New York Hockey: Winter Classic

Marc Staal stars again for Rangers

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
12:04
AM ET


New York Rangers assistant coach Mike Sullivan parted the throng of reporters surrounding Marc Staal's locker and gave him a quick fist bump for his efforts in the Rangers’ stunning 3-2 overtime win against the Washington Capitals. It was a simple gesture to acknowledge the latest accomplishment in what is becoming a pretty tremendous comeback for the 25-year-old defenseman.

After missing the first half of the season with lingering concussion symptoms dating back to February 2011, Staal is inching ever closer to a return to form as one of the league’s elite defensemen.

Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesMarc Staal tallied the Rangers' game-winning power-play goal 1:35 into overtime.
The alternate captain has been one of the team’s steadiest and, at times, dominant performers this postseason, and he delivered a gold-star game Monday. Capping a shocking late-game rally led by Brad Richards' game-tying goal with 6.6 seconds in regulation, Staal tallied the game-winning power-play goal 1:35 into overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 series lead.

Staal, who earned the team’s MVP Broadway Hat, finished the game with a goal, assist and a plus-1 rating in 24:05 in ice time during the pivotal Game 5.

He also broke up a Capitals’ 3-on-1 rush in the third period to keep the Rangers within striking distance.

“I’m certainly feeling better and better,” Staal said of his progress since making his long-awaited season debut in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2. “As the year has gone on, I’ve felt better and better. Playoffs are a lot of fun and I’m having fun with it.”

Staal’s goal, which went off Brooks Laich's stick and beat a screened Braden Holtby, allowed the Rangers to re-assert control of a series that was threatening to slip away. Had the Rangers dropped the overtime decision to the Capitals, they’d have found themselves in a precarious position for the second time this postseason -- trailing 3-2 with the series headed back to an opponent’s home ice for Game 6.

The overtime marker was also the Rangers’ second power-play goal tallied in a span of 1:42, a drastic turnaround from the unit’s feeble efforts throughout much of the game.

“We kept talking about it, plays that would open it up for us. We just kept trying to come at them,” Staal said. “It wasn’t a set play or anything off the draw, just a good clean draw and guys went to the net and he couldn’t see it.”

With his second goal and third assist of the playoffs, Staal has already matched his output for his injury-shortened 46-game regular season. He is also nearing a return to the team-leading minutes he shouldered last season as part of the team’s top defensive pairing.

“He’s just getting better and better,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “He gets the goal and made some big plays to break up opportunities in the third. He was all over the ice.”

His contributions were something that may have gone overlooked at times last season. But now that the team knows what it was like to be without Staal, and what he has gone through to get himself back, the appreciation is magnified.

“No one understands that injury unless you go through it,” said Richards, who battled a concussion of his own while playing in Dallas last season. “I’ve gone through one and I didn’t miss half the season and jump into it, so the benefit of the doubt goes to him all the time and he’s gotten nothing but better.”

“He’s enjoying this fresh start in the playoffs,” Richards said. “He’s playing so much better, and I’m sure he’ll continue to get better.”

Rangers' dominance over Philly continues

February, 5, 2012
2/05/12
4:44
PM ET


Recap | Box score | Photos

As an appetizer to Superbowl XLVI, the Rangers’ Winter Classic rematch against the Flyers did not disappoint by any measure.

After downing Philadelphia in the first three meetings of the season, the Rangers continued the domination over their Atlantic Division rivals with a 5-2 win that had the raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden taunting, “You Can’t Beat Us!" in the waning moments.

Do the Rangers take some pride in a 4-0 series edge?

You bet they do.

“The rivalry’s been huge the past couple of years,” said defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who earned the Broadway Hat with his go-ahead goal in the third period. “Them knocking us out of the playoffs two years ago in the last game of the season and with “24/7” and HBO [leading up to the Winter Classic] it just amped up even more this year.

“I speak for everyone on the team [that] we’re pretty excited when we see these guys on the calendar.”

Artem Anisimov snapped an 18-game goal drought with a three-point performance, Marian Gaborik tallied his team-leading 26th goal of the season and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist recorded his 24th win of the season to help the team retain their lead in the Eastern Conference standings.

