Lundqvist Remains The King of Outdoor Games

I always think the NHL’s outdoor games can’t continue to live up to the hype, and they usually do.

I always think the league might be oversaturating us with these events, and I’m always wrong.

Those hardy people who sit through the elements get their money’s worth out of the game and the experience … though I imagine the losing team’s fans might feel differently.

I wouldn’t know since I’ve only covered the Rangers, who are 4-0 outside.

[Watch Rangers-Coyotes Saturday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Thoughts:

1. Leading up to this week, I couldn’t help recall how many times Henrik Lundqvist has said, starting in 2012 in Philadelphia, and 2014 at Yankee Stadium, and in the last several days, some form of this:

If you want these games, these events, to be special memories, you have to win them. So here he was Monday at Citi Field:

“We also discussed it in the room that we’re not going to enjoy this and look back and it’s a great memory unless you win this game,” he said.

“You know what, you don’t play that many times outside. So obviously every game means a lot to you, you want to make the most of it. And it’s game 38 or something for us, but when you’re playing this game, this is it. That’s the only one.

“And you want to make sure you get the two points. You want to make sure you can be able to sit down in a week or this summer or look back as this is a great memory yesterday, today. So you need to win. And we did.”

Henrik Lundqvist talks about dealing with the sun and the shadows on the ice, the Rangers' performance and the enjoyment of playing in his second Winter Classic and fourth outdoor game in the NHL.

2. He’s been the difference in three of the four outdoor games he’s won – one of them was a 7-3 victory over the Devils in the new Yankee Stadium that, as I recall, started poorly for Lundqvist.

But he’s 4-0 after making 31 important saves in an imperfect win Monday, and in the four games he’s got a 1.98 goals-against average and .934 save percentage, including, of course, the late penalty shot stop on Daniel Briere in Philly in ’12.

Lundqvist also tied Tony Esposito for eighth in all-time wins (423) and he’s really catching, and passing, some big, big names now. Up next, 14 wins away, at No. 7, is Jacques Plante. This was the 37th different venue in which Lundqvist has won an NHL game.

3. Speaking of the venue, that’s some home game for poor Buffalo. The game’s in NYC, with mostly Rangers fans among the 41,000, where the Sabres got to wear their road whites and use the visitors’ clubhouse, then had to hear the Rangers’ goal horn and song twice in the first period, and at the very end. Home clubs fell to 9-12-3 in NHL outdoor games, but the Rangers were “visitors” in name only in three of those. If they were designated “home” team, the home teams would be 12-9-3. Right?

See the lasting images from the Rangers thrilling overtime win over the Sabres in the 2018 Winter Classic at Citi Field (images courtesy of MSG Photo Services)

4. The Rangers are still getting production from their fourth line, which produced the first goal. Paul Carey=Mike Rupp. Getting Jesper Fast back, surprisingly, only makes their bottom six that much better. Though the top six, minus Chris Kreider for the foreseeable future, needs to pick up the scoring at even strength and on the power play.

[Carpiniello: Replacing Kreider Won’t Be Easy]

5. J.T. Miller sure took care of some of that, with a big had in Michael Grabner’s goal, then the game-winner on the 4-on-3 power play in sudden death.

J.T. Miller describes his emotions after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in the Winter Classic against the Sabres.

6. Grabner, a free agent in the summer, is making himself a lot of money – and will be a desirable trade chip if the Rangers choose to go that way, with his 18 goals (all at even strength).

7. At least four times in the last week, including thrice at Citi Field, Kevin Hayes has banked pucks off goalies from bad angles, and two of them have resulted in goals. Another just missed late in the second period. He’s played some of the best, strongest hockey of his career lately.

8. It’s a tough TV event sometimes. The cameras are so far from the rink. Shadows. Glare. This Classic became a much better watch in the second period when the clouds rolled in.

9. By the way, this was the Rangers second straight game in a place where they’d never before played, having made their debut in Detroit’s new rink Friday.

10. Hard to believe the first half of the season is almost over, with 39 games in the bank. Hard to believe, too, the Rangers are 18-6-3 in their last 27.

Alain Vigneault talks about the environment at Citi Field, the Rangers' performance and having Jesper Fast in the lineup.

11. I only caught one episode of the “Road to the Winter Classic.” But I’m gonna guess it wasn’t as interesting as the 2012 version with John Tortorella’s spicy language and that fun, tough, overachieving “big as the building” team.

12. I always knew Jeremy Roenick was nuts – everybody did. We saw him wrestle with gators, for crying out loud. But going for a swim with the Polar Bears at Coney Island, in this weather. Holy shish kebab!

13. My gosh, some of these hooking penalty calls. What the heck has happened to this sport? Then punches are exchanged and nothing is called. That all said, the Rangers took too many penalties. And that all said, the Rangers need to get their power play working again.

Kevin Shattenkirk talks about the fun he had playing in the Winter Classic as a Ranger and breaks down what happened on the game-winning goal in overtime.

14. Games like these make me miss the tremendously tremendous Eddie Olczyk. Heave Ho, Eddie O.

15. How cold was it? It was so cold that some guy in traffic flipped me the mitten. So cold I saw a politician with his hands in his own pockets.

[Watch Rangers-Coyotes Saturday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.