Capitals Beat Penguins 3-1 in Rain-Drenched NHL Winter Classic
PITTSBURGH -- The marquee battle between superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin at the NHL Winter Classic was won by ... Eric Fehr. The 25-year-old right wing (middle, above photo) scored the winning and insurance goals in the Washington Capitals' 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a crowd of 68,111 at Heinz Field.
"I was definitely happy I could score," said Fehr, who seemed surprised himself that he came out of the league's signature regular season event as the No. 1 star.
"What can I say? (Fehr) played a really good game," said Washington coach Bruce Boudreau.
A miscue by Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury led to the game-winner at 14:45 of the second period. Fleury tried to play the puck behind his goal, but fumbled it. Capitals forward Marcus Johansson captured the puck and slid it to Fehr, who scored his sixth goal of the season. Fehr scored on a breakaway, off a pass from Jason Chimera, with eight minutes left in regulation to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead.
Originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET, the game was pushed back to 8:00 p.m. ET because of rains and warm temperatures. Rain fell on the game during the third period. The teams switched sides with 9:59 left in regulation.
"We knew the fancy, tic-tac-toe stuff wasn't going to work," said Boudreau. "I thought we did a very good job with it."
Said veteran Capitals wing Mike Knuble: "I'm thrilled with the way we played. Every guy, to a man, did their job."
Pittsburgh and Washington traded goals early in the second period to open the scoring. After Fleury stopped Ovechkin on a breakaway with a left skate one minute into the period, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin was sprung loose with a pass along the boards by Kris Letang and scored on Varlamov. Evidently charged up by the tens of thousands of Penguins fans roaring after the game's first goal, Malkin jumped into the home team bench to celebrate the goal with his teammates.
Mike Knuble tied the game at 1-1 at 6:54 of the second. While Fleury and the Penguins defenders failed to control the puck after an initial save on Mike Green, Knuble banged the puck in from the crease.
Down 2-1 in the final minute of the second, a Penguins goal was disallowed when it was ruled that forward Mike Rupp made "incidental contact" with Varlamov. "A bit of a disappointment," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "It would have given us a big lift coming off the field after the period. We still thought we were going to come back in the game."
There was no scoring in the first period, but there no shortage of scoring chances. Mark Letestu of the Penguins and John Carlson of the Capitals hit the post with shots. Varlamov stopped all 16 shots fired by Pittsburgh, Fleury all 12 by Washington.
The Penguins were given a boost by the season debut of Jordan Staal. The 22-year-old center missed the opening of the 2010-11 season with a foot infection and then suffered a broken hand in practice. Stall was effective in 14:38 of icetime, but it wasn't enough against Fehr and the Capitals.
Valamov made 31 saves for the victory. "He showed he could play in pressure situations," said Boudreau.
Fleury was credited with 29 saves.
Despite the loss, Penguins personnel raved about the event.
"The most disappointing aspect of the game was us not winning it," said Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma. "Otherwise, it was a really unique experience, something we won't ever forget."
"It was an amazing feeling," said Crosby. "Playing hockey in front of that many people, it's something that probably none of us ever dreamed of doing."
In the winning locker room, the Capitals were aglow about their participation in the Winter Classic.
"It was a magical night," said Chimera. "Seeing all those people when we came on the ice. Everyone chanting, 'Let's go Pens' and 'Let's go Caps.' Just an incredible feeling for all of us."