The New York Rangers stirring come from behind 3-2 victory over the host Philadelphia Flyers had everything the NHL could possibly want. Two legendary rivals, perfect weather conditions, and a tough, well played game with no incidents that could give the NHL a black eye during their in-season showcase event.
Oh, wait. There were a few black eyes. Funny thing is, they were self-inflicted.
The ratings for the annual Winter Classic show that there is indeed interest in this great sport in our country, despite what close-minded sports pundits will have you think. Yes, the backdrops and the venues may indeed be bigger than the outdoor games themselves, and the ratings boost has an awful lot to do with casual fans tuning in, those that are sick and tired of college football and the stench that hangs over the NCAA right now. But the bottom line is this; those that tuned in yesterday saw a great hockey game by two of the NHL's signature franchises, and two of it's present day elite. So, Rangers 101 asks, why was it necessary for the referees (and NBC) to do everything in their power to force this game into a sudden death overtime, and manufacture a 'Classic' ending?
“I’m not sure if NBC got together with the refs and wanted to turn this into an overtime game,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said after his first place team survived. “I’m not sure if they had meetings about that or what.”
Now, this obviously is not sour grapes on the part of the Rangers, Rangers 101, or Tortorella. The Rangers beat the Flyers Monday afternoon, their third win in three tries against their blood rivals. No, this is about being a hockey fan, and knowing a sham when you see one.
Third period, the Rangers have rallied from a two goal deficit to take a 3-2 lead. With the puck deep in the Rangers zone and the Flyers buzzing around Henrik Lundqvist's net, defenseman Ryan McDonagh tries to skate in front of his crease in pursuit of the puck carrier. A Flyers forward sets a pick, an obvious interference call or, if they wanted to turn a blind eye, a non-call. McDonagh falls into the goal cage, knocking off its moorings. Delay of game penalty assessed to McDonagh. Good grief.
The Rangers kill that penalty off, but the best is yet to come. Just over a minute left, the Flyers net empty, and Ryan Callahan is pulling away with the puck looking for the finisher. He is blatantly hauled down from behind by Kimo Timonen. Yes, the refs caught Timonen, but they also call Callahan for unsportsmanlike conduct, diving to embellish the penalty. Coincidental minors. But hold on, there's more. The refs change Callahan's call to holding the stick, ensuring a 4 on 4 skating situation. More open ice, more excitement, a better opportunity for Philly and sudden death. Hey, what could be better for ratings than a self made fantastic finish?
A scramble ensues at the side of Lundqvist's net. The puck is loose, and with The King down, McDonagh slides into the goal crease to keep the puck out. He does just that, a heads up game saving play.
Hold everything. A penalty is called on McDonagh for closing his hand on the puck, which the Rangers defenseman clearly did not. But, heck, why not call a penalty shot with 19.6 seconds left, to all but ensure a Classic ending?
“I didn’t think the game would come down to that situation,” Rangers GM Glen Sather told The Bergen Record. “You see three or four calls that are enough to blow your mind… Look at all of it.”
As a hockey fan, be it of any team other than Philadelphia, you had to be disgusted by what you saw, or didn't see and were told what you should have seen. Gary Bettman and his cronies have been accused of this type of nonsense before, usually for doing whatever they can to ensure Sidney Crosby's mythical status. This time, however, there is nothing they can say or do to justify what happened in Philadelphia yesterday.
Everyone saw it, despite what the NHL tells us. Bettman and his cast of characters ruined a true Classic by trying to manufacture one.
No, hockey fans may not be as well represented as baseball, football or even basketball fans. But they are not idiots, and don't treat them as such.
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