Eighteen years ago, Mark Messier set the stage for one of sports' most dramatic moments.
On the eve of the New York Rangers' must-win Game Six against the Devils in New Jersey in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals, Messier guaranteed his team would force a deciding contest back at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers not only won, Messier backed up his boast with a hat trick.
Fast forward to now. The teams once more head to a Game Six, tonight in New Jersey, with the Rangers -- again the East's top team -- down 3-2, needing a win to stay alive.
That's where the similarity ends.
There is no Messier in the Rangers' locker room to will his team to victory after predicting it. And this time, New York really isn't the star-laden team that ended the franchise's half-century Stanley Cup drought back in 1994.
The Devils have shown repeatedly in this best-of-seven series they are just as good as their long-time, cross-river rivals. Their series lead is well deserved, having outplayed New York in all but a few periods.
The only game the Rangers dominated was Game Five, and the Devils won, 5-3, to take the lead in the series based on a strong start and a stronger finish.
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur is the only player remaining from the memorable 1994 series. Now 40, he was the difference on Wednesday night in New York.
"I don't see anything that is similar," Brodeur said Thursday in a conference call. "I know if you guys look at it, it looks the same. But it's different teams and a different way of playing the game. That's 18 years ago. That's a long time. I know I'm feeling a lot different. I'm feeling a lot more appreciative of what's going on.
"Before, the Rangers were a good team when they beat us. We were not supposed to compete with them at all in '94."
Messier's three Game Six goals forced a Game Seven at MSG, where Rangers forward Stephane Matteau beat Brodeur with a wraparound in double overtime to give New York a 2-1 win and the East crown. Brodeur was just a rookie at the time.
"But this time around, we feel we can play with them," said Brodeur, who led the Devils to the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 1995, some 13 months after Matteau's tally. "It makes me feel a lot more comfortable going into these games coming up."
Rangers coach John Tortorella downplayed the comparison, saying his players were not even thinking about it.
"Not to disrespect what happened," he said, "but that has nothing to do with how we're preparing, I guess, is the best way to put it."
The Devils aren't preparing with history dancing through their heads, either. New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer, in fact, said his only memory of the guarantee was that he still had hair 18 years ago.