The Canucks entered the playoffs seeded seventh in the Western Conference, and overcame a three-games-to-one deficit against the Calgary Flames, winning the final three games in overtime with game seven ending in double overtime as Pavel Bure scored the winning goal on a breakaway to upset the Flames. They then upset the fourth-seeded Dallas Stars and the third-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs in five games each to capture the Western Conference title.
The Rangers entered the playoffs with the league's best record, then swept their New York-area rival New York Islanders and then beat the Washington Capitals in five games, before falling behind three games to two in the Eastern Conference Final against their Hudson River rivals, New Jersey Devils. They then won game six by a 4–2 score after team captain Mark Messier publicly guaranteed a victory and then scored a third-period hat trick. The Rangers then won game seven 2–1 on Stéphane Matteau's goal in double overtime, prompting the call of "Matteau, Matteau, Matteau!" by Rangers radio announcer Howie Rose. It was Matteau's second double overtime goal of the series.
This series brought together two assistant coaches who were teammates on the other Canucks team to reach the Finals: Rangers assistant coach Colin Campbell and Canucks assistant coach Stan Smyl, who served as team captain then, as Kevin McCarthy was injured.
It was the second straight Finals that featured a former Edmonton Oilers captain trying to become the first person to capture a Stanley Cup as captain on two different teams. The previous year, Wayne Gretzky, who captained the Oilers to the first four of their five Stanley Cups in the 1980s, captained the Los Angeles Kings to the finals, which they lost to the Montreal Canadiens. Here, it was Mark Messier of the Rangers, who captained the Oilers to the last of their five, in 1990.
The Rangers players had a decided edge in Finals experience, with seven players from the 1990 Oilers, including Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jeff Beukeboom, Adam Graves, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, and Esa Tikkanen. One 1990 Oiler, Martin Gélinas, was playing for the Canucks. Overall, the Rangers had eleven players with previous Finals appearances, compared to the Canucks' five. In addition, three of the Rangers (Messier, Anderson, and Lowe) were each making their seventh appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals (each having made their first six with Edmonton).
With the Rangers having 112 points in the regular-season standing and the Canucks 85, the 27-point difference was the largest point differential between two teams in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1982, when there was a 41-point difference between the New York Islanders (118) and the Canucks (77).
The Rangers scored early and led 2–1 late in the third period before Martin Gélinas tied the game with 1:00 to play in regulation time. It was the third time in eight games that the Rangers had surrendered a last-minute tying goal. The Rangers were all over the Canucks in overtime, but goaltender Kirk McLean made 52 saves on the night. In the last minute of the first overtime, Brian Leetch hit the crossbar at one end, and the Canucks went down to score the winner at the other on an odd-man rush by Greg Adams, as the Rangers, once again, lost a series opener at home in overtime.
The Rangers evened the series with a 3–1 victory before the series shifted west.
The Canucks came storming out in front of their home fans and Pavel Bure scored on his first shift to give them the early lead. But late in the period, with the score tied 1–1, Bure hit Jay Wells in the face with his stick and cut him, leading to a major penalty and Bure's expulsion from the game. Alexei Kovalev scored a breakaway shorthanded goal to help the Rangers and this goal will be on the cover of NHL 95 .Glenn Anderson scored on the ensuing power-play and the Rangers then cruised to a 5–1 victory.
In the fourth game, the Canucks again jumped out to an early lead, this time 2–0, before Mike Richter and Brian Leetch took over the game. Richter made some key saves to keep the game within reach, including one on a penalty shot against Pavel Bure, and Leetch picked up a goal and three assists as the Rangers won 4–2 to take a commanding 3–1 series lead.
Most who entered Madison Square Garden for the fifth game thought they were going to see the Rangers win the Cup that night. New York had already set the date for a victory parade. However, the celebration plans got ahead of the work at hand. The Canucks were leading 3–0 by the third minute of the third period. Even though the Rangers scrambled to pull even by the midway point, Vancouver took the lead 29 seconds later on a goal by Dave Babych and cruised to a 6–3 win.
