There isn’t a Rangers fan on earth that didn’t know how the finale of “24-7 – Road to the NHL Winter Classic” would end.
From those of us lucky enough to be in attendance to those watching from home, everyone knew that HBO’s cameras would capture Henrik Lundqvist as he stoned Danny Briere of the Flyers on a questionable penalty shot call in the final minute of regulation in Monday’s game, cementing a 3-2 Rangers win.
But as with the rest of the on-ice material from the series so far, it was all about how it was presented – in impeccable fashion. And the series finale to the extremely well-made second edition of the NHL edition of this franchise produced the expected amounts of behind-the-scenes material that made this series as entertaining as it was.
More after the jump.
Moved from Wednesday to Thursday to allow for extra time after Monday’s game, episode four kicks off with Ilya Bryzgalov, clearly the star of this series, sarcastically answering questions from reporters in Tampa Bay following a blowout loss to the Lightning. This would come around later in the episode when Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette tabs goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to start the Winter Classic as a bit of a wake-up call to the slumping Bryzgalov.
The scene shifts to the Rangers, following a disappointing 4-1 loss in Washington to the Capitals, where we see the last footage of Sean Avery for the series, as he ponders if the hotel’s orange juice is unlimited and receives a complement from Brandon Prust about how nice his eyes are.
Following this, the team departs for Southern Florida and a matchup with the Panthers, while Avery is sent back north after being put on waivers once again. Later on the flight from Florida to Philadelphia, John Tortorella discusses the reasoning behind the move regarding Avery in a bit of exclusive footage with HBO’s cameras. Not much is really divulged other than most of the reasons already discussed when he was first waived, but the way it’s presented is at least unique.
Down in Florida, we see an entertaining glimpse into the team’s film study time. After Jerry Dineen’s projector briefly shuts off, Tortorella rips into Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman for their lackluster play against the Caps.
But while doing so, he also gives them enough advice to help them better their play – telling Boyle to push the puck into the corner rather than trying risky passes and telling Stralman to do more overall if he wants to stay with the team. It’s a scene that exemplifies Tortorella’s coaching style, concluded by the fact that the team applauds as one when the meeting concludes – much in the same way they did after each intermission speech.
Of course, the rest is history in Florida as the Rangers easily coast past the Panthers and board the plane to Philly. While in the air, we get to see Ryan Callahan playing practical jokes on Marc Staal, preventing him from getting any sleep whatsoever, and showing a side of Callahan not seen by the public very often.
We also see a similarly unseen side to Callahan during the game following his takedown by Kimmo Timonen as he attempted to score on an empty net, in which Callahan bursts into a fit of rage, cursing repeatedly in trying to comprehend the call. Of course, for a call as dubious as that, it would probably send any player in the league into a fit of rage, so it’s probably a bit difficult to read much into it.
Back in Philadelphia, while the Flyers are preparing themselves (including a rather graphic scene in which Wayne Simmonds takes a puck to the hand and requires a needle to be shot directly into his nail to relieve the swelling), the Rangers arrive shortly thereafter and take the ice for their first practice at Citizens Bank Park.
There’s Martin Biron mocking Dan Girardi for wearing eye black, Boyle doing his best impersonation of Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, players skating with their families, and the biggest news of all – Staal’s return to the lineup, as the “A” is stitched onto his jersey prior to Monday’s game, in which he would make his season debut.
From there, the game doesn’t need to be detailed much after the fact. There is, as expected, significant trash talk on both sides (albeit, mostly coming from the Flyers), some interesting footage of Tortorella asking the advice of Mike Rupp, the two-goal scoring hero of the day who played in last year’s Winter Classic with the Penguins and has an excellent shot to be a coach one day, and the outstanding footage captured by HBO’s cameras of that afternoon’s game.
The scene that brings the entire episode, and series, together is Briere’s penalty shot – captured in a stunning, cinematic way with everything you’d expect – dramatic music, slow motion, the works. It is, without a doubt the highlight of the entire series. Yes, even more than Bryzgalov’s speech, Gaborik’s Christmas tree or Del Zotto’s sweater.
From there, as Lundqvist makes the save and the Rangers hold on for the victory, the episode, and the series, comes to its conclusion, wrapping up four weeks of episodes that did an extremely solid job of covering the drama and behind the scenes footage that you could possibly hope to see through the eyes of two NHL teams.
While this show would be just as good following any other NHL teams, the fact that the Rangers were featured in this definitely meant something, putting a spotlight on the players that so many fans have already grown to love, and even showcasing sides of Tortorella not seen by many others before.
24/7 has become just as anticipated as the actual Winter Classic now, and the entire crew of the program should be commended on the job done over the last month.