After 60 minutes of hockey, an additional overtime period, and seven rounds of a closely knotted shootout, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis silenced the Verizon Center when he sliced the puck past Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth into the net to defeat the Caps 3-2 Thursday night in a prelude of things to come on New Year’s Day at the Winter Classic.
One of the most hyped games in the NHL so far this season lived up to the excitement within the first fifty seconds when Alex Ovechkin laid a crushing hit on Evgeni Malkin and set the tone for the rough, hard hitting contest.
Following the hit, it took just one shot and three minutes for Sidney Crosby to extend his scoring streak to 23 consecutive games when the Caps defense left him untouched on the post. He capitalized immediately and scored a tip-in off a pass from Kris Letang to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
Instead of crumbling after the Penguins goal like the Caps have done throughout their struggles in December, Washington fought back forcing back-to-back Penguin penalties and earned a five-on-three advantage.
Washington capitalized on the power play when Mike Green scored on a wrister ending his 14-game scoring drought and evening things up at 1-1.
“I thought it was his best game in a long time,” Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Green’s play. “He played good defensively and yet he jumped into the play to make things happen offensively. You could see when he scored – it was like the weight of the world came off his shoulders.”
Green’s goal ended a streak of seven straight games in which the Caps top offensive players – Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstron, Alexander Semin, and Green – have been held scoreless, but it wouldn’t be enough.
Less than 17 seconds into the third period, the Penguins struck again, giving them back the advantage at 2-1.
In a game that featured an unusually high number of penalties for both teams, the Penguins earned a power play with six minutes to go in the game, but it would be the Caps who would take advantage.
Mike Knuble scored a shorthanded goal off a perfectly executed pass from Brooks Laich to tie the game 2-2.
In the overtime period, it seemed like Green had struck again. He shot the puck only to have it be trapped under Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove. Replay revealed that they could not tell whether the puck crossed the line and the call of no-goal was upheld.
“You can’t see through leather,” Boudreau said. “Otherwise we probably would have won on that.”
But it was not a goal and the Caps fell to the Penguins in the duos first matchup this season in a shootout.
Despite the Caps shortcomings this month, which included an eight game losing streak, Washington looked much improved tonight.
“I thought we played well,” said Green. “We haven’t been playing 60-minutes for a while here, and I thought we did that. We competed, we never gave up, and when we needed a goal, we found a way to get it and come back. That just goes to show the character.”
The Caps went five-for-five on the penalty kill, and scored their first power play goal since December 11. However, Washington will need to find a way to shut-down Crosby in future match-ups.
The two will meet again in the highly anticipated Winter Classic in less than a week, and then again two more times this season, in what is sure to bring some more hard-hitting action.
“I think the team was very good,” Boudreau said. “They lived up to the hype of everything that’s been going on… It was two really good teams going at it.”