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Rangers vs. Flyers: The profanities, fears and joys are riveting

Thinking the second season of HBO's 24/7 documentary series might not match its predecessor? Think again. Hey, they have Ilya Bryzgalov.

The four-part documentary series following the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers is as up-to-date as Flyer Claude Giroux's concussion last Saturday, or Artem Anisimov's sniper routine. It's as perceptive as Ryan Callahan's straight-talking, 95-year-old granny.

HBO's camera work and editing (and at times the budget) make network TV hockey telecasts look like silent films by comparison. And did we say they have Ilya Bryzgalov?

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The storytelling techniques remain from Year 1 – getting to know the coaches' profanity penchants, the players' apprehensions and joys, the enormous risks of injury endured by the players.

TV likes basic concepts, and 24/7 has a cupboard full of them. Bryzgalov, the $54-million (all currency U.S.) free-agent Flyer goalie, is the star as he contemplates the cosmos ("the solar system is so humongous big") and explains the price of hunting tigers in China.

Sean Avery is … Sean Avery. Enigmatic.

Rangers coach John Tortorella simmers like Michael Corleone.

Even though the camera presence tilts reality, it doesn't destroy. HBO's cameras catch Giroux, the breakout player of the year in the NHL, getting clipped in the back of his head by the knee of teammate Wayne Simmonds. Under the stands, Giroux undergoes the concussion protocol, then we see the exasperation on coach Peter Laviolette's face as Giroux tells him that all is not well. We hear Simmonds explain how his inadvertent blow happened. It amounts to fantastic insight on a Page 1 issue about the sport.

There's also the sequence showing Ranger Anisimov performing his Call of Duty goal celebration, referee Chris Rooney's reaction ("to skate from the net all the way to the blueline doing that is not kosher"), the schoolboy giggles of his teammates as they file into the dressing room, and the predictable blast from Tortorella ("we have our work cut out for us because of our own stupidity"). Finally, Anisimov apologizes to the team.

It takes a little luck to be in the right place, and the 24/7 producers had the good fortune to be on hand at just the moment of Giroux's injury and Anisimov's brain lock. But it takes hustle to find Callahan's nonagenarian grandmother vowing to set the referees straight. Or to have former Los Angeles King Simmonds explaining why his former team is changing coaches this week.

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Quibbles? Just wonder when the producers might mention former Ranger Derek Boogaard, whose death and autopsy have capsized the NHL the past five months. And yes, Dorothy, there's plenty of swearing. Ranger Michael Del Zotto crashes into the boards and says, "[Expletive] am I bleeding?"

Like The Sopranos, music is a keystone to the 24/7 plot lines. So the Rangers open to the searing urban chords of The Black Keys' Lonely Boy, while the free-spending Flyers get Fitz and The Tantrums doing Money Grabber. Later we discover that the Flyers celebrate wins by breaking down to the infectious Knock Knock by Mac Miller. And can we get narrator Liev Schreiber to hand out the Stanley Cup instead of the commissioner, please? Somewhere in heaven John Facenda is jealous.

Next time

Not to tell HBO its business but if it doesn't do the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks for next year's 24/7, it's insane. Wednesday's Dave Bolland snipe at the Sedins, followed by the quiet rage of Canucks coach Alain Vigneault saying the Hawks' forward had a face only a mother could love … it just writes itself. Get these teams to play each other in a fenced-in rink at Cabrini Green in Chi-town. Please.

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