(Ed. Note: This review contains spoilers.)
"Nothing comes to be simply because someone declares it so. A collection of men won't become a single unit simply by donning the same color sweater. And two such groups won't emerge as heated adversaries just because they're encouraged to. For these kinds of realities to authentically take hold, they must be built."
These words were narrated by Liev Schreiber as Episode 3 of "HBO 24/7 Flyers Rangers: The Road To The NHL Winter Classic" closed with images of the outdoor rink at Citizens Bank Park being constructed, intercut with footage of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers players featured over the last three weeks.
Cynically, and somewhat accurately, "24/7" is a four-hour infomerical for the Winter Classic. It exists to create buzz, context and emotional investment in the teams competing in the game. The NHL is building a rink outdoors; HBO is building up the teams that'll skate on it. As the narrator said: Just because you declare them as "heated adversaries" doesn't make it so; part of HBO's mandate is to establish that rivalry.
It was easier to make that declaration last season. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals had been positioned as blood rivals for years leading up to their Classic, thanks to the NHL media machine's overselling of Crosby vs. Ovechkin.
In both series of "24/7", Episode 3 was built around a showdown between the featured teams. Last season, the third episode was "the most riveting, unflinching and hypnotic presentation of regular-season hockey to ever hit the airwaves"; the payoff from weeks of operatic storytelling about the fall and rise of the Capitals. It gave us Sid dropping an F-bomb at an official; our first "24/7" trip to the War Room; and the game ended in true made-for-TV fashion with a shootout.
This season, the Flyers/Rangers showdown at MSG fit the template, had some sizzle but lacked the grandeur of Penguins/Capitals. Perhaps that's a good thing for their post-Winter Classic episode, because there's no question that the Pens/Caps "indoor" showdown rendered their Classic anti-climactic.
Overall, this was another strong episode, highlighted by holiday absurdity, the resolution of storylines, some nasty little moments during games and the ongoing exploration of a Cosmonaut and his dog.
Coming up, a recap, some clips and images from Episode 3. What did you think of the show?
This Week on 24/7
We begin with Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette walking into the locker room between periods. We're not told the game or its location. He asks Scott Hartnell why the scoring chances are 7-1, and answers his own question: "Because it's about as [expletive] casual as it gets" out there for the Flyers. It's a blistering speech, including this request:
"I want to see people rip their heart out of their [expletive] chest this period. And if you don't, you're probably not going to like your ice time. Take your first shift, earn your second one. I'm not putting up with it. It's too much horse[expletive]."
We find out the Flyers are down a goal against the Colorado Avalanche, in the first game of a 3-game road trip. Had they been down two, Laviolette may have murdered a vagrant in front of his team with his bare hands, based on his intensity for a one-goal deficit ...
Claude Giroux is now the focus as the action shifts to Dallas; speaking about his head injury and telling us that players just know when they're ready to come back from a concussion. Somewhere, Brooks Laich smiles.
Meanwhile, the Rangers skate with their families at Bryant Park for the holidays. We meet Derek Stepan's girlfriend Stephanie, and immediately wish we had met her earlier. We see Dan Girardi's 2-year-old hockey prodigy again. It's his first time on skates. The camera cuts away before we see Lil' Girardi deke five times and end his scoring chance with a spin-o-rama. (Hey, if he can shoot one-timers like he did in Episode 2 …)
Now it's off to the Rangers' Ugly Sweater Holiday Party, which we wrote about here. It featured this sweater by defenseman Michael Del Zotto, which may be the greatest non-Bryzgalov moment of Season 2:
"Mommy, are the reindeer dancing?"
Back on the ice, the Rangers face the New Jersey Devils, and Mike Rupp laments having to fight Cam Janssen, whose fights are apparently as painful and lengthy as Kovalchuk's contract.
In Dallas, Claude Giroux is ready to roll, while Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are back in Philly watching him on TV. (Couturier tells us he passed all the concussion tests but doesn't have hearing back in one of his ears yet … scary.)
The following video covers two great moments from this segment: An NHL.com faceoff percentage chirp between Steve Ott and Giroux; and Laviolette dodging a question about his incident with Ott in the player tunnel during the game.
The Laviolette/Ott incident was revealed by "24/7" mics; it went like this:
OTT: "Show some class. You're going to let our team go."
LAVY: "Go [gretzky] yourself."
OTT: "Hey …"
LAVY: "Go [gretzky] yourself."
OTT: "Show some [gretzkying] class!"
We imagine this is how their apology phone call went too. Giroux posts a 4-point game, and the Flyers play that damn Mac Miller song again.
Marian Gaborik hadn't really been featured on the series yet, so it's his time to shine. We see him driving a really nice BMW, talking smack on New York drivers. (God's work, really.)
After a short bit on Michael Del Zotto — setting him up for some heroics later — it's time for some holiday shopping with Gaborik.
Yes, we're all rather amazed this segment didn't end with him tearing a groin carrying his own Christmas tree ...
The Flyers talk about the Rangers rivalry, with Wayne Simmonds having no idea how intense it was while playing in LA; Kimmo Timomen actually appearing on "24/7"; Jaromir Jagr talking about how people thought he was "done" after cashing a paycheck in Washington, but that the Rangers gave him another chance; and Laviolette, having beers with this coaches, giving a nice bit about how the Rangers' "identity is set." (Also great: The footage of Ott vs. Laviolette playing on TV while the coaches are in the bar.)
