Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winter Classic Observations

The fifth Winter Classic had a bit of everything.

-Great goaltending due to Vezina hopeful Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 34 saves.

-Tight checking with the first portion of the game between the Rangers and Flyers scoreless.

-Big hits, featuring a Classic record 91 from throwback rivals intent on inflicting pain- which featured 50 from our Blueshirts with Ryan Callahan (12) and Brandon Dubinsky (11) leading the way while Flyer antagonist Scott Hartnell had an unlucky 13 along with a nifty assist on Claude Giroux's goal that had the hosts up two.

-Goalscoring with the teams combining to light the lamp five times over a 13-minute span, including unlikely hero Mike Rupp's two which sparked the guests to three unanswered highlighted by Brad Richards' decider. He may not be scoring much but almost half his goals (14) have been game-winners (6).

-Comebacks with Ranger defenseman Marc Staal finally returning after missing the first 36 games with post-concussion symptoms (PCS). A year following brother Jordan Staal's return in Winter Classic IV, there was Staal replacing Jeff Woywitka on the third pair with Stu Bickel looking a bit rusty in 20 shifts over a well managed 12:41 that included 1:14 of penalty kill time where he's always shined. It'll take time for Marc to round into form. But the encouraging news is he felt fine and should be ready to make his home debut tomorrow night in an anticipated rematch with the Panthers.

-Snow with some flakes decorating Citizens Bank Park as the second period began, making it even more special like the inaugural game (Pens-Sabres) and the third at Fenway (Flyers-Bruins). Maybe there is magic when they lace 'em up for pond hockey.

-There also were questionable calls that drew the ire of winning coach John Tortorella, who couldn't fathom two in particular, including Ryan McDonagh being called for Delay Of Game for "covering up the puck" in the crease which allowed Daniel Briere a penalty shot with 19 seconds left with a chance to tie. The sophomore defenseman saved a goal with his hustle even though it looked like he never closed his hand on it- instead sliding it over for Lundqvist to cover. Be that as it may, the call was made and Briere's forehand try was denied by the Swedish star, who closed up the five-hole, ensuring victory for his first place club.

-Fireworks, which set off despite our team prevailing much to Ed Snider's chagrin along with many Philly faithful who watched as the Rangers and the fans who braved the elements celebrated in the Phillies' ballpark. You just can't make it up.

-Trash talk with Hartnell infuriated over Rupp's salute after his first goal mocking Jaromir Jagr, who unfortunately reinjured his groin and took only one shift in the second before just sitting on the Flyer bench to lend support. Of course, who could blame the orange pumpkin for getting irked over such silliness when later there he was stewing it up as the final horn sounded. Perhaps the three losses are getting to Hartnell, who acted like a baby.

-Surprising playmaking and contributions from Brandon Prust, who opted to use his hands over his fists by making not one but two perfect backhand feeds that set up Rupp's pair. John Mitchell also assisted with the tough trio a huge part of another team win.

-A great crowd with over 46,000 strong coming out for this once in a lifetime unique event that's become the NHL signature. Despite a hike in prices, the demand is there. If I had the cash, I would've coughed it up too. To those who were able to, just remember how lucky you are.

-Conspiracy theories with Tortorella wondering if the league and officials Ian Walsh and Dennis LaRue met to try to get the hotly contested game into overtime. It would've been a boon for the NHL and NBC a la the epic finish in Buffalo. Of course, Tort apologized for his commentary which included "disgusting" to sum up the third and wanting to make amends in person with both refs. Sadly, he wasn't wrong on anything he said. But it'll cost plenty.

-My favorite part was the Alumni Game with the Flyers prevailing 3-1 highlighted by ageless Bernie Parent putting the pads on one more time and making two huge saves in his classic stand up style. He only played four and a half minutes but to do that and skate off under his own power to thunderous cheers was one of the coolest things ever. And of course, Eric Lindros getting the deserved loud ovation he deserved after 11 years away. Him and Bobby Clarke sharing the ice with the former GM and all-time great supporting the Big E in one day making the Hockey Hall Of Fame. How wonderful it was to see Lindros flying down the wing to set up former Legion Of Doom 'mate John LeClair. And on the other side, we had Mark Messier and Brian Leetch along with Adam Graves turning back the clock. Sure, we only scored one with Glenn Anderson finishing off a nice pass from noted playmaker Darius Kasparaitis. But it was awesome to see guys like Mike Gartner, Darren Turcotte and Dan Blackburn, who made some sparkling saves. I love the Alumni Game and hope to one day catch one up close.

-Blocked shots with the Blueshirts dominating with 20 of a total 28, including four from Superman Dan Girardi and three apiece from Bickel and evolving Anton Stralman.

We could easily write so much more about the Classic. But just the sights and sounds were enough. Here's hoping it never goes away.

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