Best and worst of the 2016 NHL Winter Classic

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Best and worst of the 2016 NHL Winter Classic
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Examining the best and worst from all aspects of the NHL Winter Classic in Foxborough, Mass. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 5-1 at Gillette Stadium.

BEST

5. Tuukka Rask

Yeah the score got exceptionally ugly (5-1 to the hated visitors), and so did Tuukka Rask's save percentage (.833), but it wasn't because he played poorly.

Those Bruins who spoke after the game largely acknowledged that he was hung out to dry in rather embarrassing fashion — he noted this was one of the worst games the team has had in years — and that it could have been a lot worse if not for the play of one of the best goalies alive.

“Tuukka was the reason why we were down by one, and we had to find something to get back in the game, and it wasn't happening,” Patrice Bergeron said. “Even the chances we got, a few chances we could have maybe gotten a goal, but we weren't bearing down and we weren't making plays.”

Rask started the season slowly and there was some rather dim talk that perhaps he should be traded — not by anyone reputable — but this is his first really bad game in more than a month (he went .889 in a win over the Rangers on Nov. 27). There's a reason he entered this game with points in eight of his last 10: He had a .948 save percentage in December.

Any goalie will have a bad night now and then, and often it's because the team in front of them just gets run over. Poor Rask takes this kind of thing harder than most, but he understands the ‘take the punch and move on’ mentality better than most 

“Well you know, we were trying out there and sometimes you just don’t have it,” Rask said. “And today we got scored on a couple times right in front of the net and it definitely hurt us.”

4. The uniforms

Those Montreal throwback jerseys were out-of-control gorgeous. For the fans in attendance, the numbers on the back might have been a little difficult to make out, but the tableau sure was nice anyway.

Meanwhile, the Bruins may have looked awful, but they looked good doing it.

Jan 1, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Boston Bruins right wing Jimmy Hayes (11) celebrates in front of Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon (39) after a goal by Boston Bruins left wing Matt Beleskey (not shown) in the Winter Classic hockey game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Boston Bruins right wing Jimmy Hayes (11) celebrates in front of Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon (39) after a goal by Boston Bruins left wing Matt Beleskey (not shown) in the Winter Classic hockey game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

3. The atmosphere

How psyched were Bostonians — and Quebecers, for that matter — to see Bruins/Habs outdoors? Not only did they sell more than 67,000 tickets for the Winter Classic itself, but more than 42,000 showed up for the alumni game.

This was a much better atmosphere than the last Winter Classic in the Greater Boston area, simply because nothing felt as cramped. It might have helped that there were more people there, too. But this was clearly an event for which people were psyched to an extent that perhaps supersedes other Winter Classics.

Probably a lot of that stems from the whole rivalry aspect. Usually the NHL just slaps two teams from big markets with a vague reason to maybe-maybe-not like each other and hopes things don't get too uncivil. But when you have players who actively dislike each other, and fans that would boo P.K. Subban for saving a kitten from a tree, that makes the whole enterprise just a little more pitched.

So great, too, that the women's players got to experience it all for themselves as well.

Tarek Sawan, right, and Alexandra Desbiens celebrate a goal by Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty during the third period of the NHL Winter Classic hockey game against the Boston Bruins at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. The Canadiens defeated the Bruins 5-1. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Tarek Sawan, right, and Alexandra Desbiens celebrate a goal by Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty during the third period of the NHL Winter Classic hockey game against the Boston Bruins at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. The Canadiens defeated the Bruins 5-1. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

2. Gallagher's return

Montreal's offense, and particularly their power play, have been a little iffy since they lost Brendan Gallagher to injury 17 games ago. Not to draw too many conclusions from one game, but do you think maybe they missed him?

Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, and Tomas Plekanec scored a pair of absolute dagger goals, the first to make it 3-0 through a gorgeous netfront play from the man himself, the second to make it 4-1 via a Pacioretty break facilitated by a gorgeous cross-ice pass from Gallagher.

But even beyond the points, his sorely missed presence was in evidence all over the ice. Especially in front of the net, where a few scrums resulted from him being a little too close to Rask, and even Zdeno Chara couldn't deter him from the last foot or two around the crease.

Again, not to use this one outdoor game to project future success, but Gallagher's return really does look like it could tide the Habs over until Carey Price comes back. And then after they get arguably the world's best goalie in the lineup again, this could be a team that goes on a serious run.

