Danny Briere saw the opening between Henrik Lundqvist’s pads and just knew the Winter Classic was headed for overtime. He could even visualize the red light going on, while a sea or orange and black among the 47, 967 packed inside Citizen’s Bank Park would be going bananas.
There was no doubt in his mind as he zeroed in on Lundqvist on the 46 attempted penalty shot—but first outdoors in Flyers’ history.
And then suddenly that opening closed. Lundqvist kicked his pads out to make the save and moments later the Rangers were celebrating a pivotal 3-2 victory while fireworks went off in the Philadelphia sky.
``All I was thinking was this game’s going to overtime,’’ admitted Briere, after the Flyers fell for the first time when leading after two periods when the Rangers scored twice early in the third to take the lead. `` I could see it going in.
``Unfortunately he made the save. I tried to surprise him with a quick little shot, but he’s one of the best in shootouts and on breakaways and made the save.’’
That’s how the Fifth Winter Classic ended, with the Flyers, having coughed up a 2-0 second period lead desperately trying to force overtime. Ironically, that’s what the Boston Bruins did to them two years ago in the Classic at Fenway Park, with Mark Recchi getting the equalizer late, then Marco Sturm winning it in O.T.
From there, of course, the Flyers would go on to make a memorable run to the Stanley Cup Finals, a road which was made possible when Briere and Claude Giroux beat Lundqvist in the regular season finale shootout
So they’re hoping another Classic loss might be a good omen. `` It’s disappointing, frustrating,’’ said Briere who was awarded the penalty shot—by rule—when Rangers’ defenseman McDonagh was called for closing his hand on the puck in the crease with just 19.6 seconds remaining. ``Even thought this is a big game and one we wanted badly, this is not what we’re playing for.
``But it prepares you a little bit for what a playoff game looks like. The whole crowd, with everything center stage, it certainly served us well a couple of years ago. Hopefully it does the same again.’’
By that point the Flyers better have their goaltending in order if they seriously intend to make a similar post-season run. Once again that became the overriding story when surprise starter Sergei Bobrovsky, given the nod over high priced but slumping free agent Ilya Bryzgalov, couldn’t stand the prosperity of two-goal lead.
Bob looked solid while the game remained scoreless over the first 32-plus minutes. But once rookie Brayden Schenn and Giroux scored 1:55 apart, he wasn’t the same. Just 30 seconds after Giroux worked a two-on-one with Max Talbot—playing on his line because Jaromir Jagr was unable to go more than a couple of shifts due to a leg injury which swelled up in the cold—Mike Rupp got the Rangers back in the game with a shot on which Bobrovsky was screened by defenseman Andrej Meszaros.
Then early in the third Rupp, who has just 50 goals in 511 games playing indoors, continued his outdoor magic, scoring from a sharp angle as Bobrovsky reacted slowly. It was the kind of soft goal that has typified his brief career, but also been an area of concern with fellow Russian Bryzgalov.
That was only compounded 2:40 later when Brad Richards banged home Brandon Dubinsky’s rebound past a helpless Bobrovsky to give the surging Rangers a lead they would never relinquish. ``I know that when we got that 2-0 lead we didn’t play the way we had the whole game,’’ said Giroux, who isn’t discouraged the first place Rangers have now beaten the Flyers all three times this season.
It’s frustrating, because we were playing so well ``We just have to move on.’’
That will start Thursday when the Flyers leave the sun, wind and even a couple of snow flurries that fell yesterday behind and return to comfort of the Wells Fargo Center in a 2010 Stanley Cup Finals rematch vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ll be cheered then by a modest 17,000-plus, rather than the near 47,000 who turned out yesterday, though at least the players won’t look like ants on skates to the fans the way they did here, with the rink stationed far out of most people’s clear sightlines.
And they’ll also be rid of the HBO cameras, which have chronicled their every move for the past month. ``This was a great experience,’’ said Giroux, whom Peter Laviolette passed up on the penalty shot in favor of Briere, whom he called a more natural goal scorer. ``but now we can go back to our normal life and just do our job.’’
Hoping that by the time the 2012 Winter Classic is a distant memory that resolve will ultimately pay dividends.