But Sunday wasn’t about individual performances.

Much like the first trio of games, the Rangers relied upon their hard-nosed, blue-collar identity to prevail past a Philadelphia squad with plenty of salt and snarl.

Eight fighting majors and a combined 72 penalty minutes were dished out in a chippy game that had a playoff-level atmosphere.

“Tough games against rivals like that, we always find a way to come play,” said Brandon Dubinsky, who finished with a fight and a goal. “We don’t have to hype each other up and get rah-rah in here. Each guy knows how tough it’s going to be and how important it’s going to be.”

That physicality has been something the Rangers have relished, an element that seems to produce their best performances of the season, often against the best teams.

“Everyone in the room knows it’s gonna be a battle every time we play these guys,” said rugged defenseman Stu Bickel. “We’ve come out on top and everyone today was ready to go ready to play, right from the start."

Bickel, who remained in the lineup instead of recently-cleared Steve Eminger, boosted the Blueshirts with two entertaining scraps against a pair of Philly’s Most Wanted.

After a wild slugfest against Wayne Simmonds in the first, Bickel dropped the gloves for the second time in the third, taking on tough guy Tom Sestito at 2:13.

Coach John Tortorella said he gave Bickel “high marks” for his gutsy effort and Bickel’s teammates echoed the sentiment.

“We joke around in here a lot that he’s never going to shy away from an opportunity to get five minutes. He’s tough,” Dubinsky said. “He’s a guy that’s come in here and earned a job. He’s been great for us. You can’t ask for anything more from a teammate than a guy that steps up to the plate and puts his body on the line every night.”

With the win, what many fans hope is the first of two for New York on Super Bowl Sunday, the Rangers remain three points ahead of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

All with their hard-nosed, blue-collar reputation intact.

“We’re a sum of parts. That’s how we play,” Tortorella said. “I thought we handled ourselves very well.”

Winter Classic rematch a "big game"

February, 5, 2012
2/05/12
11:28
AM ET
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was tight-lipped Sunday morning -- he did not disclose any lineup changes or injury updates -- but he did concede the importance of Sunday's game to his Flyers squad.

Coming off an ugly 6-4 loss at home to New Jersey on Saturday -- the Flyers were outscored 6-0 after two periods before a four-goal rally in the third fell short -- Laviolette hopes his team can build off the team's last 20 minutes of play, during which they outshot the Devils 24-1.

"I'd like to see us pick up where we left off in the third period," Laviolette said Sunday before the game. "Four of the first six goals were on specialty teams, so 5-on-5 it was hard to get a read on where we were at. I thought we came out with a strong third period, which is what we wanted to do, and hopefully we can continue down that road."

It will be an uphill battle for the Flyers, who have dropped the all three games against the Rangers (including a 3-2 loss to the Rangers in Philly's hometown Winter Classic ) so far this season.

"We haven't had any success against the Rangers yet," Laviolette said. "It's a big game for us."

• • •


The Rangers will stick with the same lineup today against the Flyers, which means no Steve Eminger. Although the 28-year-old defenseman has been medically cleared to play, coach John Tortorella wanted to give him a few more days of rest before his return.

Eminger has missed almost two months with a separated right shoulder and Tortorella anticipates he will need some time to adapt to the "quickness" of the game.

24/7: Episode 4 Winners and Losers

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
12:00
AM ET
That's a wrap, folks. One final look yielded more than a few memorable scenes from the Rangers' and Flyers' road to the Winter Classic. And as such, there seem to be more names in the Win and Loss column than usual.

Here's a look at those that came across well -- and those who got metaphorically speared right in the ... uh, you know -- in the final installment of HBO's final episode of "24/7":

Winners

Staals: Not only does Marc Staal make his return to action at the Winter Classic, but Jordan taps in a goal against the Flyers when the Pens play the Flyers. All in a day's work for a family of all-stars.

