As the Winter Classic got wetter and wetter, the NHL nearly experienced its first rain delay. The Washington Capitals weathered the conditions with a performance that proved they can handle a big-game setting, even one in the great outdoors.
Eric Fehr upstaged stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin by scoring twice and the Capitals waded through rain drops to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, in the NHL's first nighttime Winter Classic on Saturday night.
"It was raining pretty good out there," Fehr said. "But it was a perfect night."
Fehr gave Washington its first lead at 2-1 in the second period after Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury abandoned the net, then sealed it with a breakaway goal in the third. Mike Knuble also scored on a power play.
Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov, starting because of Michal Neuvirth's thigh injury, gave up Evgeni Malkin's goal in the second period but turned aside the other 32 shots.
"I can't imagine what football players [feel] playing like this," Ovechkin said. "It's unbelievable. It makes you want to do it all the time."
The game was originally scheduled for 1 p.m. before the NHL pushed back the start to 8 p.m. because of the rain threat. Neither team seemed to mind, and the Capitals -- led by an animated and motivated Ovechkin -- clearly enjoyed the prime-time stage. Even if it was a slick one.
And the Capitals, perennial playoff underachievers, showed they can handle the main stage for a change. While this was far from a playoff game, it's certainly the kind of win that can ignite a team that won the Presidents' Trophy last year as the regular-season's best squad, only to lose in the first round of the playoffs against Montreal.
"It was close to the Stanley Cup finals," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We don't deny it meant more than just two points. It was a fabulous game."
After a scoreless first period in which the two teams adjusted to playing outdoors at night -- many never had at any organized level -- and the choppy ice, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead. Malkin took Kris Letang's banked pass off the boards to beat Varlamov inside the near post at 2:15.
Malkin's 14th goal caused a never-before-seen sight at Heinz Field: fans in the crowd of 68,111 twirling Terrible Towels to salute a Penguins goal rather than a Steelers touchdown.
Pittsburgh couldn't maintain the momentum, though, as the Capitals held down NHL scoring leader Crosby, who went scoreless for a second successive game after posting at least one point in 25 consecutive games.
"You know they're not going to make those tic-tac-toe plays no matter how they good they are on this ice and in these conditions," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "So you can play it a little bit differently. You can really not worry about [Crosby] getting behind you and making a 40-foot pass tape-to-tape."
The Capitals, who lost at home to Pittsburgh, 3-2, in a shootout on Dec. 23, tied it about 4 1/2 minutes later when Knuble shoveled a shot past Fleury amid a tumble of bodies in the crease.
Fehr -- pronounced Fair -- gave Washington the lead at 14:45 of the second on a gift goal. Fleury went behind the net to play the puck, but Marcus Johansson beat him to it and fed it in front, where Fehr tipped it into an empty net.
The conditions may have been bad but, for the Capitals, it became a Fehr-weather game.
The teams changed ends halfway through the third period, to keep it fair for both squads.
"It was the same conditions for both teams," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "In every stoppage, we were in communication with both teams. And while not perfect, the puck was moving pretty well out there."
NHL report, standings on D13.