Saturday was a nice day to hold an outdoor hockey game. Temps in the 40s, cloud cover to keep the sheet of ice firm, the precise conditions those responsible for constructing these stadium games yearn for.
Saturday night was not as nice. Light rain at first, a little heavier later. The NHL spent at least part of the nice Saturday afternoon making up some new rules in case more became a big pour, rules that might make even Bud Selig scratch his head.
A winner could be determined after two periods of play. A tie game after two periods would have been determined by a shootout the next time the teams meet -- in Pittsburgh on St. Patrick’s Day -- which became moot when the Penguins led the Flyers, 2-1, after two at Lincoln Financial Field.
You remember Bud. The baseball commissioner tried to wedge in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series despite a dire forecast that actually understated what occurred. By the sixth inning, a routine ground ball died before Jimmy Rollins could get to or handle it, home plate was surrounded by water, and Cole Hamels could not grip the ball well enough to trust his curveball or changeup.
So Selig made up some new rules on the spot. Rather than reverting to the previous inning, the game would be stopped and resumed when the weather cleared. And it was … two days later.
That game was not moved to earlier in the day for the same reason Flyers-Penguins was not played Saturday afternoon. Television contracts are involved, and time changes – especially away from prime time – interrupt programming and cost lots of money.
"It’s not a great thing to be playing in,’’ said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who played a 2011 Winter Classic against Washington in intermittent rain. "You’re wearing a visor, your vision, and the ice conditions, all that kind of stuff that can come into play.’’
As it turned out, the heavy stuff didn’t really ever come down. Crosby, playing in his fifth outdoor game, used that experience to score the game’s first goal. Crosby pounced on a puck that rolled off Jake Voracek’s stick and, using that roll to his advantage, flipped a puck over the pads of Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott.
Sean Couturier tied it by whacking at another knuckle-puck as he took a pass in the high slot. Announcers called it a "slow developing play,’’ but the ice seemed to make that a given. Crosby’s second point, on Justin Schultz’s blast, pushed the Pens back up, 2-1, halfway through the second period, and Evgeni Malkin pushed it to 3-1 at 6:29 of the third.
But the Flyers tied it with two late third-period goals by James van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek, each scored with Elliott on the bench, to set up the most unlikely of overtimes -- given the dire forecast.
And Claude Giroux made it a complete win, scoring at 1:59 of overtime to gain a full two points.
“I think I spent more time clearing my visor than actually playing,” Giroux said.
At the start, there was noticeable pooling along the rink’s edges and particularly in the corners, stopping the puck as if in mud. At almost every break in action, an army of skaters with squeegees pushed water off the main part of the ice. A weather window, with drying winds, made things drier during the second period before the rain kicked up again for a muckier third.
It all made Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon seem prescient for choosing 33-year-old free-agent-to-be Elliott as his starter in net over Carter Hart – even before he knew the 20-year-old rookie was hiding a lower-body injury. Gordon didn’t factor Saturday night’s rain into his decision to start Elliott over the kid. He didn’t factor in the bigness of the event either, especially given Hart’s history of playing in far worse conditions during World Juniors in Buffalo two winters ago.
No, Gordon simply went with his head when it came to Hart, and did so without the most important piece of information available to him. The kid hurt himself in warmups in Montreal on Thursday, which at least suggests he might not have been quite right in the previous game, Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
Gordon’s voice crackled Friday as he recounted telling the kid he was going with the veteran.
"You’re not getting demoted here,’’ Gordon said he told him. "You’ve earned the right to play here. You’ve played excellent. We all believe in you... This is a little bit of a bump, and, when it’s all said and done, we want to make sure you’re in the right mindset to play, whether it’s next week on Tuesday or next week on Thursday.’’
And in the right shape when next season starts. The Flyers will continue their unlikely playoff push this week, playing four games in the next eight days, three against teams ahead of them in the standings. They will do it, though, without the motor of that push, Hart’s return targeted 10 days from now.