Winter Classic: Success
By Christopher Decker (@HockeyGuy_Chris)
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
It was cold; it was intense; and it lived up to its hype.
The 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic was one that many will most likely never forget.
After the initial 1 p.m. start time was pushed back to 3 p.m. due to weather conditions, there were concerns that the ice wouldn’t be up to par. But let’s face it; the ice is really never up to par when playing an outdoor game – that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
When game time arrived, you couldn’t have asked for operations personnel to have done a better job with every aspect of the rink.
But even before the game started, excitement began to build. A press conference announced the return of Ranger all-star defenseman Marc Staal, who had been sidelined all year with post-concussion symptoms. The team and the fan base received a jolt of excitement and joy at hearing this news. What a stage for Staal to step on the ice for the first time this year.
The excitement began to rise even more when both teams came out of their respective dugouts, with the visiting Rangers serenaded with boos, and the home Flyers welcomed with cheers.
Singer Melanie Fiona performed a near flawless version of the Canadian National Anthem, and things really came to a head when the giant Citizens Bank Park LED screen displayed a video of the always tear-jerking patriotic God Bless America sung by the late legendary Kate Smith, accompanied by current Flyers anthem singer, Lauren Hart. There is no doubt it sent chills down the spines of most in attendance as well as those watching at home.
After an average Star Spangled Banner rendition by Grammy Award winner Patti Labelle, the goose bumps really overwhelmed us when jet fighters flew over the stadium.
Everyone knew it was game time.
The Flyers came out flying. They threw the body; they controlled the pace; and they generated the most scoring chances. They were clearly feeding off the electric energy at Citizens Bank Park. In fact, if it weren’t for the guy who has clearly been the Rangers MVP for the past five years, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Flyers could have put up a couple of goals in that first period and put the game out of reach for New York.
The second period was no different for the Flyers. They took complete control of the play. This time, Lundqvist couldn’t bail out the Rangers as he first let in bad rebound goal to Brayden Schenn who tallied his first NHL goal – and what better setting to do so. Just two minutes later, Flyers offensive stud Claude Giroux beat Lundqvist high with a gorgeous back-hander to put Philadelphia up 2-0. With ice conditions deteriorating halfway through the game, some felt that it would be a difficult task for the Rangers to come back from a two-goal deficit.
But when the wind looked to have been blown out of the sails of the Rangers and their fans, fourth-line player and recent off-season acquisition Mike Rupp was brought in to provide some energy, and did just that by utilizing the screen in the slot to snap a wrister past Flyers’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. This came just 30 seconds after Giroux’s goal. There could not have been a better time to provide a much-needed spark for the Rangers. After the goal, Rupp caused quite a stir by imitating Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr with a salute to the crowd. For a guy who doesn’t score that often, it was a harmless gesture.
Down 2-1, the Rangers came out flying in the third period, displaying the type of intensity and resiliency they’ve shown all year. At the2:41mark, Rupp struck again for his second goal of the contest – a goal Bobrovsky surely wishes he had back.
Less than three minutes later, the Rangers’ prized off-season pick-up, Brad Richards, was positioned perfectly at the side of the net to scoop up a Bobrovsky rebound and bury it home to put the Rangers up 3-2.
At this point, the Rangers had found their game and they had no intentions on letting it go, as they controlled the third period.
After the Rangers killed off a clearly botched delay of game call that unfortunately went against the wrong player in Ryan McDonagh, it looked as if the Rangers had the game in the bag. But in the waning seconds of the third period, McDonagh was once again in the spot light – this time for supposedly smothering the puck in the crease.
As a result, with just 19.6 seconds remaining, the Flyers were awarded a penalty shot. Head Coach, Peter Laviolette, decided to go with Danny Briere for a chance to tie the game up. The game could not have been more dramatic.
As Briere glided in on Lundqvist, Flyers fans held their breath, hoping they’d get to see their team force overtime. Briere waited for “The King” to commit, but Lundqvist remained as solid as stone, leaving nothing but pad for Briere to shoot in to.
Photo Courtesy of Reuters Images
The Rangers killed off the last 19 seconds of a game that saw them come from behind to score three unanswered goals which ultimately won them the Classic and also saw them improve to 3-0 on the season against the hated Flyers. The Rangers are not only the best team in the East, but they are now atop the NHL standings. Clearly, they are the team to beat.
After the game, Rangers personnel discussed their displeasure with the officiating. But whether or not the officials were trying to prolong the nationally-televised game, as Rangers’ coach John Tortorella angrily speculated, is something we’ll never really know. So let’s not lose the true meaning of what this game was: an outstanding match-up against two evenly matched teams.
The city of Philadelphia should be proud for orchestrating what was perhaps the best Winter Classic yet. Citizens Bank Park turned out to be a superb venue and it was awesome to see both fan bases representing their team’s colors throughout the stadium.
The game generated tremendous buildup and everyone involved really helped market the NHL in a grand way. Fans should be excited that their sport is really beginning to pick up steam and more notoriety.
Until next year’s Winter Classic!
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