On April 18 in NYR history: Wayne Gretzky’s final game

Wayne Gretzky of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Wayne Gretzky of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

What happened on April 18 in the history of the New York Rangers

On this date in 1999, the greatest to ever play the sport of ice hockey skated in his last game and he did it as a New York Ranger.  It was Wayne Gretzky‘s final game, a 2-1 overtime loss to Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden.  He didn’t score a goal, but he did earn as assist, the 2,857th point of his glorious career.

Gretzky, 38, had not made it official until two days earlier, not wanting to have a farewell tour across the NHL.  The afternoon game was in front of a packed house at the Garden with some of the greatest players in NHL history in attendance, including Phil Esposito, Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux and Glen Sather. There was a taped message from Gordie Howe and the boos for Commissioner Gary Bettman changed to cheers when he announced that number 99 would be retired across the NHL.  The Rangers wore their blue uniforms instead of their usual home white jerseys

The assist was on a power play goal in the second period, as Gretzky passed to Mathieu Schneider who fed Brian Leetch for an easy redirect goal.  The crowd went wild when Gretzy got the point, but was disappointed when he didn’t score.  He did have two shots on goal.

One comical aspect was that Gretzky used a different stick for each of his 22 shifts meaning that there would be 22 sticks available for collectors for a hefty price.  Gretzky led all forwards with 22:30 minutes of ice time.

Gretzky kept his Rangers jersey on for at least an hour after the end of the game, taking post game questions from the press still in uniform.  It was one of the most memorable days in Madison Square Garden and Rangers history.

Leetch’s big night

On this date in 1995, Brian Leetch notched five assists in one game in a 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. He was the only defenseman in franchise history to total five assists in a game until it was equaled last season by Adam Fox. Ranger players with five assists in one game have been Leetch, Walt Tkaczuk, Don Maloney, Way Gretzky, Rod Gilbert (twice) and this season, Adam Fox.

The five points in one game was also a club record for a defenseman, matched in January 2020 by Tony DeAngelo and last season by Fox.

Keenan hired

On this date in 1993, Mike Keenan was hired as head coach of the Rangers, replacing interim coach Ron Smith who had replaced Roger Neilson, fired earlier in the season.  Keenan had resigned his job as coach of the Chicago Blackhawks after a power struggle with Chicago owner Bill Wirtz.

Keenan had taken the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals twice and the Blackhawks once, losing each time.  Rangers captain Mark Messier had lobbied for Keenan to be hired after the Rangers missed the playoffs in 1993, one year after winning the Presidents’ Trophy.  We all know what Keenan did in 1994, coaching the team to the Stanley Cup before quitting the team, claiming a contract violation.

Dethroning a champion

On this date in 1974, the Rangers eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens from the playoffs, beating them in six games in the Quarter-FInals.  What made this unusual was that it was the third straight season that the Rangers had beaten the defending champions.

In 1973 they beat the Boston Bruins in the Quarter-Finals in five games, ending their reign as champions.

In 1972, they dethroned the Canadiens who had won the Cup in 1971.

The Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings are the only teams to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions in three straight seasons.  Detroit did it in 1940-42 when there were only six teams in the NHL.

Today’s birthdays

17 NHL players have been born on April 18 including one current Ranger star.

Mika Zibanejad was born on this date in 1993 in Huddinge, Sweden.  Drafted by the Ottawa Senators sixth overall in 2011 and traded to the Rangers in 2016, he has provided the Blueshirts faithful with some of the biggest thrills over the last three  seasons.

Valeri Kamensky was born on this date in 1966 in Voskresensk, USSR.  He was a star in Russia, playing for CSKA before coming to North America and having some big scoring years with Quebec/Colorado.  The left winger signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 1999 and played two seasons in New York, not reaching the offensive levels he had earlier.  He finished his career with Dallas and New Jersey.

Dan LaCouture was born on this date in 1977 in Hyannis, Massachusetts.  He was a left winger who played nine years in the NHL, including two with the Rangers.  From 2002 to 2004 he played 83 games for the Rangers, scoring six goals and  12 points.

The numbers

The Rangers have played only six games in the regular season on April 18 and the win over the Devils took the team to .500.   They have done very well in the playoffs, winning 60% of their games.

Playoffs games: 15
Wins: 9
Losses: 2
Overtime wins: 2
Overtime losses: 2
Winning percentage: 60%

Regular season games: 6
Regulation wins: 3
Regulation losses: 3
Points percentage: .500

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