Rangers Kill Off 2d Giant Beat Capitals, 2-1, To Gain Cup Semis

Posted: April 28, 1986

NEW YORK — They call it the Big Apple, and after listening to the thunderous ovation awarded the New York Rangers last night at Madison Square Garden, you realize why every other city in North America is small potatoes.

No, the Rangers didn't finally win another Stanley Cup - not yet, anyway. But it sure sounded like it.

And the way the crowd roared after the Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals, 2-1, to capture the Patrick Division championship, four games to two, it makes you shudder to think what would happen if the Rangers actually do go all the way.

There is talk of wrecking the Garden and building another nearby. Well, if the Rangers do manage to win eight more games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they might not need a ball and chain to bring this one down. The fans might do it for them.

The way the Rangers played last night - especially goalie John Vanbiesbrouck (27 saves) and forward Pierre Larouche, who scored both goals - makes talk of the team's first Cup since 1940 seem more than idle.

Since finishing the regular season in fourth place, below .500, with only 78 points, the Rangers have trashed the division champion Flyers (110 points) and continued their playoff joy ride with their knockout of the Caps (107 points).

"When we beat Philly, we felt fortunate," Larouche said. "Now we believe in ourselves."

The Rangers have three days off before opening the Wales Conference finals in either Hartford or Montreal against the winners of the Adams Division finals. The Adams title will be decided tomorrow night in Montreal, where the Canadiens will play host to the Whalers in the seventh and deciding game of their series.

It was only fitting that Larouche played a major role last night. More than any other player, he symbolizes the turbulence the club has faced this season.

Although one of the Rangers' most popular and productive players, he was banished to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League by first-year coach Ted Sator, a former Flyers assistant. In addition, another star forward, Mark Pavelich, quit the Rangers after disputes with Sator.

Presumably, Pavelich has found a nice fishing hole back in Minnesota. As for Larouche, who was called back up in late January, he and his mates have bigger fish to fry.

"Two months ago, I never thought I'd play another game for the Rangers," Larouche said. "But I love New York, the fans, and I love this game. If I didn't, I would have retired when I got sent down."

Instead, he and Vanbiesbrouck helped retire the Caps. While Larouche provided the offense with two nifty close-range goals, Vanbiesbrouck had another spectacular game.

"We wouldn't be anywhere without him," said Don Maloney, the Rangers' acting captain. "And we could tell early he was going to have one of those nights.

"It's like he just said, 'Forget it, fellas, you're not going to put the puck past me. Not tonight.' And we picked up on that confidence.

"Hey, we've got a ways to go, but this is a lot better than what we were thinking about three weeks ago. Who would have thought we'd beat the Flyers? And now this."

The Rangers got the crucial first goal with 7 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the first period.

Rookie forward Mike Ridley embarrassed Washington defenseman Greg Smith at the blue line and created a two-on-the-goalie break with Larouche. Ridley carried the puck in on the right side, and Larouche came barreling in from the left.

Ridley waited until the final instant to dish off a pass that reached Larouche about two feet in front of goalie Pete Peeters. A less skilled player would have had trouble just handling the pass, never mind getting off a shot. But Larouche made a masterful play, taking the pass on his forehand and quickly moving the puck to his backhand before sticking a shot past Peeters.

The goal was Larouche's seventh of the playoffs, and none had been as pretty.

The teams played through a scoreless second period before Larouche scored another goal - this one on a power play only 34 seconds into the last period. Again, Ridley set up the goal with a pass across the slot. Larouche knocked the puck down with his glove and then stashed a shot between Peeters' pads for a 2-0 lead.

The Caps cut the margin to 2-1 when Bobby Carpenter scored on a power play at 5:38, but Vanbiesbrouck was perfect after that.

And all that was left was the roar.

"When you get tired," Larouche said, "that crowd makes you forget you're tired. They make you feel like a million dollars.

"You could feel from the stands that we were not going to be denied this time. There have been too many heartbreaks in the past. Not this time."

Not yet, anyway.

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