The game returned to its original daytime time slot, with the Rangers-Flyers game beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (two hours behind its originally scheduled start time of 1:00 p.m.). This marked the first time the Winter Classic was not played on New Year's Day, as it fell on a Sunday; NBC's contract with the National Football League prevents them from airing NHL games (or anything else) on prime time Sunday night, because of NBC Sunday Night Football, and while NBC has an open time slot on Sunday afternoon, the NFL traditionally discourages its broadcast partners from programming high-profile sports events in competition with its own games, a full slate of which the NFL played on the afternoon of Sunday, January 1.
The opening ceremony of the 2012 NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA.
The game was delayed two hours from its originally scheduled start time due to the expectations of warm temperatures and sun glare. The 3:20 p.m. puck drop provided more ideal conditions, with a temperature around 45°F and overcast skies. Rain fell for a short time during the second period. Ice conditions were mostly excellent with few delays to repair the playing surface, and they compared favorably to last year's game according to Michael Rupp, who played for the Penguins in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. The Rangers entered the game on top of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference with 50 points, with the Flyers trailing the Rangers by two points and having the chance to tie for first place with a win.
The first period was scoreless, with neither team sustaining much offensive pressure. The Flyers had the edge in play, and it was reflected on the scoreboard with their 12–9 lead in shots on goal. Each team was assessed a penalty late in period, resulting in short power plays for both. In the second, shadows were becoming prevalent on the rink as the sun set behind the stadium and the lights took full effect. Despite the ice conditions getting slightly worse, as well, the game became more fast-paced, and the Flyers scored two goals in less than two minutes in the second half of the period. Brayden Schenn's first career goal was scored following an offensive-zone face-off and Claude Giroux scored on an odd-man rush. On the Rangers' first shift following Giroux's goal, Rupp scored his second of the season on a wrist shot. The Flyers again outplayed the Rangers in this period and had a 14 to 8 edge in shots on goal.
The Rangers came out with more energy to start the third, and Rupp tied the game on his first shift of the period, beating Sergei Bobrovsky from a bad angle. Less than three minutes later, Brad Richards gave the Rangers a 3–2 lead when he hit an open side of the net following a rebound. The final period had the most end-to-end action of the game and sustained pressure, and it was played evenly by both teams. The Flyers had the only power play of the period, recording one shot. With Bobrovsky pulled from the net for an extra attacker, the Flyers and Rangers were assessed matching minors, so the Flyers had more room to skate with a five to four skater advantage rather than six to five. As they sustained more pressure and the puck was sliding through the crease, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh slid in an attempt to block the net but was called for covering the puck in the crease. Danny Briere was chosen to take the ensuing penalty shot, which was stopped by Henrik Lundqvist with 19.6 seconds remaining, sealing the win for the Rangers. With the loss the Flyers became the first team to lose in two Winter Classics. Prior to this game, the Flyers had a record of 18–0–1 when leading after two periods. The win moved the Rangers into first overall in the league standings.
HBO aired a four-part documentary chronicling the preparation of the two teams for the game as part of its award-winning sports series 24/7. The first episode aired on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 10 p.m. ET, with three additional episodes following each subsequent Wednesday. The series chronicled each team's seasons leading up to the Winter Classic, and emphasized the physical nature and intensity of the Rangers–Flyers rivalry. The episodes focused notably on the fiery coaching approaches of John Tortorella and Peter Laviolette, the odd and comical personality of Ilya Bryzgalov, and the ups and downs that each team underwent before the Winter Classic.
The 2012 Winter Classic had relatively low ratings compared to the previous four events. The game earned a 2.4 rating and 3.74 million viewers; it is the first Winter Classic to fall short of the benchmark set by Wayne Gretzky's final game in 1999 (2.5 rating/6 share) that had stood as the most-watched post-1975 NHL regular season game prior to the Winter Classic. In Philadelphia, the game had a rating of 11.9. The other highest rated markets were Buffalo (7.8), Boston (5.1), and Pittsburgh (4.4). New York's home market finished with a 4.3 rating, the first time that the host markets did not finish both first and second in the individual market ratings. Some critics'[who?] reasons as to why the ratings were low were due to the fact that the game was moved back two hours from 1pm EST to 3pm EST; the game was played a day later than normally (January 2 opposed to January 1) because of the NFL last regular season games; it was played during the daytime on a day not universally recognized as a holiday (thus more people would have been at work and missed the game); the fact it had to compete with two college bowl games (Outback Bowl and Rose Bowl, although previous Winter Classics also had to compete with bowl games); and overexposure of the New York-Philly matchup.
