At first glance, hockey in Philadelphia looked unfamiliar before the Winter Classic.
Held in a venue that had never hosted an NHL game before, featuring a team uniform never-before-donned and played in a brand-new calendar year, it seemed that the Flyers had a chance to become a whole new team.
Unfortunately, the sights became all-too-familiar once the puck dropped.
Perhaps 2012 isn’t a “new year” after all.
The goaltending issues became a focal point long before the teams suited up for the game, as Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette attempted to remain silent on his choice for starting goalie before the game. During the day on Sunday, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov announced to the media that he would be the backup to start the big game.
Sergei Bobrovsky was later confirmed by the team as the choice for starter.
Whether or not Bobrovsky deserved the start can be debated to death, but Laviolette looked to have made the right choice when the Flyers shut out the Rangers for most of the first two periods, and the Flyers found themselves with a 2-0 lead.
New York tough-guy Mike Rupp beat Bobrovsky glove side with just over five minutes remaining in the second, closing the Flyers’ lead to 2-1.
Still, the Flyers controlled their destiny to start the third period, and the team had played solidly for 40 minutes. Opportunistic offense and responsible defense would be enough to let the Flyers leave Citizens Bank Park with two points.
And then, the Goalie Curse reared its ugly head yet again.
Rupp, having already matched his goal total for the season with his second period snipe, flicked a harmless wrist shot on net 2:41 into the third.
Instead of holding the post and staying on his feet to deal with the high, tight shot, Bobrovsky ever-so-slightly inched off the post and ever-so-slightly dipped his shoulder to go into the butterfly.
Suddenly, a harmless shot had tied the game, and worse, had deflated a team that was playing well enough to win.
The effects of the weak goal—not unfamiliar to the Philly faithful—rattled the team for the next several minutes, and when Peter Laviolette chose not to call a timeout after an icing call, the Rangers took advantage of a scrambled Flyers defense and pounded the puck home for a 3-2 lead.
The score held, despite some close moments for the Flyers in the waning moments of the third period. None was more nerve-wracking than when the Flyers were given a penalty shot with 19.6 seconds remaining in the game when Rangers’ defenseman Ryan McDonagh played the puck with his hand in the crease.
The referees ruled that McDonagh closed his hands on the puck, which warranted the penalty shot.
Briere took the penalty shot, a sight that hasn’t been kind to the Flyers since the shootout was adopted in 2005. The team is among the worst in the league when it comes to winning shootouts, partially because of their lack of success scoring in a one-on-one situation.
Henrik Lundqvist, on the other hand, has saved just under 75% of the penalty shots (in-game and during shootouts) in his career.
The scenario seemed to be the perfect opportunity for the Flyers to turn over a new leaf, but Lundqvist stoned Briere and the Rangers would kill the remaining seconds to seal that victory.
The Flyers lost to the Rangers for the third time in three meetings this season and the fifth time in a row, dating back to the 2010-11 season.
If the Flyers made a New Year’s resolution to improve on their obvious weaknesses—goaltending, penalty shots, and besting the Rangers—they learned today that these aren’t the sorts of resolutions that come magically with a new season.
It will take dedication, drive, and desire to become a better team and avenge losing on this grand stage.
For the time being, things will go back to normal.
The HBO 24/7 cameras will be put away.
The Flyers will move back across the street to the Wells Fargo Center.
The team will focus on earning a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Hockey will feel familiar once again in the City of Brotherly Love. But perhaps the team will take a small spark of inspiration from this spectacle. Amidst the disappointingly familiar, perhaps the team can find motivation in something new.
After all, Brayden Schenn did score his first goal in the NHL.
Maybe that’s the “something new” this team needs.
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