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Rangers Can’t Close Show on Broadway : Hockey: Canucks pull away in a wild third period, 6-3, and cut New York’s advantage to 3-2.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Vancouver Canucks weren’t ready to give up the ghost, and the ghosts responsible for 54 years of New York Ranger failures weren’t ready to give up their hex on the 1994 team.

The Rangers lost a chance to close out the Stanley Cup finals in five games when they collapsed in the third period Thursday night, giving up five goals in a 6-3 loss before 18,200 disappointed fans at Madison Square Garden. Some fans, eager to see the Rangers win their first Cup since 1940--and win at home for the first time--paid up to $2,000 for the privilege of watching the Rangers bumble through their worst defensive effort of the playoffs.

“It had something to do with looking to the future as opposed to staying in the present,” Ranger Coach Mike Keenan said of his team’s failure to live up to newspaper headlines that proclaimed, “The Cup Stops Here” and “Tonight’s the Night.”

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Although the Rangers pulled even at 3-3 when Mark Messier converted a clever back pass from Glenn Anderson with 10:58 to play, they wilted under a persistent Vancouver attack. Depleted by the first-period ejection of defenseman Jeff Beukeboom, the Rangers couldn’t push the Canucks off rebounds or keep them from going to the net.

Dave Babych put Vancouver ahead to stay with 10:29 to play, when Ranger goalie Mike Richter couldn’t slide to his right fast enough to stop the shot from the right faceoff dot. The Canucks added two more goals within a 44-second span in the wild final period to send the series back to Vancouver for Game 6 Saturday at the Pacific Coliseum.

“It was a matter of being overzealous and trying to hit the knockout punch,” Keenan said of his team’s surge and backslide. “We swung and missed and somebody TKOd us in the meantime.”

A seventh game, if necessary, would be played Tuesday in New York. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team that has rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the finals, but the Canucks did overcome a 3-1 Calgary lead in their first-round series this spring.

“I think the momentum is in our favor, no doubt about it,” goaltender Kirk McLean said. “We contained their big guys, Messier, (Brian) Leetch, (Sergei) Zubov and (Alexei) Kovalev and we were getting everybody back defensively.

“It’s only natural that their fans were expecting to win it tonight. It’s a good feeling for us, but we know we haven’t accomplished anything yet.’

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Said Pavel Bure, who scored twice and set up Babych’s game-winner: “The pressure was on those guys because they wanted to win the Cup at home. It was our game plan to get the rebounds tonight, because we’ve got the size.”

It worked, in part, because of Beukeboom’s early exit. He was ejected at 10:06 of the first period after jumping into a scrap that followed an apparent Ranger goal by Esa Tikkanen. The goal was disallowed because linesman Randy Mitton thought Stephane Matteau was offside on the right wing and had blown his whistle to stop play. Replays indicated Matteau’s foot was on the blue line, but offside calls are not reviewable under NHL rules.

“That might have hurt,” Vancouver center Cliff Ronning said of Beukeboom’s loss. “He’s a big, strong kind of guy. He’s tough to get by.”

The Canucks scored the game’s first goal at 8:10 of the second period, when Ronning slid a pass behind his back to defenseman Jeff Brown for a shot from the top of the right circle. Geoff Courtnall, who had not recorded a point in the first four games, scored the first of his two goals Thursday on a second effort 26 seconds into the third period for a 2-0 lead. Bure made it 3-0 at 2:48 on a shot from the point that deflected off Leetch’s skate.

The fans, who roared throughout the first period and fell silent in the third period, came to life when the Rangers rallied. Doug Lidster, Steve Larmer and Messier scored within 5:35 to tie it, but Babych scored 29 seconds later and the Canucks pulled away again.

“The third period was free-lancing,” Tikkanen said. “That was open-ice skating. We let them play their style and we can’t do that. We have to keep hitting them.”

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Said Ranger General Manager Neil Smith: “Being at home in front of our fans created some pressure. I noticed statistically, a lot of teams win championships on the road, especially in the NHL. Before last year, the last team to win at home was Edmonton in 1988. I wouldn’t be real concerned. I certainly would rather be where we are than where Vancouver is.”

He has other things to be concerned about, such as persistent reports Keenan will depart for a coach/general manager job in Detroit. Keenan didn’t deny having spoken to the Red Wings, fueling further guessing as to his future. Smith said he didn’t know what was happening but said Keenan does not have an escape clause in his five-year Ranger contract.

“There’s a lot of speculation and I haven’t spent any time thinking about it,” Keenan said of the rumors. “These things happen in the game and you understand that they do happen. But certainly my focus right now is to concentrate on this team winning the Stanley Cup. I haven’t even thought that much about it.”

Hockey Notes

The Canucks’ five-goal third period tied a final series record for most goals by one team in one period. The teams’ eight goals tied another final series record. . . . Vancouver Coach Pat Quinn successfully jump-started his offense by breaking up the high-scoring Greg Adams-Trevor Linden-Pavel Bure line. He inserted Murray Craven as their center and put Linden on right wing with Geoff Courtnall and Nathan LaFayette.

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