By Ryan Petzar
The Winter Classic was an appropriately theatrical and thrilling affair — from the underdog backup goalie starting in place of the high-paid but slumping starter to the Flyers striking first but allowing the Rangers to score three unanswered goals to take the lead. Then finally, the dramatic, last-minute penalty shot that could have sent the game into overtime.
That’s how hockey games end in Hollywood movies, not in real life.
Yet, with snow falling to create the perfect set dressing, Danny Briere really did skate out to center ice and really would actually be taking a penalty shot on Henrik Lundqvist with 19.6 seconds left.
It was setting up to be the perfect ending to a perfect weekend of hockey in South Philly.
Only that’s not how it ended. We all know how it did: Briere throws a head-fake and fires a quick wrister toward the five-hole. Lundqvist saw it the whole way and slammed the door, ensuring that the Rangers would hold on to win 3-2.
And like they had been for the weeks leading up to the game, HBO’s cameras were there to record every detail of the whole thing for the final installment of 24/7: Flyers-Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic.
The episode opened with the series’ breakout star, Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, sitting with his head in his hands after the Tampa loss. He doesn’t have any Bryz-isms for us, at least not yet — just snark directed at the media. You can’t really blame him. He’s under the most intense scrutiny of his life, and he’s wilted under the lights.
During the Flyers practice before playing Pittsburgh, Peter Laviolette offers his advice on how the team can break out of its losing slump: “You go out there and kick the s—t out of the Penguins tomorrow night. That’s the only way I know of fixing things.” It’s just that simple!
You have to feel bad for the Rangers video coordinator Jerry Dineen who draws the ire of coach John Tortorella when the projector he’s using during the team’s film session blows out. “Jerry’s in a pile of s—t!” sings another member of the Rangers’ coaching staff. The day is saved when a visibly relieved Dineen gets the projector working again.
Sean Couturier’s toothless grin in the Pittsburgh locker room is the quintessential image of a hockey player.
Max Talbot acknowledging the Pittsburgh crowd after they cheered him gave me chills. It was a special moment, made all the more classy because of the bad blood between the two fanbases.
Laviolette doesn’t mince words on the bench when he compliments Hartnell’s tough play on the ice: “Hartsy, you look f----g great out here. Don’t stop pissing everybody off out there.” That’s a direction I’m sure the winger was all too happy to take.
Max Talbot made me cringe after he got speared “right in the f----g penis.” Ouch.
The Rangers/Panthers fight was exciting to watch. The best parts of this show are the brief moments captured by the mics the players wear on the ice. My favorite part of the fight was Brandon Prust, having witnessed an opponent cheap shot on a teammate, telling one of his linemates “I was gonna jump him, but I didn’t want to get suspended — not right before the Winter Classic.” It was clearly not just for the cameras; the players are looking forward to the game.
Bryz wore his custom-made old-school inspired pads for the Winter Classic during the team’s final indoor practice. It’s too bad he didn’t get to wear them outdoors because they looked fantastic.
“You’ve got to be sh----g me!” Wayne Simmonds yells after taking a puck to the hand in practice. Coincidentally, I yelled the exact same thing after the cameras showed a team doctor puncturing his fingernail to relieve the bruising. “I didn’t even feel it,” Simmonds comments as my stomach turned. Hockey players: They’re tougher than us.
Jagr’s eye-black “beard” was a nice touch.
Former Flyer Jeremy Roenick tried to encourage Bryz during the team’s outdoor practice: “If this team wins a Cup, it’s because of you.” Maybe it was my imagination, but the looks on their faces made me think neither man fully believed that.
“I’m human. I’m not made from steel,” a disappointed Bryz tells a confused throng of reporters after spilling the beans that he won’t be starting. The moment of silence as the stunned press-corps tried to process the Russian’s odd joke made me laugh harder than the actual joke did.
No coverage of the Alumni game? Bummer.
Another great moment of levity caught by the on-ice mics came when Claude Giroux skated to the Rangers goal and joked, “Come on Henrik, let me score one tonight. Just one?” If only, Claude. If only…
To the guy who made the “Flyers Rule 24/7” sign: Mission accomplished. You made it onto TV.
The Schenn goal was a great moment. I wish we could have seen a little more of his celebration. It went by too quickly.
One thing’s for sure, the game being delayed two hours to a 3 p.m. start time did wonders for the aesthetics of the outdoor event. The reflections on the ice and colors of the uniforms looked completely different under the lights of Citizens Bank Park. Hockey is a sport that was meant to seen in high-definition.
Hartnell and his linemates discussing how they were going to celebrate their next goal in response to Mike Rupp’s aping of Jagr’s trademark post-goal salute was funny at first, but you have to wonder if the guys were distracted. It felt like they played right into the Rangers’ hands and let their emotions get the better of them. As frustrating as that is to realize, it’s a realization that would never have come if it weren’t for this program.
The penalty shot sequence was amazingly shot and perfectly edited: no dialogue and no sound other than a lone cello. I felt my chest tighten ever so slightly in anticipation. I also realized that I was hoping that Briere would shoot high on Lundqvist’s glove side. But he didn’t. He still went five-hole.
It was not to be.
There’s nothing worse than when someone spoils the ending of a movie before you can watch it. You try your best to enjoy the story, but you know how it’s going to end so it’s hard to really get engaged in the story.
That’s how the final installment of HBO’s 24/7: Flyers-Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic felt for me: spoiled. In this case, the Rangers played the role of my friend that told me how The Book of Eli ended before I could watch it.
I loved every minute of the show, just like I did the first three episodes. But I knew how it was going to end. I just kept waiting for the shoe to drop.
The good news is that while the loss was heartbreaking, at the end of the day, it’s just a regular season loss for the team. So chip up, Flyers fans: There’s still a lot of hockey to be played for the Flyers. We might not get to see it as up close and personal as we did over the last four weeks, but it will mean just the same.
Ryan Petzar is a sports producer at philly.com. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @petzrawr