At times last night, one got the sense that Rangers fans hadn't so much been waiting for the chance to see their team in person for the first time all season, as much as they'd been waiting for the chance to express their displeasure with Sean Avery's demotion to the Connecticut Whale. Before the game had even begun, someone had unfurled a sign that read "16 AVERY" on one end and "SEND TORTS TO THE WHALE" on the other. Then later, after Toronto had seized control of the game, the chants of "We want Avery" began. It's probably not the last we've heard of those chants this year, but make no mistake, the lack of Avery wasn't the problem last night in the Rangers' 4-2 loss to Toronto.
The Rangers actually played a stellar first period, scoring once, and twice putting a puck behind Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson, only to have an apparent goal waved off. (On the first of those, it appeared as if Ryan Callahan had been pushed into Gustavsson, but for what it's worth, John Tortorella said after the game that he thought the refs made the correct call both times.) But once the Maple Leafs scored to tie the game early in the second, everything shifted in Toronto's favor. They'd score four unanswered goals — Henrik Lundqvist wasn't at his best last night — and by the time the Rangers again started showing some life late in the third period, it was too late. We didn't find last night's crowd to be especially enthusiastic to begin with, but it was hard to blame anyone for sitting on their hands after watching some ugly Rangers play over the final two periods.
Some other random Opening Night observations:
• About the partially renovated Garden: The sixth-floor concourse is a major improvement aesthetically, though we're pretty sure there are a few fans still waiting in line to buy chicken fingers. (Not all of the food concessions were open yet, so one assumes that kind of thing will improve.) Personally, we find all of that secondary to how the changes will affect watching the game, and to be honest, the vibe in the seating bowl didn't feel drastically different. (Bigger changes will come next year, so that'll be the real test.) And we quite liked the new tenth-floor balcony, accessible via the existing 400-level concourse.
• We spotted at least four different people wearing bootleg Winter Classic jerseys — specifically, this one, complete with the incorrect logo for the game itself. Not that we condone buying bootleg jerseys anyway, but if you're going to do it, shouldn't you at least wait until the design is finalized?
• Chazz Palminteri served as this year's "random entertainer involved in the pre-game ceremonies." (Last year, it was Ace Frehley. Two years ago, it was the Blue Man Group.)
• During the pre-game ceremony, one of the montages included that "I'm Coming Home" song MSG had previously used in that Carmelo Anthony commercial. (The Rangers started the season with a long road trip, you see.) Does the Garden have an arrangement with Diddy-Dirty Money that we're not aware of?
• We were surprised the video tribute to those lost during a tragic summer for the hockey world (Derek Boogaard, former Maple Leaf Wade Belak, and the members of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv) came not during the pre-game ceremony, but during a TV time-out.
• And finally, this is our new favorite photo.