NEW YORK — Henrik Lundqvist was fast asleep in the visiting locker room at Yankee Stadium. With the start of Sunday’s game between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils facing a two-hour delay due to sun glare, the goaltender’s pregame routine had to be adjusted and some much-needed shuteye was required.
It was an unfamiliar situation in an unfamiliar location that was about to change yet again.
Both the Rangers and Devils were told warmups would be pushed to 2:30 p.m, a drastic change for a game that was scheduled to start at 12:30. Being the creatures of habit that hockey players are, they thought that left them enough time to get a highly coveted nap.
Some slept—Brian Boyle took to an open corner of the locker room to lie on the beige carpeting but never slipped into a dream state—while others kicked a soccer ball around the spacious dressing rooms.
Marc Staal decided to have some pasta.
Suddenly, that all changed. Warmups would begin 90 minutes earlier than they had been told.
Put the soccer balls away. Rise and shine, Henrik.
“They told us warmups were around 2, 2:30, so I went to sleep,” Lundqvist said. “Then they told us warmups in 30 minutes. I was half-asleep. Mentally I was somewhere else. I had to regroup.”
It goes a long way toward explaining why both teams appeared to be sleepwalking in the first period. The Rangers fell behind 3-1 before awakening to score six goals over the final 43 minutes to win 7-3 in front of an even split of 50,105 Devils and Rangers fans in the Bronx.
The average attendance at a Yankees home game last season was 40,488.
The game capped a banner weekend for the NHL, which drew 54,099 on Saturday for a game between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium.
If fans are tiring of outdoor hockey games, it isn't showing at the turnstiles yet.
This was the second outdoor game in two years for the Rangers, who beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Winter Classic 3-2 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
How does this compare to that game?
“It’s better,” Boyle said. “Philly was cool because it was the first time and all the buildup. But to do it here, it was awesome. The crowd…it seemed like it was more on top of you. It was louder. It was a ton of fun. It was unique. It was loud for both teams. The fans came out for both.”
It was 24 degrees when the puck was dropped, and it looked like Lundqvist was operating on 30 minutes of sleep during the first period. Patrik Elias sniped him to the stick side on a partial breakaway to make it 1-0, then finished a virtuoso display of stickhandling and passing by Jaromir Jagr to make it 2-1.
Lundqvist looked lost on Travis Zajac’s rebound goal that made it 3-1 and believed what he hoped would be a special, memorable day was going to end before he could wipe the sleep from his eyes.
“I’m not going to lie—when they scored the third one, I had a bad feeling,” Lundqvist said. “My first thought was: I might not be able to finish this game.”
It turned out Lundqvist's premonition was correct, only it was about the wrong goaltender.
Martin Brodeur, 41 years old and very likely playing his final season, looked the part of a once-great player whose skills have eroded to the point that he has become a liability. There were plenty of 2-on-1s and funky bounces to give any goaltender a conniption, but Brodeur couldn’t have stopped traffic with a tank on this day.
Less than a minute after the Devils assumed command, he allowed a bad-angle goal to Staal that cut the lead to 3-2. He proceeded to allow four second-period goals—three on odd-man rushes and another off a shot that changed direction twice on the way to the net—and his day was over after 40 minutes.
Brodeur entered the game with a .905 save percentage and left it with an .899 save percentage. The latter ranks 39th among 46 goaltenders this season.
Much like the snow outside, the excuses from Brodeur rained down in the Yankees locker room afterward.
On the cold:
“It’s tough, especially when you’re playing in a game like that. I couldn’t close my glove or catch a puck. It was frozen.”
On all the odd-man rushes:
“I’m sure this never would have happened in a regular game.”
On the ice:
“It was the worst ice I’ve ever played hockey on. As it went on, it was worse and worse.”
Coach Peter DeBoer decided to let Cory Schneider take over in the third period, a move that came 40 minutes too late to matter in this game.
“I told Pete if you want to put Schneids for the experience in a game like that,” Brodeur said. “I asked him. If you want, I’m OK with it. Maybe he would’ve done it anyway.”
Six goals on 21 shots? Yeah, maybe he would’ve done it anyway.
It wasn’t the outcome Devils fans wanted, but it did little to damper an enthusiastic and raucous crowd. Lines for concessions were almost as long as the line of goal scorers for the Rangers on Sunday. The NHL raked in money hand over fist this weekend and will probably do the same here Wednesday when the New York Islanders face the Rangers.
What the NHL is doing with the Stadium Series games is offering more than a hockey game—it’s an entertainment experience. There are celebrities, military flyovers, musical acts. KISS entertained the crowd at Dodger Stadium while the cast of Jersey Boys and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes performed here.
It’s more than a hockey game. It’s an event.
“It was cold. It wasn't a cold that could affect you,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “There was a little snow in the second period. But us walking on to the ice surface, the applause from fans as much from the Devils as the Rangers, it was a really neat experience.”
Even Brodeur appreciated the afternoon in his own way.
“Besides playing the game of hockey,” Brodeur said, “it was unbelievable.”
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?