers had several alternates to look at, the team chose to leave itself captain-less for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.
In a moment of crisis, perhaps having a labeled leader is important, but it is hard to look at the Rangers and not find candidates to step up.
There is the aforementioned Marty St. Louis, who slumped to start his term with the Blueshirts and suffered through the tragic loss of his Mother during the Penguins series, and still has come out to be the Rangers best offensive option this postseason.
There is Ryan McDonagh, the defensemen who has seemingly stepped right into Cally’s vacated skates, scoring big goals and leading on the blue line.
There is the upstart prodigy, Chris Kreider, who in between setting off the whining coming out of Montreal, has been an unstoppable force on the both sides of the ice, setting the tempo for the Rangers in every game since his return from injury (5-2 record).
And of course, there is the King, Henrik Lundqvist, who has been almost perfect since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. While in many ways the suit-wearing, beautiful head-of-hair having, wall of a goalie shares few of the same personality traits The Captain, few since Messier have ever been as clutch in a Rangers uniform.
They will need their leaders be there tonight and galvanize this team. Two questionable issues with referees have left the Blueshirts without the services of center, Derek Stepan, and enforcer, Daniel Carcillo, and while they still remain with a 2-1 lead in the series at home, a loss tonight would turn the tide and lose their home advantage.
Instead of just someone, the Rangers as a whole will need to set the focus.
If they can, they will be one step closer to the place in history Mark Messier and his teammates stand forever in New York history.