This time, the Rangers didn't just leave the ceremony to stand on its own. This time, the current Rangers took care of business as well.
Having put day- and night-dampening ends to their last three memorable occasions by losing the game that went along with the commemoration, the Rangers Thursday night followed up Mark Messier's number retirement with a rollicking 5-4 overtime victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
Just as he had on the day Wayne Gretzky played his last game in the NHL, Jaromir Jagr scored the overtime goal that settled matters. This time, though, he sent Rangers fans home happy by converting a Michal Rozsival feed just 14 seconds into the four-on-four extra session to win it.
Jagr had put the downer ending on Gretzky's finale by tallying for Pittsburgh in overtime on April 18, 1999. The Rangers also had lost one-goal games the night Mike Richter's number was retired (4-3 to Minnesota on February 4, 2004) and the night Messier played his final game (4-3 to Buffalo on March 31, 2004.)
"That's special for me, of course," Jagr said of the goal he scored six years ago and the one he tallied Thursday night. "I scored in overtime in Wayne Gretzky's last game here and I scored in overtime tonight. Of course, it's great."
What wasn't great was the way the Rangers' special teams were making a mess of Mess' night until Jagr made everything all right.
Burned for two power-play goals by the Oilers, the Rangers' power play went 1-for-10. Worse, it yielded two shorthanded goals, including the Michael Peca follow off an Ethan Moreau rush with 7:30 left that tied the game 4-4.
But then, perhaps that was all understandable on a night when both teams' routines were obliterated by the more than hour-long ceremony that culminated with Messier's No. 11 rising to the Madison Square Garden rafters.
The Rangers dressed and lined up along the corridor wall outside their dressing room to form an honor guard for Messier's entrance to the ice. And both teams filed onto their respective benches early in the ceremony, each wanting to witness history.
"It was awesome," said defenseman Tom Poti, one of the few current Rangers who played with Messier. "It was just so cool seeing Mark out there and seeing how much everybody respects him.
n Milbury steps down
After 10 tumultuous years as the say-anything and trade-anyone GM of the Islanders, Mike Milbury will relinquish the job fans have outwardly campaigned to have him fired from for most of the last decade. Owner Charles Wang made the official announcement Thursday. And once a replacement is hired, Milbury will slide to the newly created position as a senior VP of sports properties, leaving hockey operations for a job concentrating more on the business aspects of all of Wang's sports ventures.
"I think it's pretty obvious, a good part of the population has been interested in this and looking forward to it, I dare say," Milbury said. "When things really hit the skids here, I said to Charles it looks like we need to (fire) the coach, and he agreed. And I said we probably just should make a wholesale change and give somebody else a fresh start.
"I haven't had as much success as I'd like and it's time to give someone else a crack."
Of course, Milbury had to fire one last coach for good measure, as assistant Brad Shaw was installed as the axed Steve Stirling's interim replacement for Thursday night's 3-2 win over Calgary. Shaw, 41, became the Isles' ninth bench boss in the 10 years since Milbury became the third GM in franchise history when Don Maloney was cut loose in December of 1995.
Milbury said he briefly considered taking the coaching reins himself for the third time, before adding, "A part of me wanted to, but with the climate here, if things don't go well real fast, it would've been more disheartening for the players."
In other NHL action: San Jose 2, Ottawa 0; Los Angeles 6, Boston 0; Phoenix 2, Buffalo 1, SO; Florida 3, St. Louis 1; Detroit 6, Philadelphia 3; Dallas 4, Washington 1.