From an entertainment standpoint, the New York Rangers’ 2-1 win Wednesday over the New York Islanders was the least exciting outdoor game of the NHL’s ambitious 2014 Stadium Series. And although the Rangers were victorious playing at baseball’s Yankee Stadium for the second time in four days, their defeat of the Islanders proved only that the Stanley Cup is unlikely to be won by a New York state team this season – and that outdoor hockey doesn’t make bad hockey more fun to watch.
This was not Saturday’s end-to-end, offense-filled spectacle between the Blueshirts and New Jersey Devils that ended with the Rangers winning 7-3. The eventual shot total (the Rangers finished with 34, the Isles with 31) Wednesday would tempt you to think the night was more thrilling than it actually was: the two teams combined for exactly two scoring chances (both by the Rangers) in the first 14 minutes of the game, and two-thirds of the evening’s scoring came in a 40-second span at the end of the opening frame. Even a late third period push by Isles superstar John Tavares couldn’t boost the thrill factor. Forget about the ice conditions – this felt more like a dreary, mid-season NHL game between two teams that realize their deficiencies and employ a tentative game to make up for them.
A sellout crowd of 50,027 braved the 15-degree Fahrenheit/minus-9-degree Celsius temperatures for the game – proving there are indeed more hockey fans in the NYC area than only the ones who could fill Madison Square Garden or Nassau Coliseum – but they didn’t receive much of a reward for it. The pre-game and intermission entertainment (R&B artist Cee-Lo) went over like a lead balloon with the crowd and this looked like a night that was simply to be endured and not enjoyed by fans. This isn’t to say the concept was a failure, but rather, that three outdoor games in five days (and four since the Jan. 1 Winter Classic) is a little much – and one of the three taking place midweek made it feel shoehorned into people’s schedules.
The final game of the Stadium Series is set for March 1 at Chicago’s Soldier Field and that month-and-a-bit of a breather is just what the doctor ordered to finish off the series. I’m not one of those people who think there should only be one outdoor game per year – clearly, cities across North America would still sell off many members of their respective city councils to stage the event – but Wednesday's game demonstrated the novelty of the concept has worn thin, particularly when it involves two teams that don’t inspire fear or excitement palpitations in the hearts of genuine Cup contenders.
If the NHL is, as reported, scaling back the number of outdoor games next season, they’re wise to do so. In one sense, the league should be pleased the weather once again smiled down on them and allowed the matchup to take place without delay or cancellation. And overall, they can't look at the Stadium Series as anything other than a smashing success with fans and corporate sponsors.
But they have to know that not even the lipstick of a romantic venue can pretty up an oinker of a game.