The Washington Capitals took the ice tonight in one of the most highly anticipated games in team history as they faced down the uber-rival Penguins in the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic. Under the lights at Heinz Field in front of close to 69,000 rabid hockey fans (the majority of them rooting for the home team), the rivalry between captains Sid and Ovi was once again dissected under a microscope on a national stage.
The story lines in this epic battle were many, but none more so than the mutual dislike between the Sid and Ovi. And though neither captain registered any points on the night, Ovechkin doled out one of the games' first big hits, resulting in the ice crew having to adjust the glass.
The Pens were charged with the first penalty - a hook by Paul Martin. Jordan Staal, playing in his first
game of the season (what a night to debut, eh?) gave the Pens a boost on the penalty kill against Washington. The first period also saw an old-time hockey bout (kind of went along with the retro jerseys) between Mike Rupp and big John Erskine (who I'm quote sure noted Rupp's elf ensemble seen on HBO's 24/7). Rupp appeared to throw up the white flag before the guys in stripes could intervene.
Semyon Varlamov made the key stops when called upon and John Carlson came to his aid swiping a puck shot by Tyler Kennedy out of mid-air. Despite an awkward tumble by the Great8 mid-shot and getting acclimated the wet ice conditions, the boys played a strong first period
End of first period: Capitals 0 - Penguins 0
The second period began with several choice scoring opportunities from Alex Ovechkin. But it was another Russian talent, Geno Malkin, notching the game's first tally for the Penguins. His goal was a result of an unfortunate line change on the part of the Caps.
As both teams became more comfortable in the outside environs, the game got even more physical. Brooks Laich was whistled for interference (quite bogusly I might add as he was so obviously pushed
into Marc-Andre Fleury) at 2:59. Then it was the trash-talking Max Talbot's turn to sit after a hold on
Ovechkin. The Caps struggling power play unit went to work and the havoc they created in front of the net paid off big. Mike Knuble poked the puck through the pads of Fleury at 6:58 to light the lamp for the visitors. But the Caps weren't done there. Fleury was playing the puck quite a bit and was on the slow side in getting back around to the net. Jason Chimera almost beat him with a clear wrap around and Eric Fehr succeeded with help from Marcus Johannson to give the boys a 2-1 lead at 14:45. The Pens thought they'd tied it up in the waning minutes of the period but the call was no-goal (after Mike Rupp deliberately ran over Varlamov in the midst of trying to cover the puck). As the period came to a close, Sidney Crosby got shaken up after a hit from big David Steckel - one that the Pens thought should have been penalized.
End of second period: Capitals 2 - Penguins 1
The weather became a factor in the third period as rain began falling harder and appeared to be pooling in areas around the ice (particularly around the goal creases). The precipitation didn't slow down the Capitals and especially Semyon Varlamov as he stood on his head with an eye-popping series of saves
starting at around the 15:21 mark. After killing off a delay of game penalty, the teams switched ice sides at the ten-minute mark. Brooks Orpik decided to rough up an already injured Mathieu Perreault after
checking him to the ice- always a class act, that Orpik. Write him in for the Lady Byng, will ya?
The man of the hour, Eric Fehr, made haste of a give and go started by John Erskine and Jason Chimera and netted his second goal of the night. After taking a 3-1 lead as the seconds ticked off the clock,
the weather wasnt the only thing deteriorating. After every whistle, bitter scrums had to be broken up by the officials and even Ovi got involved in a tussle with Chris Kunitz at game's end. As the Capitals celebrated an incredible statement win in the Penguin's backyard, the appointed hosts refused the traditional post-game handshake.
For the Capitals and their phenomenal fans, what an incredible way to ring in 2011-a huge statement win in primetime in one of the NHL's most spectacular showcases and onward to the remainder of the regular season!