Peter Laviolette: Perhaps no Winter Classic storyline was bigger than the decision to start Sergei Bobrovsky over Ilya Bryzgalov. Given the ignominious history of the Philly crease, this had to have been a very hard decision considering all of the spotlights pointed directly at the Winter Classic. But the Flyers' coach was concise in his explanation and didn't appear to waver. He didn't show even a fraction of the angst the media felt on his behalf.

Ilya Bryzgalov: This one surprised me. Given the benching, the thermos pic on Twitter and how some of his interview scrum comments read in print, it seemed to me that many believed he was embracing his role as 24/7's resident comedian more than his role as the highest paid player in the Philly clubhouse. But his tone certainly didn't convey that and he seemed genuinely upset to be on the sidelines. If you're a fan of a team, you want your players to feel bad when they're playing poorly and want them aching for a chance at redemption. That's what I saw here.

Claude Giroux:
I promise I'll break away from the Flyers in a second, but it was darn entertaining to hear him begging Henrik Lundqvist to let one slip by, then jabbing Artem Anisimov for his faceoff technique and Brayden Schenn for celebrating his first NHL goal. Oh, and that backhander he scored in the Winter Classic was just silly. If I had to bet, this time next year I think you'll see the "trinity" of Crosby, Ovechkin and Stamkos turned into a foursome with Giroux rounding out the group.

Scott Burnside's right ear: Was it just me, or was the right side of the intrepid ESPN reporter's head visible in every media scrum in Episode 4?

Henrik Lundqvist: Not only are all-stars begging him to let them score, and another sound bite wondering how he saw a particular Winter Classic shot, but his slow-mo shutdown of Danny Briere's penalty shot was just amazing. The concentration and nerves required not to make the first move really came across well.

The Rivalry: "No shaking hands, just get off the ice." One of the last quotes we heard from the ice really summed up the intense feelings these franchises have for one another. It really makes you feel like the best games between the Flyers and Rangers are those yet to come. Particularly, as the playoffs approach. And don't forget about how it will be ratcheted up another notch with next season's realignment.

The Winter Classic: HBO's cameras really do this event justice, as the grand scale truly is cinematic. But it was also the close-ups on the players postgame that showed just how much this game means to all involved. In the press box we were discussing how, at its most basic, the Winter Classic is just an expensive, cold, regular season game with even worse seats than NHL arenas ... and the fans just go crazy for it. When all logic dictates you shouldn't enjoy an experience and you instead find yourself with your jaw on the floor, you know they're doing something right with this event.

And last but not least ...

Mike Rupp: Two goals in the Winter Classic, a nod from John Tortorella in the pregame speech and standing up for a sucker-punched Michael Del Zotto. Is there such thing as a "24/7" hat trick? There is now.

Losers

Technology: Film session, fail.

Evgeni Malkin: Singled out to America by Scott Hartnell as the "ugliest player in the NHL"? Very ouch.

Little Max Talbot: Speared directly in the ... again ... ouch.

Wayne Simmonds: No one questions his mettle on the ice, but his fear of blood was something to behold in the locker room. It's those sort of moments that make this HBO series so entertaining.

The Refs: After the game, Ryan Callahan told reporters that if he was holding the stick when he was whistled for a late third-period penalty, he was holding it with his throat. The replayed incident certainly seemed to back that up. I don't know about you, but if I get something wrapped around my wind pipe, my hands are going to my throat too. I will say the HBO replay of the controversial "covered puck" in the crease sure made it look like the refs got that call right. I'm sure opinions will still vary on that though.

Wedgie-picking teens: Memo to beach goers in Florida, when there is a film crew behind you, it is advisable to wait before adjusting your swim suits. A grateful nation thanks you for your patience.

The Flyers: Instead of coming out and trying to protect their one-goal lead, the cameras caught Philly's top line debating what celebration they would use to mock the Rangers if they beat Lundqvist again. We never did find out what they decided on, being as how they never scored again.

Oh yeah, and one more winner I forgot to mention ...

The Rangers: 3-2. 'Nuff said.

Video: Flyers fans attack Rangers fans

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
1:51
PM ET


This is painful to watch: Rangers fans get jumped by goons after the Winter Classic.



