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If you were looking for drama at the Winter Classic, you didn't come away disappointed.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was called for putting his hand on the puck during a furious scramble in front of the net with 19.6 seconds to play and the Rangers leading 3-2. That meant a penalty shot for Daniel Briere of the Flyers with all the eyes in hockey watching.
Those eyes saw Henrik Lundqvist come up with a huge save, sliding his pads together to block Briere's attempt to go five-hole and send the Rangers on their way to victory. It was a pretty thrilling ending to a day that got 2012 off to a smashing start for the Rangers.
It would have been enough if they had just won a game that has been on everybody's mind since the start of the season, wounding the Flyers and staying ahead of the pack in the Atlantic Division, by coming back from a 2-0 deficit. But they also got Marc Staal back for the first time this season after the defenseman was cleared to return after a long time on the sideline battling concussion symptoms stemming from a hit last season.
Staal didn't do much to factor into the final reckoning on Monday afternoon, but his presence in the lineup is a huge deal for the Rangers the rest of the way. The team has been playing extremely well thus far and Staal's return will make them an even better team as they continue their drive for prime playoff position in the second half of the season.
As for the guys who did play a big role in the final score, expect Mike Rupp to be the subject of a lot of attention in the aftermath of the game. He scored the first two Rangers goals, drawing them even after the Flyers got two scores in quick succession in the second period, and inflamed the rivalry between the teams by celebrating the first by ripping off Jaromir Jagr's post-goal celebratory salute.
The Flyers promised revenge, but it never came on Monday. It should be a good storyline for the next meeting between the teams, though, and it will likely be a point of emphasis in the final episode of HBO's enormously entertaining series later this week.
Hopefully there will be a little room left for Brad Richards' game-winner, which came after Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky stormed the net to create a gold-plated rebound opportunity for the big offseason acquisition. Sergei Bobrovsky's inability to corral the puck on that play should inflame the sudden goaltending controversy in Philadelphia.
Ilya Bryzgalov was surprisingly benched for this game, a sign that 2012 will be no different from other recent years when it comes to Philly's search for a goaltender they can believe in. The fact that the Rangers did their part to further that issue is just a little more icing on a very big and tasty cake.
There will be quibbles with the ice surface and the officiating down the stretch, but there's no doubt that the Winter Classic lived up to the spectacle image that the NHL has built so assiduously over the last few years. And, thanks to Lundqvist's save, it was a spectacle that the Rangers can savor.