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NEW YORK -- So much of the allure to an outdoor hockey game is the unexpected.
From the weather to the atmosphere, ice conditions and little nuances every newly configured rink has to offer, the wild unpredictability is what makes it special.
Sunday's game between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils at Yankee Stadium offered all these elements, though it's hard to imagine anyone could have anticipated the sort of game that transpired in one of sport's most famed venues.
|The Rangers rattled off six straight goals to dump an early deficit and the Devils at Yankee Stadium.|
In contrast to the usually ungraceful, low-scoring affairs in which the crowd derives arguably more entertainment from the novelty of the spectacle than the quality of the play, the Rangers walloped the Devils 7-3 in front of a crowd of 50,105 that braved the frigid temperatures to bear witness to a game that was chock-full of highlights and heightened drama.
"It was an outstanding feeling," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of the win. "It was such a great day. I know we won it, and it's easier to say after you've won it, but it was an unbelievable atmosphere."
Rallying from a 3-1 deficit after a sloppy first period, the Rangers stormed back on their Hudson River rivals with six straight goals, chasing veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur from the game after two periods.
In doing so, the Rangers bounced back from a pair of losses and separated themselves from the Devils in the Metropolitan Division standings. Improving to 28-23-3, the Rangers are in second place, four points ahead of New Jersey and Carolina, and three points ahead of Columbus and Philadelphia.
Amidst all the hype and hoopla, the Rangers accomplished what they had set out to do.
"You want to think back at this game as a great memory, and the only way to have a great memory is you have to win the game," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 19 saves on 22 shots. "I'm really happy we took care of business today."
The game even got off to a weird start. After a postponement of roughly an hour due to the glare on the ice, the game's delay came to an abrupt end once the sky grew overcast. The Rangers were originally told they had ample time to decompress before taking the ice, but that turned out to be wrong.
Lundqvist was sleeping when the news was delivered; defenseman Marc Staal was eating a bowl of pasta. The team was told to take warm-ups at approximately 1 p.m. and there wasn't much time for a change of plans.
The lack of preparation showed for the Rangers in the first, as Lundqvist surrendered two goals to veteran Devils forward Patrik Elias, looking badly out of position on the latter. Dominic Moore got the Rangers on the board, but the period ended with the Devils up 3-1 on Travis Zajac's eighth goal of the season.
Lundqvist was concerned he might be the one yanked.
"My first thought was, am I going to be able to finish this game?" he said.
The game turned on the Rangers' second goal, though, a shot from Staal that banked off Brodeur's pads and trickled through, 5-hole. It was a shot surrendered that seemed to rattle the future Hall of Famer, and his afternoon got worse from there.
Mats Zuccarello continued what has been an impressive 2013-14 campaign, tallying twice to tilt the ice and give the Rangers the lead. Both goals were scored on odd-man rushes and glaring defensive breakdowns that usually are few and far between for a normally stingy Devils squad. Carl Hagelin's shot deflected in off Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky's skate for a 5-3 lead, and Rick Nash scored his 11th goal in 11 games with just 29 seconds left in the period.
Brodeur looked absolutely unhinged, though his defensive corps did little to help matters. Surrendering six goals on 21 shots matched Brodeur's career high in goals surrendered in a single game.
"It wasn't working for him or our group the way it was," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said.
When Cory Schneider emerged from the Yankees dugout to lead the Devils onto the ice for the third period the game was already over. That he let in a penalty shot to Derek Stepan at 10:06 was just another lowlight of a particularly poor performance for the Devils.
Asked after the game if he got to look around to take in the ambiance and atmosphere of Yankee Stadium, Devils forward Jaromir Jagr deadpanned:
"Looked like we all did in the second period."
Meanwhile, the Rangers get to relish all the sights, sounds and sequences that will make this historic game a memorable one. With the way things were going after the first period, it could have gone the other way.
Staal and his Rangers teammates are certainly glad it didn't.
"It was big for us," Staal said. "It was pretty quiet for us after the first. We knew we had to turn it around. It's great to be a part of this event and it was a lot of fun, but it makes it that much better to get the two points, obviously."