Winter Classic Rewind

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
11:59
AM ET


Want to relive the glory of the Rangers’ win at the Winter Classic? Yeah, we did too.

In case you missed anything Monday, we’ve compiled all our Blueshirt-related material from the Jan. 2 outdoor game into one convenient post below. Take a gander:

• Get started with the Rapid Reaction.

• Pierre LeBrun grades out the Winter Classic, with the Rangers earning a B-plus.

• Katie Strang writes that Marc Staal is stoked to be back on the ice.

• And we kept tabs on his return with a shift-by-shift breakdown of the all-star D-man’s first game back.

• Strang catches up with Mr. Relevant, Mike Rupp.

John Tortorella takes the refs to task for their mysterious late penalties.

• LeBrun discusses the role of Brad Richards.

• Craig Custance writes that the Rangers are built to last (Insider).

• And Custance also lists 10 potential locations being discussed as future Winter Classic sites (Insider). See why the Yankees may be hindering New York’s chances to land the game and if Central Park could be a possible venue.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 3, Flyers 2

January, 2, 2012
1/02/12
6:02
PM ET

What it means: Gritty forward Mike Rupp single-handedly whittled a 2-0 deficit and elite center Brad Richards tallied the game-winner as the Rangers prevailed 3-2 in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park Monday. The Rangers' come-from-behind win, executed in epic fashion during the vaunted festivities, gave the Blueshirts a four-point edge over the Flyers in the Eastern Conference standings and a 3-0 season series lead.

Been there before: Winter Classic veteran Rupp, who played in the annual outdoor game last year with the Pittsburgh Penguins, gave the Rangers a huge two-goal boost with his finest game of the season. The 31-year-old forward cut the Flyers’ two-goal lead in half with a sharp wrister that beat Sergei Bobrovsky at 14:51 of the second and tied the game with a shortside shot early in the third. Rupp displayed his showmanship as well, playing to the sellout crowd after his first marker with with a mimic of Jaromir Jagr’s salute to the sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

Staal returns: Rangers defenseman Marc Staal made his season debut after missing the first 36 games with post-concussion symptoms. The 24-year-old played primarily on the team's third defensive pairing with Stu Bickel during his first game in almost nine months.

First time: Brayden Schenn picked a grand stage to tally his first NHL goal. The 20-year-old Flyers center banged in a rebound to give his team a 1-0 lead at 12:26 of the second period and ignite a crowd of 46,967 at Citizens Bank Park.

Double up: Less than two minutes after Schenn got the Flyers on the board, Claude Giroux gave Philly a 2-0 lead. The star finished a backhander to pull even with Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin for the league lead in scoring. Both Sedin and Giroux, who recorded his 18th goal of the season, have 46 points.

Jagr hurt?: Jagr left the game in the first period and returned in the second to play only two shifts. The Flyers did not divulge what was bothering the Czech star, who remained on the bench in the third but didn't play.

Late scratch: With Staal’s last-minute addition, defenseman Jeff Woywitka was bumped from the lineup. Erik Christensen was also scratched for the seventh straight game. For the Flyers, defenseman Matt Walker and tough guys Zac Rinaldo and Jody Shelley were scratched.

Avery watch: Sean Avery, waived by the Rangers for the second time this season Friday, finished with four shots, two penalty minutes and a minus-one rating in the (AHL) Connecticut Whale's 5-4 OT loss to Portland Monday.

Ideal conditions: The ice may have not been ideal, but the weather for Monday's game could not have been better. Fans bundled up for the clear, cold conditions were rewarded with some flurries of snow during the second period.

Up next: Rangers at Panthers, Thursday at 7 p.m.

Blueshirts take breather as Classic looms

January, 1, 2012
1/01/12
9:22
PM ET

Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Rangers, who posed for pictures Sunday, battle the Flyers on Monday at Citizens Bank Park.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Rangers had a chance to soak in the atmosphere of the Winter Classic festivities, skating with family members and posing for pictures following the team’s practice session on Sunday.