The coaches watch the Rangers beat the Islanders. Del Zotto swaggers. Stu Bickel gets into his first and second NHL fights; there's a gorgeous only-on-HBO shot of one fight ending and all the sticks on both benches banging on the boards in appreciation. Great stuff.
We finally get to the battle for first place in the division between the Flyers and Rangers. Laviolette and John Tortorella rally the troops. Things get nasty quickly. Prust and Bourdon fight. Tom Sestito, fresh from the AHL, chirps the Rangers bench, dropping several F-bombs. Brad Richards returns fire with the chirp of the series:
"One day in the NHL for you. Fantasy camp for you."
Just like last season, we see both dressing room speeches by the coaches between periods and then get right back into the action. Brutal hits. Nasty language. Two video reviews, including one that (for the second straight Episode 3) sends us to the War Room and NHL VP Mike Murphy, who rules Ruslan Fedotenko's shot as a good goal while he evidently also keeps tabs on the Puppy Bowl:
Back to the dressing rooms to set up the third, and HBO gets some nice rah-rah stuff from the coaches about how important the next goal is. Naturally, it's Gaborik — expertly set up in the previous segment by the editors — who scores it. The Rangers eventually win 4-2; HBO captures the crowd's "Flyers Suck!" chant, much like they captured "Crosby Sucks!" chants last season.
(Again, you can can't help but compare this game with last year's, and there is no comparison. It's not HBO's fault. They made the most of a game that didn't have the intense drama, and the climax, that the Pens/Caps game did.)
The next scene is the worst in the entire run of "24/7".
This is not hyperbole.
The editors wanted to show that the loss hadn't humbled Philadelphia. So they used footage of tourists running up the "Rocky steps" at the Museum of Art as evidence that that "sting" of the Flyers' loss to Rangers had subsided. This is ridiculous because (a) it was a regular season game not named the Winter Classic and (b) it was in December, so Philly fans were more concerned about the Eagles anyway and (c) THEY ARE [EXPLETIVE] TOURISTS AND CARE NOTHING ABOUT THIS GAME.
That out of the way, the rest of the episode is dedicated to holiday celebrations:
• Scott Hartnell inviting Claude Giroux and others to his condo for Christmas. He operates a "24/7" camera (ugh) and has a Buck Hunter coin-op game (awesome).
• Ilya Bryzgalov, his wife, son, daughter and, yes, Siberian husky celebrate Christmas over in South Jersey. And we're given more BryzGold:
"You know, I have many faces ... masks. In home, I have one face. Public, I have other face. Uh … ahhhh, on ice I have different face. Day off I have four face. With you I have fifth face."
Bryz cooks a duck. (Next Christmas: a Coyote!) His Siberian husky eats the duck off the table. Blondes have all the fun.
• Finally, we head up to Massachusetts where Brian Boyle meets up with his family of about roughly 300 13 siblings. It's a nice moment, a little filler-ish, but it's the off-the-ice stuff that balances everything else.
The episode ends with the construction of the rink in Philadelphia, with "Are You Awake?" by Expatriate playing on the soundtrack:
"I had love/In a backyard/I went out one day/And took it apart/Like my dad used to do/On a sunny afternoon/Break something old/To build something new/And I woke up/At the start of the day/To 24 hours that were mine to fake/And you can break it for so long/When you're a boy on the run/Never doing nothing wrong"
Fade to black.
Unofficially 58, but with plenty of chirping being done on the ice and under the narration.
None. Only one episode left for Scott Hartnell to fulfill our prediction that he'd be the player to go Full Monty.
Hockey Geek Moment
This quick chat between Callahan and Tortorella during the Flyers/Rangers game was geek-tastic. Callahan describes a play in which Jagr moves deep into the offensive zone; Tortorella tells him someone else on the Rangers needs to "handle that part of the ice" and then goes off to look at the play on video during the break between periods. Nice moment between captain and coach.
Missing In Action
Chris Pronger, Sean Avery, NHL ice builder Dan Craig, Glen Sather, James Dolan, Dancin' Larry.
Top 5 Quotes
5. "It's tough to score four points here. I did it (laughs)." — Jaromir Jagr to Claude Giroux about Madison Square Garden.
4. "You know, I have many faces ... masks. In home, I have one face. Public, I have other face. Uh … ahhhh, on ice I have different face. Day off I have four face. With you I have fifth face." — Bryzgalov.
3. "You're [expletive] irrelevant out here." — Mike Rupp to Jody Shelley.
2. "SAAAANTAAAAAAA. I KNOW HIM!" — Brian "Inebriated Elf" Boyle
1. "One day in the NHL for you. Fantasy camp for you." — Brad Richards, chirping Sestito.
3. Claude Giroux. The concussion storyline comes full circle, and he comes off as a generally likable star.
2. Marian Gaborik. Nice work by HBO to establish his dominance this season and give us a little off-ice whimsy with the Christmas tree.
1. Peter Laviolette. Intense from the start, but also humorous and insightful. His winking denial of the Ott affair was coaching duplicity at its finest.