The 2012 NHL Winter Classic wasn't like the others.
This game wasn't important because it was being played outdoors, or because there were over 40,000 screaming fans. This game was important because it was a New York Rangers-Philadelphia Flyers matchup, which happened to be for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Sure, the snow, Citizens Bank Park (which is an absolutely brilliant and beautiful venue), the Philadelphia skyline in the background and the atmosphere was special; but this game was too important to focus on anything other than the two points on the table.
The Rangers were able to grab those two points, thanks to two Mike Rupp goals, another Brad Richards' game-winning goal and some marvelous plays from Henrik Lundqvist. The biggest play, of course, being his save on Dany Briere's penalty shot with just 19 seconds left in the game.
The penalty shot was awarded because the referees deemed that Ryan McDonagh closed his hand around the puck when his diving effort kept a tricking puck from reaching the goaline.
"It was a little nerve-racking for sure," McDonagh said after the game. "You definitely don't want to be the guy giving a penalty shot to the other team. I have all the confidence in Hank, I think all the other guys do too. I said it before, he's worked so hard on those penalty shots, and it's such a huge part of the game with shootouts and stuff like that. In my mind I really thought he was going to step up and he did that for us tonight, it was awesome."
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Ryan Callahan, who played over 17 minutes, also had faith Lundqvist would make the save.
"It was crazy," he said. "I wouldn't rather have any other goalie in there. He's so good at breakaways and penalty shots and shootouts, so he came up huge again for us."
"I know he's a tricky guy," Lundqvist said. "There was a lot of pressure on me there. I couldn't believe they called a penalty shot . It's exciting, the whole game was exciting."
The Rangers and Flyers traded blows in the first period before ending the stanza scoreless. That score wouldn't last long. The Flyers would score two quick goals to take a 2-0 lead, putting the Rangers on their back foot. But through a solid period of Flyers' domination, the Rangers caught a break.
Rupp took a feed from Brandon Prust (who along with John Mitchell had two assists in the game) and rifled a shot over Sergei Bobrovsky to cut the Flyers' lead to 2-1. Rupp would strike again in the third period, when a tough-angle shot slipped through Bobrovsky's pads to tie the game a two.
Then the Rangers started playing their style of hockey, the style of hockey that's earned the team a 24-9-4 record. And while the Rangers were buzzing, Brad Richards scored his biggest goal as a Ranger, burying a rebound from the right circle to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead. The goal would end up being Richards' sixth game winning goal of the season.
That opened the door for Lundqvist's heroics. "It would have been tough to swallow [if Briere scored,]" he admitted about the penalty shot.
More coming up on Marc Staal's return, John Tortorella's thoughts on the game and much more from Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh over the coming days.
For now guys, thoughts on this fantastic win?