Washington Capitals Correspondent
In a marquee match-up nationally televised and declared to be a preview of next week’s center stage event, the NHL Winter Classic, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins gave a taste of what could come at Heinz Field. As Sidney Crosby said about the rivalry, “both teams bring out the best in one another.”
“You talk about the hype and the build-up and the rivalry; the puck drops and it’s exactly what the build-up is,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.
Two evenly-matched teams both played with grit and skill, taking the game to an overtime and a seven-round shootout. Despite Pascal Dupuis’ shootout goal that gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals, as Caps’ head coach Bruce Boudreau put it, “we played them to a standstill.”
Within the first minute of the game in a playoff-type atmosphere, the tone was set. In the sea of red in the Capitals’ home crowd, there began a resounding “Let’s Go Caps,” with much smaller, but still heard “Let’s Go Pens” chants. With end to end hockey until just under the first minute of the game, three penalties were called, including matching minors on John Erskine and Matt Cooke for roughing. By 3:21 into the first period, the first goal of the game was scored by Sidney Crosby.
Pittsburgh, with the 1-0 lead in the first period, forced multiple turnovers, and dominated in the faceoff circle despite the Caps keeping a constant lead in shots.
Caps forward Mike Knuble made mention of the physical aspect of Pittsburgh’s play. “They have some guys that are pretty physical players, and when you play the night before, it’s harder to ramp yourself up to be as physical, but it was a pretty good hockey game by them.”
Nonetheless, the Caps, who seem to have found their confidence, came back in the second period, especially after Michal Neuvirth came up big stopping an Evgeni Malkin penalty shot. Soon after that, Washington was rewarded with a power play which quickly turned into a 5-on-3 power play. Displaying the best puck movement of the night and Alex Ovechkin moving around the ice, Mike Green was able to bank the tying goal.
Knuble expressed the importance of Green scoring on that 5-on-3. “It was a relief that Mike scored there.”
As if fans weren’t satisfied enough by the first two periods, the third period had even more equal play from both Pittsburgh and Washington. Even though Chris Kunitz scored seventeen seconds into the third, and the Capitals took frequent penalties, Washington remained 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and Mike Knuble scored a late goal with about five minutes left in the game, tying the score, 2-2.
As if a script for the HBO 24/7 series was written, the two teams had to take it to overtime. With open ice, the Caps and Penguins traded shots until midway into the extra frame when Marc-Andre Fleury, who was tough on Washington all night, made what could be argued as either an unbelievable save or a game-winning goal for Mike “Game Over” Green.
Video review declared that there was “inconclusive evidence to overturn the goal.” While many knew this result even before the officials explained the decision, others, such as Green himself felt that the goal was good.
Green said that it was “100 percent” that the shot crossed the line under Fleury’s glove. Looking down, shaking his head with a disappointed chuckle, he said, “I won’t be able to sleep.”
No one could score until the seventh round of the shootout, where finally Pascal Dupuis put one behind a seemingly unstoppable Neuvirth, declaring Pittsburgh the victors of the first of four games with the Capitals.
Green, discussing the game’s final result, said, “It’s tough to lose that way, but especially after the game we had and how we battled back, but it is what it is and we’ll get over it.”
That feeling was the sentiment all around the locker room. The Capitals seemed satisfied with the performance they put out against Pittsburgh, especially, as Boudreau noted, the Caps played with only five defensemen, as Tom Poti was injured in the first five minutes of the game.
“It’s the second best result we could have asked for,” said Karl Alzner.
“Felt like a playoff game again, and that’s why our spirits were up and our energy was up. When the fans bring a lot of energy it helps us to play better,” Green said.
Still, the team is looking forward to the next few games before the Winter Classic game against Pittsburgh for New Year’s Day.
“We take two days rest and we’ve got a tough road,” said Boudreau. “Carolina, Montreal, and Pittsburgh again in the next three games. It’s not easy. This league is not easy. We’ll just take off where we left off.”
Notes: Tom Poti was said to be day-to-day. Washington’s next game is Sunday on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Angie represented The Hockey Writers at the 2011 NHL Winter Classic and is credentialed for Washington Capitals home games. She is a NHL Contributor for SB Nation’s “NHL Scores & More” and covers high school hockey for The Washington Post. Angie attended American University where she studied broadcast journalism.