A feast for Bruins fans and beyond

BOSTON -- The game has been dubbed the "Thanksgiving Showdown" between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers on Friday afternoon at TD Garden.

When the puck drops at 1 p.m., it'll be a classic matchup of two Original Six organizations. These teams never disappoint, and given a national stage it should be even better.

"I’m a big fan of the Rangers-Bruins Thanksgiving Day game," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. "I think it’s pretty cool and I'm happy to be a part of it."

In their first meeting of the season, Nov. 19 in New York, the Bruins defeated the Rangers 2-1 behind a 43-save performance by goaltender Tuukka Rask. Last spring, the Bruins beat the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

The day-after-Thanksgiving game has been an annual event for the Bruins. They take the ice in the afternoon, and later the parquet floor goes down for the Celtics game at night. It has always been one of the best sports days of the season.

It has grown into something bigger the past few years. From a hockey standpoint, it's another example of how well the NHL has branded its game, especially given the fact there have been two lockouts in the past decade.

Hockey has always been a sport of die-hards. You're either a fan, or you're not. There are no so-called pink hats in this game. But everyone enjoys the specialty games. The Winter Classic has become such a success that the NHL has decided to expand the outdoor schedule to six games. Along with the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic, now there's the Stadium Series with games at Yankee Stadium in New York, Soldier Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

"The outdoor games, I’ll bite my tongue," Thornton said. "I think there are too many of them this year. I like the exclusivity of having one, maybe two. You can have an afternoon here and then an afternoon game out west. That's just my personal opinion. Obviously, I don't get paid to be the marketing guru for the NHL, but I think it takes away from it a little bit, personally."

The Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers staged one of the more exciting Winter Classic games on Jan. 1, 2010 at Fenway Park. The Bruins beat the Flyers 2-1 in overtime on a snowy New Year’s Day in Boston.

"It was awesome," Thornton said, who dropped the gloves in that game. "I’d love to do it again. I was kind of hoping that we were the game against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium. That would've been a cool play on the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry."

Instead, the Rangers will play the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders in a pair of games at Yankee Stadium in January. As successful as the game at Fenway Park was, there are no current plans to return the Winter Classic to Boston.

"Hopefully before I retire I get to play in another one," Thornton said. "I always say other than winning the two Cups, coming out of the tunnel, out of the dugout and seeing the Fenway sign, following Bobby [Orr] then [Zdeno Chara], it was probably the third-best experience I’ve had."

Also, there have been a string of reality programs, showcasing teams behind the scenes, including HBO's popular "24/7" series. Seeing the success HBO had with its behind-the-scenes series, organizations decided to start their own reality shows, including the Bruins' "Behind the B."

The NHL announced last week its new all-access series "NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other," which promises the "most comprehensive behind-the-scenes look ever at the league’s top stars."

The NHL has attempted to reach a wider audience and it has been successful.

"I think the NHL has done a great job," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said. "Those outdoor games are fantastic and HBO's '24/7' was really well done. It gives people a different perspective of what goes on day in and day out from us.

"The game is growing. Since I've been in the league there have been two lockouts and I've been pleasantly surprised to see how the fans have responded after both times," Kelly said. "It shows that they are passionate about the game and the game is growing and thriving. I think the sky's the limit for the game. There are so many more things we can do, and will do to help grow this sport."

The NHL reached a historic agreement Tuesday morning, announcing a landmark $5 billion, 12-year broadcasting deal with Rogers Communications, which gives the media company exclusive Canadian broadcast rights to all NHL games, including the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"This is a deal that we think is transformational," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during the news conference. "Nobody has ever done a deal quite like this in terms of its structure, its length or its magnitude. It's focused on delivering NHL hockey to the most passionate hockey fans in the world on a countrywide basis in a way that we think will give them the greatest connectivity to the game."

The Bruins were preparing for practice Tuesday morning at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass., when the announcement was made. Afterward, Bruins coach Claude Julien said he was thrilled for the game.

"It's great. It's great for the game," Julien said. "We took a beating a few years ago with all these lockouts and stuff like that. Our game is growing and there are people who have seen it grow and decided to get involved a little bit more, so it's going to benefit everybody."

Even though there's been a pair of work stoppages in less than a decade, fans have come back and the game is doing well.

"I think it's rebounded well," Julien said. "When you look at our game as a whole right now, it's pretty entertaining. You talk to people and people are loving our game right now. There are always areas we want to clean up and the league is doing a great job at fixing that. It doesn't get fixed overnight because it takes education; it takes decisions and stuff like that. We're really heading in a good direction."

The NHL continues to find unique ways to brand its game to the masses. It also helps that the big-market teams, the Original Six clubs, are doing well.

"It’s encouraging as a player to see [the league] go above and beyond to put the game in situations where it's going to succeed," Kelly said. "If you looked, there were only two games on Sunday. That’s great because Sundays are all about football, so you don’t want to have a bunch of games on a Sunday during football season because football is a priority here, and rightfully so. It's nice when players and ownership can work together to grow the game. It makes it that much better."

So, as you're digesting all that turkey and stuffing, and perhaps fighting a hangover, there are a total of 12 hockey games Friday, beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET with the Philadelphia Flyers hosting the Winnipeg Jets. Then, it's the Bruins versus the Rangers, which should be another classic game between the teams.