Win­ter Clas­sic all Caps

Fehr scores last two goals of Washington’s win un­der Heinz Field lights

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY KATIE CAR­RERA

Un­der the lights — and a light rain — on the out­door ice in Pitts­burgh, Eric Fehr scores two goals and the Cap­i­tals skate to a New Year’s Day vic­tory, 3-1.

pitts­burgh — Not even un­sea­son­ably warm tem­per­a­tures or the ab­sence of any ac­tual snow seemed to di­min­ish the at­mos­phere of the first-ever NHL Win­ter Clas­sic to be con­tested in prime time. Nor would a pushed-back start time or steady rain take the bite out of one of the league’s mar­quee ri­val­ries be­tween the Washington Cap­i­tals and Pitts­burgh Pen­guins.

With Heinz Field filled to a stand­ing-room-only ca­pac­ity of 68,111, the Cap­i­tals pre­vailed, 3-1, over Pitts­burgh in a matchup high­lighted by rat­tling checks that show­cased their heated an­i­mos­ity to­ward the Pen­guins on the NHL’s biggest stage aside from the Stan­ley Cup play­offs.

The fourth an­nual Win­ter Clas­sic was pushed back from its orig­i­nal start time sched­uled for 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day to avoid early rain show­ers in the Pitts­burgh area, but even as the re­vised 8 p.m. face­off ap­proached trep­i­da­tions about the qual­ity of the ice sur­face re­mained. Crews re­moved more than 3,000 gal­lons of wa­ter from the rink and worked to re­store so­lid­ity through­out the day. The con­test went off as planned in the evening.

Both teams ap­peared ten­ta­tive in the early stages, ad­just­ing to an ice sur­face that in­cluded some pud­dle spots and rough patches, but an early hit by Alex Ovechkin on Pitts­burgh’s Zbynek Michalek that rat­tled the glass out of place and re­quired re­pairs in the first five min­utes made it clear that con­di­tions would not hin­der in­ten­sity.

The first pe­riod would pass with­out a goal, but a lengthy fra­cas be­tween Washington de­fense­man John Ersk­ine and Mike Rupp mid­way through seemed to in­vig­o­rate both squads. The best scor­ing chances of the open­ing 20 min­utes came when

John Carl­son and Mark Letestu rung shots off of goal posts just over a minute apart.

That mo­men­tum would carry over into the sec­ond, when the pace picked up even as a slight rain be­gan to fall leav­ing beads of wa­ter on play­ers hel­mets and fogged up vi­sors.

Ev­geniMalkin broke the deadlock just over two min­utes into the sec­ond pe­riod, when he tal­lied his first goal in six games, with a wrist shot on a break­away that found its way be­tween goal­tender Se­myon Var­lamov’s legs to give Pitts­burgh a 1-0 edge. De­spite the early goal against and con­di­tions that of­ten caused both he and the Pen­guins’ Mar­cAn­dre Fleury to slide out of their creases, Var­lamov per­formed well and fin­ished with 32 saves to earn his third con­sec­u­tive win.

Washington’s penalty kill would make its first key ap­pear­ance af­ter Malkin’s goal, thwart­ing a goal­tender in­ter­fer­ence call against Brooks Laich to pre­vent the Pen­guins from build­ing up any ad­di­tional steam. The Cap­i­tals ex­tin­guished all of Pitts­burgh power-play chances.

Mean­while, the Cap­i­tals would knot the game up when their own strug­gling power play cashed in to make it 1-1 with just un­der seven min­utes gone in the mid­dle stanza. Af­ter an ini­tial shot by Nick­las Back­strom, chaos erupted around the Pitts­burgh net as Washington con­verged in search of an ugly re­bound — Mike Knu­ble found it when he poked for the puck un­der Fleury’s pads re­peat­edly un­til knock­ing it over the goal line. The marker prompted pock­ets of Cap­i­tals’ faith­ful, clad fa­mously in red to spring to their feet through­out the sta­dium.

Af­ter nar­rowly missing a chance to seize mo­men­tum when Ja­son Chimera’s wrap-around at­tempt was blocked by Pitts­burgh de­fense­man Brooks Or­pik, Washington took its first lead of the con­test at 14 min­utes 45 sec­onds. Fleury bob­bled the puck when he tried to play it be­hind his net and rookie Mar­cus Jo­hans­son fished the puck out from be­hind the goal line and sent it to Eric Fehr, who fired into a yawn­ing cage for his first goal of the night.

Washington would carry the 2-1 lead into the in­ter­mis­sion but as time ex­pired af­ter 40 min­utes, 6-foot-5 Cap­i­tals for­ward David Steckel col­lided with Pitts­burgh cap­tain, 5-11 Sid­ney Crosby. On re­play it ap­peared as though Steckel’s right shoul­der hit the left side of Crosby’s head, send­ing him tum­bling to the ice.

Crosby re­turned to the ice for the start of the third, when rain, which had con­tin­ued to fall spo­rad­i­cally, picked up sig­nif­i­cantly with about 17 min­utes re­main­ing in reg­u­la­tion.

De­spite what ap­peared to be wors­en­ing con­di­tions, Fehr scored again with a shot that beat Fleury high glove side, en­ter­ing the net just un­der the cross bar, at 11:59 of the third af­ter a give-and-go at the neu­tral zone with Chimera to make it 3-1 in fa­vor of Washington. It marked Fehr’s first two-goal game of the sea­son. The added cush­ion al­lowed the Cap­i­tals’ fans in Heinz Field to drown out a sub­stan­tially larger Pitts­burgh con­tin­gent with their usual “C-AP-S, Caps, Caps, Caps” cheer as time wound down at the end of the con­test.

Washington is now 8-0-2 in the past 10 reg­u­lar sea­son con­tests against the Pen­guins.

JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Eric Fehr sends the puck into the back of the net past Pen­guins goalieMarc-An­dre Fleury for the game-win­ning goal Satur­day night. Fehr added a goal in the third pe­riod. Mike Knu­ble also scored for the Cap­i­tals.

PHO­TOS BY TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASHINGTON POST

Ja­son Chimera (25) cel­e­brates with Eric Fehr (16) af­ter Fehr's goal gave the Cap­i­tals a 2-1 lead at 14:45 of the sec­ond pe­riod. Fehr added an­other score at 11:59 of the third pe­riod, his sev­enth goal of the sea­son.

David Steckel of the Cap­i­tals and Sid­ney Crosby face off at the start of the Win­ter Clas­sic. Washington ral­lied af­ter al­low­ing the first goal.

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