The Winter Classic is a cool event, no matter who is playing or what's at stake.
Playing hockey outside in a stadium built for another sport always offers images that stick in the mind for a long time after the game is over and taking hockey back to its pond roots never fails to juice up the proceedings. When you throw in the Alumni Game before the big one and the added bonus that HBO has added the last two years, it isn't hard to do the Winter Classic well.
But it isn't easy to find yourself with a game that has as much going for it as the Rangers-Flyers matchup is going to have on Monday afternoon. In past years, the NHL has been able to put together great players, teams with long histories and games with bigger implications, but this might be their best job of getting all three in one package.
You need only look back to last Friday night's game at the Garden to see that a game between the Rangers and Flyers is plenty special wherever it is played. There is serious animosity between the two teams that exists outside of the fact that the NHL has gifted them this shot in the spotlight and that should make for an even better game than we've gotten in past years.
It has also added an extra layer of interest to the "24/7" episodes, especially the most recent one that featured Brad Richards and Mike Rupp ripping their Philly opponents with some tasty one-liners. Knowing that backstory will make it all the more fun to see them square off on Monday.
On top of all that, there's the fact that the division lead will be on the table as the season draws close to the halfway point. These teams get fired up to play each other under the most mundane of circumstances, so it is hard to imagine just how fired up they'll be at Citizens Bank Park.
If that's all the game was offering, it would be plenty. But we'll slip into infomercial world and tell you to wait, because there's much more.
You've got the league's leading scorer in Claude Giroux, Marian Gaborik in the midst of perhaps his best season, Michael Del Zotto breaking out, James Read having a terrific rookie season and a pair of goalies capable of winning a game all by themselves. That Ilya Bryzgalov and Henrik Lundqvist also have winning personalities that make them easy to root for is just the icing on this cake for the ages.
There's some nagging business to get out of the way before we get to the game, namely the Rangers' trip to Florida on Friday night, but there's no doubt that everyone is already looking forward to Monday. There doesn't seem to be much chance that the game is going to disappoint, so all the anticipation should pay off with a memorable start to the new year.