Never let it be said that Joey Kocur couldn’t shoot the puck. The burly winger accomplished the seemingly impossible on November 11, 1991 when he drilled the 3” x 1” puck through one of the 2½ “ diamonds in the nylon mesh that drapes the net.
The goal proved to be the game winner as the Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1. The tally was Kocur’s first as a Ranger, first against the Penguins and first since November 29th 1990 when, as a Red Wing, he scored on a penalty shot against Jacques Cloutier in Chicago Stadium.
With the score tied 1-1 late in the third period, the play developed deep in the Rangers zone. Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck made a key save through traffic on a shot from the slot by Mark Recchi (the only player in this story who is still active today). Brian Leetch grabbed the rebound and streaked up the right boards along with Kocur, Corey Millen and Kris King creating a four on two opportunity for the Blueshirts. Leetch laid down a nice drop pass to the trailing Kocur who had his stick back, ready to shoot. He one-timed the puck towards the lower left hand corner of the net from about 20 feet out. Play continued as the puck appeared to graze the outside of the net. But about 10 seconds later at the first stoppage, King checked the netting and appealed to referee Terry Gregson while Tim Rappleye, the video replay judge who was an independent TV producer from Boston, reviewed the play.
After a short delay, the goal was credited to the Rangers at 15:45 and the Penguins lost their cool. Interim Coach Scotty Bowman, who had taken over for Bob Johnson, jumped on the bench and began banging a stick on the boards in an effort to get Gregson’s attention. Mario Lemieux and Bryan Trottier examined the net for a hole. But the goal was posted on the scoreboard and the game continued.
At the next stoppage, goalie Tom Barrasso charged Gregson in protest and was ejected from the game. Penguin’s trainer Skip Thayer was also tossed for waving a pair of glasses at Gregson. Wendel Young replaced Barrasso and was beaten by Jan Erixon on a rebound at 19:06 to ice the 3-1 victory.
“It looked like it was going into the net, and I saw the net move,” Kocur told reporters after the game. “But then it wasn’t in and I figured it was just another bad shot. I was hoping but I had no idea.”
MSG’s sharp eyed John Davidson questioned the play immediately, saying that from the angle of the shot the puck could not have hit the outside of the net. The MSG Network’s production crew enlarged the replay to clearly show the puck entering the goal and emerging through the netting.
Following the game, MSG’s Al Trautwig examined the goal and although he didn’t find a hole in the netting, he did find two black marks where the puck may have passed through the twine.
“In the old days they would have looked for a hole in the net,” said coach Roger Neilson, the original Captain Video. “I think the video replay is a wonderful thing.”
Kocur was acquired in March, 1991 from Detroit along with defenseman Per Djoos in exchange for Jim Cummins, Dennis Vial and Kevin Miller. He scored a total of 14 goals and added 15 assists in four and a half seasons with the Rangers. But he brought a degree of thougness to the Rangers than was sorely missing, amassing a total of 537 penalty minutes while on Broadway and was a valuable contributor to the 1994 Stanley Cup winning team.
Kocur’s Rangers career ended in March of 1996 when he was dealt to Vancouver for goaltender Kaye Whitmore. He returned to Detroit in 1996-97 and won three more Cups, two as a player and one as a coach.