We swear the puck went in.
There was certainly a special buzz in the air today. With most schools shutdown and most work-places deserted for the upcoming Christmas holiday, Caps fans traveled in droves to Kettler Capitals Iceplex to cheer on their hometown team during their pre-game skate. Why? Because the Pittsburgh Penguins were in town.
The energy the Caps felt in the morning certainly translated to the game as one minute in, Alex Ovechkin laid out frenemy, Evgeny Malkin, with one of his biggest hits of the season. The crowd went wild. The Penguins lost their composure. And seconds later, as Evgeny Malkin looked for retribution, he took a two minute interference call. The Capitals get a powerplay!
Unfortunately for our heroes, there was too much standing around, and there wasn’t enough crashing of the net in their ensuing man advantage. The Penguins savvily killed off the powerplay and seized back momentum immediately on a beautiful deflection goal by Sidney Crosby at 3:21.
Thirty-one game minutes later, the Capitals tied it up at the tail end of a 5-on-3 powerplay. Mike Green, who had pinched-in to the top of the face-off circle, riffled a slapshot to the top corner of the net. The game stayed tied 1-1, until the beginning of the third, when Sidney Crosby challenged three Capitals players, flicked the puck towards the net, and found Chris Kunitz who backhanded a shot home.
Things looked dicey until team leader Mike Knuble converted on a crazy 2-on-1 goal while the Caps were shorthanded. The two teams then went to Overtime. Despite what looked to be another goal by Mike Green, the extra five minutes of 4-on-4 hockey could not decide a victor. After an exciting shootout, Pascal Dupuis scored at the bottom of the 7th round. Pens beat Caps 3-2 (SO).
One point is better than none.
- Mike Green was the hero tonight. He resembled a prized heavyweight fighter. Despite playing injured and absorbing big hit after big hit during the game, Greener gave absolutely everything he had and never faltered. He finished the night with a goal, six shots, eight hits, and 5 blocked shots in a staggering 34:03 of ice time. When Tom Poti took a friendly-fire high stick in the first period, the Caps were forced to go with five defenseman for the rest of the game. Green anchored the defense and his steady play was what kept the Capitals afloat.
- Mike Green Double Bullet! When Mike Green was asked if he thought his shot crossed the goal-line in Overtime, he told Katie Carrera, “100%. I’m not going to sleep tonight.” It’s pretty clear that Marc-André Fleury, took the puck over with his gloved hand. But when you don’t have a camera literally under the ice to show this, there’s nothing the referees can do. Just a bummer.
- Speaking of Marc-André Fleury, he was spectacular tonight, stopping 32 of 34 shots. His glove hand was unbeatable, and minus his unneeded flashiness with the simplest of saves, I can almost respect him as a player. He was your game’s number one star.
- Matt Cooke sure has been entertaining on 24/7. Tonight, he continued to be charming by accidentally rifling a clearing attempt during a Caps power-play 185 feet, and into the netting behind Michal Neuvirth. I have never seen this live in a game in my life, and I’ll be honest, I laughed. Hard. Cooke’s boneheaded mistake led to the Capitals first goal. Thanks, dude.
- Alex Ovechkin hit everything that moved and played with a fiery passion. He ended the game with five shots and five hits. Eventually, the goals will come with superior efforts like this.
- Michal Neuvirth was also superb tonight. He stopped Evgeny Malkin – by guessing backhand – on a penalty shot and had 25 saves.
- Look, sometimes I don’t understand Bruce Boudreau. Last year, when the team won, he wouldn’t touch his lines. This year, his lines seem to change every other period no matter how the team is playing. I was hoping tonight to see the 25-90-63 line stay together as they put up two of the Capitals five goals Tuesday night. Instead, Eric Fehr replaced Gordo on the right, and the third and fourth lines were unbearably unproductive.
- We noticed that someone tweeted that this was Scott Hannan‘s best game as a Cap. However, he was on ice for seven chances for, six against, including two more chances against during the PK. We don’t see it.
- Finally, the Penguins, whose dramatic playoff victories over the Capitals during my adolescence have scarred me for life, always seem to find a way to win – even if the Capitals outplay them. Tonight was another glaring example of this. The Capitals out-chanced the Penguins 48 to 32, outshot them 34 to 27, and generally outplayed them in every period except for a few minutes in the third. No matter if it’s a flittering Petr Nedved shot that somehow finds the back of the net in the fourth overtime, a frustrating Johan Hedberg save, or a 6-2 drubbing in a Game 7, that team and their [insert bad word here] fans annoy me. Sure, the Caps have not lost to the Penguins in regulation for nine straight games. But those kind of stats ignore the brutal history of the rivalry. I want to beat these [insert bad word here] every time we play them. And tonight, with the HBO cameras rolling, we must endure another what-could-have-been moment and then relive it epically produced next Wednesday. Dang it!
BBBB summed it up best at the end of the night: “It was two really good teams going at it, and we lost at a skills competition.” Ugh. But we should consider ourselves lucky. We got to witness our sport at its best. 65 minutes of awesome, smash-mouth hockey. As Sidney Crosby said, “both teams make each other better.” And it’s hard to argue with that. Tonight, felt like a playoff game. It felt like two teams that really don’t like each other, who would do anything and everything to win. Players were getting high-sticked almost every shift. Guys were diving on the ice to block shots. Players were giving max effort at every moment. It was fun to watch.
This game should be the perfect prelude for the Winter Classic now only 8 days away. With games Sunday at Carolina and Tuesday at home against the Habs, the Capitals have two more tune-ups before one of the most exciting and hyped games in it’s franchise 46 year history. We cannot wait.
Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg