PITTSBURGH – Eric Fehr upstaged stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin by scoring twice and the Washington Capitals waded through rain drops to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in a wet Winter Classic on Saturday night.
It was the NHL’s first nighttime Winter Classic, and the first played in occasional rain, but the Capitals handled the elements – and a scoreless Crosby – just fine.
Fehr gave Washington its first lead at 2-1 in the second period after Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury abandoned the net, then sealed it with a breakaway goal in the third. Mike Knuble also scored.
“It was raining pretty good out there,” Fehr said. “But it was a perfect night.”
Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov, starting because of Michal Neuvirth’s thigh injury, gave up Evgeni Malkin’s goal in the second period but turned aside the other 32 shots.
The game was originally scheduled for 10 a.m. PST, before the NHL pushed back the start because of the rain threat. Neither team seemed to mind, and the Capitals – led by an animated and motivated Ovechkin – clearly enjoyed the prime-time stage.
“I can’t imagine what football players (feel) playing like this,” Ovechkin said. “It’s unbelievable. It makes you want to do it all the time.”
The Capitals, perennial playoff underachievers, warmed up to this big game.
“It was close to the Stanley Cup finals,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We don’t deny it meant more than just two points. It was a fabulous game.”
After a scoreless first period in which the two teams adjusted to playing outdoors at night – many never had at any organized level – and the choppy ice, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead. Malkin took Kris Letang’s banked pass off the boards to beat Varlamov inside the near post at 2:15.
Pittsburgh couldn’t maintain the momentum, as the Capitals held down Crosby, who went scoreless for a second successive game after posting at least one point in 25 consecutive games.
The Capitals tied it about 41/2 minutes later when Knuble shoveled a shot past Fleury amid a tumble of bodies in the crease.
Fehr gave Washington the lead at 14:45 of the second on a gift goal. Fleury went behind the net to play the puck, but Marcus Johansson beat him to it and fed it in front, where Fehr tipped it into an empty net.
As a steady rain fell during the third, Fehr put it away with 8 minutes remaining by racing to Jason Chimera’s up-ice pass and, a step ahead of defenseman Paul Martin, beating Fleury cleanly with a hard wrist shot from between the circles for his seventh goal.
The teams changed ends halfway through the third period, to keep it fair for both squads amid the poor conditions.
“It was the same conditions for both teams,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.