1. Mike Condon

If Mike Condon never played an NHL game again, you'd have to think he'd be pretty happy with a W in a Winter Classic 15 miles from his hometown and a one-of-a-kind commemorative autograph from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady (his “pal” now!).

And that glove save? Career-highlight-reel stuff.

WORST

5. Boston's slow start 

In general, a thing you do not want to do is give up a goal in the first two minutes of a period. You certainly don't want to do that twice in a game.

But Montreal scored at 1:14 of the first and 2:00 of the second, more or less deflating (ha ha ha) the Foxborough crowd that otherwise had plenty of reason to be rowdy. And in a stadium that's often criticized for being a little quiet even in high-pressure NFL games, Gillette Stadium suddenly seemed like a morgue 

For their part, the Bruins had little understanding of what, exactly, went wrong.

“If we had the answer we would have been ready for sure,” defenseman Torey Krug said. “You talk about it, it's such a big game, and maybe we were overhyped, a little bit nervous to start, but at some point you think it's gonna click. It seemed like we were just waiting around, waiting for a bounce or something.

Boston just came out totally bereft of jump and got pummeled for two periods. They finally got one back in the third, and conceded less than five minutes later. Not how you want to play in the biggest regular-season game you'll ever experience.

“It's always what-ifs,” Krug added. “Forever now, this is gonna be a game that we're not very proud of, and we're always going to look back and be embarrassed about. We just didn't do a good job of responding. I thought emotionally it was there for them and it wasn't for us. When the other team scores a goal or a big play happens, we need our best players to step up and make something happen for us. Unfortunately we were just waiting around tonight. It's not acceptable.”

4. Putting Zac Rinaldo out at the end of the game

This is going to shock you, but until the final five minutes of the game, Zac Rinaldo pulled just one shift as the Bruins tried (and failed) to mount a reasonable comeback.

Then in the final five minutes, he played 1:52. And then he did this. 

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The reason you put Rinaldo on the ice with that little time to go in a blowout is to do exactly this kind of garbage, and the fact that there are no repercussions apparently forthcoming — he wasn't penalized, and you don't get suspended for a gloved punch regardless of situation — tells you plenty about what's still wrong with this league.

Players like Rinaldo can still be used like that, and no one has to answer for it. Pretty gross.

Montreal Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec (14) chases the puck behind Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) during the third period of the NHL Winter Classic hockey game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. The Canadiens won 5-1. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Montreal Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec (14) chases the puck behind Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) during the third period of the NHL Winter Classic hockey game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. The Canadiens won 5-1. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

3. The ice (for one day)

The big complaint on Thursday afternoon, for practices, the women's game, and the alumni game, was that the ice was garbage.

Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg basically worked a criticism of the ice conditions into a healthy percentage of quotes he gave in the Thursday media availability, and others echoed the sentiments, albeit not quite so vehemently. Seidenberg went so far as to call them “dangerous.”

However, that was on a day when it was very sunny, and that's going to really make things more difficult. But Friday was overcast basically all day — the sun came out for 30 minutes or so before the fans were even allowed in the building two hours early — and that did wonders for the surface quality.

“The ice was very good,” Seidenberg said after the Winter Classic itself. “Way, way better than yesterday. The lighting was good too. The conditions were great, nothing to complain about. We just didn’t execute.”

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 31:  Denna Laing #24 of the Boston Pride (NWHL) is taken off the ice following an injury against the Les Canadiennes (CWHL) during the Outdoor Womens Classic at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 31: Denna Laing #24 of the Boston Pride (NWHL) is taken off the ice following an injury against the Les Canadiennes (CWHL) during the Outdoor Womens Classic at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

2. Denna Laing's injury

The women's game got short shrift to begin with. No overtime, two periods of running time, not on television, and so on. But it was further marred by the very, very scary injury to Boston Pride forward Denna Laing, who stepped on a stick near the endboards and took a scary spill

She's still hospitalized and there hasn't been much word on her condition, with her family requesting that she be given her privacy.

1. That Bruins hat

Have you seen this thing? Did they steal it from an extra in the “Parents Just Don't Understand” video? Good lord. 

Photo via screen shot
Photo via screen shot

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