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Mike Rupp: Winter Classic veteran, unlikely hero for Rangers

PHILADELPHIA — Michael Rupp was seated in the New York Rangers' dressing room, located a few steps from the visitor's dugout in Citizens Bank Park. The black, beat-up dress hat that's given to an honored player after each Rangers victory rested on his head like an ill-fitting crown.

"It needs a chin strap," he said.

The media swarmed him, after his two goals rallied the Rangers in their 3-2 Winter Classic victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. A temporary member of that swarm: Teammate Artem Anisimov, whom Rupp treated like a credentialed member of the press for a moment.

"What's your question?"

"Why Hank give you hat?" asked Anisimov.

"He just wanted to see how dumb I look, because it doesn't fit."

"You look great."

Rupp smiled. "Good question."

This was Rupp's second Winter Classic, having played 5:29 for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011 — long enough to have a fight with John Erskine but having little impact otherwise.

In 2012, Rupp played just 7:34, but had a dramatic impact on the game — from his offensive output to his flashpoint "salute" celebration to the sage advice he gave the Rangers before they skated out in front of 46,967.

Rupp gave a pregame speech to his teammates about playing in the Classic, urging them to get a lead and play a certain style.

"I just remember last year it was really tough playing from behind. We did the same thing that Washington did to Pittsburgh last year. We made sure we advanced the puck, gained zones, make them come 200 feet to us because with this ice, it's difficult to come 200 feet to make plays," he said.

"The logistics of playing is different. It takes a little adjustment. In my experience, the first period's kind of tough. The automatic things that come to you in the game don't come right away, so you have to feel your way."

The Rangers didn't get a lead, going down 2-0 to the Flyers in the second period. But 30 seconds after Claude Giroux's goal, Rupp scored his first of the game and then skated to the glass for a Jagr-esque salute.

What was the motivation for that celebration?

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said, with a laugh.

Did he have to decide whether to opt for a machine gun, like Artem Anisimov, or the salute? "The machine gun was retired I think," he said. "It was just the heat of the moment."

It was a moment that drew the ire of Scottie Hartnell of the Flyers later in the game.

"He just wished me a happy New Year. I didn't know what he was saying. He wasn't happy about something," said Rupp.

It was a moment that had Rupp trending worldwide, as his agent Allan Walsh noted on Twitter.

"That's a good agent right there," said Rupp.

His second goal of the game came at 2:41 of the third period: a bad-angle blast that deflected in off of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

"The ice was awesome. It was lot better than it was last year. Over the course of the game, the ice is wearing. It kind of gives guys like me more of an opportunity to get something ugly. If I get a chance to shoot, I'm gonna shoot. I kind of banked it off him. It didn't go straight in. You take those ugly ones," Rupp said.

Brad Richards's goal just under three minutes later proved to be the game winner — helping Rupp feel quite different than he did after last season's outdoor game.

"It's a Catch 22. If you're on a losing team, like I was last year, at the end of it you can just say 'it was only two points.' But I remember last year when we lost, it felt like getting knocked out of the playoffs," he said.

Instead, Rupp said the Rangers won a game whose final moments matched the intensity of a Game 7.

"It had that feeling, but you don't want to get caught up in it. It wasn't a Game 7. It was two points," he said.

"We play these guys three more times this year. They're going to be hard games."

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