By Ryan Stieg, AllPuck.com
The last two weeks of “24/7” have been lots of fun to watch. A cast of interesting characters and great on-ice action makes you eager to tune in the following week.
This week’s episode provided as much, while offering a close look at the replay booth in Toronto – something many hockey fans have always wondered about.
It began with a very interesting opening. Typically, 24/7 starts by easing the viewer into the episode with a little background knowledge and an introduction of where the teams are currently. This time, they started off abruptly in the middle of a conversation Peter Laviolette was having with the Flyers. Although I commend the producers for coming up with a new type of introduction, it came off awkward. Could HBO simply have used a shot of Laviolette on the bench during some live action to get the viewers’ attention?
The coach is clearly upset with how his team is playing, part of which stems from a shutout loss the Flyers suffered to Boston (at the end of the last episode) which ended their seven-game winning streak. Philadelphia is still struggling on offense and isn’t creating enough scoring chances. Eventually, Daniel Briere ties the game up late, but the Flyers fall in a shootout to the Avalanche.
There is a bright spot for the Flyers. Claude Giroux is cleared to practice for the first time in 10 days since suffering a concussion, and he performs well enough that doctors allow him to return to the lineup for the next game against Dallas.
While the Flyers are trying to stop a losing streak, the Rangers are in a far more festive mood. The Blueshirts have a holiday skate with their wives and kids in Bryant Park. Dan Girardi’s 21-month old son provides the Most Adorable Moment of the episode when he tries to skate for the first time, a huge grin on his face while dad holds him up.
The episode then segues to the Most Disturbing Moment of the episode: Several Rangers players are wearing ugly Christmas sweaters at a party hosted by Brad Richards. Seriously, no guy should ever wear such a thing.
The episode then switches back to the Flyers and their game against the Stars. While Giroux has been cleared to play, Sean Couturier has to watch the game at home as he is still recovering from his head injury and still has trouble hearing out of his left ear.
The game against Dallas quickly becomes the Giroux show. He scores a goal and gets three assists in the Flyers’ victory and also has an entertaining trash-talking session with Dallas’ Steve Ott in the face-off circle. Laviolette also has an altercation with Ott between periods which involves some shoving and insults. The coach then laughs off the incident and denies it to reporters after the game.
Laviolette cannot escape the incident, however, as it is broadcast during the Rangers-Islanders game – which he and his coaching staff are watching in a bar. The other coaches and I find this hilarious.
It is during the Islanders game that we get our first actual look at John Tortorella in the episode, a stark contrast to the first two episodes, where he was featured so prominently. Tortorella worries that his team will look past the awful Islanders and instead focus on the upcoming home game against the Flyers.
He shouldn’t have worried. The Rangers handle the Islanders easily for their third victory in a row. Brandon Dubinsky ends his 17-game goal scoring drought in the first period and Stu Bickel ends up in his first fight of the season1.
This sets the stage for the main event of the episode: The Flyers-Rangers game at the Madison Square Garden.
New York sits two points behind Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division standings; after the Rangers won a rough game earlier in the year, it’s clear that this game will have a lot of action. Tortorella emphasizes controlled discipline in his opening speech, but that goes by the wayside pretty quickly. There are numerous scuffles and almost non-stop chattering between the benches.
The Rangers strike first in the second period and appear to strike again a few minutes later, but the refs have to send it to the replay officials in Toronto.
This is the best part of the episode, as viewers are treated to an up-close look at how a goal is reviewed. Replay official Mike Murphy sits in front of a massive wall of television screens, each showing a different NHL game. When a call comes in, he looks over the video many times at different angles, then phones in his ruling to the referees. In this case, Murphy rules that the Rangers scored.
Soon after, Marian Gaborik scores his 21st goal of the season, and the Rangers end up defeating the Flyers 4-2 as well as tying Philadelphia for the division lead. Laviolette has to deal with a reporter who asks if losing to the Rangers twice will give the Flyers a chip on their shoulder going into the Winter Classic. I give Laviolette credit for not replying with “Duh.”
In case you are wondering where Ilya Bryzgalov has been this episode, he makes his appearance toward the end. He is celebrating Christmas with his wife and kids and talks about how he loves his dog (which if you remembered from last episode, he compared to all of the hot women in his life). He also says how friendly his dog is, which moments earlier had bitten his son and refused to let go.
Bryzgalov then talks about the many faces of his personality, how he has a public face, a camera face and even a day-off face, but he’s only truthful around his family. Somehow I doubt even they know who he really is.
The final montage is the rink being built at Citizens Bank Park. Liev Schrieber talks about how rivalries and team unity have to be built up over time just like hockey rinks. It’s a nice note to end on, and it makes me even more excited for the Winter Classic as well as next week’s final episode.
1. This was shocking for me to hear, considering Bickel was a huge goon at the University of Minnesota. He picked fights with everyone, including some players who were a lot better at fighting than he was.