PHILADELPHIA -- The gametime temperature was 41.1 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun that blanketed the ice in the hours leading up to the game had turned into just minor rays covering the broadcast booths out by the right-field wall. The ideal conditions were only made better when trickles of snow began to flutter on top of the event that added a new chapter to the historically hostile New York-Philadelphia sports rivalry.
As visually arresting and physically appealing the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic was, to the Rangers and Flyers, it was the result that mattered.
Mike Rupp tripled his goal and point totals for the season on just two shots and Henrik Lundqvist stopped a penalty shot in the final minute to lead the Rangers to a dramatic and important 3-2 victory in front of 46,967 at Citizens Bank Park.
The Eastern Conference-leading Rangers now hold a four-point lead over the Flyers in the Atlantic Division and are 3-0 against them this season.
"It was such a huge game," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "The lead-up to it, HBO, 47,000 fans -- it feels really good to get that one. It really does."
Rupp, who was playing in his second straight Winter Classic, scored his second goal of the season late in the second period and his third early in the third period to erase a two-goal deficit. Brad Richards tallied what turned into the winner with 14:39 still left to play, but the Rangers third win in as many games against the Flyers this season wasn't complete before Lundqvist stopped Danny Briere's penalty shot with 19.6 seconds left to play.
Ryan McDonagh dove into the crease to corral a loose puck behind Lundqvist, but he was called for covering the puck in the crease. Briere had overtime on his stick, but Lundqvist (34 saves) in his way.
"Hank is the backbone and he was the star again for us," McDonagh said. "It's the same story, just a different atmosphere."
Rupp, though, was the one wearing the black Broadway Hat that the Rangers hand out to the team-voted star of the game after each win. He cut the Flyers 2-0 lead in half at 14:51 of the second period by scoring on the shift after Claude Giroux's goal. Rupp then tied the game with a goal 2:41 into the third period.
They were his first points since his goal at Vancouver on Oct. 18.
"It needs a chin strap to stay on my head, but it feels good," Rupp said of the Broadway Hat. "You want to contribute and I did tonight, so it feels good."
Sergei Bobrovsky, the surprise starter for the Flyers over Ilya Bryzgalov, made 30 saves, but he couldn't preserve the lead given to him by Brayden Schenn and Giroux, who scored just 1:55 apart in the second half of the second period.
"When you've got that two-goal lead and the four lines are rolling and everybody's had one or two good shifts, (you) kind of had that feeling we're playing the kind of hockey that we play when we win games," said Giroux. "In the third period, I don't think we played our game."
The Rangers feel they found theirs.
After Richards gave them the lead with a rebound goal off Brandon Dubinsky's shot, the Rangers, according to coach John Tortorella, played a grinding game that has become their staple this season.
"That's the way we have to play," Tortorella said. "You know, we have some talent, but we are not the most gifted team and we have developed an identity. I think the guys, they have developed this on their own as far as that identity, and that's the way we have to play. That's a big reason why we found our way tonight."
The penalty-shot drama at the end of the game was a result of a play McDonagh said he had to make. Lundqvist stopped Briere's shot from the left post with his right pad, but the puck went under his skate and got behind him. McDonagh saw it and dove into the crease, wrapping his arms around the puck.
"It's probably going to go in if I don't come in there," McDonagh said. "It is what it is, but we're pretty confident with Hankie in that situation. That penalty shot, we were pretty nervous on the bench, but everybody in the back of their mind knew Hank would step up. He thrives in those moments."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette had the option of choosing any of the five skaters he had on the ice to take the penalty shot. That meant he could have gone with Giroux, but he opted to keep it on Briere's stick.
"I think Danny being a natural goal scorer, maybe (he) thrives in that area a little bit more," Laviolette said. "It was my decision."
Schenn broke the scoreless tie 12:26 into the second period with the first goal of his career. It was the second time a Flyer scored his first career goal in the Winter Classic. Danny Syvret did it in Boston two years ago.
Giroux pulled back into a tie with Henrik Sedin for the NHL lead in points when he scored his 18th goal of the season just 1:55 later. However, just 30 seconds later Rupp literally saluted the Citizens Bank Park crowd after cutting the Flyers lead in half.
After firing a shot from between the circles that beat Bobrovsky, Rupp skated to the left side of the ice and gave a salute similar to what Jaromir Jagr has been doing after all of his goals this season. Jagr gave that same salute Thursday night after scoring in Pittsburgh and Rupp, who like Jagr is a former Penguin, said Sunday he was amazed Jagr had the guts do give the salute in Pittsburgh.
Rupp certainly had the guts to do the same thing in Philadelphia, but he didn't want to talk about it afterward.
"I don't really have anything to say about it," Rupp said. "I was just excited that we could get on the board there and make it 2-1."
He made it 2-2 shortly after Philadelphia's own, The Roots, entertained the crowd between the second and third periods. Richards then gave the Rangers the lead and Lundqvist closed it out.
"We have this outdoor game, but we're still battling for the division lead and conference lead with these guys," Callahan said. "As soon as that puck dropped I felt like we had to win and it was a serious game."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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