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Winter Classic Analysis: Special Scene and Game for All Parties Involved

The 2011 Winter Classic is in the books and it was the most fascinating Winter Classic thus far due to the hype surrounding the Penguins – Capitals rivalry and of course the weather conditions.
In heavy rains during the third period, the Capitals topped the Penguins 3-1 in a grind it out kind of win, behind two goals from Eric Fehr and a strong performance from goaltender Semyon Varlamov who turned aside 32 of 33 shots in leading the Capitals to 3-1 victory in front of 68,111 fans at Heinz Field.
The Capitals mindset has changed to being a more balanced team with a focus on having to win games with a grinders mentality and while the change was a struggle for the Capitals in the month of December, the Capitals are starting to learn they can win this way and on Saturday night, the Capitals not the Penguins got to their game.
“We thought it was just going to be a grind-it-out game because after we were on the ice yesterday, it didn’t look like the ice conditions would be great,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We knew the fancy tic-tac-toe stuff wasn’t going to work. We knew we had to dump it in, and we had to win the game below the circles.”
Pittsburgh struck first on an Evgeni Malkin (14) breakaway goal just 2:13 into the second period to give Pittsburgh a roaring 1-0 lead but the Penguins were unable to gain any momentum off that goal.
The Capitals played the type of game you have to in the kind of conditions both teams had to deal with. The Capitals focused on getting the puck in deep and beating Pittsburgh on the forecheck and getting pucks to the net with traffic in front.
The strategy worked, and the Capitals scored twice with “those” type of goals from Mike Knuble and Fehr in the second period, with Fehr’s goal at the 14:45 mark, coming off Marc Andre Fleury misplaying the puck behind the net.
Fleury’s misplay of the puck on Fehr’s goal was a crucial play in the game.
The Capitals going into the third period with a 2-1 lead was pivotal as the conditions worsened in the third, which wasn’t a positive for the Penguins by any means.
“It rained a little harder than we wanted it to in the third period there,” Capitals winger Jason Chimera said….. “It was probably worse for the Penguins because they were trying to come back after we got the lead . I think it’s harder to push and come back when the puck’s bouncing that much.”
“Well, the puck was bouncing there quite a bit,” winger Pascal Dupuis said. “Obviously the puck’s bouncing and you’re trying to look at it so that it doesn’t bounce over your blade, and as soon as you look up, there’s a guy coming. — They just took care of a couple breakdowns that we had.”
Fehr then closed out the game with a breakaway goal with just 8:01 to play as Paul Martin got caught pinching, giving Fehr a free lane to net and beating Fleury to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead.
Emotions heated up in the final seconds of the game as a scrum broke out with 0.06 seconds remaining.
Chris Kunitz and Alexander Ovechkin nearly fought and head coach Dan Bylsma sent Deryk Engelland onto to the ice for the final faceoff to stir things up.
The teams were then suppose to shake hands afterwards but the Penguins opted not too, but the Capitals couldn’t blame them.
“I think we were supposed to shake hands at the end and they didn’t want to shake hands, but I don’t think we would have wanted to shake hands either if we had lost, “Chimera said. “There was hitting–good goals and good saves. It was a fun night to be in hockey.”
By no means was it a perfectly played hockey game due to the conditions and ice. Neither was it a great viewing scene from a fans standpoint in wanting to watch the play develop as many of the seats are too far away and even in the lower bowl, plenty of seats in the first 10-15 rows and possibly even farther back are constricted because they are too low.
However, Saturday night was a spectacle scene being played under the lights at Heinz Field and in the rain. An NHL game played under the lights and in the rain, sometimes heavy at times may never happen again. People saw history last night.
For the players, coaches and all parties involved, it was also a phenomenal experience.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life, ” Alex Ovechkin said. “I can’t imagine football players play every game like this. It’s unbelievable……. It’s the kind of thing you want to do all the time and go out and play like this.”
“It was more than just a game to everybody,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Don’t let anybody fool you…. It was a game that we wanted to show people that had never played hockey or watched hockey how good it can be, how exciting it can be. The passion on the guys faces when they scored a goal was totally genuine. I thought it was a real good game for the growth of the game and I hope it does grow because of it.
Despite the rain and warmer than usual temperatures, this was a much more entertaining game than the Penguins – Sabres game on January 1, 2008, when there was so much snow on the ice, the players could barely stick handle and move the puck.
For the Capitals, this win meant a lot for them and to be honest, it felt coming in that this game meant more for them than the Penguins. An example is how they went through a much more serious practice on Friday than the Penguins who tried to put a scene on for the fans.
Boudreau said in his post-game comments that this is as close as the Stanley Cup for his hockey club
“This is as close to the Stanley Cup as we’ve gotten and we’re not denying that it was more than just two points…. It was a fabulous game, ” Boudreau said.
Even on the losing side, it was also a special experience for the Penguins.
“The most disappointing part of the day and the event is that we come out not winning the game because it was a magnificent couple of days,” Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. “The experience for me and the guys coming out on the field with the fans and the game— I’ve talked to a handful now after the game and you can’t rate it with any other experience they’ve had.”
Crosby said playing under the lights in front of so many fans is something that none of the players probably could have dreamed about.
“It’s pretty easy to see why you see those guys pumped up every week,” he said. “Coming down the tunnel, it’s a pretty amazing feeling. And, playing hockey in front of that many people, it’s something that probably none of us ever dreamed of doing.”
For both teams, it’s now back to normalcy with the HBO camera’s going away and the Winter Classic now over. However, the Penguins really seemed to embrace the HBO cameras and Dan Bylsma said he will miss them.
“We’re going to miss them,” Bylsma said. “I guess I’ll be all right with not having a mic pasted right here all day every day.”
As the first half of the season is inching closer to an end, as expected, the Penguins {25-12-3, 53pts) and Capitals {23-12-5, 51pts) are at or near the top of Eastern Conference.

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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