The Flyers and Rangers alumni gathered for a combined team picture after the game.
An alumni game between former Flyers and Rangers players was played on December 31. The game was broadcast live by Versus, CBC Television, and Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, with a tape-delay broadcast on MSG Network. The start time was rescheduled to 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time from the original start time of 1:00 PM, due to weather concerns, but garnered a near sellout crowd nonetheless.
Two storylines built headlines in anticipation of alumni game. One was Bernie Parent participating in the game at the age of 66. Parent decided to participate despite his age due to requests by fans. The return of Eric Lindros also grabbed headlines. Lindros was a very popular and successful player for the Flyers, but left the franchise amidst controversy and bad blood. The Flyers players all wore a small number "10" on top of their shoulders in memory of former Flyers defenseman Brad McCrimmon, who died in the 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster earlier in the year.
Bernie Parent's return to the ice after 33 years for the 2012 Winter Classic Alumni Game.
The first goal of the game was scored by John LeClair on a pass by Eric Lindros, showing shades of the Legion of Doom. Mikael Renberg, the third member of the Legion, was invited to the game but was unable to participate due to prior commitments. Instead, Lindros and LeClair were joined by Mark Recchi, who retired less than 6 months earlier after winning the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins at the age of 43. Recchi played with Lindros early in Lindros' career, forming the Crazy 8s line with Brent Fedyk before being traded for LeClair and Eric Desjardins, who also participated in the game. Shortly after Lindros scored, Shjon Podein cleaned up a rebound to put the Flyers up 2-0. The first penalty was committed by Eric Lindros, resulting in a penalty shot (as did all penalties in the game) for Nick Kypreos. Kypreos' attempt was however stopped by LaForest.
Rangers goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck was replaced by Dan Blackburn to start the second period. Blackburn would keep the net clean for the entire period, also stopping a penalty shot by Podein after Podein was slashed by Nick Fotiu. Flyers goalie LaForest was replaced by Neil Little halfway through the game without surrendering a goal. Little gave up a goal to a deflection by Glenn Anderson late in the 2nd period, cutting the Flyers lead to 2-1. The goal was originally credited to Brian Leetch before being changed. After the first five minutes in the third period, recent Hall of Fame inductee Mark Howe extended the lead to 3-1 by converting a penalty shot against Blackburn. Neil Little stopped another penalty shot by Glenn Anderson after Anderson was slashed by Bob Clarke. With both goaltenders shutting the door for the rest of the game, the game ended in a 3-1 Flyers win. Following the game, the two teams took part in a traditional handshake line. Afterwords, team photographs were taken, one of each team individually, and one with both teams together.
The game was officiated by retired NHL referee Kerry Fraser and his son, current AHL referee Ryan Fraser. Former NHL referee Harry Dumas, who is also Kerry Fraser's son-in-law, with retired NHL linesmen Kevin Collins, who is currently and NHL Supervisor of Officials, served as linsemen for the game. Bernie Parent had a special mask painted for the occasion to be auctioned off for charity, but in the game wore the familiar plain white shell mask with two Flyer logos that was his trademark during most of his playing career. The alumni teams were coached by Pat Quinn (Flyers) and Mike Keenan (Rangers) who had also faced each other in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals won by Keenan's Rangers over Quinn's Vancouver Canucks in seven games (Collins was one of the linesmen in the game the Rangers clinched the Stanley Cup title). Both had also previously coached the Flyers to three appearances in Stanley Cup finals in 1980 (Quinn), 1985, and 1987 (both Keenan).