By Brian Monzo
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To say the Winter Classic lived up to expectations would be too easy. But when the horn sounded and the Rangers finished off the Flyers 3-2 at Citizens Bank Park, it would seem all 46,967 fans in attendance, viewers and everyone in between were left with one heck of an afternoon.
The game itself would see snow, taunting, a returning player, great goaltending, questionable reffing, an unlikely hero and a longtime NHL rivalry displayed at its best.
The Flyers would grab the lead in the second period with goals from Brayden Schenn and Claude Giroux. The Rangers would answer with two goals from Mike Rupp and an eventual game winner in the third period from Brad Richards. It would then turn into a handful of odd decisions by the referees that forced Henrik Lundqvist to shine with key saves late, the biggest being a penalty shot by Danny Briere with just under 20 seconds left in regulation.
The result of the game, outside of the game being the Winter Classic, gives the Rangers 52 points, three points ahead of the Bruins for first place in the Eastern Conference, and four points ahead of the Flyers for first place in the Atlantic division. The Rangers are now 3-0 against the Flyers this season.
Rupp became a huge part of the story. After missing much of the season thus far with a knee injury, Rupp scored two goals, helping elevate the Rangers' game. The most important goal coming late in the second period just thirty seconds after the Flyers took the 2-0 lead. He would go ahead and stir things up by doing the Jaromir Jagr salute after his first goal. His second goal would come early in the third period on a bad angled shot to beat Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Richards would score a few minutes later to seal the deal. Or you would think.
Whatever the deal was, the Rangers found themselves against a battle with the refs, as some questionable calls did everything for the Flyers but tie the game. Marian Gaborik was on a near breakaway and hooked, which was a no-call. Ryan McDonagh was called with close to five minutes left in regulation for a delay of game (knocking the net of the moorings) when it was very clear he was shoved into the net by James Van Riemsdyk. Ryan Callahan was called for holding the stick when he was tangled up with Kimmo Timonen when it clearly looked as if Timonen interfered with Callahan. Finally McDonagh was called for covering his hand on the puck in the crease leading to a penalty shot with 20 seconds to go in regulation. That call was the closest to being legit, but no angle of replay clearly showed it. Fortunately for the Rangers they would be able to overcome the dramatics and gain two points over the Flyers.
John Tortorella would call the reffing late in the third 'disgusting.' It will be interesting to see if he gets hit with a fine from the league for criticizing the refs.
The national audience was given a treat in seeing Lundqvist perform at such a high level. Lundqvist now goes to 17-7-4 on the season, riding a GAA of 1.92.
MVP of Game:
Mike Rupp. His two goals helped propel the Rangers to victory, and his Jagr-like salute made for great television and provided plenty of reaction.
Things I loved about Winter Classic:
The Venue. I loved how Philadelphia represented the league.
Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire. A great announcing team.
The teams' entrances into the stadium. It had a true 'war' feel.
The alumni game. It was tremendous to see Mark Messier, Eric Lindros, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch, Darren Turcotte and Jeremy Roenick lace them up and play on Saturday. Reminded me of being 14.
Things I can do without:
The first things I am seeing on the postgame show is a feature on Brayden Schenn's first NHL goal. I mean, congrats, but really?
The in-game interviews with coaches. Can we leave them alone already. I am tired of generic answers. "We need to forecheck, hit the body...blah, blah." Let's let them coach the game and we can wait until afterward to hear from them.
Something I am looking forward to:
The final episode of HBO's "24/7" series. It has great so far, but having such a wild game itself should make the final episode very entertaining.
Next Winter Classic Venue?
I can see them doing it in Toronto. I'd like a Canadian team make an appearance. The logistics would need to be figured out, but personally I'd like Lambeau Field to get the game. It would be cold, it would be loud and would be a legendary event.
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