A Game that Actually Lived Up to the Hype

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 24, 2010 | , , , | 1 comments »

“You talk about the hype and the buildup and the rivalry, and the puck drops and it’s exactly what the buildup is. Sometimes these are overbuilt but this was a playoff type of game and the building [was] rocking.” -- Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma


Very rarely do big events in sports -- or in real life for that matter -- actually live up to all the hype. 

With all the associated hype and expectation surrounding the rivalry between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, from Thursday night's prelude to HBO's revealing 24/7 program to the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, it would have been easy for this game to disappoint -- to not live up to the expectations.

But it did.  And so much more.

The only disappointment was in the final score if you were wearing red.

The final will read 3-2 Penguins after a seven-round shootout, but the score doesn't even begin to tell the story.

This was an epic battle of wills:  special teams engaged all night long, big hits doled out from the very first shift in the game through overtime, ridiculous goaltending on both sides, players fighting through -- and some succumbing to -- pain and injury.

It had a blocked penalty shot, and even had a puck pulled off the goal line in overtime, hidden in a catching glove, that may have actually been over the line -- if you could see through leather.

And of course, 60 minutes wouldn't be enough to decide it.  No, not even 65 minutes would suffice.  This game had to go to the shootout, the least-satisfying ending for an instant regular season classic.

The superstars made their presence known.  Alex Ovechkin laid out countryman Evgeni Malkin on the first shift of the game, assisted on Mike Green's five-on-three power play goal, and scored as the first skater in the shootout.  Sidney Crosby perfectly deflected a Kris Letang slapshot past Michael Neuvirth for Pittsburgh's first goal and assisted on Chris Kunitz' go-ahead marker in the third period.

The Caps were awarded five of the game's first six power plays and finally scored on the final one.  The Penguins got the last four and were shut out on all five that they had on the night.

The tying goal came with the Capitals killing the final of three third period calls, with Brooks Laich making a tremendous play on the puck, then sliding it over to venerable veteran Mike Knuble who backhanded it through the five-hole.

Both goalies were their team's best player.  Neuvirth stopped 25 of 27 shots faced.  His counterpart, Marc-Andre Fleury, was even better, saving 32 of 34 shots.  Fleury's covering of Green's attempt mid-way through overtime was probably the play of the game.

The Verizon Center faithful were in full voice, and from the moment of player introductions, the place certainly had a playoff vibe.  And the players rose to the occasion.  It was a tense, tight-checking dramatic game that ultimately counted no more in the standings than any other -- including next Saturday's Winter Classic -- but it certainly delivered all that was asked of it, and more.

All the build-up, anticipation and hype for the New Year's Day game will be tough to match.  But the Caps and Pens proved Thursday night they are up to the task.  Hockey fans will be the beneficiaries.

And HBO got themselves a hell of a program for next Wednesday's episode of 24/7.

POST GAME QUOTES

Sidney Crosby, on the effect of the Winter Classic on the rivalry:  “I think it brings out the best in everyone so that’s a good thing and that’s how it should be… It seems like both teams bring out the best in one another. They’re very competitive and it’s developed into a rivalry and every year it seems like it’s getting bigger and bigger with history in the playoffs and games like this every year . It’s hard for it to not gain intensity.”

Mike Green, on the effort from the Capitals:  “I thought we played well. 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.”

Mike Green, on losing in a shootout:  "It's tough to lose that way.  Especially after the game we had and how we battled back.  It's tough.  We'll get over it."

Green, whether he thought he beat Fleury in overtime:  "100 percent.  I won't be able to sleep."

Green, on the atmosphere:  "It felt like a playoff game, again.  I think that's why our spirit was up, our energy was up.  The fans bring a lot of energy and it [helps] us to play better.  I wish it was like that every night."

Alex Ovechkin, praising the level of play from both sides:  “I think we played great. I think all four lines did great job. We don’t make some mistakes, finish checks, getting [pucks] deep, we have lots of shots. I know Fleury played unbelievable today. They are great players, [when] they have a chance they use it. We have to use our chances.”

Mike Knuble, on the atmosphere:  "Players just kinda played it like a normal, 82-game schedule.  I think the crowd wanted to see a Game Seven.  But the players, we played a pretty even game."

Knuble, whether the result was a disappointment:  "It was a good hockey game, went to a shootout.  I guess that what it was tonight, a close game."

Bruce Boudreau, on the result itself:  "I think it was two really good teams going at it and we lost the skills competition."

Boudreau, on Green:  "I thought it was his best game in a long time.  He played good defensively and yet he jumped into the play and made things happen offensively.  You could see his reaction when he scored, like the weight of the world came off his shoulders and he looked like a different guy after that."

GAME NOTES

D Tom Poti left the game after just five shifts, 3:34 of ice time.  He took a stick to the head or face, was briefly attended to on the bench, and retreated to the trainers room.  Boudreau listed him as day-to-day, but also confessed to not knowing how bad Poti was injured.

The Caps were credited with more hits on the scoresheet, but it seemed like the Penguins were really taking the body, especially early and especially against Mike Green.  Green was targeted on several occasions, and took a big hit early along the boards that left him a bit stunned.  Green was credited with eight hits on the night, leading the Capitals.

Ovechkin has five shots on goal with another five blocked and three missed.  He was credited with five total hits.

Mathieu Perreault took two minor penalties in the third period, one for holding Kris Letang as he was falling to the ice, another for hooking at center ice.

Defenseman Mike Green scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the second period. Green, who ended a 14-game goalless drought, has scored four of his six goals this season on the man advantage. Green registered a season-high 34:03 of ice time, eight hits, six shots and five blocked shots.

AND WE'LL LEAVE YOU WITH THIS

Photo D.Nichols/Caps News Network

1 comments

  1. Anonymous // December 24, 2010 at 9:43 AM  

    Ovie did not assist on Green's goal. Semin had the primary and Backs the secondary.