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The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins was over seven months in the making. But thanks to Eric Fehr, the Caps will remember it for much longer than that.
Fehr scored two goals to lift the Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the Penguins in front of over 68,000 people at Heinz Field.
The action on the ice could not have been more intense or emotional. After a scoreless first period, punctuated by a fight between heavyweights John Erskine and Mike Rupp, the offensive juggernauts made their presence felt. Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring at 2:13 when Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang sprang him for a breakaway that he slid past Semyon Varlamov. It would be the only blemish for Varlamov, who made 32 saves.
Less than five minutes later, Mike Knuble tied the game on the Capitals' second power play of the night. A missed shot by Mike Green led to a scrum in the crease. Knuble found the loose puck in front and poked it in for his ninth goal of the season.
Fehr would extend the lead at 14:45 on a miscue by Fleury, who went behind the net to handle the puck, but lost control. Marcus Johansson would corral the puck and fire it to Fehr, who was wide open in front.
A back-and-forth third period led to many chances by both teams; the Caps and Pens combined for 13 shots on goal, but only one would count. Erskine would gain control of the puck behind the net and send a pass towards Fehr. Fehr touch-passed it to Jason Chimera, who sent it right back to Fehr. This led to a breakway opportunity that gave Fehr enough room to snap a top-shelf wrist shot over Fleury's glove to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead with eight minutes left.
The Penguins would pull the goalie with about a minute left, but could not score. After a team-wide shoving match took place with 0.6 seconds left, the Capitals lept into Varlamov's arms as they celebrated their huge victory.
If there is any event that could possibly rival the spectacle of the Winter Classic, it's Super Bowl Sunday, the day that these two teams will meet again.
After a first period in which the Capitals and Penguins were feeling each other out, the second period provided plenty of action, with both sides flexing their muscle. After the dust settled, it is Washington who goes into the locker room with a 2-1 advantage after two periods.
The period began with Alex Ovechkin getting a handful of scoring chances that he could not take advantage of. Ovechkin's best chance was on a breakaway on Pittsburgh goal tender Marc-Andre Fleury, one where Fleury just got a peice of the puck to spare his team of the early deficit.
Not only did Fleury fight off the Capitals early scoring opportunities, he was able to spark Pittsburgh's first goal. After another Ovechkin near-miss, Fleury found center Evgeni Malkin who was all alone for the breakaway on Washington goal tender Semyon Varlamov, who was unable to stop Malkin from giving his team the early one goal lead. Pittsburgh drew first blood as Malkin was able to beat Semyon on the wrister, giving the Pens the early advantage.
But Washington quickly answered their bitter rivals. After a holding penalty on Pittsburgh center Maxime Talbot, the Caps were finally able to cash in on a power play chance. Mike Green set up near the net but fell during a shot attempt. Fortunately for the Caps, Fleury was unable to secure the loose puck, Nicklas Backstrom tried his luck with a tip in, but was unsuccessful. Finally, Mike Knuble was able to battle through the ensuing scrum and got it past Fleury, tying the game at 1 goal a piece.
And while the action certainly picked up during this period, there were some moments where the elements really took their toll on the game. The prime example would be on Jason Chimera's wrap around attempt, where it looked like he was unable to get around the net as fast as he would have liked, which gave Fleury an easier opportunity to get the save on what would have been an easy goal.
But the Caps were able to atone from Chimera's near goal shortly thereafter. After a misplay by Fleury, Marcus Johansson was able to pick off the pass and find Eric Fehr in front of the net, who scored on a snap shot, giving the Caps the 2-1 lead, Washington's first of the game.
But that lead looked like it would be brief in the waning moments of the period. The scare came when Pittsburgh defenseman Craig Adams appeared to tie the game, but the goal was disallowed as Michael Rupp was called for running into Varlamov.
And with that, the Caps left the ice with a 2-1 lead after two.
With unmatched atmosphere and energy at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the 2011 NHL Winter Classic is underway.
The game got off to a bit of a sloppy start as the Capitals and Penguins were feeling each other out and getting used to the unique conditions. Wet ice certainly could have been an attributing factor as the two teams played a scoreless first period.
The Capitals had the better of chances in the opening minutes, with a shot by Mike Green missing the target and Marc-Andre Fleury blocking a quality attempt from Mathieu Perreault. Washington also earned the first power play of the game with just 4:40 off the clock, but the team could not capitalize. The best chance of the opening minutes though came off a Pittsburgh mistake. David Steckel stole the bouncing puck away from a Penguins defender and tipped it to Jay Beagle. The young forward had an open look at the goal, but could not get the puck up enough to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins earned their first power play of the night shortly thereafter as Mike Green had to grab a hold of Sidney Crosby from behind to stop the Pittsburgh star from being in on goal. The Capitals killed off the penalty though, neutralizing the threat.
