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Teams feel privileged to experience "perfect" Classic

by Dave Lozo / NHL.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Weather-wise, it was about as perfect as can be for an outdoor hockey game.

The temperature at puck drop for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers was 41 degrees with a minimal amount of wind swirling around Citizens Bank Park. Fans cheered the Flyers and jeered the Rangers as they took the ice and roared throughout the exciting contest that ended with a 3-2 Rangers victory.

The atmosphere became something out of a fairytale during the second period when snow flurries began to fall. It wasn't just the fans who were rejoicing about the ballpark turning into a snow globe.

"It was neat to see a little bit of snow there in the second," said the Rangers' Brad Richards, who scored the winner in the third period. "It obviously has a different feel. It doesn’t have the same feel as what we’re used to, but it was a great feeling with the wind and the breeze and when it got dark. It was a great setting and a great memory."

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"I didn't even see snow in Philly yet," said Flyers rookie Marc-Andre Bourdon. "It's the first time. It's the first time I've seen it here this year. It was nice. Made it even more like the Winter Classic."

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who grew up in Sweden, hadn’t played in an outdoor game since he was 10 years old.

"When it starts snowing in the second period, that was awesome," Lundqvist said.  "I liked when it was a little darker, too.  It was easy to see the puck, too."

At last year's Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, ice conditions weren't optimal. Rain fell during the game and the made the ice difficult to navigate during the third period.

That wasn't the case this year.

Passes were connecting and the puck was staying flat. Following the game, players raved about the ice conditions.

"I thought it was really good, to be honest with you," said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "You know there's going to be nicks and chips in it, but the staff was right on cue. They made it disappear.  I don't think there's any faults with the ice."

Richards said the difference between the ice during their Sunday afternoon practice that took place under the sun and the ice they skated on Monday under the shield of cloud cover was "night and day."

"It was fine at the start -- way better than I expected," Richards said. "Way better than yesterday."

The conditions were pristine, but that didn't make it any easier to deal with the enormity of the event.

Both teams emerged from baseball dugouts to hit the ice, and they did so in front of 46,967 fans. That sightlines were different, as fans aren't up against the glass like they are at an arena. That was the toughest thing for some players to handle.

"It was tough to get focused at first," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "There is so much going on. Me personally, I thought I was able to settle it down after the first 10 minutes of the first period and you realize it is just another hockey game but you’re outside. Obviously, it is hard with this atmosphere to really control yourself.

"You do it throughout the whole game, especially during TV timeouts, things like that. You look around and you realize there are 47,000 people here watching a hockey game, and it is special. I really enjoyed it.

"You are so used to the crowd being right there, especially on the boards. You’re making plays on the boards and there is all this open area. That was a little bit different not to have the crowd in your face. But you could hear them on the ice. They were loud and they were energized. "

The Winter Classic also marks the end of HBO's presence within the teams. The final episode of "24/7" will air Thursday, but the crew packed up its gear and said farewell to the Rangers and Flyers following the game.

"Well, HBO is the big thing about it," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "The Winter Classic is a tremendous event, and our organization is thrilled to be a part of it.  To play in an atmosphere like tonight, you know, the only thing disappointing for us was the result."

"The players loved it, and it's such a great experience," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "I look at some of the family things that these players are going to be able to have on film with their family at such a young age when they grow up and to see this, it's great stuff.

"So I have no problem being involved in this, because it's a first-class outfit as far as how they went about their business."

Lundqvist was asked what he'd remember most about the Winter Classic 20 years from now.

"Walking out in the warmup, it was a great crowd, and you got really excited, and then you kind of have to calm yourself down a little bit," Lundqvist said. "You're tired after warm up because you go so hard.

"Just the whole game, the way we bounced back and the finish obviously later in the game.  But so for the build-up and all of the talk, all of the focus, it was worth it. It's been an amazing experience."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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