The Canucks fired 14 shots at Mike Richter in the first period and led 1–0 on a Jeff Brown bullet from the point. The score was 2–1 after two periods before another Brown goal gave the Canucks a 3–1 third-period lead. Late in the third, Geoff Courtnall appeared to score for the Canucks, but the play continued and the Rangers scored to temporarily make the score 3–2. But, in the ensuing video review, it was confirmed that Courtnall had indeed scored his second goal of the game to clinch the game for the Canucks and force a seventh game.
For the second time since 1971 and the tenth time overall, the Final went to seven games. Rangers coach Mike Keenan became the first person to be a head coach in game sevens of the Stanley Cup Finals for two different teams. Keenan had coached the Philadelphia Flyers in 1987 when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers. Mike Babcock would join him in this feat in 2009 while with the Detroit Red Wings, having been with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim when they lost to the New Jersey Devils in 2003 (the home team won all seven games of the series).
The game at Madison Square Garden was an "electric affair" with the Rangers jumping to an early 2–0 lead. Canucks captain Trevor Linden, however, silenced the home crowd with a short-handed goal early in the second period. Mark Messier scored a third Ranger goal only to have Linden make it close again with a goal early in the third. After that, it was "hectic, jittery hockey." Nathan LaFayette "frightened all Manhattan wobbling a loose puck" off the post behind Mike Richter with five minutes left. In the final 37 seconds, there were three face-offs in the New York end.
Mark Messier provided two of the most memorable images of that Stanley Cup Finals that would become iconic images to the Rangers and their fans: first, jumping up and down excitedly as ticker tape fell, then, showing incredible emotion as he accepted the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, as he became the first (and as of 2015, the only) player to captain two different teams to the Stanley Cup. For scoring the winning goal, Messier earned the tongue-in-cheek nickname of "Mr. June".
In Canada, the series was televised in English on the CBC and in French on SRC. In the United States, the series was broadcast on ESPN. However, ESPN was blacked out in the New York City market because of the MSG Network's local rights to the Rangers games. ESPN also sent its broadcasts to a record 120 countries, for a potential audience of 285 million. MSG Network broadcaster Al Trautwig said that the Rangers themselves contributed to those numbers in putting the first Russian names on the Stanley Cup: Alexander Karpovtsev, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov, and Sergei Zubov, giving a huge European audience, including those watching on the brand-new television screens across the former Soviet Union, a Stanley Cup story to remember.
In the United States, game seven was the highest-rated hockey game on cable. ESPN's broadcast drew a 5.2 rating. However, in New York, the ESPN blackout meant MSG Network's broadcast drew 16.2 rating, a record for the network. The two networks combined yielded a 6.9 rating.
With an average Canadian audience of 4.957 million viewers, game seven was the most watched CBC Sports program until the 10.6 million viewers for the men's ice hockey gold medal game between Canada and the United States at the 2002 Winter Olympics, when Canada won its first Olympic ice hockey gold medal since the 1952 Winter Olympics. Bob Cole, who called both games, said that game seven was one of his most memorable TV games.
Bolded years under Finals appearance indicates a year the player won the Stanley Cup.
A – Did not play in Final.When the New York Rangers submitted the list of names for engraving, Ed Olczyk and Mike Hartman were included, although they fell short of the official requirements of 41 regular season games, or participation in the Final. When the Stanley Cup was engraved, Olczyk and Hartman's names were omitted. (Olczyk had played 37 regular-season games and one game in the Eastern Conference Final. Hartman had played 35 regular-season games and none in the playoffs.) Both players had spent the entire season with New York, and missed extensive time due to injury. At the Rangers' protest, the NHL added Olczyk and Hartman to the Cup. The NHL no longer adds missing names after the Cup has been engraved, though since 1994 it allows teams to petition for the inclusion of players who do not officially qualify.
Seven players who won the cup in 1994 were also with the Edmonton Oilers in 1990 when they won their fifth Cup: Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson, Jeff Beukeboom, Adam Graves, Craig MacTavish and Esa Tikkanen. An eighth player, Greg Gilbert, also won the Stanley Cup with the New York Islanders in 1982 and 1983.
Alexander Karpovtsev, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov and Sergei Zubov became the first four Russian-trained players to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.