Ovi tackles his teammates after Mike Knuble's second period goal.

Ovi tackles his teammates after Mike Knuble's second period goal. (Photo credit: Dave Sandford)

Photo credit: Gregory Shamus

After a year of build-up and three glorious episodes of HBO’s 24/7, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins finally met at Heinz Field in front of 68,111 loud, screaming fans to compete in the 2011 Winter Classic. Much like the 39 games before and the 42 games to follow, this game counted the exact same amount in the standings: two points.

But both you and I know it meant waaaaaay more than that. You could see it in how the Caps played, celebrated and spoke after the game. This was the biggest game they had ever played in their NHL careers. And it showed.

At 8:17pm the first puck dropped. It would then take over twenty-two compelling game minutes to see the 2011 Classic’s first goal. In the second period, Marc-Andre Fleury made a routine stick save along the ice on Alex Ovechkin. Kris Letang then took the rebound and alertly flung the puck up ice where he found a streaking Evgeny Malkin. The Capitals’ defense, caught on a bad change, allowed Malkin to go in all alone on Semyon Varlamov. Malkin went five-hole and the the Penguins took a 1-0 lead.

But their one goal advantage – and Pens fans’ annoying waving of their moronic Terrible Towels – would be short-lived. After Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty on Max Talbot for holding three and a half minutes later, the entire Capitals powerplay unit crashed the net like their lives depended on it. Ageless wonder Mike Knuble managed to pitchfork the puck through Fleury’s legs during a scrum in front. Knuble’s ninth goal of the season, not only would tie the game up, it would also reinvigorate the team and also allow them to relax.

Nearly eight minutes later, in a rare stroke of good luck at even-strength, Marc-Andre Fleury misplayed a seemingly innocent dump-in behind the net. Marcus Johansson pounced on the mistake and hit Eric Fehr with a slick pass to the slot. Fehrsy then suavely deposited the puck into a yawning net where the Caps would take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

In the third period, both teams traded several scoring chances, until Eric Fehr uno seised Fluery on a breakaway and went top shelf. From there, the Caps played a trap (I can’t believe I wrote that) and expertly protected their lead until the clock ran out.

Yes, that noise is me fist-pumping. Caps beat the Pens 3-1.

  • First, a question. What’s better than going up to our biggest rival’s city in masse, roaming their streets, taking over their restaurants and bars, yelling “Let’s Go Caps” at the top of our lungs, and then watching our hockey team kick the living bejeezus out of theirs on New Year’s Day? Um, nothing.
  • I’m not getting too cocky about this one because the ice conditions clearly played a role. Still, you could make a convincing argument that this was one of the biggest wins in Capitals history. They desperately needed this game.
  • John Erskine‘s first period bout with vespa-hater Mike Rupp was epic. Erskine, clearly unconcerned with his own health or well-being, recklessly exchanged haymakers with Rupp until his combatant asked out of the fight due to a dislodged contact. Yes. A dislodged contact. It really was a shame, because Erskine was about three punches away from giving Rupp a problem his optometrist couldn’t fix.

  • Mike Knuble is the old, yellow horse glue that keeps this team together. The team took on his personality after his second period powerplay goal, and they never looked back.
  • Eric Fehr is a true pro, and tonight his hustle and determination was what tipped the scales in Washington’s favor. Fehr, who at times was double-shifted, was on the ice for five chances for at even strength, and his second goal of the night sent Pens fans home in droves.
  • Alex Ovechkin may not have scoared, but his presence was certainly felt. Just as Zbynek Michalek, whom the Russian Machine nearly checked through the glass in the first period.
  • My immediate reaction when Jason Chimera defied the laws of physics and missed that easy wraparound goal: “Crosby, go expletive yourself.” I should have been mad at Chimera, but I cursed at Crosby. Force of habit? I don’t know. I confused myself.
  • Semyon Varlamov sure likes the big stage, doesn’t he? If he can play like that for the next four months, the Caps should be in pretty good shape.
  • Bruce Boudreau had this game figured out and turned in one of his best coaching jobs of his career. It would have been tempting to give tons of ice time to his studs, but he kept going to the grinders. Freaking Jay Beagle was on the ice nearly two minutes longer than Alex Semin. You had to play dump and chase to win this game. The Penguins never really figured that out.
  • Would you believe that Carlzner limited Sidney Crosby’s line to only three chances at even strength and zip, zero, nada in the third period? That was huge.
  • The Capitals outchanced the Penguins 23 to 18 overall, and 19 to 12 at even strength.

