Walk-off end to perfect day at Fenway

The Red Sox cap atop his head was as new as it looked, Johnny Boychuk said.

"I came in this morning and asked one of the clubhouse guys who works here, 'Do you have any caps?''' said the Boston Bruins defenseman, a big baseball fan who once dressed as Johnny Damon for Halloween. "He said, 'What size?' I didn't know, so he brought me one of each. When the other guys saw them, we just cleaned them out.''

At the bottom of the stairway that leads from the home-team clubhouse at Fenway Park to the interview room one level above, Marco Sturm had to walk past a framed photo of joyous fans posing in front of a banner proclaiming "Red Sox Nation.''

Maybe Sturm noticed it. More likely, he walked right past. A different image was still dancing in front of his eyes -- the sight of an ancient ballyard heaving in celebration not at a ball disappearing over a distant wall, but an overtime goal scored on a foreign sheet of ice that in the end looked right at home.

On a day unlike any other in its near century of existence, the most famous parcel of real estate in Boston belonged to the most improbable of temporary tenants, the Boston Bruins.

"Might as well have been a walk-off home run, when you heard that noise,'' said Boychuk, marveling at the explosion of sound that descended upon Sturm as swiftly as a posse of teammates, led by the towering Zdeno Chara, pinned him against the boards following the goal that gave the Bruins a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the third Winter Classic on Friday.

"It's one of those things,'' Chara said, "that you experience once in a lifetime. An overtime goal, and it happened right in front of me. The way they all got up and danced and chanted. When you're playing in front of 35,000, 40,000 fans, it makes a big difference, it's so much bigger, so massive, to hear so much noise is incredible. To experience what the Red Sox experience was awesome.''

The Sox have shared their space before. Football has been played here, and soccer. FDR held a campaign rally here. Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney have staged concerts here.

But never had Fenway Park seen anything like this, a hockey rink grafted onto the infield, second base disappearing under center ice, Bobby Orr on skate guards delicately treading up dugout steps that have borne the spikes of comparable legends like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, Bobby Clarke emerging from the other dugout, no less a Boston tormenter than a DiMaggio or a Jeter.

"Fenway Park, Bruins-Flyers, 40,000 fans [officially, 38,112] on a perfect day, you couldn't ask for anything better for the game of hockey,'' said Peter Laviolette, and he was the coach of the losers, who were within a few ticks beyond two minutes of preserving a shutout win before Mark Recchi knocked in the tying goal past Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton in the third period.

And then it was Sturm, redirecting a puck off the stick of Patrice Bergeron past the helpless Leighton in overtime to become a German-born version of Big Papi, serenaded by the same victory tune -- "Dirty Water" -- that accompanies every Red Sox win.

"One of those memories,'' Sturm said, "that is always going to be -- for right now, on the top of my list. Obviously, there are bigger goals like playoffs and stuff like that, and the Stanley Cup finals. But for right now, you know, that's probably my biggest one.''

There were fears that it might rain. Or that it might prove too warm. Either might have turned ice that had been carefully calibrated into a slushy mess. Instead, NHL facilities manager Dan Craig, as artful a conjurer of ice surfaces as Sox groundskeeper Dave Mellor is of his greensward, considered the dry conditions and a game-time temperature of 39.6 degrees, and nodded heavenward.

"Awesome,'' Craig said. "The good Lord couldn't have done better for us right now.''

James Taylor delivered his usual exquisite anthem. Daniel Powter, a native of British Columbia and Grammy-nominated singer, performed the Canadian anthem. Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay, another B.C. native, dropped the ceremonial first puck. Scratch that. Bay's a Met, and there were no Sox players on the premises, although Curt Schilling, who pitched in both Philly and Boston, was there.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona, whose daughter was home from college, had no illusions about how he would have been received by Philly fans had he come. "Hell, yes, they would have booed me,'' he wrote in an e-mail.

"The warm-up was pretty surreal, seeing everybody there,'' said Bruins winger Shawn Thornton, who was on the losing end of a TKO scored by Flyers brawler Dan Carcillo in the afternoon's first fight. "I tried to take in as much as I could, then tried to get my legs going so I wouldn't be staring into space.''

The day was not without its flaws. The concourses, perhaps because of all the bulky clothing, were more congested than usual as spectators made their way to their seats. And those fans who customarily would have had the best seats in the house, sitting directly behind home plate, were unable to see, their view blocked by the rink's side boards. They stood the entire game, something those who spend $450 a pop, as one couple from Bridgewater, Mass., did, are unaccustomed to doing.

"It's OK,'' said Nicki, one half of a Nicki-Nick combination from Bridgewater. "We came more for the experience than for the game.''

Flyers fans came from Philadelphia by the thousands, patches of orange and white disrupting an otherwise-solid black and gold color scheme. And fans of both teams packed souvenir stores stripped of their normal Sox-themed wares to make way for a dizzying array of Winter Classic-themed merchandise.

Wool banners and wood signs and knit throws, vertical flags and hooded sweatshirts and ski caps, travel mugs and snow globes, even a half-dozen acrylic hockey sticks that were selling for $375 apiece. It was a vivid reminder that in the end, the game is secondary to the NHL's successful attempt to market its game to a broader audience than its devoted cult following, the casual fan proving receptive to the novelty of games of shinny that honored hockey's roots -- outdoor pond hockey -- when played in locales with no obvious link to the game: a pro football stadium in Buffalo, and revered baseball palaces like Wrigley Field (last year) and now Fenway.

"I hope it builds the brand, obviously,'' Thornton said of what has become a New Year's Day tradition. "The NHL has done a great job marketing it, [putting it] on NBC, and hopefully a lot of people tuned in.''

Once in a lifetime? "It would be awesome,'' said Boychuk the baseball fan, "if we could do this here every year.''

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter or ask a question for his next mailbag.