It was a rare moment for the Blueshirts to take a step back and appreciate what all the hype and hysteria leading up to the league’s annual outdoor game is about.

After a whirlwind start to a season rife with distraction, including a grueling European tour and constant exposure from the embedded HBO camera crews, the Rangers are ready for the reward and poised to take care of business.

“We have had a number of distractions right from the get-go of camp, and the guys have handled it well,” coach John Tortorella said during his post-practice news conference. “So their focus, there won't be any problem with that at all as far as tomorrow.”

Focus hasn’t been an issue for the stubborn and single-minded Rangers, who are 7-3-0 in their past 10 games and in first place in the Eastern Conference.

In fact, resilience has been the team’s calling card during its ascent in the standings.

“This staff is really good at keeping us dialed in on the objectives. Nothing really slides in our game so it’s something that has been addressed every day, and something we pay attention to,” said forward Mike Rupp, who played in last year’s Winter Classic with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Why has this team done well at weathering the obstacles and minimizing distractions?

“Maybe because everything has been a distraction that everything just feels normal,” assistant captain Brad Richards said.

Richards said the team was made well aware of the challenges it would face this season long before he inked his nine-year, $60 million contract as a free agent in July.

The rigors of the 2011-12 season was a topic of discussion with core players before the team broke last offseason. A letter was then sent out this summer as a reminder and the issue was broached once again during training camp.

“We talked about, ‘We’re not going to let it bother us.’ No excuses,” Richards said.

And the fact the team has excelled throughout the first 36 games certainly helps.

“Winning helps everything, and that's another example,” Richards said. “If you lose, maybe you start using that as a crutch. We haven’t done that because we’ve been able to string a lot of wins together.”

The venue and the atmosphere will be different Monday, but that plan remains the same.

“Today is the day to enjoy and have the family in here and this and that,” Rupp said Sunday. “But tomorrow is another hockey game and [we can’t] let our emotions get in the way of our two points.”

Iron Mike back on bench for alumni game

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
7:58
PM ET


PHILADELPHIA -- Bragging rights might have been the only thing on the line during Saturday's alumni game between the Rangers and Flyers, but some things never change.

"Mike is still Mike," Ron Duguay said of Rangers alumni coach Mike Keenan after his team's 3-1 loss. "He really wanted to win. That's what you have to love about him."


Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesIt was an alumni game, so Mike Keenan allowed himself to smile.


Keenan's fiery demanor and demanding coaching style -- which earned him the nickname "Iron Mike" -- was on full display in front of the sold-out crowd of 45,808 at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.

Does he ever think about getting back into coaching?

"I don't know if I ever thought about getting out," said Keenan, who led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994. "The industry either calls you back or it doesn't. The game either calls you back or it doesn't. Right now, it doesn't look like it's going to call myself or [Flyers alumni coach] Pat Quinn back."

Keenan coached eight different teams -- including the Rangers and Flyers -- over his 24 years in the NHL, most recently Calgary in 2008–09. He still believes he can contribute at the professional level.

"I think I could help a team with my experience," Keenan said. "I was surprised some teams hired coaches that had absolutely no experience. That's making it very difficult on that coach, I believe. I think you need experienced guys."

Keenan, 62, said he also feels like he still has the requisite energy level to handle the rigors of leading an NHL team. But whether the NHL will buck the latest trends of hiring younger coaches over more seasoned candidates remains to be seen.

"I'm probably young enough yet, because it demands a lot of time and energy, but it goes in cycles," Keenan said. "If you look at baseball for example, they go to older managers or experienced managers. In hockey right now, the cycle is younger coaches."

"That has always been part of the industry, part of the business where there is a cycle of coaches where young people come in, and then they go to veteran people."

As for right now, Keenan said the only interest he has received was to coach the Rangers' alumni team.

As for future gigs down the road?

"It may happen, it may not," Keenan said. "I don't know."


Check out this time-lapse video of Citizens Bank Park transformed from baseball field into hockey rink for Monday's Winter Classic.

You fired up yet?

