PHILADELPHIA - Alone in the cold, it was up to Henrik Lundqvist to preserve a Classic comeback.
His signature moment came with 19.6 seconds left after New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh was whistled for covering the puck in the crease. Flyers center 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 center 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 yesterday 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 2 points in the standings, like the four other NHL games last night, it received the kind of hype normally reserved for the Stanley Cup. NBC televised the game and HBO had 12 camera crews filming the game 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 temperatures that dipped into the 30s.
All that was missing was one of the breakout stars of HBO’s NHL show.
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, $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 delivered another clutch goal when his wrister from the circle shot went under Bobrovsky’s right arm and tied the game at 2.
Richards wasted no time scoring the winner, knocking in a rebound 2:40 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 33 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.