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Stadium Series: Rangers win ugly in another perfect night for NHL

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer



The New York Rangers earned another big win on the ice at Yankee Stadium. (USATSI)
The New York Rangers earned another big win on the ice at Yankee Stadium. (USATSI)

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Maybe it was just a little too perfect that a game that wasn't exactly pretty to watch was won on a goal by a grinding pest like Daniel Carcillo. Everything around the game -- the setting, the 50,000-plus fans in the stands, the glitzy musical performances, Henrik Lundqvist's pads – gave Wednesday night an aura of something bigger. But what actually happens on the ice is usually far from aesthetically pleasing.

That was certainly true of the two goals the Rangers scored to give them a 2-1 victory against the New York Islanders. Both came off of juicy rebounds that required the shooters, Benoit Pouliot and Carcillo, to merely get the puck on net.

It doesn't matter how they're scored, though. And really, it doesn't matter how the game on the ice looks when it comes to outdoor hockey. It's all about the spectacle, and Wednesday night's contest in the Bronx certainly was that.

The game had its fair share of action inside the boards. There was a total of 65 shots on net between the two teams, some of which generated quality chances in there and the play definitely picked up after a painfully slow first period.

The New York Rangers skated off the Yankee Stadium ice victorious once again, completing a sweep the likes of which that building had never seen. The Blueshirts are now 3-0 in outdoor games, going back to the 2012 Winter Classic.

Though the play was what it was, it was still essentially a perfect event for the NHL. The league's outdoor gamble is working in spades. For the third time, the NHL played to a packed stadium for an outdoor hockey game that wasn't the Winter Classic and though TV ratings won't be known until later, they're bound to be above average.

The NHL went into one of baseball's newest cathedrals and put more than 100,000 people in the building over two games. Wednesday night, an announced crowd of 50,027 fans braved the frigid temperatures.

"When you think about the fact that we've played three outdoor games in five days to over 150,000 people, then throw in the Winter Classic and another 100,000 people, it's been an incredible month of special events," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a postgame statement. "It was great to see. It was gratifying, and we're thrilled at the response that Yankee Stadium and the New York metropolitan area gave all three teams."

There are still two more outdoor games to come, one between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins in Chicago's Soldier Field on March 1, and the Heritage Classic in Vancouver, pitting the Canucks against the Ottawa Senators on March 2. And though the gimmick may have felt just a little more on the stale side Wednesday, it's still working as it was intended.

There is already a clamoring for more, as reports of more outdoor games for next season are already trickling out. The league is flexing its muscles at this point and making a lot of money while doing it. TSN's Darren Dreger reported that early ballpark estimates have the NHL banking 20 million in revenue from the Stadium Series.

Combining the three Stadium Series games already played and the 2014 Winter Classic, nearly 260,000 spectators were on hand to witness teams play outside in the last month. A quarter of a million people have attended four hockey games in the United States in one season. That's simply remarkable.

On top of all the great benefits for the league, though, the Rangers helped themselves with the two outdoor games in which they were technically the visitors. By picking up four important points in the standings, the Rangers moved three points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for second in the Metropolitan Division and look like a team ready to put a bad first half behind them.

It's always easy to forget that, especially at this time of year, these games, even outdoors, are so important. The Rangers got a pair of dirty goals to find a way to win against an Islanders team that was playing very well.

The two outdoor games also have to give a boost to Rangers starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The star netminder made 30 saves against the Islanders to earn his third career victory in the open air.

Lundqvist said he got everything he had hoped for out of the Stadium Series experience.

"I was hoping for two wins," he told reporters after the game. "I was hoping for two sold out days or nights, and just to walk away from this with an awesome experience, and that's what we have now. We talked about it in the last game you want to win these games to be able to look back at it in a couple years, couple months whatever, to have a smile on your face instead of thinking about the mistakes or the loss or whatever.

"Now it's two days that I will remember the rest of my life."

The past two games have been more than memorable for Lundqvist; they've been part of the best stretch of his 2013-14 season to date. Lundqvist has won seven of his past nine starts and has started to look like the King Henrik we're used to seeing. He's heading into the Olympics on a high note, which could be trouble for the rest of the world.

It's hard to say the Rangers are going to be able to use the Stadium Series as a valid springboard going forward, but they're playing better hockey right now and earning back-to-back wins under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium certainly has to feel good.

 
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