This is not really a post-game recap, just my general thoughts on yet another amazing and magical Winter Classic that the NHL has put on for us, between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Surprisingly, for what seems like the first time in the brief five-year history of the event, there were no ice malfunctions, and the passing and skating was pretty smooth early on. Though the game did slow down in the second, I would definitely rank the overall pace of this afternoon to be one of the better ones yet. And of course, there was plenty of drama with yet another photo finish—something that seems to happen every year, which I will elaborate on later.
For the last four years, I have watched this event, never having much at stake, since the Rangers were never playing. I always wondered if the stress would be magnified, and it definitely was. This had the drama and intensity of a playoff game, which was all I could really ask for, win or lose. When the Rangers fell behind 2-0 in the second, I admit, I thought the game was over. With the way the pace had slowed down, combined with the fact that the Rangers were not doing much of anything, it had all the makings of a loss. But then, out of nowhere, Mike Rupp got the Blueshirts on the board with a beautiful wrist shot goal, followed by a Jagr-like salute, to get the team within one. From there, the game picked up and we saw some real hockey, and early in the third, the Rangers would overcome the Flyers, on a second goal by Rupp and the eventual game-winner by Brad Richards. The overcast sky and flurry of snow only added to the atmosphere as the clock ticked down, the stress ever-building.
Then, just like every year, in a close score, the rink seemed to tip toward the losing team. I swear, last season, I remember saying, “Man, the refs are trying awful hard to get this game to overtime.” This time around too, I said the same thing, word for word. It was pretty obvious and ridiculous at how bad some of the late calls were. The one on Ryan McDonagh for delay-of-game had me staring incredulously at the television, because it was he who was interfered with and pushed into the net, which caused it to come off the moorings. I just knew that if the Flyers did not score on the ensuing powerplay, it would only get worse…and it did. A Ranger player coming down the ice on an odd-man-rush moments later (forgive me for not being able to recall his name, but the game was a few hours ago) was tugged at, which could have easily been a call if McDonagh got one earlier for much less. Then came Ryan Callahan getting called for embellishment, with under two minutes to go, when he was interfered with by Kimmo Timonen. Though both were assessed penalties, what was Callahan supposed to do in that situation, already falling to the ice and getting hit in the face with a stick? Lastly, was the icing on the cake in the end, when Danny Briere was given a penalty shot because McDonagh supposedly closed his hand on the puck in the crease. This was a close call, and not the worst of the trio, but there was no conclusive evidence that his hand physically closed on top of the puck. Last I checked, important calls like that should be based on evidence, not what may have been.
Either way, the Rangers stood strong and finished with a 3-2 victory. All of the hype, all of the annoyances of being followed around by a camera crew daily for the last month, came to a culmination today, and they can all have smiles on their faces. This was a tough test for a team, whose sights are now set on going deep in the playoffs this season, not just making them. One can only hope that they will not suffer a letdown in the coming games against the Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins, because of the elated feeling they are sure to have right now. They can be happy about it today and tomorrow, but by Wednesday, it should be business as usual, since there is still more than a half of a season remaining.
Hats off to both the Rangers and Flyers for putting on an outstanding show today. Win or lose, this was not so much a game as it was a celebration of the great sport and tradition of hockey. Though the Rangers did win, the real winners were the fans who watched. Here’s to hoping that the Winter Classic may one day come to New York—and with the intensity of these last few weeks, I would not mind a rematch with these same Flyers.