The NHL clearly has hit on something, staging a game played in its most basic form - outdoors.

The fifth annual Winter Classic in Philadelphia was considered an astounding success. That view, however, may not have come from a Flyers perspective, at least as far as the score was concerned.

Yet other than the Flyers' 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Monday, the Winter Classic delivered in a big way, starting with the crowd.

The attendance was 46,967 at Citizens Bank Park, a baseball stadium turned into an outdoor hockey rink. And add on the 45,808 who attended Saturday's alumni game between the Flyers and Rangers, and Philadelphia was clearly the center of the hockey universe for one memorable weekend.

"It was spectacular," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said afterward. "We couldn't ask for any more from the event, the alumni game a great appetizer to the main event having 45,000 here Saturday, and the entire reception of the city. The buzz throughout the city and the crowd today was great."

Bettman had one final thought.

"This was a terrific event for us, and we are grateful to everybody who was involved, particularly and including the City of Philadelphia."

Adding to the game's hype is HBO's 24/7, the reality series with behind-the-scenes access to the Flyers and Rangers focusing on the Winter Classic, with the final of four episodes debuting at 10 p.m. Thursday.

So it's safe to say that this was much bigger than the other 81 regular-season games each of these teams plays.

Of course the Flyers realized the magnitude of an event that seems to get bigger each year, but the final score took plenty of the air out of their hockey balloon.

"It was a great experience, the fans and electricity and energy of everything here, but it is tough to think about it because we wanted this game," Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "It's been built up for a month now and the main thing sticking in my mind is we came up short and didn't finish this off, and this one stings a little."

There was no sting in the opposing locker room. New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist said the Rangers had been talking about the game since the beginning of training camp.

"Today was just amazing and great atmosphere, and I thought they did a great job with the ice," Lundqvist said. "It was great, and coming up with two points and a big win obviously adds to it."

This was the Flyers' second time in the Winter Classic. In 2010, the Flyers lost a 2-1 overtime decision at Boston's Fenway Park.

"We were at the Boston game and Philadelphia did a good job," said Michael James of Philadelphia, who attended Monday's game with his wife, Ashley, and is a Flyers season-ticket holder.

Michael wore a No. 28 jersey of Flyers star Claude Giroux and his wife wore a No. 68 Jaromir Jagr. Their two tickets cost $349 apiece.

"It was worth it," Michael James said.

But . . .

"There were too many Ranger fans around us," he said.

Two of those Rangers fans were Frank Nemia and his son Frank Jr., who reside in Boston. They paid $450 for each ticket.

"It was absolutely worth every penny," the elder Nemia said, and his 20-year-old son agreed.

And the Philadelphia fans, who have a reputation for making things difficult on visitors, weren't that way to the visitors who drove from Boston.

"The Flyers fans were great," the elder Nemia said. "We enjoyed ourselves."

A feeling echoed by many others, regardless of the outcome.