The 2012 NHL Winter Classic lived up to every bit of hype that has been piled on it over the past year. The teams represented one of the league's best rivalries, and each side was at the top of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference for the period leading up to and including game. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, although the net result of participation in the event was positive, the finale was disappointing.
Despite a hard-fought 60 minutes, the Flyers wilted in the third period, and goaltending was—predictably—one of the deciding factors. It's also a clear difference between the Flyers and the team they trail in the division.
Below, a look at the best and worst the day had to offer.
Deep Rooted Atmosphere
There was little doubt that a Flyers-Rangers matchup on the field at one of baseball's new palaces would be met with tremendous fan response, and we've come to expect Winter Classics to be outstanding theatre no matter where they're played and who is on the ice. A crowd of nearly 47,000 surrounded a makeshift yet perfect hockey stage, and the weather behaved, with only wind providing any sort of issue. A light wave of flurries later in the game added even more to a gorgeous scene. Off the ice, the NHL, Flyers, Phillies, and Rangers did just about everything right in terms of putting on a memorable show for fans who shelled out big money for a unique experience.
The NBC announcers said it was hard for the coaches to communicate on their benches because of how loud it was.
The Roots were a highlight as well, putting on a great intermission show. All but Black Thought donned Flyers jerseys (at least he ditched his frequently worn Yankees cap), and they played "The Fire," replacing "Fire" with "Flyers." Great performance by Philly's top musical act:
Patti LaBelle... not the best anthem we've heard, and we'll leave it at that.
Flyers Are Subjects in King Henrik's Realm
Unfortunately, the result that counts is that the Flyers are still chasing a superior Rangers team in the standings and in bona fide contention for a Stanley Cup. One huge reason—although not the only one—is Henrik Lundqvist. Through a tight first period, Henrik turned aside everything sent his way, as did Sergei Bobrovsky. But a soft goal surrendered by Bob in the third will be hard to forget, whereas Lundqvist seemed to only get stronger.
The Flyers had the advantage in opportunities early, but most were not particularly dangerous. Lundqvist was square to nearly every shot, and didn't have to deal with much in the way of screens of second-effort attempts.
Through nearly half the game, neither side threatened too dangerously. Then, in a matter of 2:25, three goals were scored.
Schenn Opens His Account, Flyers Take Over
When the Flyers finally lit the scoreboard for the first time, it was a historic moment in what may become a brilliant NHL career. Brayden Schenn has battled injuries in his time as a Flyer, but earned every bit of his goal on Monday. Schenn won an offensive zone face-off, then made his way to the net as Matt Carle through the puck toward the cage. Lundqvist made the initial stop, but left the rebound at his feet, where an opportunistic Schenn put it home and celebrated exactly as you might expect.
[More on that here]
Schenn joins Danny Syvret in the realm of Flyers who have scored their first NHL goals in a Winter Classic. Hopefully that's all they'll have in common.
While we were all still high-fiving, Claude Giroux scored his 18th of the season, moving ahead of Henrik Sedin for the NHL points lead (46). Max Talbot was the playmaker who set it up, making good use of some open ice while G weaved into the slot. Talbot found him, and with two quick touches, put a great move on Lundqvist and beat him high.
Momentum Walls Out, Mike Rupp Chumps Out
Unfortunately, the Rangers got one back just 30 seconds after G's tally. Mike Rupp scored, then did a salute to mock Jaromir Jagr. One of these players will be remember for his greatness. The other will be remembered—if at all—for mocking him.
Andrej Meszaros didn't help his goalie out on this one, drifting into no-man's land and attempting to block a shot with his legs while standing straight up, stick nearly useless. The shot got past him, and a fully screened Bob had no answer for it. Probably won't need a translator to get the gist of any postage banter between the Flyers' two goalies tonight.
Third Period Hell
Short the aforementioned Jagr for part of the first, most of the second, and all of the third periods, the Flyers slowed down considerably in the final frame, appearing to lose their legs somewhat. The Rangers, meanwhile, sustained their attack. Rupp scored again less than three minutes into the third, a sorrowfully soft goal on Bob's part sure to draw more attention than it would in any other game.
Fans looking for revenge on Rupp for his disrespect of Jagr got just the opposite. Rupp scored his second of the game, just his third of the season. Lundqvist beating you is one thing… Mike Rupp is a whole lot tougher to stomach.
Brad Richards would score for the Rangers as well, putting them up by a 3-2 count. Giroux seemed to lose his man on the play, and Richards showed why he was a top prize in the off-season.
A Dramatic Finale
As the time got closer and closer to quad zeroes in the third, the Flyers kicked into a gear they hadn't seen in 20 minutes of ice time. Lundqvist remained in the gear he'd cruised in all day. The refs didn't help the Flyers out on one play in tight, blowing a very loose puck dead. But, they did award the Flyers a powerplay they didn't deserve, whistling Ryan McDonagh for delay of game after he was pushed into the Rangers' net, taking it off its moorings.
McDonagh played a key role in the final dramatic sequence as well, when, with Bob pulled, he was whistled for covering the puck in his own crease. The Flyers were awarded a penalty shot, which was taken by Danny Briere.
True to form in this one, Briere made his attempt on Lundqvist, but you could hardly say he challenged him. Briere skated straight in on net, and Henrik stayed square, not reacting until Briere made his move, going for the five hole. The shot was turned easily aside, and the game was over 20 seconds later. (Good stat by Devils beat Tom Gulitti: Including Briere's today, shooters are now 0-for-11 on penalty shots with a chance to tie game in final minute over last 15 years.)
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
The Rangers are now four points ahead in the standings, hardly an insurmountable margin. The Flyers hung with them for most of the game, but a few key lapses proved fatal.
The injury to Jaromir Jagr bears observing (though he downplayed it afterwards), as of course does the goaltending situation.
Overall, this was not a head-hanging loss, and the weekend on the whole was a great success for all parties involved. We certainly enjoyed it. And, like the players and coaches seemed to after the game, we're looking forward to life after the Winter Classic. The Flyers have an identity to cultivate and half a season to do it.