The game got a bit chippy after that, eclipsing with a fight between John Erskine and Michael Rupp, but also containing several big hits. John Carlson and Mark Letestu each struck the post for their respective teams and Pittsburgh leads 16-12 in shots, but neither team could score in the first 20 minutes of action.
NHL Comissioner Gary Bettman announced the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in May. In September, the NHL officially partnered with HBO to bring the road to the outdoor game to television sets. The miniseries, "24/7," premiered in mid-December, about a week before the Caps and Pens met for the first time.
The preparation and hype is over.
The Capitals and Penguins will face off Saturday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in the 2011 Winter Classic.
Inclement weather postponed the start of the game from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. Weather forecasts predict rain throughout the afternoon hours in Pittsburgh, but the rain should subside by the late afternoon. None of the previous Classics, held in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston, were delayed in any way.
Regardless, the Winter Classic match-up between the teams comes just one week after their first meeting of the season, a 3-2 shootout win for the Penguins. Pascal Dupuis scored in the seventh round of the shootout to left the Penguins to victory.
Pittsburgh enters Saturday's game having won 16 of 20, including a 12-game winning streak that has propelled them to the top of the NHL standings. Sidney Crosby's 25-game point streak, tied for 11th-longest in league history, was snapped Wednesday in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.
Meanwhile, the Capitals are just four points behind the Penguins in the standings despite their sub-.500 December, their first losing month in over two years. Since snapping their skid, the Caps are 4-0-1 with the one loss coming by the hands of the Penguins. Alex Ovechkin has scored in back-to-back games for the first time since December 4-6.
The rivalry between the two teams has a rich history, long before Crosby and Ovechkin entered the league. The Penguins and Capitals have met in the playoffs eight times with Pittsburgh prevailing in all but one of the series. Coincidentally, three of the teams' combined five Stanley Cup Finals appearances have come in years where they have met in the postseason.
The Washington Capitals have alternated between healthy goaltenders all season. Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have each had moments of brilliance in 2010, but neither has been able to establish a firm grip on the permanent starting role. Instead, Bruce Boudreau has been tending to go with whichever of his young goaltenders has the hotter hand at the moment.
It appears that will be the case as well for Saturday's Winter Classic. Boudreau has been expectedly tight-lipped about who his starter will be, but Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post has learned that Varlamov will get the start in net.
Varlamov is coming off a 3-0 shutout victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, his second of the season. Varlamov's 6-4-1 record might not be as shiny as Neuvirth's 14-6-3, but Varlamov has the edge in goals against average, and now has one more shutout than the rookie.
Boudreau is putting his confidence in Varlamov in the most important regular season game of the year. If his choice pays off, Varlamov could take advantage and use the opportunity to prove that he should be the starter for the duration.
After all of the speculation, the Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will be played under the bright lights of Heinz Field several hours later than scheduled.
The NHL has officially announced that the Winter Classic will now start at 8 p.m. Eastern time instead of its regularly scheduled time of 1 p.m. due to the expectation of inclement weather in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon.
NHL officials consulted with the Penguins, Capitals, the national broadcast partners (NBC, CBC, RDS), the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NHL Players' Association and city officials when deciding to postpone the game. The weather forecast suggests that the rain that will dampen Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon will taper off by evening hours, allowing for the game to be played.
For those attending the game, the NHL has released an updated schedule of events.
Gates to Heinz Field will now open at 5:30 p.m. (ET)
Pre-game entertainment now begins at 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Heinz Field Parking Lots will now open at 2:30 p.m. (ET)
Spectator Plaza will now open at 3 p.m. (ET)
Don't fret though, because NBC plans to fill the time slot that the Winter Classic was supposed to fill with interviews and taped coverage of previous Classic games.
The weather forecast for Saturday in Pittsburgh for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic has been a hot issue for weeks now. With the game less than 24 hours from now, it looks like the NHL might actually push the game back.
Via Washington Post's Katie Carrera, the game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will likely be pushed back to avoid inclement weather.
According to the Weather Channel, there is an 80% chance of rain in Pittsburgh Saturday. Carrera also reports that 0.5" of rain will fall between Saturday morning and afternoon, with 80% of it coming before 1 p.m. If the game is pushed back, it will probably be played in prime time, around 8 p.m. The NHL is reportedly waiting to receive one more weather report before making an official announcement around 5 p.m. Eastern time.
