NEW YORK -- Outdoor hockey at Yankee Stadium in front of a sellout crowd of more than 50,000 freezing fans on a frigid late January night? Yes, New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal would do it all over again, and again.
"These [outdoor games] are a ton of fun to play in," Staal said after the Rangers' 2-1 win against the New York Islanders in the Bronx on Wednesday night. "I could play in 50 of these in a year. It's a lot of fun being out in that atmosphere.
"Well, maybe not 50," he added, smiling. "Forty."
They flipped on the lights at the big ballpark in the Bronx to play a hockey game and it was another home run for the National Hockey League as 50,027 folks streamed through the turnstiles, braving the cold to watch the Islanders and Rangers take their storied rivalry outside in the third game of the four-part 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.
The rivals were playing for the 248th time, but for first time in an outdoor setting befitting the boys of summer, not winter.
The latest installment did not disappoint with the Rangers, considered the road team here despite the fact that Madison Square Garden is closer to Yankee Stadium than Nassau Coliseum, scoring their 121st victory against the Islanders thanks to 30 saves from goalie Henrik Lundqvist and goals from Benoit Pouliot, late in the second period, and Daniel Carcillo, early in the third.
Carcillo's goal at 4:36 of the third was the game-winner.
The Rangers and Islanders will take their rivalry indoors Friday at the Garden to close out the season series, but the memories of the outdoor game will still be quite fresh.
"Honestly, I hope every player in the NHL would have the chance to play in a game like that," said Rangers center Derick Brassard, who assisted on Pouliot's game-tying goal late in the second period. "It's just so much fun. To play in a game like that in front of your family and everything, that's awesome. I'm going to remember that for a long time."
Part of the reason his memories from the Stadium Series will be so good is the Rangers got a Yankee Stadium sweep to move three points up on the Philadelphia Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division. They beat the New Jersey Devils 7-3 in a Sunday matinee.
In addition, Lundqvist and the Rangers improved to 3-0-0 in outdoor games, including a win against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Lundqvist has allowed six goals on 89 shots in outdoor games.
"Everything I hoped for," Lundqvist said of the Stadium Series games. "I was hoping for two wins. I was hoping for two [sellouts], and just to walk away from this with an awesome experience. That's what we have. We talked about wanting to win these games to be able to look back on them and have a smile on your face instead of thinking about the mistakes or a loss. Now it's two days that I will remember for the rest of my life."
Carcillo scored the winning goal early in the third period to lift the Rangers to a win in a game that was scoreless through the first 38:33 before the teams combined for three goals in a span of 6:03 bridging the second and third periods.
Islanders center Brock Nelson broke the stalemate with 1:27 to play in the second period when he rifled a one-timer from the lower part of the right circle through the opening in Lundqvist's pads.
However, all that seemed to do was ignite the Rangers.
Forty seconds later, Pouliot scored from in front of the crease after Brassard's pass from behind the net hit him in the chest and dropped to his feet, allowing him a chance to shoot it high into the right corner.
"A late goal like that can give you a big boost coming into the third," Pouliot said. "That's what happened."
Islanders coach Jack Capuano thought his team was OK with the game locked at 1-1 heading into the second intermission, but the opening minutes of the third period told a different story.
"[I thought], 'We'll regroup after the second and come back out,' and we got away from our game a little bit," Capuano said. "We needed to do a little bit more and we didn't do it."
Carcillo's third goal of the season came off the rebound of Dominic's Moore shot. He found the puck in the high slot and deposited it into the back of the net.
The Islanders eventually pulled goalie Evgeni Nabokov for the extra skater and got in close on Lundqvist, but couldn't find the equalizer.
Nabokov made 32 saves in his first start since Jan. 6.
"It was cold, but it was fun," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "I grew up playing in that [environment]. I enjoyed the atmosphere. It was unbelievable. It was a lot of fun.
"I'd play every game like this. I think for our game it's great, but at the same time I think we don't want to cross the fine line of what's too much. But certainly I think anyone that's ever played in it really says it's quite the experience."
The players also talk about it being a much better experience if you win. The Rangers got the maximum amount of points out of their Stadium Series games and now the focus turns to the final four games before the NHL goes on hiatus for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The Rangers have home games against the Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers coming up before a trip to play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 7, their last game before the Olympic break.
The Rangers are 9-3-1 since a 5-2 loss to the Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Jan. 3. They love the way they're playing, both indoors and outdoors.
"It's exciting to feel that we're growing here as a group, as a team and now is the time you want to do it; it's not in the fall," Lundqvist said. "Yeah, we did have a tough start and it was up and down, but now is the time where you feel like things are moving in the right direction and you want to try to get better and better.
"Who knows? Right now our focus is to just get into the playoffs, but once we're in there, you know, a lot of things can happen."
The one thing that can't happen is another game outdoors. The Rangers got their two. They'll never forget 'em.
"It was another amazing night," Lundqvist said. "I'm just thankful to get this opportunity and also everyone showed up to make it so special. It's a great stadium but you need the fans to make it special. It was a little cold, but it was awesome."
|Brad Richards Hooking against Thomas Vanek|
|Mats Zuccarello Interference against Peter Regin|
|Kyle Okposo Hooking against Dominic Moore|
|Rick Nash Diving|
|Daniel Carcillo Roughing against Calvin de Haan|
|Thomas Vanek Hooking against Rick Nash|
|Brian Boyle Cross checking against Kyle Okposo|