Heading into Saturday's Stadium Series, Sidney Crosby said he felt fortunate to have another chance to play outdoors in Pittsburgh - and hoped he would have a better memory this time compared to the 2011 Winter Classic when he suffered a concussion.
And he certainly did, as the captain opened the scoring in a 4-2 win for the Pens over the Flyers in front of 67,318 fans at Heinz Field on Saturday evening.
"We're thrilled for him," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "I'm sure the experience of coming back here probably brought back some memories that he probably would like to forget. So to have a night like tonight and have an opportunity to play in such an exciting venue, and start the game off the way he did and score a goal for us, I'm sure probably helped him put that experience behind him and just move forward."
There had been concerns about the weather heading in, but those turned out to be for naught. Because when the Pens and Flyers took their rivalry outside, the conditions were perfect.
After practicing in 76-degree temperatures on Friday, the thermostat dropped down to 36 degrees at puck drop on Saturday. Clear with a dusting of snow, the conditions were ideal for outdoor hockey.
"It was amazing how improved the ice was with the colder temperatures," Matt Cullen said. "It was fast ice."
The one potential issue was the wind, as it was so fierce at times that you could see the snow blowing up and down the ice. But it didn't affect the players too much, and the NHL made sure to have the teams switch sides at the 10-minute mark of the third period to even the playing field.
"I'd say the wind was just howling pretty good there at different points and you see with switching at the 10-minute mark, they had an eye on that," Crosby said. "I think the conditions were great."
There was so much going on around the ice that helped make it a night to remember. For example, before the teams took the field,seven live penguins from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium - named after members of the NHL's Penguins - paraded into Heinz Field and took the ice on the field's auxiliary rink, much to the delight of those watching.
Shortly after that, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown introduced the Pens, who walked out to Styx's "Renegade" - a perfect choice for the venue. And throughout the night - which featured live music from the band Train at first intermission - the thousands of fans in the stands braving the cold created an atmosphere that Sullivan called "electric."
"Thank you to the fans who came, it was a little bit cold tonight but it was amazing," Evgeni Malkin said.
Crosby is a veteran of outdoor games, as this marked his fourth. But there were a number of Pens participating in their first, and for some of those players, they couldn't have asked for better nights.
It took Cullen until his 20th NHL season to finally be a part of an event like this, and he made the most of it. The 40-year-old ended up scoring the game-winner in the third period, and his celebration afterward was one that you couldn't help smiling about.
"I gotta tell ya, I don't know if I've had more fun playing hockey," Cullen said with a laugh. "It was such a fun night. It was a good game up and down the ice and I was just kind of blown away by the atmosphere and it was pretty cool seeing how many people stuck around with the cold temperatures. Just the whole thing was one of those bucket list deals and I'm just really, really happy I got to be a part of it."
"For some of us who have played three or four of these, for a guy like Cully to take advantage of it and have fun out there, I think it's just special to be able to see him score," Crosby said with a smile.
Rookies like Matt Murray and Jake Guentzel may not have had to wait as long as Cullen, but they also made the most of their opportunities.
Murray made 36 stops in the game and kept his team in it as the Flyers carried much of the play, while Guentzel got two assists and was named the game's No. 1 star.
"You don't really know what to expect coming in," Guentzel said. "When you first walk out it's pretty crazy. I remember getting the chills, and obviously to come out on top is nice."
"It was really special," Murray agreed. "When you see it on the calendar at the start of the year it's one that you really look forward to all season, especially it being my first outdoor game. And in such a huge stadium and a stadium with such history, and in front of all the greatest fans in sports in Pittsburgh, it's definitely one that I was looking forward to a lot. I feel very privileged to be a part of something like this, and I had a blast."