PHILADELPHIA – There were only two players on the ice, and 19.6 seconds showing on the massive diamond-vision at beautiful Citizens Bank Park. Henrik Lundqvist, the star Rangers goaltender, and Danny Briere, the star Flyers goal scorer were standing about 100 feet apart as the Rangers clung to a one-goal advantage.
Holding their breath were 46,967 fans at what is normally the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, but today transformed into a spectacular winter postcard at the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
As the Flyers (22-11-4) desperately tried to find the equalizing goal in the game’s final minute, they sent bodies and the puck towards Lundqvist (34 saves) in a mad scramble. With the net seemingly open, Lundqvist kicked out his right leg to deny a sure game-tying goal by Briere. When the Quebec native pushed the rebound into the crease, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh dove into the crease and smothered the puck, inducing a penalty shot inside of the Winter Classic’s final twenty seconds.
“I know the puck’s trickling by Hank and if I don’t do something it’s probably going to go in,” said McDonagh in the locker room usually used by visiting Major League Baseball teams. “Consciously in my mind, I know I can’t cover it. I thought I did a really good job keeping it out of the crease and not covering it there, [but] the ref’s got to go with his gut. He sees me land on the ice with the puck about to go in; he’s going to give them the benefit of the doubt in that situation.”
“I didn’t really see the puck,” said a relieved Lundqvist in the press conference room at Citizens Bank Park. “I just stretched out my right leg and tried to stay on the post. Then I heard the whistle and heard the ref say ‘penalty shot,’ and I couldn’t believe it.”
As Briere went for the five-hole in the first-ever Winter Classic penalty shot, Lundqvist snapped his pads together and pumped his fist. Just under 20 seconds later, Lundqvist jumped high into the air in celebration when the Rangers (24-9-4) finished off a thrilling 3-2 win, their fifth consecutive triumph over their rivals from Broad Street.
“I just tried to be patient and do my thing,” said Lundqvist, who earned his 17th win of the season. “I know [Briere]’s a tricky guy, so if I make the first move he’s going to score. There’s a lot of pressure on me there. I couldn’t believe they called a penalty shot. It was exciting. The whole game was exciting, the atmosphere was pretty intense.”
“They’re two good referees, I thought the game was ref’ed horribly,”Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of referees Ian Walsh and Dennis LaRue. “I’m not sure what happened there. Maybe they wanted to get [the Winter Classic] to overtime. I’m not sure if they have meetings about that or what. We stood in there. We stood in there. I don’t want to – they’re good guys, I just thought tonight, it was, in that third period, it was disgusting.”
Lundqvist was spectacular throughout, especially in the first period when the Rangers were outplayed and out-chanced. His flashy glove save on Kimmo Timonen with 7:25 left in the first brought groans of amazement from the mostly partisan crowd of orange-clad Flyers fans.
“He played very well. He made some key saves at key times,” Tortorella said. “Earlier, in the first period, we had breakdowns and he made some saves there. It got a little sloppy through the middle of it, and the call — the penalty shot — which I still don’t understand, we felt pretty confident. For people that know him, he’s pretty good at it. He was put right on center stage and answered. It was good stuff.
“I thought it was weird when I came here [in the offseason] and Hank takes breakaways in warmups,” joked Mike Rupp, who scored the Rangers first two goals. “But I guess I’m the dumb one!”
“It was a little nerve-wracking, for sure,” said McDonagh of watching the first ever penalty shot in the five-year history of the Winter Classic. “You definitely don’t want to be the guy giving a penalty shot to the other team, but I have all the confidence in Henke, and I think all the guys did.”
The Rangers, who remain first in the Eastern Conference with 52 points, had nearly as much fun playing the game as the fans did watching this spectacular outdoor spectacle.
“Walking out to the warm-up — that was a great feeling to hear the crowd,” said Lundqvist, who normally has razor-sharp focus on game days. “You get really excited, then you have to calm yourself down a little bit. I was even a little tired after warm ups because you go so hard.”
“The players loved it,” Tortorella said of HBO’s documentary crew that will now part ways with the team. “It’s such a great experience. I look at some of these family things these players are going to be able to have on film with their family at such a young age when they grow up, and to see this, it’s great stuff. I have no problem being involved in this, because it’s a first-class outfit as far as how they went about their business.”
“Playing in front of this many people, in this atmosphere like this, all the hype leading up to it with HBO, it was awesome,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said after his pretty behind-the-back feed to Brandon Dubinsky led to the game-winning goal by Brad Richards with 14:39 left in the third. “I’m really happy that I got to be a part of it.”
Rupp’s two goals were his second and third tallies of the season.
Game-time temperature was 41.1 degrees, Fahrenheit. The average temperature in Philadelphia on January 2 is 41 degrees, Fahrenheit.
Philadephia’s Brayden Schenn opened the scoring with his first goal of the season at 12:26 of the second period.
The Rangers set a Winter Classic record with 50 hits. They tied the previous record set by the Flyers in 2010 with 20 blocked shots. Callahan and Dubinsky led the Rangers with 11 and ten hits respectively.