NEW YORK -- He has only been here for 10 weeks but Stephane Matteau is already a legendary New York Ranger. As the Rangers opened the Stanley Cup final against the Vancouver Canucks at Madison Square Garden last night, the 24-year-old lean left wing with the wavy black hair curling below his helmet was skating on a pedestal as the only Ranger ever to score a seventh-game sudden-death overtime goal in the playoffs.
He's also one of only four Rangers to score two overtime goals in a playoff career, joining Frank Boucher, Don (Bones) Raleigh and Pete Stemkowski. Without those goals, the Rangers might not have survived the Eastern Conference final against the Devils; maybe another Ranger would have scored, maybe not.
"If we win the cup, then I will look back that I did a pretty good job to help the team," he was saying. "But right now we have done nothing yet."
Nothing except turn New York on while the Knicks were turning it off over the Memorial Day weekend. The Knicks still have time to get to their championship final, but the Rangers are there.
And they might not be there if Matteau had not been obtained, along with center Brian Noonan, from the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade-deadline deal.
"We got Stephane because we wanted some size and strength for playoff hockey, along the boards particularly," Coach Mike Keenan has said. "He's a good defensive player. We knew that he positioned himself well and that he's a good skater."
Matteau's goals have been a bonus, if not a bonanza, for Keenan, who had been his Blackhawk coach. Over the Rangers' 16 playoff games before last night, Matteau's six goals ranked third, behind Mark Messier's 10 and Adam Graves's 9.
"But I've always been known as a team player," Matteau said. "Nothing has changed."
Nothing except his place in Ranger history and his place in Ranger puns. After Matteau's double-overtime goal eliminated the Devils last Friday night, one Ranger rooter sighed: "Stephane Matteau can step on my toe anytime."
All this from a hockey player who was virtually unknown to Ranger rooters 10 weeks ago. He is a native of the mining town of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, where his father, Lucien, worked in an auto body shop and his boyhood buddy was Pierre Turgeon, now the New York Islanders' celebrated center.
"We were born five days apart in 1969," Matteau said. "Pierre was born on Aug. 29, I was born on Sept. 2. Ever since we were 5 years old we were best friends. We played hockey wherever we could, on ice over a baseball field in the winter, in the street in the summer. In the draft for the town teams each year, Pierre would be picked first, I would be picked second. When he was 14, he went to Montreal to play. I stayed home, but at 16 I went to Hull, Quebec, to play."
Drafted by the Calgary Flames, Matteau played there one season before being traded to the Blackhawk team that went to the 1992 Stanley Cup finals.
Now, after only 10 weeks, he feels like a Ranger.
"That's the scary part," he said. "I never felt like a Blackhawk. About a month before I was traded, I heard rumors. I asked the general manager, Bob Pulford, about it, but he told me, 'You're not going anywhere.' Bang, I was gone a month later. But it was the best thing to happen to my career."
On last Friday night's goal, he scored on a wraparound -- skating behind the net and stuffing the puck past the red post a split-second before goaltender Martin Brodeur got there.
"I never tried a wraparound before," Matteau said. "After the game, I sneaked out the back door, jumped in a cab and met my friends at a restaurant; I don't know the name. But all the Ranger fans kept coming up to me and saying, 'Thank you. Thank you.' "
They always will.