Friday January 1st, 2010

BOSTON -- From the perfect weather here at Fenway Park, to the perfect pass to Marco Sturm right in front of the Philadelphia Flyers net, the perfect finish for most of the 38,112 fans packed in here, the 2010 Winter Classic was yet another storybook event (RECAP).

Down a goal late in the third period with Philadelphia up 1-0, Mark Recchi scored the power-play goal for which Bruins fans had waited more than 57 minutes. Fenway erupted, and less than two minutes into overtime, Sturm sealed it, tipping a pass from Patrice Bergeron past Flyers goalie Michael Leighton. And in a venue that has seen its fair share of walk-off home runs, the Bruins knocked it out of the park. Figuratively, of course.

"To see Sturmy jump, and how the crowd reacted, it was the best you could ask for to be on the ice for the game-winning goal and see your teammates being so happy," said defenseman Zdeno Chara. "We were all hugging each other like we won the Cup. It was just a great feeling."

Chara said Thursday that he thought the contest would feel like a playoff game: desperate and intense. Certainly, it lived up to that and maybe more. Not only did it have the requisite dramatic finish, it had the first fight (between Philly's Dan Carcillo and Boston's Shawn Thornton in the first period) and was also the first in which the home team won. It had the most physicality, as the teams exchanged 59 hits between them, and felt the most like a regular NHL game, just displaced. For comparison's sake, last year's game between the Red Wings and Blackhawks had just 23 hits -- even though one Brent Seabrook check was particularly memorable.

Don't be mistaken, though -- it wasn't exactly like a regular game for the players. Chara said the cold temperatures stiffened up players' sticks and shrunk their helmets, and although he said the ice was fantastic, it was bouncy at the start and got a bit choppy as the game wore on. "The first passes early on in each period, when you got a good, quick pass, you felt that pass in your hands," he said.

Both teams talked Thursday about the need to keep it simple in these conditions, but sometimes simplicity can get complicated. The Bruins, particularly early on in the game, weren't quite used to seeing the puck bounce like a tennis ball around the ice or, as Chara mentioned, feel a hard pass in their hands.

"Where we probably struggled a little bit was even knowing that the message was keep it simple and throw pucks at the net in the second period," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "We overpassed. We passed up on some great shooting opportunities, and all it did was take away any chances we had and give them some great opportunities."

Going goal-less for most of the game, the Bruins felt in the air just how much the fans wanted to have something to cheer about. "Like a ticking bomb," Chara said. It hung over the air, until finally Recchi's deflection landed in the back of the net.

It hung over Bruins goalie Tim Thomas as well, who had allowed the first goal of the game because he was busy cross-checking Flyers winger Scott Hartnell when defenseman Danny Syvret entered the game and scored his first NHL goal. "I was very grateful to tie the game, because I mean, the goal was basically because I lost my cool and wasn't following the puck," Thomas admitted.

He maintained his cool for the rest of the game, making key saves, especially early in the overtime period. And he was rewarded, ultimately, with the win, and then the extra treat of being named to his first USA Olympic hockey team right after the game was over. He was the only Bruin or Flyer to be named to the team. Apart from the goal he allowed, it was a picture-perfect day for the 35-year-old netminder.

The NHL, once again, lucked out big time. In hockey, it's all about how the puck bounces, and for the league, it bounced just right. From the weather, to the fans, to the game on the ice and the fanfare all around the historic stadium, it was, to borrow a phrase from the legendary coach Bob Johnson, a great day for hockey.

• Of course, like most dramatic endings, this one wasn't without some controversy. The Flyers contend the Bruins had too many men on the ice for their overtime goal. Players said replays showed there were six Boston players on. The play wasn't reviewed, however, and the goal stood.

• Though Philadelphia may have felt cheated out of the game, it still earned a point to help its case in the tight Eastern Conference standings. The Flyers are, for the moment, just outside of playoff position, but after getting points in each of their last five games, they're within striking distance.

• Picking up Leighton is turning out to be one of Philadelphia's best moves this season. Until Recchi's goal, he hadn't let in a goal in over 154 minutes, and he's been a solid replacement for Ray Emery, who is out with an abdominal injury.

• Bruins center Bergeron has had a fantastic couple of days. Not only did he send Sturm the perfect pass to win the game, he was named to Team Canada's Olympic team on Wednesday. The 24-year-old overcame a devastating concussion in 2007 at the hands of former Flyer Randy Jones, and become a key part of the Bruins again. On his last couple of days, he said: "You can't ask for a better gift for New Year's."

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