VANCOUVER, B.C. — VANCOUVER, B.C. -- After a wait of 54 years, the New York Rangers are just 60 minutes away from winning the Stanley Cup.
Struggling at the start, the Rangers finished with a flourish to outlast the Vancouver Canucks, 4-2, last night to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup series.
The Rangers can wrap up the best-of-seven series tomorrow in New York and turn years of Stanley Cup frustration into triumph and satisfaction.
The Rangers' comeback was accompanied by some nonstop playoff action that included just about everything, even a hockey rarity, the penalty shot.
With the Canucks leading 2-1 in the second period, Vancouver star Pavel Bure was dragged down from behind on a breakaway and he was awarded the free shot against Rangers goaltender Mike Richter.
Richter made the save and started the New York comeback.
"It was a huge save," said Rangers coach Mike Keenan. "Richter gave us a chance to come back and win with a tremendous save on one of the best offensive players in the game today. It was a classic confrontation."
The Rangers, who last collected hockey's grand prize in 1940, scored the winner last night courtesy of their playoff superstar, an offensive defenseman named Brian Leetch.
Leetch broke across the middle and calmly slipped the puck to Alexei Kovalev, who poked it over Canucks goalie Kirk McLean )) with a little more than two minutes left in regulation.
"I tried to make it look like I was going to shoot and just slid an easy pass through and it got under the guy's stick and Alex made a great shot," Leetch said.
Leetch scored the Rangers' opening goal in the second period, his 10th goal of the playoffs, two short of the Cup record, and had assists on the other three New York scores.
How slow was the Rangers' start? They didn't get a shot in more than five minutes at the start of the game as the Canucks, backed by a screaming crowd -- the pre-game noise drowned out the singing of "O Canada" -- took the initiative.
Bure's penalty shot was only the seventh in Stanley Cup history. As happened on the first six, he failed to convert. A goal would have given the Canucks a commanding 3-1 lead.
With players from both teams watching from the sidelines, Bure controlled the puck at center ice and raced in on Richter. Bure made several fakes but Richter stood his ground, waiting patiently. Richter stretched and went down as Bure fired into his pads.
"He came out from the net and that's why I couldn't shoot. I tried to deke him, but he didn't give me any room," Bure said.
Vancouver coach Pat Quinn wasn't as certain the penalty shot failure was decisive.
"I didn't think it was that big a factor," said Quinn. "It might have been different if we had scored and gone up 3-1. . . . Whether it lifted them at all, I don't know."
Quinn thought the Canucks played their best game of the series: "We probably had our strongest game from the standpoint of getting scoring chances, but we couldn't seem to put too many in."
Seemingly in command, the Canucks saw a 2-0 lead quickly slip away and the game was tied 2-2 going into the final period.
The Vancouver power play, silent through the first three games of the series, finally produced last night for the game's first goal.
With Adam Graves in the box for holding, Jyrki Lumme fired along the ice from the right point and Vancouver captain Trevor Linden, battling for position 10 feet in front of the net, steered the puck past Richter.
Both teams were short-handed when the Canucks made it 2-0.
Rangers offensive superstar Mark Messier went off with a five-minute major for high sticking at 14:17 but Linden took a bad penalty for hooking less than a minute later.
Bure slipped away for one of his well-known solo --es but was tied up by Richter without getting a shot away. With the puck loose on the ice, Cliff Ronning swept in and shoveled the puck past a helpless Richter.
N.Y. Rangers 0 -- 2 -- 2-- 4
Vancouver .. 2 -- 0 -- 0 -- 2
First period--1, Vancouver, Linden 10 (Lumme, Brown), 13:25 (pp). 2, Vancouver, Ronning 5 (Bure, Craven), 16:19. Penalties--Courtnall, Van (elbowing), 3:11; Beukeboom, NY (high-sticking), 6:35; Graves, NY (holding), 13:02; Messier, NY, major (boarding), 14:17; Linden, Van (holding stick), 15:07; Courtnall, Van (interference), 17:54; Tikkanen, NY (roughing), 11 18:45.
Second period--3, New York, Leetch 10 (MacTavish, Gilbert), 4:03. 4, New York, Zubov 5 (Messier, Leetch), 19:44 (pp). Penalties--Lidster, NY (holding), 1:13; Brown, Van (tripping), 7:19; Lidster, NY (holding), 16:58; Adams, Van (boarding), 18:55.
Third period--5, New York, Kovalev 8 (Leetch, Zubov), 15:05 (pp). 6, New York, Larmer 8 (Zubov, Leetch), 17:56. Penalties--New York bench, served by Kocur (too many men), 3:53; Lumme, Van (holding), 4:48; Tikkanen, NY (roughing), 10:42; Diduck, Van (roughing), 10:42; Messier, NY (slashing), 11:29; Gelinas, Van (roughing), 14:31.
Shots on goal--New York 8-8-11--27. Vancouver 8-12-10--30. Missed penalty shot--Bure, Van, 6:31 second. Power-play opportunities--New York 2 of 5; Vancouver 1 of 10. Goalies--New York, Richter, 15-5 (30 shots-28 saves). Vancouver, McLean, 13-8 (27-23). A--16,150. Referee--Terry Gregson. Linesmen--Kevin Collins, Gerard Gauthier.