AND SO IT began, with Flyers coach Peter Laviolette dropping the ceremonial first F-bomb, saying, "We are not a conservative team. We are a let's-bleeping-giddy-up-and-go type of team."

HBO, "24/7."

And, we're off.

If the Stanley Cup playoff tournament is the greatest NHL event - always has been, always will be - it is more raw and visceral than it is personal. It is this grand emotional spectacle, but there is still a distance from which it is observed.

This television show, providing an all-access look at the Rangers and Flyers before they play in the Winter Classic, is different. It is a peek behind the curtain that fans all crave. It is the most human of desires - to see, and to know, and maybe to understand - and this is a hockey fan's chance to do all of those things.

The first episode of the show, which aired last night, was not full of things that you will talk about forever. Stitched together, though, were these glimpses of the real hockey life. To watch the Flyers return to their dressing room after a win and see them celebrate to what apparently has become their official celebration music - Mac Miller's "Knock Knock" - all dancing and pantomiming to the lyrics, "One, two, three, four, some crazy-ass kids come and knocked up on your door," well, it told you something about men playing a kid's game.

It wasn't profound. It was just . . . real.

In a shocking development, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov probably said the funniest stuff - waxing on topics as varied as the vastness of the galaxies and the tiger pictured on the label of a bottle of Russian liquor.

"China law," he said, "if you kill a tiger like this - death penalty. If you kill tiger and they find you, you're dead. That's it."

Both Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot all talked about the surprising reactions people had when they chose to come to the Flyers in the offseason.

Bryzgalov: "Where are you going? You're going to hell . . . It's a miserable market for the goalies."

Talbot: "Are you kidding me? The Flyers?"

Jagr: "Sometimes you think your brain knows everything. But you should follow your heart first . . .

"I picked Philly just for hockey," he said.

Jagr sounded almost surprised, but he said that he has grown to like the city, to like the whole thing.

"Even the fans," Jagr said. "They're crazy."

There was all of that, and more. But it was the other stuff - the locker-room exhortations, and the profanity, and the things that you don't normally see. Scott Hartnell shooting water out of a hose at someone as he soaked in a tub in the training room. Claude Giroux doing a connect-the-dots kind of exercise as part of the testing that determined he had a concussion. And Wayne Simmonds - who inadvertently kneed Giroux in the head, causing the injury - taking a seat on the bench next to Giroux after the play and saying quietly, simply, "Sorry, G."

The Rangers had their moments, too. Here were two: Artem Anisimov humbly apologizing to his teammates after an over-the-top goal celebration drew a penalty, and Ryan Callahan's grandmother telling him, from her wheelchair, that she didn't think he deserved a penalty at the game she attended in Buffalo.

But it is the stitching together of these moments that offers the full picture - of the humanity of players who make a living in a violent world, guided and pushed by coaches who are the most disposable of sporting commodities.

In Laviolette and John Tortorella, there is plenty of color in those exhortations. Someone with more time on his hands will update the F-bomb scoreboard as the weeks play out, but there is little question that these two will most definitely make it a race.

It is what they do. It is what they all do. The closer you get to it - and it would be hard for an outsider to get closer than this - the more that becomes obvious. To get to the top of your profession, there is no alternative.

As Laviolette said, "Passion for me is the key to life."

It is obvious when you get to look behind the curtain.