24/7: Episode 3 winners and losers

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
12:07
AM ET
Apologies if this post was a little delayed. It's hard to type when images of painted-on red jeans are still seared on your retina. Please heed the usual disclaimer that the rundown is based solely on how things were perceived during the latest episode of "24/7," not their actual value as a player, person or walking fashion faux pas.

Winners

Torts: John Tortorella is rapidly earning "winner" emeritus status. Another slate of succinct, fiery dressing room speeches, a brief interlude with Ryan Callahan to review strategy between periods -- all in a day's work. A year ago, Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma began to earn some momentum for a potential Team USA head coaching gig thanks to his strong performance in front of the "24/7" lens. I don't think it's far fetched to think Tortorella could enjoy a similar stock boost. And he's already more ingrained in USA Hockey than Bylsma.

Ryan Callahan: It's easy to watch Callahan on the ice and talk to him in the locker room and get caught up in the serious approach that defines his game. After glimpsing his "winning" outfit at the ugly sweater party, it's clear Cally knows how to have a few laughs as well. As much as anyone can be a "winner" while dressed like a holiday Hobbit, Callahan lands in the W column. Another impressive note: No batteries powered that sweater; Callahan actually radiates energy. And you thought it was just a metaphor ...

Bryzgalov's child-devouring husky: Last episode Ilya Bryzgalov clued in North America that his husky was like a beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed woman. In Episode 3 we got a glimpse of the legendary beast. While the "Baywatch" casting call is probably out of reach, it was entertaining to watch her try to devour Little Bryz.

Claude Giroux: Jaw-dropping performances after returning from a concussion are all the rage this season, and Giroux's four-point night in Dallas was enhanced given a pair of factors. First, it clearly seemed like he was a little hesitant about his status when he was speaking with head coach Peter Laviolette prior to suiting up again. He apparently overcame that uncertainty in a hurry once he hit the ice. Second, his sense of humor after starting the game minus-one was pretty fun to see.

Mike Rupp: "You're irrelevant out here," the Rangers' tough guy quipped to Jody Shelley when the Blueshirts battled the Flyers. "If you had any impact on the outcome of the game, I'd f---ing go with you." I choose to believe this is what they meant in "Braveheart" when they said, "they fought like warrior poets."

Losers

Ronald Reagan ... er ... Peter Laviolette: For about a week the hockey world was looking forward to seeing more of what sparked the confrontation between the Flyers' bench boss and Dallas Stars forward Steve Ott. Well, we still don't know and Laviolette's only action was to play dumb about it, thus allowing Ott to provide the only meaningful commentary ("Show some class and wait for the team to go"). With his actions, his response to Ott ("Go f--- yourself") and his lack of candor to the press, Laviolette just came off looking like a jerk.

Communication gear: It seems that the tech company that provides the communication system for the NHL's video review room is the same one contracted to install the PA systems in most public schools. Hockey Ops VP Mike Murphy must think he's constantly talking to Charlie Brown's teacher.

Tom Sestito: I understand that Sestito was trying to get under the Rangers' skin, but he could really use a thesaurus or something to help him with his taunts. Just saying, "I'm going to bash your face in," over and over again doesn't really do the trick. On the other hand, Brad Richards' rebuttal to the little-experienced Flyer is precisely what we're looking for as viewers. "What do you have, like, one NHL game?" Richards jabbed. "This must be like fantasy camp for you."

Red jeans: If they ever had a chance to make a comeback outside the Williamsburg hipster scene, this episode just ended it. Un. Savory.

A Winter Classic state of mind

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
5:54
PM ET

Jeff Skopin/ESPNNewYork

The Empire State Building struts its stuff on Wednesday, showing red and blue for the New York Rangers as well as orange in honor of the Philadelphia Flyers.

24/7: Episode 2 Winners, Losers

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
12:07
AM ET
Another Wednesday, another transcendental evening in front of HBO for NHL fans. Just like last week, we'll be breaking down the top winners and losers from the behind-the-scenes series. And just to reiterate, this is based solely on perception from watching the show, not anyone's value on the ice or as a member or society.

So with that as a precursor, let's dive into Episode 2.

