The NHL was on the decline for several years before the Lockout. But when Gary Bettman and the owners couldn't come to terms on a CBA and the entire 2004-2005 season was cancelled, the NHL of old died. And when the Lockout ended, and the new NHL skated out onto ice it was surrounded by plenty of skepticism and far fewer fans, and it seemed doomed to ride on the VS. channel.
With a remarkable pool of young talent and a revamped marketing plan centered around younger players like Crosby, Ovechkin, and Thornton, the new NHL began to take shape. Several rule changes helped in picking up the pace of play and opened the ice up for more offense. Most importantly, there were no more ties-rather shootouts to determine a victor.
All of this led to the No. 7 moment that took place on just the 2nd day of January, 2008.
The NHL brass could not have written a better scenario for this Winter Classic. Almost 72,000 fans packed into Ralph Wilson Stadium in snowy Orchard Park, NY to watch the face of the new NHL, Sidney Crosby. He did not disappoint, grabbing an assist in the 1st period and dazzling fans with some crafty stick-handling.
After the Sabres and Pens played to a regulation and overtime tie, the shootout was on. Each team scored once in its first two tries, and after Ty Conklin stopped Maxim Afinogenov on the Sabres third try, Crosby skated out in front of 72,000 fans in the stadium and 3.7 million viewers nationwide and scored the game-winning goal. The NHL was back.