Caps 3, Penguins 1
Maybe the conditions were less than ideal. Maybe that hampered the elite talent on the ice at Heinz Field on Saturday night. But it’s hard to call this Winter Classic anything but a success – especially for the Caps, who leave town with a 3-1 victory and a lifetime of memories. Check out the details in our game story here.
A crowd of 68,111 included thousands of Caps fans who made the trip and made their presence felt. After Eric Fehr’s second goal put them up 3-1 – an almost insurmountable lead given the ice conditions – it was likely the only time in franchise history they made a Pittsburgh venue seem like a northern outpost of D.C. It was long time coming for a team that has suffered at the hands of its rival. There was a Stanley Cup win in 1994 in the first round – one that didn’t lead to anything beyond that – and the overtime win in Game 6 of the first-round series in 2009. That led to a blowout loss at home in Game 7. That’s pretty much the list. But you can add this sweet victory to it.
“We've done well against them in the regular season even the last couple of years since I've been here,” said Washington forward Mike Knuble. “It's not a Game 7 tonight. I don’t know if you prove anything. But I think we can come away just being really happy with the way we played and know that we’re making progress as a group and that we're on the right track as far as being the top team in the [Eastern Conference] again.”
Credit Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov, who mixed a good bit of skill and luck to stop 32 of 33 shots. That wasn’t easy with the steady rain pouring down, obscuring Penguins and pucks alike. Not that Marc-Andre Fleury had it any easier on the other side. He stopped 29 of 32, including an early breakaway by Alex Ovechkin. But Varlamov proved better on this night.
“It was pretty tough to keep concentration, to keep focused because of the water,” Varlamov said in Russian through a translator. “And sometimes when they shoot the puck it was coming again with water and it was very tough to deal with it.”
But he figured it out, keeping things simple unlike Fleury, a Stanley-Cup winning goalie who at least on this night roamed too far from his crease for his own good. For the Caps it was another good sign as Varlamov and fellow goalie Michal Neuvirth fight for playing time.
“It shows that [Varlamov] can play in pressure situations," said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. "And he sort of just took it mentally on him that he wasn’t going to allow anything. He’s in a pretty good zone right now shutting out Montreal the last game.”
Said before the game it was going to be a grinder’s night. So it was that the Caps’ third line had a great night. Eric Fehr – a healthy scratch on more than one occasion this season – had two goals. Marcus Johansson had the first assist, pressuring Fleury and taking advantage of a turnover. And a stretch pass from Jason Chimera sent Fehr away for his second goal in the third period. In those conditions they were needed. Mike Knuble standing in front of the net for what seemed like two minutes didn’t hurt, either. That gave the Caps a big win over their bitter rival.
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