If the game can't be played Saturday, the NHL has rented Heinz Field through Sunday and could play the game then. While unlikely, if the game can't be played this weekend at all, it will be rescheduled as a game at Consol Energy Center later this season.
The Washington Capitals are just three days away from taking the ice at Heinz Field for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. To prepare for the elements (despite the warm and sunny conditions Wednesday), the Caps practiced outdoors at the Chevy Chase Club.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau held a normal practice filled with drills that lasted for about an hour. Saturday's forecast in Pittsburgh calls for overcast skies and a chance of rain, but the players took the opportunity to get used to the sun and wind.
Some Caps experimented with eye black. Via Washington Post, Matt Hendricks and John Carlson wore thick triangles under their eyes, while Alex Ovechkin gave himself a moustache by smearing eye black across his upper lip.
Many of the previously-injured Capitals took part in practice, which will make formulating a lineup a difficult task for Boudreau. All eight defensemen were on the ice, while Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, who missed Tuesday's game against the Montreal Canadiens, are ready to play.
The Capitals will hold a normal practice at Ketter Capitals Iceplex Thursday before flying to Pittsburgh. They will practice outside again Friday at Heinz Field.
(Thanks to Washington Post's AJ Chavar for the video).
With rain and warm temperatures in the cards in Pittsburgh on New Year's Day, the 2011 NHL Winter Classic is in a bit of jeopardy. Yesterday, NHL officials said the January 1 game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals could be postponed to 8 p.m. that night or early the next day if the rain is too much of a problem, and imitated that if it's really bad, it could cancel the entire event.
However, despite this, NHL officials are optimistic the game will go on. Via Katie Carrera of the Washington Post:
"We will do everything humanly possible to play this game on Saturday," NHL executive vice president of events Don Renzulli said, adding that weather concerns have been an issue leading up to each of the three previous Winter Classics.
As of right now, temperatures are expected to be in the mid 40s with a very good chance of rain. The warm temperatures aren't an issue because the refrigeration trailer keeps the ice cold no matter what. Rain, however, is problematic because it creates puddles that freeze and make the playing surface uneven, not to mention that it makes it impossible for players to see.
This isn't a new problem for the NHL. In the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008, there had to be frequent stoppages to clear away ice created by the rain.
As the East Coast recovers from a massive snowstorm, the prospect of warmer weather has provided some hope that the remaining snow and ice will melt. But that same warm weather could bring rain, which is what the forecast calls for in Pittsburgh on Saturday for the Winter Classic.
Via Weather Channel, the forecast for Saturday calls for temperatures in the mid-40s and a 50% chance of rain. Via SB Nation Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the NHL has a plan in case the weather is unsuitable for the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins to play through.
An NHL official confirmed today that a "long window" exists to play the outdoor game Saturday between the Penguins and Washington Capitals, scheduled to start at 1 p.m.
If the game cannot be played Saturday the league has reserved Heinz Field for Sunday and will attempt to play the game then, NHL vice president of player development/event communications Jamey Horan said in an email.
But that just covers Saturday, so what happens if the game can't be played Sunday?
If the game cannot be played Saturday or Sunday it will be rescheduled for a date later in the season, and the game will be held at Consol Energy Center.
Playing a game at Consol Energy Center would sort of defeat the purpose and spectacle that is the Winter Classic. For what it's worth, the Sunday forecast has a 30% chance of percipitation, but it could be a mix of rain and snow. Hopefully, none of this will be necessary and the Caps and Pens will play on Saturday at 1 p.m. as expected.
If Saturday's game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins didn't get you excited enough, the Winter Classic is just one week away. Rink building has started at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and has continued through the week. A live webcam has been set up to document the rink building, but if you'd rather see the set up in fast motion or are starved for time, here is a time lapse video from December 24. While the actual rink is being built, a second NHL-sized rink has been built next to Heinz Field and is open to the public.
The alumni game between Caps and Pens legends will take place December 31 before the actual Winter Classic showdown January 1 at 1 p.m.
The stage has been set for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. HBO's "24/7" series premiered last week and the two teams will meet for the first time Thursday at Verizon Center. But back in Pittsburgh, the stage will start being set for the outdoor spectacle.
Via Associated Press, the process to set up the rink will start Thursday within an hour after the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. The rink will be put down shortly after the game, then a refrigeration trailer will brought in Friday. The ice making will begin late Christmas Day.
The rink will be complete by December 28, three days before the Caps and Penguins will practice at Heinz Field. The alumni game between the teams' former greats will also take place on December 31.
Get your fuzzy hats, down jackets and hot chocolate ready.