In what may be the most heated NHL rivalry to meet in the Winter Classic—division rivals battling for the elite spot in the East, with fans that dislike each other as much as the players do—fans and players alike are anticipating who will step up and be a hero in this season’s version of the Winter Classic.
Thus far in the brief four-year history of the Winter Classic, NHL stars have shined and lesser-known players have made names for themselves. And with TV ratings getting better each year, the Winter Classic has become a major stage for the NHL.
While the three stars are named in the Winter Classic like in every other NHL game, I think the Winter Classic—like the All-Star Game—should crown an MVP.
Including an MVP for the Winter Classic would increase fan involvement by allowing fans to vote online during the game, and that would offer more incentives for the players to perform.
Here are my MVPs for the first four Winter Classic contests.
The inaugural Winter Classic in 2008 was indeed the Sidney Crosby Show. Crosby assisted on Colby Armstrong’s goal 21 seconds into the game. The Buffalo Sabres would answer back one minute later with a goal by Brian Campbell.
After scoreless second, third and overtime periods, the Penguins and Sabres took it to the limit in a shootout. Quite appropriately, Sid the Kid netted the game winner past Ryan Miller.
In a high-scoring, roller-coaster-ride 6-4 Red Wings win, Jiri Hudler is my MVP. After falling behind 3-1 in the first period, the Red Wings had an explosive second period with three goals. Hudler scored two of the team’s three goals in the second period, and he assisted on Brian Rafalski’s goal early in the third period.
The Red Wings did not let up after the second-period surge, scoring a total of five unanswered goals in the game—three of which were made possible by Jiri Hudler.
2010 - Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers: Tim Thomas
Marco Sturm’s overtime goal to lift the Bruins over the Flyers 2-1 was the pinnacle of the game, but it was Tim Thomas’ consistent play and late third-period heroics that kept the Bruins within striking distance all game long.
2011 - Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals: Semyon Varlamov
After giving up an early goal to Evgeni Malkin two minutes into the game, Varlamov was perfect for the remainder of the contest, stopping 32 shots total. The Capitals went on to score three unanswered goals and win 3-1.
2012 - Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers: ?
While the Philadelphia Flyers have struggled in the month of December, the New York Rangers have won seven of their last 10 games and aren’t showing signs of letting up after a commanding 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers Friday night.
I predict the Winter Classic will be a turning point for both teams, and that the Flyers will win. The Flyers regained Claude Giroux on Dec. 22 after he suffered a concussion on Dec. 10. In his first game back, Giroux scored a goal and had three assists in the Flyers’ 4-1 win over Dallas.
The Rangers have had a successful month of December considering they have been without Marc Staal—who, though unlikely, may return for the Winter Classic. He is still recovering from a concussion caused by a hit he took from brother Eric Staal last season. The Rangers are also without defensemen Steve Eminger and Mike Sauer, and they recently put Sean Avery on waivers.
If the Flyers win, it will have a lot to do with Claude Giroux and Ilya Bryzgalov. Expect continued involvement by Giroux and a turnaround performance by Bryzgalov.