By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
As New Year’s Day 2012 approached, the concept of the outdoor game was still relatively new to the NHL. There had been four Winter Classics played — a tradition that started in 2008 — and the Heritage Classic had been played between two Canadian teams just twice. Otherwise, there were just three outdoor exhibition games on record that were played for nothing more than pride.
The Flyers had participated in one in 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston, but it was their turn to host in 2012.
It was a weekend full of festivities, starting with a New Year’s Eve Alumni Game for the ages that featured the return to the ice of many legends for both the Flyers and New York Rangers. Then came the main event on Monday, Jan. 2 — in observance of the New Year’s holiday being on a Sunday — where the two division rivals with a lot of history took the ice.
First things first, a look at Saturday’s alumni game. The Rangers certainly brought a who’s who of lineups for the game. Hall of Famers Brian Leetch, Glenn Anderson, Mike Gartner and Mark Messier all played in the game. Several other well-known Rangers from over the years including Adam Graves, Ron Duguay, Darius Kasparaitis, Nick Kypryos, Stephane Matteau, Mathieu Schnieder and John Vanbiesbrouck played in the game.
On the Flyers side, it marked a reunion for the LCB line of Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach. Flyers legends Dave Poulin, Brian Propp and Mark Howe were participants. But the two biggest participants were making rare and unexpected appearances on the ice.
Bernie Parent was 66 years old at that time and while he has always been a great representative of the Flyers franchise, he was never on the ice for events like this. Due to overwhelming requests from the fans, Parent suited up and took the ice for the first several minutes of the game, standing in for five shots and stopping them all, including a breakaway for Duguay, leading the crowd to chant "Bernie!"
The other storyline was the return of Eric Lindros. The former Flyer captain had feuded with Flyers brass in his final years and there was plenty of bad blood upon his exit. For years, this defined the relationship between Lindros and the Flyers. All of that was put to bed when No. 88 emerged from the Citizens Bank Park dugout to raucous cheers. It was a fitting welcome home for Lindros and his relationship with the Flyers and the fans of Philadelphia has been excellent ever since, putting the past in the past and remembering the best times of Lindros’ Hall-of-Fame career.
On to the game, which featured a quick connection between Lindros and his longtime linemate John LeClair. A two-on-one between two-thirds of the Legion of Doom ended with Lindros leading LeClair to the net with a pass that he was able to tip home, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
Shortly after, Shjon Podein added a goal to make it 2-0. Following Parent’s exit, Mark LaForest came on and continued to keep the Rangers off the board into the second period. He was replaced by Neil Little halfway through the game. Little surrendered the only goal to the Rangers, allowing a deflection goal to Anderson to cut the lead in half.
Early in the third, the Flyers capped off the scoring with a goal by Howe on a penalty shot — awarded in the case of any penalties called in the game. The goaltenders held down the fort the rest of the way and the Flyers took home a 3-1 victory in the alumni game that was filled with memories. You can watch the game in full below:
Now it was on to the main event on Jan. 2 between the current Flyers and Rangers. One of the big issues around the game was the conditions. There was a lot of sun out, bringing warmer temperatures than expected and sun glare that threatened both the ice conditions and the players’ vision on the ice. The start of the game was pushed back by two hours to accommodate this.
With the delay, the weather and ice conditions were much better for the game. There was a brief period where some light snow and a mix of rain fell during the second period, but ultimately, the atmosphere couldn’t have been any better.
It took until the second half of the game to even get a goal. Off a face-off, it was Brayden Schenn who pounced on a rebound and scored the game’s first goal at 12:26, the first of his NHL career, to give the Flyers the lead.
Less than two minutes later, Claude Giroux scored off a rush to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead and the crowd roared with approval.
Just 30 seconds later, the Rangers got back into the game with a goal by Michael Rupp from the slot that beat Sergei Bobrovsky. Rupp struck again at 2:41 of the third to tie the game, taking a shot from an angle and beating Bobrovsky underneath his right arm. Just under three minutes later, a centering pass by Ryan Callahan was knocked in on goal by Brandon Dubinsky. The rebound popped out to Brad Richards, who scored to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
The Flyers had their chances late in the game, getting a power play with 5:12 remaining after a delay of game penalty on Ryan McDonagh. With the goalie pulled, Kimmo Timonen took an interference penalty to prevent an empty net goal for Callahan, and Callahan was sent to the box for holding the stick to keep play at even strength with the extra-attacker for the Flyers.
Then in the final 20 seconds, a golden opportunity surfaced for the Flyers. After a scramble in front, McDonagh was called for covering the puck in the crease, which results in an automatic penalty shot and anyone on the ice can take it. The Flyers called on Danny Briere to shoot on Henrik Lundqvist. That late in the game, the buildup of snow on the ice is heavy and there is a greater chance of losing control on a penalty shot attempt trying to make a move. Briere moved in with speed and fired a shot toward the five-hole of Lundqvist, but he closed it off, making the save to preserve the lead for the Rangers.
The Flyers never got a better chance in the final 20 seconds and the Rangers held on for the win with Scott Hartnell throwing a cross-check and getting into a shoving match with McDonagh. Highlights from the 2012 Winter Classic can be seen below:
Lundqvist had been the story of the game, making 34 saves to help the Rangers get a win. Rupp, who was hardly known as a goal-scorer with just 54 NHL goals in his career, had two of his four goals that season in the Winter Classic.
The win for the Rangers moved them into the top spot in the NHL at the time, while the Flyers had suffered their first regulation loss of the season when leading after two periods.
The Flyers followed the Winter Classic loss with wins in six of their next nine games. At the time of the loss in the Winter Classic, the Flyers had lost all three meetings against the Rangers. They would lose the last two in the regular season as well, getting swept in the five games against the Rangers.
The Flyers reached the playoffs finishing third in the Atlantic Division and claiming the fifth seed in the playoffs. The Rangers tied with the St. Louis Blues for the most points in the league and won the President’s Trophy by virtue of more wins — 51 total.
The Flyers handled the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs in six games while the Rangers needed all seven to get past the Ottawa Senators. The Flyers then dropped four straight games to the New Jersey Devils after winning Game 1 in the second round. The Rangers again needed seven games, but beat the Washington Capitals to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, where they were defeated by the Devils in six games.
We’ll have another Flyers Greatest Moment on Friday and it’s another classic between the Flyers and Rangers, the 2010 regular-season finale that required a shootout to determine who makes the playoffs.