Winners

Winning: Forget about Charlie Sheen for a second and just focus on the ups and downs of the NHL season. Fans always seem to think they ride the lead car of the emotional roller coaster that is an 82-game schedule in the NHL. After the portraits of the Rangers and Flyers following their big wins and losses of the past week, I think fans can realize they're not alone. No one feels the Mac Miller/Broadway hat highs and coach lecturing-lows more than the players.

The Universe: Big rebound performance for the universe tonight. After Episode 1, the Universe took a series of head shots from crease prophet Ilya Bryzgalov because it really has to deal with the full gravity of, well, gravity. In Episode 2, galaxies near and far, far away seem to be celebrating the cult-status of Bryz's favorite topic du jour. A fan-made t-shirt craze can't be far behind. Honorable "winner" mention goes to Bryz's sexy bi ... uh, pooches.

Michael Del Zotto: Several shining moments for No. 4. The coach calls him the team's best defenseman in the film session, he scores a goal vs. the Blues following John Tortorella's Coach Taylor-like (and seemingly Viagra-sponsored) intermission speech and then he springs Marian Gaborik for the crucial tying goal in Phoenix. About this time last season, Del Zotto was getting shipped back to the minors. What a difference a year makes, eh?

The Rock and Roll Career of Landon Girardi: Forgive me if I misspelled the first name of the next Mick Jagger, but it's hard to believe agents aren't dialing up the Girardi household right now. After all, he's already got the rock star move of trashing the room down. Great to see Dan and son taking slap shots too and "missing the net just like his old man." Just wait until they start the blocked shots lessons.

Brandon Prust: Respect and unconditional love for Prust are in no short supply among Rangers fans, but now they can also appreciate his role as Brian Boyle's fashion consigliere as well.

Liam and Torts: Wow ... I mean, just ... that's ... is there pollen in my living room? Hold on. There's something under my contact lens ...

It seems like you learn something new with every episode of 24/7. In this one, Liam taught us a lesson in appreciation and perspective. Tortorella told us Liam thanked him 10 times for the surprise Winter Classic tickets, but the Blueshirts' No. 1 fan put it best when he acknowledged the Ranger coach's importance to him: "It really means the world to me, how he watches out for me and he protects my back."

Man, this contact lens just won't cooperate. Give me a minute ...

Oh, and Liam, thanks for the lesson.

Losers

Flyers fans without TiVo: Philly's Wednesday night game against Dallas on Versus ran long, meaning Flyers fans had to choose between sticking it out with their team with a 4-1 lead over the Stars and 5:30 remaining or flipping to HBO. Decisions, decisions. Solution: The 11 p.m. repeat showing on HBO.

Referees/Typical Montreal: I seriously hope the Flyers meet up with the Canadiens for a playoff series because Peter Laviolette didn't exactly endear himself to Habs fans. That said, he was totally right about the non-call shown in the Flyers/Habs game. "He tried to jump over him," was the weak explanation of the refs given for the lack of a whistle when a Canadiens player took the legs out from under Jaromir Jagr. Whaaaaat? Pardon Jags for not diving.

And this was after the refs told Artem Anisimov in Episode 1 he got an additional two minutes "for whatever" during the game against Tampa Bay. Later in the episode, we saw the Flyers get penalized for what one ref admitted was a bad call because of cumulative infractions. We're all getting a lesson in how the refs' decisions on the ice aren't exactly as black and white as their striped shirts.

Lundqvist's tennis career: Like John McEnroe, I've never seen Henrik Lundqvist play tennis. But if he plays anything like he plays guitar, then I hope Hank's not contemplating taking on Wimbledon anytime soon. Guess you can't do everything at a hall-of-fame level. Wonder what Dave Grohl thought of the Ranger goalie's chops.

Chinese Tiger Killers: The losing skid continues. As the Flyers' breakfast scene proved, the word is out on the pitfalls of slaying the majestic felines. Good luck recruiting for your evil cause now, Bengal butchers.

