Past not on minds of Rangers, Devils

The past is the past is the past.

That was the message authored by the oddest of bedfellows, the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, when questions linking the franchises’ 1994 Eastern Conference Final to the current series were asked Thursday.

“Not for a second,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella when he was asked about parallels between the two series during his press conference at Madison Square Garden Thursday afternoon. “Not to disrespect what happened but that has nothing to do with how we’re preparing, I guess, is the best way to put it.”

The Devils lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 with Game 6 at the Prudential Center in Newark N.J., Friday night. The Devils led the best-of-7 series 3-2 heading into Game 6 in 1994. On that night, Mark Messier became an all-time New York City icon as he authored one of the legendary performances in the city’s rich sports history with a natural hat trick and an assist in the Rangers’ 4-2 in Game 6 of that series at the Meadowlands.

The Rangers won Game 7 of that series 2-1 in double overtime, and would go on to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship since 1940.

To add to Messier’s unforgettable performance was the fact that the-then Rangers captain had brazenly guaranteed the Rangers would win when he talked with reporters the day before the game.

“We didn’t even know before the game ended that he made a guarantee. I don’t know when he did it. I think it was in the morning skate or something. It could have been the night before,” evoked Martin Brodeur during the Devils’ press availability at the Prudential Center. “I don’t recall it having an effect on us at all. I think at the end of the game everybody made a big deal out of that. If he really said it, it’s a pretty gutsy thing to do.”

Neither the Devils nor the Rangers offered any bold proclamations — the closest either side got was Tortorella and his Devils counterpart, Peter DeBoer, expressing confidence that their teams would play their best hockey of the season Friday night.

Game 6 figured to be a compelling game with the win-or-go-home-for-the-summer stakes. If Tortorella and DeBoer are correct with their assessments then the possibility exists that the two teams could author their own bit of New York City hockey history.

The Rangers, to quote Tortorella, “were us [Wednesday] night,” for the first time in the series. New York was the aggressors for most of the 5-3 loss to the Devils, as they controlled the puck in the offensive zone for much of the match.

The Rangers outshot New Jersey, firing 58 shots toward the Devils net to New Jersey’s 47 and held a 28-17 edge in shots on goal. New York out-hit the Devils 40-26. Ryan Callahan was unrelenting throughout, finishing with six hits, three shots and a goal in 20:01 spanning 26 shifts.

“He’s gotten better as the series has gone on, so hopefully he’ll play his best tomorrow night,” Tortorella said of Callahan.

The coach’s belief in his captain is equaled by his faith in his goaltender and $60 million center, despite their struggles in Game 5. Netminder Henrik Lundqvist was ordinary for the first time in the series Wednesday night as he yielded four goals on 16 shots, including three in the first 9:49 that put his team in a 3-0 hole. Center Brad Richards was minus-two in 16:11, which included a turnover.

“I just know Hank will play his best game tomorrow night,” Tortorella said before being asked about Richards, whom he coached to a Stanley Cup championship and a Conn Smythe Award as playoff MVP in Tampa Bay. “I expect him to play his best game, too. I do. I understand his makeup and I think he’ll find a way. I think Ryan Callahan helped us tremendously last night along with a few other guys. I think Brad Richards will find his way tomorrow as far as winning the game.”

You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman