It wasn’t everything the Caps wanted for Christmas, but it came pretty close.
The Washington Capitals lost in the shootout last night to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. Drama filled? This game had it in spades. You’d think a game like that would be a great centerpiece for a sports reality show or something… Maybe HBO Sports could get on that?
Despite the 3-2 loss, the Caps have a lot to be pleased about. Going into tonight, the Caps were on a two game win streak after a brutal eight game tailspin. The wins came against Ottawa and New Jersey, not exactly tough challenges for the Caps to overcome. Last night’s game against the rival Penguins was a true test of grit, and the Caps passed with flying colors. No fan should be hanging their head this Christmas.
“We’re back. We’re back to the style of hockey we can play,” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “That was one of the questions that [was] going around. Hopefully, we silenced a few of them. We had a low scoring game and we played solid for 60-minutes. It was a grade-A effort from our team. That’s what we like to see.”
Team captain Alexander Ovechkin agreed. “I think we played great. I think all four lines did [a] great job,” he replied. “We don’t make some mistakes, [we] finish checks, [we] getting [pucks] deep, we have lots of shots. I know [Marc-Andre] Fleury played unbelievable today. They are great players, [when] they have a chance they use it. We have to use our chances.”
Penguins center Sidney Crosby opened the scoring and extended his point streak to 23 games, redirecting a Kris Letang blast from the point behind goalie Michal Neuvirth. But the Penguins jump into the lead only seemed to fuel the jump in the Caps. In the first period, the Caps out shot the Penguins 12-6 (and 34-27 for the game) but couldn’t get anything past a hot Fleury.
In the second, however, defenseman Mike Green electrified the crowd with his sixth goal of the season, the result of a great give-n-go with Alexander Semin just as the Caps’ 5-on-3 expired. It was a great individual effort by Green and the defenseman put in one of his best games this season, netting the goal, eight hits, and five blocked shots during more than 34 minutes of ice time. “That was his best game in a long time,” agreed Boudreau. “He was good defensively and he jumped into the plays and made things happen offensively. I mean, did you see the look on his face after that goal? It was like the weight of the world came off his shoulders.”
Considering the early loss of defenseman Tom Poti after taking a stick to the head, the Caps’ blue liners put in some heavy ice time to stymie the Penguins’ talent. And it was good to see the offense put in some great defense as well, including new arrival Jay Beagle, who logged some time on the penalty kill. Beagle’s play was inspired, with a great performance in the second period, keeping the puck in the Penguin’s zone during a line change through some excellent stick handling.
Mike Knuble tied the game in the third, shoving a shot past Fleury during a Washington penalty kill. The goal nearly brought down the capacity-filled Verizon Center, which had been buzzing all night on fan-fueled adrenaline.
In overtime, play was briefly stopped as officials reviewed one of Fleury’s stops; as he spun on the ice after a Mike Green shot, part of his glove crossed the goal line. After review, there was no evidence the puck had crossed the line, though Boudreau was pretty sure it had. “Save for the fact that you can’t see through leather, we probably would have won the game,” he said.
The 4-on-4 overtime was a seesaw affair, with both goalies refusing to give and sending the game into a shootout. Even then, the drama continued, as the shootout stretched to seven rounds, finally ending as Pascal Dupuis wristed a shot past Neuvirth.
It was an ending to a game that lived up to the hype that had been built over the last month. “You talk about the hype and the buildup and the rivalry and the puck drops and it’s exactly what the buildup is,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “Sometimes [games like these] are overbuilt but this was a playoff type of game and the building [was] rocking.”
Both teams are currently being followed by HBO Sports, who have been making a reality show 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic. The first two episodes have already aired to great critical acclaim, and have only served to heighten the anticipation of these two games. With one now behind them – and certainly the centerpiece of the series’ third episode next week – only the Winter Classic remains before the Caps can get back to the business of preparing for the postseason another four months away.
But Boudreau isn’t looking that far ahead, not even to the big event on January 1. “We will take two days rest and then we’ve got a tough road – Carolina, Montreal and Pittsburgh. It’s not easy … this league is not easy.” He made it clear during the postgame press conference that the Caps are focusing on one game at a time. With a packed schedule before the Winter Classic, they need to in order to maintain their new-found momentum.
The Caps remain 7-0-2 in their last eight contests against the Penguins. No fan who witnessed the game last night should feel bad for the close loss. With all of the drama, intensity, and talent on full display last night, it was a game that everyone who enjoys hockey could appreciate. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement that rippled around the Verizon Center even an hour before the teams took to the ice for warmups. It could’ve easily been a playoff game last night, for all of the passion evident in the stands and on the ice.
“Everybody was into it. I think both teams wanted to win really hard,” said Boudreau.
Bylsma agreed. “You almost wish this one was the outdoor game. It is a prelude for sure, but every time these teams get together with these players there seems to be a clash of unique skill and talent and these teams going head-to-head. I expect we’ll something very similar on January 1.”
And so do we.
Missed the game? Check out my photos from last night.