A month ago, five New York area teams began their playoff journeys and it brought back memories of 1994.
Not because of any of these teams were all-time great teams for their respective franchise like the Rangers and Knicks, who played deep into June 1994.
It was because five New York playoff teams had not made the playoffs in the same season since 1994. Back then the Rangers and maybe the Knicks were expected to go the distance and win a title, this year title expectations were not as big though some pegged the Rangers as possible Stanley Cup champions.
Nearly a month later, the five-team extravaganza of each team making the playoffs officially ended. The end occurred in Miami with the Knicks dropping a 96-92 loss in Game 6 ending a second-round series that brought back memories of the four times these teams played in the postseason when they combined for 24 physical, low-scoring games in the final four seasons of Patrick Ewing’s tenure in between 1997 and 2000.
While Miami has soared well beyond those memorable battles with three championships and seven Eastern Conference appearances, the end of Friday night capped a memorable 47-win season for the Knicks, who got their superstar in Jalen Brunson, whose 41 points nearly willed them to a Game 7.
Ultimately the Knicks’ demise came down to losing Game 1 at home along with their first two losses in Miami when the Heat seemingly played as if they wanted it more, an observation noted by Julius Randle, who played through ankle pain and then opened a continued round of discourse about his future in some circles.
The ending to the Knicks’ most successful season since 2012-13 occurred about 24 hours after the Devils saw their pleasantly surprising season halted with an overtime loss in Game 5 to the Carolina Hurricanes. The loss ended a season where Jack Hughes emerged as superstar resulting in the Devils using their speed to produce their first playoff run since 2018 while scoring often and playing way differently than the three teams to win Stanley Cups and the 1994 team who nearly prevented the Rangers from ending their 54-year drought.
Before getting tripped up by the Hurricanes, the Devils beat the Rangers in a weird seven-game opening game series. It was the sixth time there was a “Battle of the Hudson” but this was a series that did not produce any classic games and will not lead to books being published years later.
Instead the Rangers looked like an accurate pick as a championship team when they opened the series with consecutive 5-1 victories. Then Dougie Hamilton scored in overtime, the Devils won the next two setting up the possibility of a classic series ending except the Rangers extended it with a 5-2 win before falling flat in a dud of Game 7.
The impact of getting dominate in a seventh game resulted in change behind the bench. Rumblings of the possibility about Gerard Gallant becoming a former coach started emerging soon after the teams shook hands and the possibility increased when he expressed disappointment about answering questions on the topic on breakup day. Around the same time, the Heat were in the second half and on their way to routing the Knicks, Gallant was fired in the form of a mutual separation.
The unceremonious exit capped a season where the Rangers were unable to meet the lofty expectations after a surprise run to the Eastern Conference finals ended in Tampa Bay on June 10 that was preceded by winning a pair of seventh games.
The Rangers met their end three days after the Islanders, whom in 1994 were pummeled in a four-game sweep to the eventual champions. This time the Islanders were not routed just could not get enough offense to work out, creating a thin margin of error as evidenced by three one-goal losses to the Hurricanes, who also swept them in 2019.
The Islanders saw the end on April 28 on an overtime goal by Paul Stastny six minutes in. It was a bad angle goal that occurred shortly after the Mets saw a 4-0 loss to the Braves shortened to five innings because of heavy rains and the 88-minute delay.
The longtime rivals lasted further than the Nets, who seemed like they could be an Eastern Conference finalist four months ago. Back then they won 12 straight, 18 of 20 and 29 of their first 42 with some of their best stretches with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the roster.
A month later, the Nets were forced to pivot due to trade requests and retooled the roster by adding Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith in trades for the superstar duo. The retooling sent the Nets spiraling in the standings, but it got them a date with the 76ers where the first-round series was a matter of it they would get a game or two against them.
By April 22, the answer was none as the lack of offense resulted in the Nets’ demise and third opening round sweep in four seasons.
It was the first of five elimination days for a playoff spring that produced a combined 40 games. It was not as memorable as the combined 76 games the five teams played for two months in 1994 but was certainly eventful and did enough to captivate a region who last saw a title in the four major sports by the New York Giants in the 2012 Super Bowl.