Tonight, the nasty goals won it. There was absolutely no finesse. There was nothing pretty about this game. This was Caps hockey at it’s best and I could not be more proud of these guys for the way they performed on National TV in front of millions of people.

I know it’s hard to think about right now, but the Capitals can’t party too long because Tuesday night the Tampa Bay Lightning are coming to town. And that’s an important divisional game. At stake: the same two points that were up for grabs tonight.

Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg and Peter Hassett

  • Beat Dat Beat!!! Go CAPS!

  • barb

    can i just say that i am damned impressed with the way carlson and alzner have been neutralizing crosby in games? 🙂

  • Rockin’ The Red in VA

    Pure Awesomeness! By the Caps, and excellent reporting on your part Neil, Ian and Peter. This is one game that will NEVER get old to watch, or to see highlights from. The February match-up at the “Phone Booth” should be another good one for the ages. Go Caps!


  • It was an amazing game in beautiful HD — now watching the rebroadcast on NHL with the CBC feed. It will never get old.

    I love that Captain America annoys/frustrates the Whinyboy as much as he does.

    Is it wrong that I am counting down the days/hours/minutes until 24/7, just because I want to see the bitchy comments that the other team was making in the locker room or on the bench?

  • Brad

    Being a Ravens fan, terrible towels annoy the hell out of me as it is, But they piss me off even more when pens fan wave them like they are watching the steelers. Well atleast they will have something to wipe their tears with after this one

  • on another note the weather may have been a factor but both teams had to to play in it its not like the pens were playing outside all alone….every ice rink is different and the winter classic rink is no different.

  • The victory posts here are just second-to-none.

  • Avtopilot


    It was the best Cap’s game of the season. Exactly what is needed for the playoff.

  • Tiago Cardoso – São Paulo/Brazil

    Capitals-Penguins is inarguably the greatest NHL rivalry today!

    Every game is a battle!

    NHL have Division Championship,
    Conference Championship,
    Stanley Cup Championship and
    since 2005-2006 season the CAPS-PENS Championship!

    The yesterday’s game was a further proof!

    Watch out for that:

    10/16/2008 Capitals 4 @ 3 Penguins
    01/14/2009 Capitals 6 @ 3 Penguins
    02/22/2009 Penguins 2 @ 5 Capitals
    03/08/2009 Penguins 4 SO @ 3 Capitals
    01/21/2010 Capitals 6 @ 3 Penguins
    02/07/2010 Penguins 4 @ 5 OT Capitals
    03/24/2010 Penguins 3 @ 4 SO Capitals
    04/06/2010 Capitals 6 @ 3 Penguins
    12/23/2010 Penguins 3 SO @ 2 Capitals
    01/01/2011 Capitals 3 @ 1 Penguins [NHL Winter Classic]

    Final Result in the last 10 regular season games:

    Remarkable Record for Washington Capitals 8-0-2 against Pittsburg Penguins!

    8 wins and just 2 shootout losses!



  • Tiago Cardoso – São Paulo/Brazil

    Sidney “Protected” Crosby is the most spoiled brat in the hockey world of all time!

    The Canadian Media applauds!

    But don’t acknowledge that Penguins and Team Canada has a great support team/ superstar lineup for him!

    So, it´s easy to win contests!

    It is easy to determine who would be more successful, COLLECTIVELY!

    For now …

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  • David M

    Im surprised there was NO mention of our “Goon” David Steckel’s intent to go after a certain Pens Capt’s head…because you know…DS39 is such a physical player! 87 really plays the victim well

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