Mark Messier delivers new Rangers message ahead of Game 6

Mark Messier delivers new Rangers message ahead of Game 6

TAMPA, Fla. — Twenty-eight years ago, the Rangers sat in the same kind of place they sit in right now.

Down three games to two in the NHL’s final four, facing elimination, two wins short of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, playing Game 6 in the other team’s building.

Twenty-eight years ago — May 25, 1994 — the team leader made a statement. It came by way of the confident and calming voice of the Captain, Mark Messier, guaranteeing that the Rangers would be going back home to Madison Square Garden to play a Game 7 against the Devils.

“We know we are going to go in there and win Game 6 and bring it back to the Garden,” Messier told reporters in a marvelously calculated, yet matter-of-fact fashion.

The back page of The Post the next day famously blared: “WE’LL WIN TONIGHT,” with a subhead of: “Captain Courageous’ bold prediction.”

Messier was on the phone with The Post on Friday night in advance of the Rangers’ win-or-begin-vacation Game 6 against the Lightning on Saturday night at Amalie Arena — but this time, he made no predictions.

He was, however, delivering some parallels and some hope for the team for which he still bleeds blue.

“We found ourselves on the wrong side of the momentum in that series,” Messier recalled of trailing the Devils 3-2 with Game 6 in New Jersey. “The Devils had wrested momentum from us and we had to figure out a way to get it back.”

Mark Messier
Mark Messier
Getty Images

Does that sound familiar? (The Rangers took a 2-0 series lead to Tampa last week and have lost the three games since.)

The place where there is no parallel is inside the current Rangers’ dressing room. Their roster is so young (average age 26.7 years old) that they’re trying to become the youngest team to hoist the Stanley Cup since the 1993 Canadiens.

Though there appears to be strong collective leadership and energy on this Rangers team, there isn’t a player as established and with the kind of cachet Messier carried.

Messier’s 1994 message for his team is no different than it is today for the team that will be desperately trying to avoid elimination.

“The most important thing is that the team believes that it could go in there and win Game 6,” Messier said. “You can’t win without the belief. I knew we were good enough. I knew we had enough veterans that could execute under pressure.

“I was so focused on trying to figure out the psyche and the mentality and the emotional state of our team, making sure everybody really believed we could win. That was the message. I wanted my players to believe they could do it.

Mark Messier scores past Martin Brodeur during the 1994 Eastern Conference finals.
Mark Messier scores past Martin Brodeur during the 1994 Eastern Conference finals.
PA

“I told them the same thing in the dressing room, but I wanted to reconfirm it. When we woke up the next morning and saw the papers, it was like subliminal messaging: We’re good enough. We can do it. We’ve done it before. We’ve proven it before.

“You just start pounding those positive affirmations, because if you don’t believe you can win, you’re not going to win. You have to have the confidence that you can go out there and play well in big moments.”

The Rangers’ biggest moment of this season is the one right in front of them.

Is there a player in this Rangers dressing room to deliver a Messier-like message?

“I don’t know any of the players because I’m not around the room, so for me to speak to that would be unfair,” Messier said. “But leadership has not been a problem. It seems to have been good all year. They’ve passed every acid test they faced during the regular season and during these playoffs.”

When I asked Messier if it’s possible the Rangers, despite their youth, have hit a wall, if they’re simply gassed right now, having played 19 playoff games in 38 days, he stopped me in mid-sentence.

“No,” he said. “No, no, no. Look, everybody at this time of year is completely tired. The stress factor is at an all-time high. But if you let that narrative creep into the dressing room, you’re finished. The minute you start thinking about 19 and 38 and all the travel, it’s over.

“You cannot let that permeate into the room. That comes to leadership. What you do is you open the door to the dressing room and you let the sunlight in, you let the fresh air in, and you only talk about how great you feel. This team is young, they’re healthy, they’re in great shape.”

rangers
The Rangers find themselves in a similar situation as they did before Mark Messier’s famous guarantee.
PA

Messier’s prediction for Saturday night?

“I picked the Rangers to win in seven, because I fully expected them to give Tampa all it could handle,” he said. “I fully expect them to play well [Saturday] night and hopefully get back to the Garden for Game 7.”

It wasn’t a guarantee, and those words won’t grace the back page of The Post in Saturday editions.

Messier used the word “hopefully,” which means he was hedging his bet. But he does like what he sees in this young team that has a bright future, a future that begins with the experience Saturday night, which will further grow this group, win or lose.

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