Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
I'll say this. Punxsutawney Phil needs to get his act together.
Not only is his hometown hard to spell (for those wondering, spell check does not acknowledge "Punxsutawney" as a legitimate word) but I'm tired of scraping ice off my windshield.
Here in Philadelphia, we're hours away from another snow storm and it's all Phil's fault.
In case you weren't already aware of just how sinister this furry underachiever can be, here's a look at Phil's lifetime stats. Of the 117 predictions he's made, the miserable rodent has let us off the hook a grand total of 16 times.
That's right, sixteen early springs in 12 decades. That's preposterous.
In most settings, shenanigans like this would get you thrown out of office. But not in America. Here, we embrace Phil and his blatant disregard for climate control. So much so that the NHL decided to schedule six outdoor hockey games this season.
As much as I hate Phil and everything he stands for, Saturday's outdoor contest at Soldier Field was a work of art. The game wasn't that great (Chicago beat Pittsburgh in a blowout), but watching as clumps of snow hit the ice made me feel like a kid again. It brought me back to a simpler time when 401Ks and electric bills weren't part of my understanding. Skating circles around a frozen pond until dinner time was all that mattered back then.
I'm glad I wasn't there in person, but watching from the safety of my desk at work, the scene at Soldier Field was remarkably beautiful. Maybe six games is too many, but I get the appeal of the outdoor game. There's a certain element of nostalgia involved, the kind that you wouldn't get playing at Staples Center or in a half-empty arena in Sunrise, Florida.
The season's final outdoor contest will take place this afternoon when the Canucks host Ottawa at BC Place in Vancouver. But before that happens, let's take a look back at some of the more memorable moments from this year's slate of outdoor games.
January 1: Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings at Michigan Stadium
This game was why hand warmers were invented. Temperatures sat in the mid- teens for most of the afternoon as Toronto escaped with a 3-2 victory. The blustery conditions forced two game stoppages as officials made the teams switch sides to ensure both squads had an equal amount of time playing against the wind.
Of the 36 skaters in action, only Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf collected more than one point (two assists). Jonathan Bernier's 41 saves (42 if you include his block on Tomas Tatar in the shootout) were the most ever for an outdoor game. Speaking of records, this game featured the highest attendance in NHL history (105,491).
January 25: Kings vs. Ducks at Dodgers Stadium
Outdoor hockey in the city of angels? They said it couldn't be done. Somehow, the rink stayed frozen just long enough for the Ducks to capture a 3-0 victory.
Jonas Hiller's 36-save shutout was the first we've seen in an outdoor game since Miikka Kiprusoff silenced the Canadiens in Calgary during the 2011 Heritage Classic. Former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry became the first player to score at Dodger Stadium by putting it past Jonathan Quick just 2:45 into the first period.
January 26: Rangers vs. Devils at Yankee Stadium
This one got off to a bright start. Literally. The game was delayed 40 minutes because of the glare reflecting off the ice.
Henrik Lundqvist actually took a nap during the break and it showed as the Devils got to him for three first period goals. After King Henrik settled in, the hot seat got passed to Martin Brodeur, who was pulled after the Rangers netted six goals in a span of two periods. Brodeur called the surface "the worst" he has ever played on. In the end, New York coasted to an easy 7-3 victory in front of about 50,000 fans.
Mats Zuccarello led the Blue Shirts with two goals in the second period. Both were assisted by center Derick Brasard. Patrik Elias was New Jersey's high scorer with two goals in 14 and a half minutes of ice time.
January 29: Rangers vs. Islanders at Yankee Stadium
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? The Rangers should play ALL their games outside! Since the first Winter Classic in 2008, New York is 3-0 against Mother Nature.
This game was played at night so sunlight wasn't a factor. Lundqvist looked much sharper than he did three days earlier, turning aside 31 saves for his 19th win of the season. Daniel Carcillo poked in the game-winner four minutes and 36 seconds into the third period. Brock Nelson scored the Islanders' only goal of the contest early in the second frame.
March 1: Penguins vs. Blackhawks at Soldier Field
I hope you brought your shovel. This game was played in a blizzard, though that didn't stop 63,000 Blackhawks fans from packing the stadium.
Fresh off his gold medal in Sochi, Chicago center Jonathan Toews pulled the trigger for his first goal midway through the second period. He would score again with a little over two minutes left in the third period. By that point the game, which Chicago won 5-1, was well in hand.
Marc-Andre Fleury wore a Steelers-inspired goalie mask but he must have left the Steel Curtain in Pittsburgh. He was open for business all day, allowing five goals on 40 shots. The Penguins, who have now lost three straight, can get their revenge March 30th when the Hawks visit the CONSOL Energy Center.
I won't mind if it snows in Vancouver (the forecast calls for 2-to-4 inches). But after that, can we give it a rest?
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