24/7: Episode 1 winners and losers

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
4:13
PM ET
After the conclusion of last season’s edition of “24/7,” featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, it was pretty clear that Pens’ bench boss Dan Bylsma emerged looking like a golden god of coaching, while the Caps’ Bruce Boudreau came off as a curse-loving, ice cream enthusiast.

Like the game of hockey itself, clearly there are winners and losers in this superb HBO series. To build of Katie Strang’s 3-stars recap, here are a few that stood out in Wednesday night’s first episode of the “Road to the Winter Classic.”

Winners

The Callahans: It’s small wonder where Blueshirts captain Ryan Callahan gets his blue collar grit from. “My dad told me whether you’re in the yard doing work or one the ice you do it 110 percent,” Cap'n Cally said in Episode 1. When he retires, he’s a safe bet to top the lawn care professionals power rankings.

The F-bomb: After Boudreau’s proclivity for the word, it was already a star in this series. 24/7 has clearly demonstrated its full versatility in a plethora of situations. Its insertion early and often into Ep. 1 just raises its portfolio even higher.

John Tortorella: You could tell how much the Rangers respect their head man, even when he’s chewing them out. (Oh, Marian ... )

International automakers: Seriously, does no one buy domestic anymore?

NHL charity work: The league makes a big effort to reach out and help a whole slew of charitable causes each and every year, and the involvement of the Rangers and the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds were wonderfully showcased Wednesday.

Push

Brian Boyle: He had the dubious honor of being the first player called out by his coach on camera this season; Double burn for Torts alluding to the microphone and HBO coverage being a distraction. He was redeemed by getting a chance to show off his bubbly personality and softer side with the Garden of Dreams kids.

Losers

Los Angeles hockey fans: On his way to his charity event, Simmonds took some time to throw the L.A. hockey market under the tires of his Lexus SUV. He might not have intended his excitement for Philly as a slight to his former home, but it sure didn’t sound like he had glowing things to say about the fans in La-La Land.

The Lightning-Rangers Referee Crew: They looked downright foolish flagging Artem Anisimov’s goal celebration as excessive. You haven’t seen anything like that before? Really? Are you sure? Grandma Callahan, please set this crew straight.

The universe: You and I? We don’t have problems, small as we are. The universe though? Thanks to the Tao of Bryz, we learned that’s where the real trouble is. Just think of how humungous big it is! I need a hit of tiger liquor just thinking about it. And that brings us to our final loser ...

Chinese tiger killers: You are living on borrowed time, hosers.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Maple Leafs

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
3:26
PM ET
At a glance: Facing the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second time this season, the Rangers aim to record their sixth straight win and avenge their only home regulation loss of the season – a 4-2 defeat to Toronto back in October.

Lights, camera, action: Monday will mark the first day of the full-time HBO presence leading up to the NHL’s Winter Classic game between the Rangers and Flyers in Philadelphia January 2. Camera crews will document the daily activities of each team as part of its four-part series 24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic, which is set to debut December 14.

Last time around: The Leafs handed the Rangers their only regulation loss at Madison Square Garden during the team’s home opener October 27. Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who made 28 of 30 saves in that 4-2 win for Toronto, will start in net for the Leafs Monday.

Gold stars: The Rangers’ best players – Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan – are playing like it right now. Richards enters Monday’s contest on a five-game point streak with four goals and five assists during that span. Gaborik has six points (three goals, three assists) in the last six games and Callahan has seven points (two goals, five assists) in the last five.

Great goaltending: The Rangers have also been beneficiaries of tremendous goaltending of late. Monday’s starter Henrik Lundqvist has won nine of his last ten starts (1.89 GAA, 0.936 save percentage), including one shutout.

On a roll: The Rangers’ five-game winning streak isn’t the only one to preserve. The Rangers have also won seven straight at home, dating back to October 31 against San Jose. The 7-1-1 start is the Rangers' best start through nine games at Madison Square Garden since the 1992-93 season.

Bottom line: With the cameras rolling, the Rangers eye the opportunity to rattle of their sixth consecutive win, eighth straight at home. But this Toronto team gave them a hard last time around, tallying three third-period goals to snap a 1-1 tie and sink the Rangers in their home opener.

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