(Photo: Mike Gartner as found on Newspapers.com)
Usually when a team finds themselves on the road and losing 6-1 late in the first period, they just want to get through the game and move one. On December 26, 1991, the New York Rangers found themselves in just that place, while playing at Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, against the Washington Capitals. To say the home crowd was thrilled with its Capitals and already smelling a victory, would be an understatement after the Capitals had score five unanswered goals during the opening period. The Rangers “hadn’t given up six goals in a period since 1989.”
With just one second remaining in the first period, John Ogradnick grabbed one more for the Rangers, such that as they went into the first intermission they were riding a motivational wave. And there is definitely something psychological on such a late goal—for both sides. During the second period Joe Kocur would notch the only goal of the period, giving the Rangers their third of the game. Much as there was lots of scoring in the first period, the same would be true of the third, only this time it would be in favor of the Rangers. New York would get five goals during the third period, with Mike Gartner garnering the go-ahead goal with just under eight minutes remaining to put his Blue Shirts up 7-6. Sergei Nemchinov would seal the deal with an empty net goal and the Rangers would achieve one of the biggest comebacks in the history of their team.
As Frank Brown described it in the New York Daily News, “then with a stunning binge of offensive power, the Rangers outshot the Capitals, 34-7, and score six straight goals for the triumph that gave them a share of the first in the Patrick Division.”
Two years later, to the day, Gartner would achieve a milestone when he garnered his 600th NHL goal, during a Rangers home game which saw them take an 8-3 win over the New Jersey Devils, scoring during the third and “just a few feet from the net, was the Garden noise that followed it at 6:16 of the third period…Shrill shrieking hurt your ears.”
As far as the game was concerned, the Rangers were going to win, but whenever a player is close to such a milestone, the team, the coaches, and the fans are all eager for it to happen, and ever happier when it happens on home ice. “Gartner saw the puck behind Chris Terreri, sitting in the Devils’ net, and instantly his hands went up toward the arena’s spoked ceiling – as did his gaze. It was the seventh Ranger goal in an 8-3 triumph, a who-cares goal, really, as far as the outcome was concerned. As far as Gartner and the Rangers were concerned though, it was the moment a threshold was crossed,” Frank Brown described in the New York Daily News the following day.
While there was some thought it might have been kicked in, a brief delay was experienced while a video review was undertaken, and then when the referee called it a good goal, “the Garden noise sounded again and the Ranger bench emptied.” The emptying of the bench before the end of the game should have resulted in a delay of game penalty, but the referee understood the importance of the event. It wasn’t the last goal of the night for Gartner though, as he would also score their last goal of the game, 67 seconds later at 7:23, while on a power play.
- Frank Brown, “A trip from dead to 1st,” New York Daily News, 27 Dec. 1991, p. 67.
- Frank Brown, “600 Cheers for Gartner,” New York Daily News, 27 Dec. 1993, p. 54.