Friday, January 1, 2010

Bruins edge Flyers in Winter Classic Finish

The 3rd Annual NHL Winter Classic did not disappoint at prestigious Fenway Park. In a battle of old rivals, the Boston Bruins rallied back to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 before nearly 40,000 screaming fans at the great ballpark on Yawkey Way. History was made as the B's became the first home team to win the signature even on New Year's Day. In the inaugural played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, the Sabres fell to Sid The Kid and the Pens in a shootout. Last year in the Windy City, the Blackhawks came up short to the Red Wings at Wrigley Field.

It looked like the visitors would go three-for-three. Michael Leighton looked on his way to a second straight shutout. But a late power play goal from wily vet Mark Recchi and Marco Sturm's overtime winner gave the home supporters plenty to cheer in what amounted to the best of the three Classics to date. With apologies to Sidney Crosby for that glorious skill comp winner in the snow, watching Sturm win it in more conventional fashion was better. There's something about seeing a player score in OT as opposed to the more scripted gimmick where it's decided by a one-on-one. In today's game, we don't get enough of those cool celebrations. Even with four-on-four, a majority have needed the gimmick. So, it was cool to see Patrice Bergeron thread the needled to an open Sturm for a nifty tip past Leighton for the decider 1:57 into the extra five. Plus the celebration with the proud German slamming the glass before being mobbed by teammates was great on what amounted to a perfect winter day in Beantown.

The weather held up with ideal conditions as temps ranged from 28-35, thankfully minus rain with plenty of cloud cover. It was classic pond hockey for a bunch of paid pros playing a game they remember as kids. That's what makes this event so special. It's hockey in its purest form. Outdoors in all the elements. A big thanks must go out to Larry Lucchino for agreeing to host such a game. Just seeing the background of the Green Monster along with the mini rink on the side where kids skated was pretty damn jaw dropping. They did a fantastic job putting this together. A huge thank you to all the maintenance who worked so hard to get this thing ready. Hockey ain't done there either. There's also a college double header featuring BU vs BC on the men's side.

While it's true the first couple of periods weren't on the edge, it definitely picked up in the third, elevating for a memorable finish. Still, just getting to see two legends on each side greet their players as they were introduced was priceless. There was Bobby Clarke wearing the Flyer 'C' along with a few boos smirking as he skated up to meet old rival Bobby Orr for the ceremonial puck drop. One of the coolest aspects. Two of the greatest players who each led their team to a pair of Cups side by side, yucking it up. One arguably the best to ever play the sport. Ask my Dad or any of our older generation and the nod goes to Orr or Gordie Howe over Gretzky, Lemieux and Messier. Makes for a great bar debate.

Even if one of the most well known bloggers didn't care for a vast majority of a hard fought game, how could you not love that scrap between Daniel Carcillo and Shawn Thornton? Another Classic first as the two combatants dropped the gloves 8:01 in with the mustached Carcillo (ode to 70's Flyers) getting the decision by landing a clean right to drop Thornton. Class was shown as he immediately backed off and allowed the Bruins' enforcer to get up with each sending New Year's greetings. Good stuff.

Neither side scored in a tactical first which saw the clubs feel each other out. After the Bruins held a 9-6 SOG edge, the second was all Flyers. They entered riding a four-game win streak, aiming to go five-for-five on a six-game road trip. Like they had in the 6-0 Ranger trouncing, the Flyers played solid in front of Leighton not giving an anemic Boston offense much. If scoring was a strength last year, it's certainly not this time around as they are feeling the effects of no more Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic remains out. So much for making it back for the big game at Fenway.

With the B's unable to mount a consistent attack, the Flyers generated off their forecheck, forcing Team USA selection Tim Thomas to make some good saves. If not for the rating Vezina winner, it might've been ugly. Especially in a period where Philly doubled up Boston in shots (12-6). However, they were only able to beat Thomas once when Danny Syvret got his first NHL goal, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 4:42. Off some nice work by Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter, Syvret was able to beat the Boston netminder with a low shot through traffic. Leading by one, the Flyers also got the only power play in the first 40 but failed to cash in with Zdeno Chara in the box. There were some close calls but a scrambly Thomas kept them out. His play gave the B's a chance.

Thru two, Claude Julien's guys had totaled just 15 shots. The Flyers themselves had 18 but a cool dozen in the second and were far more aggressive. During intermission, he emphasized one missed chance in particular where Marc Savard passed to Thornton instead of shooting. Apparently, his team got the message quickly testing Leighton early, including a harmless shot from the outside that snuck through his legs and just off the right post. All day, players finished checks giving us the kind of hockey we see in the playoffs. In the third, the intensity picked up with alternate "Let's Go Bruins," and "Let's Go Flyers" chants in the stands. Feeding off the energy, each side came even harder. It opened up as a more desperate home team searched for the equalizer. That led to a couple of odd-man rushes. One in which Carter was set up perfect by Briere but couldn't finish it, narrowly missing wide with Thomas outstretched in the crease. The other was blocked.

With the B's coming close to tying as the minutes got into single digits, it was only a matter of time before they found an opening. With Chara driving the net, they nearly tied it but wound up with a power play when Kimmo Timonen hauled him down. The Flyers killed a good chunk but couldn't hold them off when some great passing allowed Recchi to tie it with 2:18 left. The play was started by Team Canada selection Patrice Bergeron, who dished across for Derek Morris. Morris then worked a textbook give-and-go with David Krejci, before firing a shot pass to Recchi in front for a neat redirect to a thunderous ovation. Tie game!

Urged on by the crowd, the Bruins drew another power play when Briere took down another player with 46 ticks left in regulation. To Philly's credit, they killed it off including the remaining 1:14 when it became 4-on-3. Hell. The Bruins almost turned it over at the blueline for what would've been a clean shorthanded breakaway for Mike Richards. Instead, the teams skated four-on-four each going for broke. The Flyers again came close but Thomas said no.

The winner came when Bergeron spun around Richards and then skated down the left wall before firing in front for Sturm, who deflected it home for his club-leading 14th- touching off a nice celebration that included fireworks. Chara started it, also drawing an assist. Just an outstanding play by Bergeron, who's bounced back in a big way with 11 goals and 20 helpers for a team best 31 points to make Canada. Last year, he returned from a concussion playing in 64 games with eight goals and 31 assists totaling 39 points.

Amazing to think that at only 24, he's already in his sixth season. Bergeron was in the same great '03 class as Team USA's Zach Parise, Carter, Richards, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, MA Fleury, E. Staal, Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf, Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler, Nathan Horton, Milan Michalek, Brent Seabrook, Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn and Brent Burns. If you're a Ranger or Islander fan, duck and cover. Bergeron wasn't taken till 45th overall with gems Loui Eriksson and Shea Weber also slipping while somehow Joe Pavelski fell to Round 7. Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom went in the eighth round! Jaroslav Halak in Round 9. Rather than focus on the obvious, it's nice to see Bergeron back healthy and returning to form.

Congrats to the B's on a thrilling comeback that moves them temporarily within three of the Sabres, who also play tonight hosting the Thrashers at the bottom of the hour.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Patrice Bergeron, Bos (assist, 3 SOG, hit, takeaway, 7-10 draws, +1 in 18:05)
2nd Star-Tim Thomas, Bos (24 saves incl.11/12 in 2nd)
1st Star-Marco Sturm, Bos (Winter Classic OT winner, 3 SOG in 17:29)


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