The NHL announced the New York Rangers would play the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park just less than five months ago. Ever since, there's been an inordinate amount of build up: from the media coverage in the days leading up to it to the memorabilia to HBO's show chronicling each team's every move. The Rangers and Flyers both enjoyed being a part of the whole experience, but the Blueshirts can walk out of Philadelphia and their first Winter Classic with their heads held high, defeating the hated rivals in come-from-behind-fashion 3-2.
First and foremost, the entire event was spectacular and was a great showcase of the National Hockey League. Forty-five thousand-plus fans in attendance, plus millions of casual fans (in addition to the diehard followers) received a treat in this one as they got a taste of all that's great about hockey.
The Rangers' heroes ended up being the unexpected: Mike Rupp and the big-name: Henrik Lundqvist and Brad Richards. And they overcame some very questionable penalty calls in the third period, to boot.
The reason the Blueshirts had a chance for heroics in the third period was the play of their world-class netminder. You would think that with all the hype surrounding the event, they would have been able to come out with more energy and more forechecking pressure. Instead, they were bottled up and really could get nothing going of the high-percentage variety. The first period finished scoreless and the 12-9 shot differential for the Flyers doesn't really do the territorial play justice as the Rangers could've easily been put in a hole early. One of the period's best saves came on a play in which Jaromir Jagr was sprung and split the Rangers' defense, but Lundqvist stuck with the play and kicked it away.
Even with more sound goaltending from The King, the Flyers broke through at 12:26 of the second period. Brayden Schenn potted his first career NHL -- could it be any more memorable? -- off a Matt Carle shot that rebounded right to him for the easy put back. One of the NHL's most dangerous players, Claude Giroux, would double Philadelphia's lead two minutes later on a pretty back-hander, and it looked very much like the Rangers were going to be trudging up hill the rest of the way.
Thirty seconds later, however, the fourth line of John Mitchell, Brandon Prust and Rupp was sent onto the ice to hopefully give the Rangers some energy through good board work, some hitting and possibly a fight ... but instead they got it the best way possible, as Mitchell tipped the puck to Prust in the offensive zone, and he then flicked a back-handed pass to Rupp who ripped it glove-side on Sergei Bobrovsky. The enforcer also took off his glove and mimicked the Jagr salute ... as if the rivalry needed more spice. The Rangers would hold steady for the next five minutes and enter the third period down just one.
Rupp again broke through 2:41 into the third period as he sent a bad-angle shot from the boards that beat Bobrovsky high and tied the game. The Rangers would build on the momentum less than three minutes later as Brandon Dubinsky sent a shot via a no-look pass from Ryan Callahan behind the net and the rebound went right to Richards, who sent the high shot into the net for what ended up being the game-winner. Callahan and Dubinsky combined for 21 of the Rangers' 50 hits.
Granted, the period still had 14:29 left, but that's when Lundqvist showed his true form, making a number of jaw-dropping saves. It was truly a sight to behold and a save exhibition that just makes you believe this could be Lundqvist's Vezina Trophy season.
But the goalie was called upon a bit more because of some horrendous calls. In the third, Ryan McDonagh was penalized for delay of game when he knocked the net off its moorings, but in reality he was pushed in. Then, with the Flyers' net empty, Callahan flew down the ice to collect the puck on a clear break to the net, but was interfered with by Kimmo Timmonen, who also had his stick up high on Callahan's neck. Instead of penalizing only the Flyer, the referees also gave Callahan a bogus holding-the-stick. It gets better, though: on a goal-mouth scramble with 20 seconds left, McDonagh was called for covering the puck in the crease ... a questionable one at best. That resulted in a penalty shot taken by Danny Briere. He had no room to make any kind of move as Lundqvist, who finished with 34 saves, didn't flinch, and attempted to go five-hole, but shot it low into his pads. ... Oddly enough, the referees did not call a hooking penalty on the Flyers when Marian Gaborik broke free for a breakaway, but instead was tied up so badly the puck ended up weakly rolling to the net.
In the end, the Rangers would be "crowned" 2012 Winter Classic winners, giving themselves seven wins in their last eight games and tying them for the league lead in points with 52. As if the news of the day wasn't good enough, it also marked Marc Staal's first game back since April 23 after dealing with post-concussion syndrome.