The situations are carbon copies: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final series between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils in 1994 and Game 6 between the same teams in the East final in 2012.
Down 3-2 in the series, it was 18 years ago today that the Rangers upended the Devils in Game 6 of that series to stay alive for the ultimate Game 7 Stephane Matteau double-overtime winner at Madison Square and eventual Stanley Cup championship.
While these Rangers won't offer the same guarantee then-captain Mark Messier had the day before Game 6, New York needs the same result and the same kind of magic or be heading home for the offseason. On the other hand, the Devils hope to be advancing to their first Stanley Cup since 2003, when they won it.
Friday will tell the truth, as New Jersey hosts New York at the Prudential Center at 8:00 p.m. EST (NBCSN). The Blueshirts will leave it all on the line in a do-or-die tilt. The Devils don't want to go back to MSG for a Game 7, where the Rangers could've grabbed the momentum, meaning this could wind up being the fiercest game of the series yet.
The Devils, unlike the previous four games in the series, are coming off a game they feel like they stole. A 3-0 lead wilted, before late third-period heroics put them ahead in the series. In a similar vein, the Rangers, like every game in the series, had no jump at the start of the game. Yet after the first five minutes, they played their best game in quite some team, dominating the Devils, but ultimately coming up short where it counts, the scoreboard
New York lost three games in a row twice all season. Henrik Lundqvist has also had two back-to-back poor efforts, the latest in which he gave up four goals on 16 shots in the 5-3 loss. New Jersey's lineup balance has given the Rangers problems, especially the fourth line which accounted for four points (two goals) Wednesday. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk tasting a series victory also doesn't bode well for New York, which can't line-match its top defensive pairing (Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi) nearly as much away from home ice.
In the end, just like the entire series, the game will be determined by the men between the pipes. The Blueshirts' motor has been Lundqvist. They go as he goes. Martin Brodeur may have cracked in Game 5, but he's given up two goals or fewer in every game but that one.