By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—It was an anachronistic spectacle with laced jerseys and an outdoor rink that seemed misplaced from where it naturally belonged, on an uneven frozen pond somewhere in the Canadian hinterlands. It took some getting used to the wintry tableau with foul poles instead of pine trees behind the makeshift rink, but the scene was something unique that the 46,967 that filled Citizens Bank Park on Monday will surely remember.
That’s what was so intriguing about the NHL’s fifth Winter Classic. Because if you peel away the hoopla, hype and milieu, down to its bare essence, it was nothing really more than an ice hockey game played outside in a major league ballpark. The NHL did a great job of selling to a target audience—the many who were watching an NHL game for the first time—ice hockey, but after the cold set in, the novelty wore off.
As it did for the players.
After the introductions, highlights on the Jumbotron that came through flashing larger-than-life images of past Flyers-Rangers clashes, the players settled into a hockey game.
The Flyers’ Brayden Schenn scored the game’s first goal—his first NHL goal—at 12:26 into the second period, putting an energy jolt back into the crowd. It was two third-period Rangers’ goals, however, that deflated Citizens Bank Park and resulted in a 3-2 Rangers’ victory before a partisan crowd that was sprinkled with a healthy dose of Rangers’ fans proudly wearing their red-white-and-blue.
The Rangers have blanked the Flyers in the season series, 3-0, and now own a four-point lead in the NHL Atlantic Division over the second-place Flyers.
Less than two minutes after Schenn’s goal, Flyers’ superstar Claude “G” Giroux made it 2-0, scoring his 18th goal this season off an assist from Max Talbot and Scott Hartnell at 14:21. But the Flyers began to slip and blow that two-goal lead precisely 30 seconds later, when the Rangers’ unlikilest hero, Mike Rupp, struck with the first of his two goals, steering the puck past Flyers’ starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Through the first two periods, the Flyers put considerable pressure on Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist, outshooting New York 26-17. Though couldn’t get anything past Lundqvist, who finished with 33 saves including stoning Danny Briere with 19.6 seconds left in the game on a penalty shot.
It was Rupp, on his third goal this season at 2:41 into the last period, that changed the sway of the game. Rupp flicked a shot that beat Bobrovsky over his right shoulder in a tiny spot that somehow found its way into the net, tying the game at 2-2. Rupp’s two goals doubled his total of one entering the game.
Not long after, the Rangers’ Brad Richards scored what resulted in the game-winning goal, when the Rangers caught the Flyers out of position defensively, standing there wide open to the right of Bobrovsky, firing home his 14th goal of the season.
The Rangers dominated the majority of the third period, generating a number of scoring chances that the Flyers staved off. But there was a marked difference in the Rangers, who steadily got stronger as the game progressed, and the Flyers, who didn’t play Jaromir Jagr at all in the third period and seemed to prune. After the game, Jagr explained that he had been speared in the left leg in the Flyers’ previous game, a 4-2 Philadelphia victory in Pittsburgh on December 29th. Jagr said he had been smacked into the boards during the second period against the Rangers and wasn’t able to play in the third period.
You get the feeling that this won’t be the last the Flyers will hear from the Rangers. In fact, you get the feeling these two teams will be battling deep into the regular season and probably beyond.
With less than two minutes left in the second period, a light snow began falling, greeted with a lusty cheer from some in the chilly crowd. It gave the Winter Classic a tinge of the Canadian hinterland feel. But it was Rupp’s two goals that dampened the experience.