2018 NHL Winter Classic
The Buffalo Sabres-New York Rangers Winter Classic in 2018 marked the first all-New York matchup in the history of the series. The Rangers-Sabres Winter Classic would turn out to be a classic in every sense of the word — the weather, the throwback jerseys and the game itself.
2018 would be a Winter Classic at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Citi Field opened in 2009, replacing storied Shea Stadium as the home field of the Mets. Nearly 42,000 fans were in in attendance for the game — and none of them would be dressed as comfortably as they’d be for a Mets game.
Fitting for a New York Rangers Winter Classic/Buffalo Sabres Winter Classic, the weather could be summed up in one word: COLD. Air temperature at puck drop (at 1 p.m. EST on January 1, 2018) was 20 degrees. That temperature alone was tolerable to New York natives, but it was also windy, making it feel much colder in the stands and on the ice. At least the sun was out, but even that aspect of the weather would create challenges for the players.
The Throwback Jerseys
The Sabres went for a 1970s look, white uniforms with blue trim and gold-and-blue striping. The Rangers based their throwback design on their first uniforms, from the 1926-27 season — dark blue with red-and-white striping, with “RANGERS” printed diagonally across the front and “NY” inside a shield just above it. Both jerseys harkened back to simpler times.
Classic jersey side note: Oddly, the Sabres were designated as the home team for this game, which was played in New York City. The league was forced into this due to legal technicalities between the Rangers and their home stadium, Madison Square Garden. Nevertheless, although it was technically a Buffalo Winter Classic, the Sabres elected to wear white (i.e., visiting team) jerseys.
The New York Rangers appeared to be a team on the rise coming into the 2017-18 season. The previous year, they had knocked off the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, before losing 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators in the second round. Although the Rangers would not reach the playoffs in the 2017-18 season, the team had plenty of talent, including Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash and, of course, their superstar goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.
In contrast, the Buffalo Sabres were definitely struggling coming into the 2018 Winter Classic at Citi Field. In 2016-17, the Sabres missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year, finishing with 78 points at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately, the results would be even worse by the end of the 2017-18 season, with the Sabres posting only 25 wins and 62 points. Despite all of this, the NHL was confident in selecting the Sabres as the New York Rangers Winter Classic opponent — and Buffalo rose to the challenge.
The Rangers-Sabres Winter Classic — Down to the Wire
While the previous year’s Winter Classic matchup between Chicago and St. Louis lacked suspense, this year’s Winter Classic at Citi Field would more than make up for it.
The Rangers started strong, with goals by Paul Carey and Michael Grabner for a 2-0 lead after the first period. In the second, Sam Reinhart scored a power-play goal for the Sabres to make it 2-1. That’s the way it stayed until 27 seconds left in the regulation — just in the nick of time, Rasmus Ristolainen scored for the Sabres to make it 2-2. At 2:43 in overtime, J.T. Miller scored on a power play to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory.
The home town (visiting town?) fans left in a great mood. It was an important win for the Rangers, not only because of it being in the Winter Classic, but because they were in a tight divisional race where every point counted.