PHILADELPHIA - Alone in the cold, it was up to Henrik Lundqvist to preserve a Winter Classic comeback.
His signature moment came with 19.6 seconds left after New York defenceman Ryan McDonagh was whistled for covering the puck in the crease. Flyers centre Danny Briere streaked down the ice—a replica of the Liberty Bell and bundled-up fans behind his back—trying to send this one into overtime.
Lundqvist dropped to his knees on top of a chilly baseball field and stoned Briere with his pads when the centre tried to sneak it through his legs.
This made-for-TV showcase had found its brightest star.
Lundqvist stopped 34 shots, Brad Richards scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period and the New York Rangers rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in the Winter Classic on Monday at Citizens Bank Park.
"I was just trying to be patient and do my thing," Lundqvist said. "He's a sneaky guy, and there was a lot of pressure on me."
More pressure than any other regular-season games in January. While this game meant two points in the standings, like the four other NHL games set for Monday night, it received the kind of hype normally reserved for the Stanley Cup final. NBC televised the game and HBO had 12 camera crews filming the on-ice and behind-the-scenes action for its "24/7" series.
Rangers coach John Tortorella wondered if the officials wanted their own time in the spotlight to build the drama.
"They called a penalty shot which I still don't understand," he said. "I'm not sure if NBC got together with the refs to turn this into an overtime game. I thought the game was reffed horrible.
"I just thought tonight, in that third period, it was disgusting."
Mike Rupp scored twice as New York won for the third time this season against Philadelphia.
Playing on a rink that stretched from first base to third base, the Rangers made the league's fifth Classic event a memorable one to stay atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The NHL surrounded the rink with Christmas trees, firewood, fake snow, and even trash-can fires. But there was nothing artificial in the elements with snow flurries late in the second period and near-freezing temperatures, forcing 46,967 fans to layer in jerseys for the big event.
All that was missing was one of the breakout stars of HBO's NHL show.
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, US$51-million contract in June, saw a recent slump send him to the bench. Sergei Bobrovsky, instead, took the call from coach Peter Laviolette and failed to hold the early lead built in front of a decidedly orange-and-black crowd.
The Flyers ended the game without Jaromir Jagr, their star forward who played only a minute in the second period before leaving the game for good. The 39-year-old Jagr, a former Ranger, said after the game he injured his left leg and expected to return soon.
Even with Jagr out, his presence was noted.
Rupp's first goal late in the second came with a salute toward the Flyers' bench—the same move Jagr makes for the home crowd after one of his goals. Rupp smiled as his teammates mobbed him along the boards and the crowd booed his attempt at showing up Jagr.
"I was happy I had the goal," Rupp said, "and that's kind of where I'll leave it."
Jagr never really had a chance to respond and the Flyers hope whatever is ailing their third-leading scorer won't keep him out long.
Rupp, who scored the winning goal for New Jersey in Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals against Anaheim, delivered another clutch goal on the big stage when his wrister from the circle shot under Bobrovsky's right arm and tied the game at 2-2.
Richards, the summer's top free agent who is in his first season with New York, wasted no time scoring the winner, knocking in a rebound 3:20 later to put the Rangers up 3-2. It was his 14th of the season.
Lundqvist outplayed Bobrovsky, stopping 12 shots in the first. He finished with 34 saves, none bigger than the one on Briere, who believed he could send the game into the extra session.
"All I was thinking is this game is going to overtime," he said. "Unfortunately, he made the save. I tried to surprise him with a quick shot, but he made the save.
"He's one of the best in shootouts."
Lundqvist, like Tortorella, questioned if the need to manufacture drama played a role in calling the late penalty shot.
"Maybe that's really the only reason he called it," he said. "It would have been tough for them to tie it on that."
With some fans paying more than a $1,000 a seat on the secondary market, the stadium was full to the end. Though, most of them went home unhappy.
Rookie Brayden Schenn and Claude Giroux scored to give the Flyers the early lead, as it appeared that the home team would finally win its first game against New York this year.
Schenn, a prized rookie sent over from Los Angeles in the Mike Richards deal over the summer, scored his first career goal midway through the second period, setting off the Liberty Bell in right field normally reserved for Phillies home runs.
Giroux showed a national audience how he's blossomed into an MVP candidate with a backhander 1:55 later for his 18th goal and a 2-0 lead. But the Flyers couldn't beat Lundqvist again.
That didn't stop the diehards, though, from being entertained by hometown band, The Roots, and national anthem singer Patti LaBelle.
The trash-can fires gave the game a "Rocky" feel and the pitchers' mound and home plate area were left exposed. It was 5 degrees when the opening faceoff dropped just after 3 p.m., and temperatures dipped the next three hours. The start time was pushed back two hours to protect the rink from the sun.
"It was something special," Jagr said. "I wish everyone in the NHL can get a chance to play in that game."
New York received a dose of good news long before the final horn. Defenceman Marc Staal made his return to the lineup after a season-long absence from a concussion.
Staal, who turns 25 in January, has been out all season with the effects of a concussion sustained in February when he was hit by his brother, Eric, a forward for the Carolina Hurricanes. He has been skating this month and was cleared for light contact.
Notes: The NHL used 20,000 gallons of water for the rink. ... The Flyers played in their second Winter Classic in two years and have lost both. ... The road team is 4-0-1 in the Winter Classic. ... Commissioner Gary Bettman held a post-game press conference and reiterated that he had no idea where the Classic will be held next year.