It took HBO about a half-hour last night to get around to the inevitable: mining Artem Anisimov's mock rifle celebration of last Thursday night as fodder for its "24/7" series.

When it did, it was the highlight of the season-opening episode, and it illustrated nicely what all the fuss was about as the Rangers and Flyers became the second set of hockey teams featured on the show.

The rest of us saw Anisimov anger the Lightning when he celebrated a goal by pointing his stick at the Tampa Bay net as it if were a gun.

The Rangers went on to lose in a shootout and coach John Tortorella disavowed his player's actions after the game. Anisimov apologized publicly the next day. That was that.

But HBO struck gold with its behind-the-scenes access. We saw Anisimov sitting alone at his locker as teammates entered after the period.

Sean Avery looked at him and couldn't help smirking. Neither could several others.

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What the heck was the young Russian thinking, teammates wondered? "I just reload my weapon, you know?" he said.

The laughing stopped when the Rangers lost, and HBO was there when he apologized to teammates in broken English. But by Friday morning, players again couldn't help seeing the humor in the incident.

Someone asked Anisimov where he learned that move. He said it was from a guy in Russia who did that after every goal. "Fans go crazy,'' he said.

Come Friday night, the players were out to dinner in Buffalo . . . still pointing imaginary rifles at one another.

That is "24/7'' at its best, like its NFL counterpart, "Hard Knocks," going where the public never would be allowed otherwise.

The show was not without its flaws, including an overwritten opening narration about the glory and heartache of the sport, as well as more scenic views of Manhattan than in an old Woody Allen movie.

Naturally, it also featured what has become a trademark of such series: extremely liberal use of a curse word that cannot be printed here.

Rex Ryan of the Jets and Bruce Boudreau of the Capitals both made headlines for their repeated use of it, but last night it was deployed early and often by a wide variety of characters.