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Yankee Stadium game a day to remember

by Brian Hunter

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist plays his home games at Madison Square Garden, so he knows what it's like to ply his trade in front of a packed house of raucous fans. And the New York Rangers goaltender has performed on the biggest of stages, at the NHL level in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and internationally for Sweden at the Olympics and the IIHF World Championships.

Lundqvist had even played an outdoor NHL game prior to Sunday, backstopping the Rangers to a 3-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Still, there was no experience in his career that could compare to taking the ice at Yankee Stadium on Sunday before a sellout crowd of 50,105 fans and leading the Rangers to a 7-3 win against the New Jersey Devils in a 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game played on a crisp winter afternoon.

"Walking out to warm-ups and taking it all in, it was just a great feeling, exciting feeling and a proud moment too, walking out here in front of all the fans in such a special stadium," Lundqvist said.

His teammates shared in the revelry. Forward Brian Boyle said that as a devoted Boston Red Sox fan, Yankee Stadium represented "a house of horrors" for him in the past. Sunday was a different story.

"It was loud, [the fans] were on top of us. It was cool," Boyle said. "Everyone knows what Yankee Stadium is. It's really special coming here to play. It's something you get to say you did 30 years down the road."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was one of the first to applaud the show put on in the first hockey game played at Yankee Stadium less than 24 hours after the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 in front of more than 54,000 fans at Dodger Stadium in the first outdoor NHL game played in the state of California.

"The first two games of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series -- played on two coasts, under two wild extremes of climate -- provided all the best elements our sport can offer our fans," Bettman said.

"Within 16 hours two of the most-revered venues in sports welcomed more than 100,000 fans to sit under the sky and enjoy two of the fiercest rivalries in the National Hockey League. The games were spectacular, the images were unforgettable and the sheer energy our sport creates was unmistakable. This truly was a remarkable weekend for our fans and our League."

While the Ducks and Kings played in balmy conditions, the Rangers and Devils had to battle the elements to a degree. Despite having to wait an extra hour due to glare from the sun that delayed the start of the game, fans from both sides made their voices heard during the warm-ups and player introductions and throughout the game, which included snow flurries for much of the second period.

"It's awesome," said defenseman Marc Staal, whose goal late in the first period started the Rangers' comeback from a 3-1 deficit. "It's one thing to have an empty stadium for practice; it's another when it's full. Fans for both teams cheering against each other. The atmosphere was awesome today."

Despite coming out on the losing end of the game Sunday, the Devils to a man agreed.

It was the first outdoor NHL experience for New Jersey veteran forward Patrik Elias, who raved about the experience.

"I'm sure a few of my friends are envious because I've been in the Yankees locker room [where the Devils dressed as the home team]," he said. "From the NHL and from both teams and the Yankee organization, what they did to make sure that everything was set up for us and make us feel comfortable, it was amazing."

Goaltender Cory Schneider was able to take everything in from the bench for the first two periods as the backup before relieving Martin Brodeur to start the third.

"It was pretty incredible," he said. "We're used to playing in front of 15, 20,000 people. To walk out and see that many people was a pretty amazing feeling. I think the buildup and the hype and the spectacle was well done.

"The crowd was really great early on in the game to get the intensity up. … I think we'd all like to thank all the fans who made it out today and braved that weather and made it as amazing as it was."

The pageantry wasn't limited to the game itself.

Prior to the teams taking the ice youth hockey players in Devils and Rangers jerseys spent several hours playing a spirited 4-on-4 game on a miniature rink situated a Derek Jeter flip from where the action featuring the big boys soon would take place.

Cast members from the Broadway hit "Jersey Boys" kicked off the entertainment by taking the Stadium Series stage in center field to perform a medley of The Four Seasons hits, and in the final lead-up to the opening faceoff bagpipers from the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums and the NYPD Pipes and Drums lined each team's path from the dugouts to the ice and played as the Rangers and Devils came out and fireworks were set off.

Tony Award-nominated actress Marin Mazzie, star of the new Broadway musical "Bullets Over Broadway," gave a stirring rendition of the U.S. National Anthem accompanied by members of the NYPD and FDNY color guard. Following the first period New Jersey shore band Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes performed.

Indeed, the afternoon proved memorable for each side. But the end result figures to make it a somewhat better memory for the Rangers in the years to come.

"You want to think back on the game as a great memory," Lundqvist said, "and the only way to have a great memory, you have to win the game."


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