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Fehr-weather Caps beat Pens 3-1 in rainy Classic
Question of the Day
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Eric Fehr upstaged stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin by scoring twice and the Washington Capitals waded through rain drops to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in a wet Winter Classic on Saturday night.
It was the NHL's first nighttime Winter Classic, and the first played in occasional rain, but the Capitals handled the elements _ and a scoreless Crosby _ just fine.
Fehr gave Washington its first lead at 2-1 in the second period after Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury abandoned the net, then sealed it with a breakaway goal in the third. Mike Knuble also scored.
"It was raining pretty good out there," Fehr said. "But it was a perfect night."
Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov, starting because of Michal Neuvirth's thigh injury, gave up Evgeni Malkin's goal in the second period but turned aside the other 32 shots.
The game was originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. EST, before the NHL pushed back the start because of the rain threat. Neither team seemed to mind, and the Capitals _ led by an animated and motivated Ovechkin _ clearly enjoyed the prime-time stage.
"I can't imagine what football players (feel) playing like this," Ovechkin said. "It's unbelievable. It makes you want to do it all the time."
The Capitals, perennial playoff underachievers, warmed up to this big game.
"It was close to the Stanley Cup finals," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We don't deny it meant more than just two points. It was a fabulous game."
After a scoreless first period in which the two teams adjusted to playing outdoors at night _ many never had at any organized level _ and the choppy ice, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead. Malkin took Kris Letang's banked pass off the boards to beat Varlamov inside the near post at 2:15.
Malkin's 14th goal caused a never-before-seen sight at Heinz Field: fans in the crowd of 68,111 twirling Terrible Towels to salute a Penguins goal rather than a Steelers touchdown.
Pittsburgh couldn't maintain the momentum, though, as the Capitals held down Crosby, who went scoreless for a second successive game after posting at least one point in 25 consecutive games. He had five shots.
"He's one of the best players in the game," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "But it shows that if we stick to our game, we can get it done out there."
The Capitals, who lost at home to Pittsburgh 3-2 in a shootout on Dec. 23, tied it about 4 1/2 minutes later when Knuble shoveled a shot past Fleury amid a tumble of bodies in the crease. Zbynek Michalek upended Mike Green just to the right of Fleury, and Knuble took advantage of the confusion to score his ninth.
Fehr _ pronounced Fair _ gave Washington the lead at 14:45 of the second on a gift goal. Fleury went behind the net to play the puck, but Marcus Johansson beat him to it and fed it in front, where Fehr tipped it into an empty net.
As a steady rain fell during the third, Fehr put it away with eight minutes remaining by racing to Jason Chimera's up-ice pass and, a step ahead of defenseman Paul Martin, beating Fleury cleanly with a hard wrist shot from between the circles for his seventh goal.
The teams changed ends halfway through the third period, to keep it fair for both squads amid the poor conditions.
"It was the same conditions for both teams," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "In every stoppage, we were in communication with both teams. And while not perfect, the puck was moving pretty well out there."
Ovechkin had a goal disallowed in the third, after incidental contact with Fleury. Pittsburgh's Mike Rupp had the same situation on Varlamov in the second.
"In the third period, weather became a problem," Ovechkin said. "But we handled it."
Fehr had a career-high 21 goals last year, when the Capitals were the NHL's best team during the regular season but was bounced by Montreal during the first round of the playoffs. It was his second career multi-goal game, and it helped the Capitals win their fifth in six games. Pittsburgh lost for the fifth time in 21 games.
The fourth Winter Classic became the first played at night, and the first in rain. There was a mist at times during the first two periods that became steady rain throughout the third, when the ice maintained a like-new look as if it was constantly being resurfaced by a Zamboni. There also was a trail behind the puck on any shot or pass.
Maybe this was a first, too: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma wore a Tom Landry-style fedora behind the bench. Capitals coach Boudreau chose not to wear headgear.
The ice was unpredictable, perhaps because of the 50-degree gametime temperature _ the warmest yet _ and the moist air. Ovechkin was a victim of the ice, tumbling onto his stomach while winding up a shot from the blue line with about three minutes remaining in a scoreless first period.
Crosby also took a hard fall, but it had nothing to do with the ice. He was felled by a blindside hit to the head from Capitals center David Steckel just before the end of the second period. The shoulder hit did not look to be premeditated.
Crosby got up gingerly and had a noticeable limp as he walked down the long walkway to the locker room, the same one normally used by the Steelers. But he took the Penguins' first shift of the third period.
"He got my head, for sure," Crosby said. "But I can't comment on it. I don't even know. Maybe it was so far behind the play the officials didn't see it."
It was a physical game throughout, as Capitals-Penguins games usually are. The Eastern Conference teams have maintained one of the NHL's best rivalries for years, one that accelerated when Crosby and Malkin joined the Penguins and Ovechkin the Capitals.
Pittsburgh beat Washington in a classic seven-game playoff series in 2008 _ indoors, of course _ en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
Playing at night allowed the Penguins' dark blue sweaters and Capitals' old-style white and red to show up well on television, and the red and blue lines _ lit by the huge banks of lights in an NFL stadium _ appeared brighter than ever.
Penguins forward Jordan Staal, out all season with an infected right foot and a broken right hand, played his first game in nearly eight months. He showed a lot of jump early, but didn't figure in the scoring.
By Robert N. Tracci
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