Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lundqvist, Rupp Lead Rangers in Thrilling Winter Classic win

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For the fourth time in the five years of the NHL’s Winter Classic, the road team prevailed, as the Rangers rallied behind grinder Mike Rupp’s two goals to take two points at Citizens Bank Park over the Flyers.

The Rangers were excited to see Marc Staal for the first time this year. It was the second year in a row that a Staal brother played his first game of the season outdoors, with Jordan Staal making his season debut for the Penguins in last year’s classic. Staal played on the third pair with Stu Bickel, a rookie who must’ve been shocked to see who his new defensive partner was. Jeff Woywitka proved to be the casualty of Staal’s return as he saw the pressbox, leaving Anton Stralman in the lineup.

Both teams had early chances as Ryan Callahan came close just seconds into the game, and Claude Giroux was turned aside by Henrik Lundqvist on a breakaway about five minutes later. Jaromir Jagr was also stopped on a breakaway in the first after he split the Rangers D.

The Flyers gained control early in the second period, opening up the scoring midway through. Matt Carle threw a puck that seemed to knuckleball as it came on net. Lundqvist made the initial save but couldn’t control the rebound, and rookie Brayden Schenn buried it for his first career goal after missing time with a concussion this year.

Claude Giroux continued his impressive season and made it a two goal lead less than two minutes later. A three-on-two pass from Max Talbot sent Giroux towards the net where he was able to get the puck to his backhand and beat Lundqvist stick side.

That goal, however, proved to be the last of the Flyers 36 shots to get past “King Henrik,” and thirty seconds later the Rangers got a goal from an unsuspecting source.

Mike Rupp notched his second goal of the season off a feed from Brandon Prust. The play, which started with some good old fashioned tough play along the boards to move the puck into the offensive zone, ended as the grinder showed off some soft hands, burrying a wrister past Sergei Bobrovsky. Rupp then mimicked Flyers star Jaromir Jagr’s signature salute celebration, drawing some fire from Flyers forward Scott Hartnell.

With the Flyers up 2-1, Mike Rupp would strike again early in the third with another wrist shot to the short side, notching his third goal of the season and second of the game, on a play that Bobrovsky would have liked to have back. Prust and John Mitchell assisted on both Rupp goals, as the grinding lines got it done for the Rangers. And just two minutes later, as commentator Doc Emrick was noting that the Rangers “didn’t need their star players for production,” it was their biggest star player, Brad Richards, who buried a rebound past Bobrovsky to take the lead. The play started with Ryan Callahan making a strong move behind the net, leading to Brandon Dubinsky, who has struggled after signing a long term contract, firing a too-tough-to-handle puck on net.

The game’s most exciting point, late in the third, when, with the goalie pulled, the Flyers got a puck on net and were trying to stuff it in, it was ruled that Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh closed his hand on a puck in the crease, resulting in a penalty shot for the Flyers.

With 19 seconds to go, down by one, Flyers forward Daniel Briere lined up at center ice -a better story could not have been written for the biggest regular season game of the year in the NHL. Lundqvist proved to be the more patient player in the one-on-one duel, denying Briere as he looked for the 5-hole. A frantic final attempt on goal by the Flyers proved unsuccessful and the Rangers pulled out a come-from-behind victory.

Also of note were the 12 camera crews on hand for HBO, filming the critically acclaimed series “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic.” Airing Wednesday, the final episode of the four part series will be sure to provide an amazing view into the game. I’m sure there will also be some interesting audio, especially with the scrum after the final buzzer.

The Winter Classic proved to be an amazing event for fans of both teams. As a Rangers fan, with as much hate for the Flyers as I have, I could not help but be appreciative of the event, and hockey fans all over were able to see an amazing game between two teams with more than the cameras to play for.

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