It's finally here. The game we've been waiting for all season.
Although the pond hockey concept itself is among the most primitive aspects of the sport, two professional teams playing on an outdoor rink on New Year's Day has become the most unique experience in hockey. The NHL's missteps in recent years are well-documented, but one thing they continue to get right is the Winter Classic. I'm not just saying that because the Flyers are in it this year; I've watched every one of them, geeking out over camera angles that capture an expanse of white ice against a stadium backdrop and players skating in throwback jerseys. This year, we'll see those shots set against backdrops that include the Green Monster and Pesky Pole.
The game has a distinct nostalgic feel despite this being just the third Winter Classic, and the fact that it's played in a structure built and widely known for another sport. By all accounts, the league has done an outstanding job of setting up the 2010 Winter Classic, from selecting two teams with amazing histories and pairing that matchup with a legendary venue, to constructing an ice surface that the players say is perfect despite the obvious challenges by the elements.
We're in for an amazing experience today, and that's before we even look at the game itself.
The rivalry between the Flyers and Bruins remains strong today, renewed annually with games characterized by big hits and gamesmanship, despite the fact that these teams virtually never face each other in the playoffs. Seven points separate them in the Eastern Conference, representing four places in the EC standings. Maybe we'll see them in the 'offs this year—what a matchup that would be.
Michael Leighton gets the start over Woonsocket, Rhode Island, native Brian Boucher. I'd have loved to have seen Boosh get the hometown start (imagine yourself getting to start in net at CBP for context), but Leighton is the man of the moment, coming off of four wins including a shutout in his last. Leighton Master MUST keep that going today. There's no other option.
The B's aren't known for their attack as much as they are for their defensive strengths, and Tuukka Rask has the league's best GAA by a large margin and a slight lead in save percentage. Plus, he's got a sweet mask just for the occasion. [Update: Tim Thomas will start for the Bruins] With the elements possibly imposing on the festivities today, scoring could be at a premium. Fortunately, the Flyers look as though they've shaken the snake, with their goal-scoring ability on display in a 6-0 rout of the Rangers in their last game before the Classic.
Ideally, we'll be seeing a continuation of that today, with Peter Laviolette's system finally in fruition. Lavvy emphasizes sending wave after wave into the offensive zone, which requires active defensemen to start the rush yet be ready for any counters that should arise. It's the kind of hockey the national audience will want to see, more so than a dominant performance by Thomas. So let's give the people what they want, eh, Flyers?
You'll hear it said that when it comes down to it, this game matters only as much as all the others—it all comes down to the points in the standings. I don't buy it. You can see it in the players' faces that this one is different. The Bruins have something amazing to give the fans of Boston; the Flyers can announce to the league that they've regrouped and are once again a threat to hoist the Cup this year.
Andrew is the lucky Leveler who will get to see the game from the Fenway bleachers, while I'm feeling pretty good hosting some of my Flyers peeps back here in the Philly area. As always, we're looking forward to watching it with all you.