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The Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks put the "classic" in the 2015 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic with a game that had just about everything. Goals from grinders and stars, top-notch goaltending, gritty work on the wall, and a thrilling ending. A power play goal by Troy Brouwer with just 12.9 seconds left in the game gave the Capitals a 3-2 win in a game that will have Caps fans -- if not hockey fans -- talking for quite some time to come.
Plus: Everything. It was a picture-perfect setting, from the clear skies to the march of the teams down the Reflecting Pool, to the National Anthem, F-16 fly-over, the game itself and its thrilling ending. The league and the Capitals did themselves proud, as did the players, who played what was, at least from our admittedly biased eyes, the best game of the Winter Classic series thus far from a hockey standpoint. And for that, much credit goes to Dan Craig and his excellent crew, who managed to put together an ice surface that did credit to the game and its players.
Minus: Nothing. Not one blessed thing. This is what the Winter Classic was created for (maybe even if you are a Blackhawks fan today).
Ten more (ok, maybe a few more) notes on the game:
- With his first period goal to open the scoring, Eric Fehr became the all-time leader in goals scored in the Winter Classic. His third career goal in the great outdoors broke a tie with Detroit's Jiri Hudler (two goals scored in the Red Wing's 6-4 win over Chicago in the 2009 Winter Classic) and the New York Rangers' Mike Rupp (two goals in the Rangers' 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Classic).
- The Capitals became the first team to win two Winter Classic games (2-0-0), having defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, in the 2011 Classic.
- Ovechkin hit the pipe twice in 43 seconds early in the second period that might have put the Blackhawks in a deep hole had either of them ricocheted in, instead of out. It became more important when the Blackhawks tied the game less than two minutes later.
- The Caps allowed no shots on goal in 1:31 of a 5-on-3 Chicago power play midway in the second period. It was the high point in recent penalty killing in which there has been far too much of it for the Caps.
- Braden Holtby has been playing very well of late, but he could have used a little luck in this game. Patrick Sharp's power play goal to get the Hawks on the board looked like one of those shots that went from sunlight to shadow and was hard to track. On the second goal, John Carlson made a weak effort to send the puck off the end boards, but it looked as if it hit a dead spot, too, giving the Hawks the chance to pounce on it and covert a pretty play.
- You knew the Blackhawks would make a push when the Caps went out to a 2-0 lead. They are a team that does not panic, they just play their game. And they did. But perhaps the Caps are developing some of that can-do attitude, too, because when the Blackhawks made their push, then had the benefit of a series of power plays, the Capitals dug in and stood up. It is not a quality that has been seen in these parts over the last decade or so. And, while a lot of that credit might go to head coach Barry Trotz, give a measure of it to the players as well, who might finally be maturing into the sort of team we hoped we would see.
- This was just the second time in seven games that the home team won the Classic. It broke a three-game road team winning streak dating back to the 2010 Classic in which the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins, 2-1, in overtime.
- Things happen when Alex Ovechkin is on the ice. One the game's climactic play, his stick was slashed out of his hands by Brandon Saad, but Troy Brouwer bore down, collected the puck and rifled a snap shot over goalie Corey Crawford's right pad.
- Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts, four of them on goal, and a goal to show for it. It was the shot attempt he never got off, though, that led to the game-winning goal.
- Mike Green is quietly putting together a quietly excellent season. He had two assists in this game, and chance are you barely heard his name called. He is now in the top-20 in assists (16) among defensemen, despite playing in only 29 games.
- Despite a knee injury that made his participation a game-time decision, Brooks Orpik skated 24:44 minutes. Only Chicago's Duncan Keith had more ice time (26:50).
- This was the fifth time this season in 23 appearances that Corey Crawford faced more than 30 shots, but the first time he faced 30-plus shots in consecutive games. He allowed four goals on 40 shots in a win over the Nashville Predators in the Blackhawks' last game of 2014 before allowing three on 35 shots in this one.
- Score first, win. Eric Fehr's first period goal was a harbinger of sorts. The Caps now have more wins (18) when scoring first than any team in the league and have the second best winning percentage (.857/18-2-2; behind only Montreal: 1.000/14-0-0).
- So that we do not forget, this was a league game that counts in the regular season standings. The win vaulted the Caps over the New York Rangers into third place in the Metropolitan Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference. They are just four points behind the Detroit Red Wings for fifth in the conference with a game in hand.
- Braden Holtby in a post-game interview with NHLN... "If that doesn't want to make you watch hockey, nothing will." Amen.
And now, this...