BOSTON – As thousands of bundled-up fans started to go silent at Fenway Park, the Boston Bruins feared they were on the verge of spoiling a picture-perfect moment. That was all the motivation they needed to give the Winter Classic a dramatic ending.
Mark Recchi tied the game with less than three minutes remaining Friday and Marco Sturm scored the winner in overtime, setting off a huge party at the venerable ballpark with Boston’s 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Bruins poured off their bench and mobbed one another in the shadows of the Green Monster while many of the 38,112 fans jumped up and down in the afternoon cold. The NHL’s fourth trip outdoors might have been its most successful yet.
“We were trying to yell and scream to each other but you couldn’t hear yourself it was so loud,” said Bruins defenceman Derek Morris. “It was amazing. We wanted to win that game for the fans. It’s a fairy-tale ending. It was pretty special.”
Added goaltender Tim Thomas: “When Marco scored the winner, that was one of the most incredible feelings I can remember.”
Not to be lost in the spectacle was the play of the Bruins goalie, who stopped a pair of breakaway attempts and weathered a flurry in overtime on the day he was named to the U.S. Olympic team. He finished with 24 saves.
A number of Bruins players confessed to sitting on the bench in the third period and worrying that they might get shut out in front of a sellout crowd at the 97-year-old stadium. Recchi touched off the first celebration by tying it 1-1 with just 2:18 left in regulation.
“You could tell our fans were just waiting for something,” he said. “When we tied the game, you could just feel the whole stadium, the vibe was there and you could feel it. You could feel our whole emotions on our bench go up another level and it was a great thing to be a part of.
“We were glad to give them something to cheer about.”
The streets around Fenway were at a stand-still more than two hours before the puck drop, as jersey-clad fans created a tailgate atmosphere more commonly seen at NFL games. The smell of hotdogs wafted through the ballpark and fans lined up at souvenir stands usually stocked with Red Sox apparel.
Many bundled themselves up with tuques and scarves and stood throughout the entire game as the temperature hovered just above freezing. It was ideal weather for the organizers.
“Awesome,” said Dan Craig, the NHL’s ice guru. “The Good Lord couldn’t have done better for us.”
While some have suggested the outdoor format is bound to get stale, there was very little evidence of that happening here. There was plenty of buzz in the days leading up to the event and players from both teams seemed genuinely thrilled to be part of it.
Even after losing, the Flyers were gushing.
“This experience is once in a lifetime, it’s not just being cliche,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “Fenway Park, Bruins-Flyers, 40,000 fans on a perfect day, you couldn’t ask for anything better for the game of hockey. It was just an unbelievable experience to be a part of it.
“It was a great day for hockey.”
The first half of the game was anything but classic, with both teams struggling to create offence. Flyers captain Mike Richards suggested that it was a result of being overwhelmed with everything going on in the stadium.
The game was far more physical than any of the league’s three previous outdoor games. It even had the first ever outdoor fight when Philadelphia’s Daniel Carcillo won a one-sided bout with Boston’s Shawn Thornton in the first period.
Danny Syvret opened the scoring with a goal he’ll never forget – the first of his NHL career and first in Fenway history – at 4:42 of the second period. The defenceman fired a low shot that eluded Thomas as the Bruins goaltender was pushing Scott Hartnell at the edge of his crease.
“I’d like to tell you I picked the corner,” said Syvret.
Added Thomas: “The goal was basically because I lost my cool and wasn’t following the puck.”
After Recchi tied the game, the Bruins had all kinds of momentum. They failed to score on a power play that stretched into overtime, but got the winner when Patrice Bergeron made a lovely play along the boards and found Sturm open in front.
“It can’t get better than that,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
The NHL now faces the challenge of trying improve on what is becoming a staple event on its calendar. They’ve made big strides from Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008 to Chicago’s Wrigley Field last year and Fenway Park now.
The league is looking at having two outdoor games next season – one in the U.S. and another in Canada – and won’t decide on the location of those events for a few months.
It’s an experience that most NHL players seem quite eager to have. The Bruins and Flyers had a chance to practise while the snow fell on Thursday and many brought their families on the ice afterwards.
“(My son) didn’t want to go off,” said Sturm.
That child-like attitude seems fitting given how Friday’s game unfolded. The Bruins simply didn’t want to let their moment in the spotlight pass without getting the full experience.
“(There would have been) nothing worse than leaving Fenway with that many fans here and not knowing how they would have reacted had you scored,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We needed to find a way to score that goal … and we found that way.”
Notes: Boston’s record improved to 21-12-7 while the Flyers fell to 19-18-3 … Flyers goalie Michael Leighton finished with 24 saves … Massive Canadian and U.S. flags were unfurled on the Green Monster during the national anthems … Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke each skated out to centre ice before the game … Philadelphia scratched Mika Pyorala, Riley Cote and Ryan Parent … Adam McQuaid sat out for the Bruins … Kerry Fraser and Chris Rooney were the referees … Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino declared it “NHL Winter Classic Day” in the city.