The 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs, the championship of the National Hockey League (NHL), began after the conclusion of the 1993–94 NHL season. The sixteen teams that qualified, eight from each conference, played best-of-seven series for conference quarterfinals, semifinals and championships, and then the conference champions played a best-of-seven series for the Stanley Cup.
For the first time in history, all four former WHA teams (Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg) failed to make the playoffs in the same year. This would not happen again until 2007 a decade after the three latter teams relocated, it would also happen again in 2013. The Los Angeles Kings and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim failed to make the playoffs. Both Florida teams missed the playoffs. For the third time in history, every Original Six team made the playoffs in the same season. This also happened in 1978 and 1987, and would happen again in 1996 and 2013.
Wayne Gretzky missed the playoffs for the first of four times in his career.
(1) New York Rangers vs. (3) New Jersey Devils
This was the first Conference Final since 1985 not to feature either the Boston Bruins or the Montreal Canadiens. New York was trying to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1979, while the Devils were trying to advance to their first-ever Cup Finals. The Rangers and Devils finished 1–2 respectively in the NHL during the regular season. Despite the two teams strong regular season records, the Rangers entered the series heavily favored as they had swept the regular season six game series with the Devils. This series was the second time that the Rangers and Devils had met in the post season.
With a minute remaining in game one at Madison Square Garden, New York was leading 3–2. However, Devils forward Claude Lemieux tied the game on a scramble in front of New York goaltender Mike Richter. The Devils went on to win the game on Stephane Richer's breakaway goal at 15:23 of the second overtime. The Rangers evened the series, winning game two in a 4–0 shutout. The series then turned to the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ, for games three and four. Like game one, game three went into double overtime but this time it was New York who won, 3–2, on Stephane Matteau's goal at 6:13 of the second overtime period. The Devils, winning by a final score of 3–1 in game four, evened the series at 2-2. The Devils took the series lead with a 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden in game five.
Despite the fact that his team trailed in the series 3–2, Rangers captain Mark Messier made a highly publicized guarantee that New York would win game six. After trailing New Jersey by a score of 2–1 after two periods, Messier himself scored a third-period hat trick to rally the Rangers to a 4–2 victory. Rangers Coach Mike Keenan said of the guarantee, "Mark was sending a message to his teammates that he believed together we could win. He put on an amazing performance to make sure it happened."
Game seven, played at Madison Square Garden, was a goaltending battle between New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and New York's Mike Richter. Brian Leetch gave the Rangers a 1–0 lead in the second period. Richter, who had shut out the Devils for over 59 minutes, conceded Devils forward Valeri Zelepukin the game-tying goal with just 7.7 seconds remaining in regulation. The two teams played into double overtime for the third time in the series, and for the second time in the series, it was Stephane Matteau who scored the game winner. With his a wrap-around goal coming at 4:24 of the second overtime period, the Rangers won the game 2–1 and the series 4–3.
(3) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (7) Vancouver Canucks
The Maple Leafs were hoping to make it to Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since winning the championship in 1967, while the Canucks had not made it to the Cup Finals since their Cinderella run in 1982.
Toronto won game one at Maple Leaf Gardens on Peter Zezel's goal at 16:55 of the first overtime period. After that, however, the Maple Leafs could not seem to slow down the bigger, more-powerful Canucks. Vancouver edged Toronto 4–3 in game two, and won shutouts at the Pacific Coliseum in games three and four, by scores of 2–0 and 4–0 respectively. Down three games to one and facing elimination, the Maple Leafs played much better in game five on Tuesday, May 24 in Vancouver. They pushed Vancouver to double overtime but it was Vancouver forward Greg Adams who beat Leafs goaltender Felix Potvin just 14 seconds into the second overtime period to give the Canucks a 4–3 win and a 4–1 series win.
The Rangers were making their tenth appearance in the Final, first since 1979. For Vancouver, it was their second, first since 1982. With the Rangers having 112 points against Vancouver's 85, the 27 point difference was the largest point differential between two teams in a Stanley Cup Final since 1982 when 41 points separated the New York Islanders (118) and Vancouver (77).
In a back-and-forth series that went the maximum, one lengthy drought ended and another began. The Rangers won the Cup, their fourth title, and first since 1940, while the Canucks were the last Canadian team to play for the Stanley Cup until 2004Calgary Flames. At the time, Canada had not had a Finals absence last as long as that from 1994-2004 (10 years).
^Cole, Stephen (2004). The Best of Hockey Night in Canada. Toronto: McArthur & Company. p. 128. ISBN1-55278-408-8.
^Stevens, Neil (May 20, 2004). "Flames head to Cup final: Iginla, Kiprusoff huge in convincing 3-1 victory over San Jose". The Vancouver Sun. Canadian Press. p. E1. "After 10 years of U.S.-based clubs in the NHL's championship series, Canada finally has a team in the Stanley Cup final...Calgary is Canada's first Stanley Cup finalist since the Canucks lost a seven-game thriller to the New York Rangers in 1994."
^ abGoold, Derrick (May 29, 2004). "Calgary is Crazed as Playoff Finals Return to Canada". The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. p. OT9. "The 10 years since Vancouver lost game seven to the New York Rangers to now is the longest span Canada has ever gone without a visit from the finals."
^Jamieson, Jim (May 31, 1994). "Paper rout for Rangers". Vancouver Province. p. A54. "The 27-point differential is the greatest, ironically, between Stanley Cup finalists since the last time the Canucks made the trip to this mega-city 12 springs ago."
^Olson, Arv (June 1, 1994). "1982 Canucks were unlikeliest of heroes". The Vancouver Sun. p. E3.
^"Flames reach Stanley Cup finals". CBC Sports. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. May 20, 2004. Retrieved February 3, 2012. "Calgary is the first Canadian team to reach the Stanley Cup finals since the 1994 Vancouver Canucks...lost...to the New York Rangers."