PITTSBURGH | It wasn’t quite the made-for-TV showcase of the league’s biggest names in the brisk conditions many experts thought the 2011 Winter Classic would be, but the Capitals didn’t seem to mind.
In front of a soggy 68,111 fans at Heinz Field, Washington got a pair of goals from Eric Fehr to take a 3-1 win over the Penguins in a game that had its original start time delayed seven hours because of steady rain.
The two stars that got most of the attention leading into the game, Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, were both held pointless in a game that featured fairly heavy rain at times under unusually warm temperatures for New Year’s Day in the Steel City.
The Penguins jumped ahead 2:13 into the second period on Evgeni Malkin’s goal, but the Capitals answered back less than five minutes later with a Mike Knuble goal scored during a scrum in front of the Pittsburgh cage. Fehr scored the eventual game-winner with 5:15 left in the frame after a misplayed puck by Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury led to a wide-open net.
Fehr added an insurance goal in the third to give Washington its third straight win after falling to Pittsburgh in a shootout at Verizon Center on Dec. 23.
“It felt unbelievable,” Fehr said. “The first time we came out for the first period there, the fans were loud, and it was just everything you kind of dreamed of. It was a perfect night. Nice and dark outside, with the lights, it was great.”
With the temperature reading 51.7 degrees at the start of the game despite an 8 p.m. face-off, the ice was noticeably waterlogged, with Ovechkin wiping out late in the first period while winding up to take a shot. Still, the two teams generated some good scoring chances at both ends, and both squads had shots ring off the post, but Washington netminder Semyon Varlamov and Fleury made some nice saves to keep the game scoreless through 20 minutes.
But the Penguins brought the home fans to their feet early in the second period.
Shortly after Fleury stopped Ovechkin on a breakaway, Malkin was able to cash in on a similar play by blasting a puck past Varlamov for a 1-0 Penguins lead. Pittsburgh then got a man advantage just :46 after the tally, but Washington was able to kill off the Brooks Laich goaltender interference call, and then momentum began to shift to the visitors.
On a scramble in front of the Penguins’ cage, Knuble was able to poke the puck in the net and draw Washington even at the 6:54 mark. Following the equalizer, the Capitals began to press for the go-ahead goal, and Jason Chimera had a golden chance to score with just under 9 minutes to play on a wrap-around attempt, but Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik thwarted the chance with a nice defensive play.
But the difference in the contest was created by a miscue by Fleury, as the netminder misplayed the puck behind his own net. Marcus Johansson picked up the loose puck and fed it out front to Fehr, who banged the puck into the open net.
Late in the second period, the rainfall began to pick up, and the ice conditions began to worsen. Crews had to push the standing water on the ice over to the sides of the rink, and by the time the third period started, the precipitation was a steady rain that had the officials frequently checking with Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior vice president and director of hockey operations, on possibly halting the contest.
“It was the same conditions for both teams,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters afterward. “At every stoppage, Colin and [ice expert] Dan Craig were in communication with the officials and both teams, and nobody was complaining about it.”
“The conditions were all right,” Crosby said later. “I think when it started to come down pretty good there, you could see the puck started to bounce even a little bit more.”