Mother Nature cooperated this time around. A year ago in Pittsburgh, rain affected the start time and the quality of the game. This year, the league got the best weather conditions it has ever had in the five-year history of the Winter Classic. The temperature was 41 degrees, but, more importantly, it was partly cloudy, which is always what organizers hope for. A sunny day is not welcomed for outdoor hockey. The start time was moved two hours for fear that the sun at 1 p.m. ET would damage the ice and the glare would affect the players’ visibility.
In the end, despite a bit of wind, the conditions couldn’t have been better.
It’s not just about an NHL game. The Winter Classic has grown into a week-long celebration for the host city. Taking the cake this year was the Rangers-Flyers alumni game before more than 45,000 fans. Anyone who was on hand won’t soon forget the reception for Eric Lindros, who was clearly touched by the way the fans welcomed him back 11 years after his bitter exit. It set the tone for a wonderful weekend as the host Flyers paraded their proud past and further cemented their place as one of the strongest and well-run organizations in the league.
Easily the best of the five Winter Classics. That was our thought Friday when we skated on it at the media skate, comparing it to the quality of the ice at previous Winter Classic media skates. And the response from the players Monday after the game was generally more positive than other years. It will never be perfect. It’s just not possible. But the puck didn’t bounce around nearly as much as other years.
"Way better than I anticipated," Rangers center Brad Richards said.
Flyers center Daniel Briere said the ice conditions did not make him alter what he would have normally done on his penalty shot. In other words, the ice was good enough to treat his penalty shot as a normal attempt.
The Flyers came out and controlled most of the puck possession for the opening 40 minutes. But the momentum changed when Sergei Bobrovsky gave up a soft goal to Mike Rupp 2:41 into the third period. The Flyers lost their focus for most of the third period and didn’t generate the same kind of pressure until the end. Of course, having Jaromir Jagr injured and on the bench didn’t help things. Claude Giroux scored a beauty but otherwise, it was again an insufficient effort against a Rangers team they’ve yet to beat in three tries this season.
The Rangers were flat to start the game. Head coach John Tortorella adjusted some of his line combinations and it seemed to spark a better effort in the third period.
"The big problem with our game, the first half of that game, was just not having the puck; they had the puck more," Tortorella said. "So we just felt we needed to try to change something, and I'm not sure if that has an effect or not. We just played better. In the third period, we ended up getting to our game underneath the hash marks. I thought we did a really good job going zone to zone, not trying to be too fancy, just trying to gain zone, and then I thought we gained some momentum."