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Penguins-Capitals Winter Classic preview lives up to hype; Pittsburgh squeaks out 3-2 shootout win

Whenever people gripe about the hype heaped upon Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, I tend to half-agree. I think of it in the same way as a family would divvy up slices of pizza; Crosby and Ovechkin get too many pieces, but they still deserve the biggest ones because they deliver more often than not.*

The Pittsburgh Penguins came into this game with people expecting them to win, but they played against the Florida Panthers last night and were visiting a rested Washington Capitals team in this one.

While the Capitals dominated quite a few stretches of play, Marc-Andre Fleury and Crosby stood tall to help the Penguins earn a hard-fought shootout win.

Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2 (SO)

Crosby factored in both of the Penguins’ regulation goals, scoring the game’s first goal and then creating enough havoc to allow Chris Kunitz to score a 2-1 tally. Crosby extended his points streak to 23 games with that goal and assist, giving him the longest streak since Mats Sundin scored in 30 straight games during the 1992-93 season. That gives Crosby the longest post-lockout scoring streak, with 23 goals and 22 assists for 45 points in that span.

Sid was far from the only star to shine in this game, though. Convenient scapegoat/explosive offensive defenseman Mike Green was outstanding, as you can see from this tweet by Corey Masisak.

Mike Green ends up with 34:03 of ice time. Goal, six shots, eight hits, 5 blocked shots. Felt like he was hit 34 times. What an effort.

That’s quite the stat line for the brave souls who choose to give their Norris Trophy votes to Green (and not just because he tends to lead the NHL in scoring among defensemen).

Fleury is playing his best hockey since the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup run (he actually was average at best during many games in their Cup winning summer a year later), as he was the reason the team managed to get to the shootout in the first place. He made 32 saves overall and only allowed one goal through the first two periods despite the fact that Washington out-shot Pittsburgh 25-12 in that span. He also made a controversial stop in overtime, as it was unclear if Green scored an overtime winner because Fleury’s glove covered up a puck that may or may not have crossed the red line.

The Capitals kept applying pressure in the game, coming back from a 1-0 deficit with a Green goal and a 2-1 Penguins lead thanks to a sharp shorthanded goal by Mike Knuble, but couldn’t land a knockout blow because Fleury was on fire.

The game was hard hitting, competitive and about as captivating as any hockey fan could ask for. While it was disappointing that the contest ended in a shootout, Ovechkin and Kris Letang scored beauties in that setup to start things off. After that, Fleury and Michal Neuvirth lasted six more rounds until Pascal Dupuis roofed the puck to win the game for the Penguins.

It’s hard to imagine the Winter Classic topping this game, but considering the frequency Crosby, Ovechkin and with which these two teams deliver, it wouldn’t be shocking if the game earned its classic name.

* – Before you reply with some kind of “choking in the playoffs” comment, don’t forget that Ovechkin managed 10 points in that 7-game series against Montreal in the 2009-10 playoffs. One player cannot influence a game in the same way as a sport like basketball, so give Ovi a break.

The Ducks look pretty mighty right now after six consecutive wins

Anaheim Ducks v Los Angeles Kings
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In what should be a disturbing trend for every other team in the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have now won six consecutive games, and eight of their last 10.

After dominating the shot clock for pretty much all of Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Ducks completely took over on the scoreboard in the third period. It seemed like only a matter of time before a breakthrough would occur.

Just 24 hours after beating the L.A. Kings, the Ducks earned a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last six games. Corey Perry has seven points in his last six games. Patrick Maroon, who had only eight points all season prior to Friday, had a three-point night versus Arizona.

Again. Bad news for every other team in the Pacific.

The Ducks now have a three-point lead over the Coyotes for third place in the division. They’re one point back of second-place San Jose and eight back of division-leading L.A.

As for everyone else, more specifically the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, well it might be time to start focusing more on the upcoming trade deadline and, beyond that, the draft.

The Ducks had a terrible start to this season, one that started with so much hype about a team seen as an immediate Stanley Cup contender for 2015-16.

Count Corey Perry as one who believes those early season struggles could pay off at playoff time.

And remember all of that talk in October about Bruce Boudreau perhaps at the end of his days as coach of the Ducks?

At the end of October, GM Bob Murray vowed to be patient despite such a poor start just a few months after being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last June.

There is still plenty of hockey remaining in the regular season. The Ducks have 32 games remaining on their schedule. But it appears that patience Murray showed in October is paying off.

Jets can’t complete the comeback after miserable start against Hurricanes

Colorado Avalanche v Winnipeg Jets
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk scored in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes held on for a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

The Hurricanes scored four times on their first nine shots, taking a 4-0 lead just 10:04 into the game. Nestrasil added another goal in the third period, and Cam Ward made 33 saves. Staal and Joakim Nordstrom each had a pair of assists.

Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

Jets rookie Connor Hellebuyck allowed three goals while facing only six shots before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson after Staal’s power-play goal just 4:33 in. Hutchinson, who hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 3, finished with 21 saves.

The loss wrapped up Winnipeg’s season-high six-game homestand, which included just one victory.

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Carolina’s first goal came after the Jets turned over the puck and Di Giuseppe scored on a sharp-angled shot at 1:43.

Hellebuyck then kicked out a bad rebound and Nestrasil tallied his 16th goal of the season in his 100th NHL game from almost the same angle at 3:05.

With Byfuglien in the penalty box for delay of game, Staal’s shot beat Hellebuyck, ending the young goalie’s night.

Faulk made it 4-0 when his team’s third shot at Hutchinson went between his pads at 10:04.

The Jets came out at a faster, more aggressive pace to start the second period and it paid off with 1:25 remaining.

Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn were battling a pair of Hurricanes behind the net when Thorburn poked the puck out front as he was falling and Burmistrov got his sixth goal of the season.

Ladd, who hit the post late in the second period, banged home a rebound with Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner off for hooking at 9:07 of the third.

Byfuglien one-timed a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers that Wheeler deflected to make it 4-3 with 6:12 remaining.

Nestrasil sealed the win with his second goal at 18:40.

NOTES: Ehlers’ assist extended his point streak to six games, with four goals and four assists. … Winnipeg heads out for a two-game road trip starting in Colorado on Saturday. Carolina visits Montreal on Sunday.

Video: Zatkoff robs Condra with sprawling paddle save

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All Erik Condra had to do was lift the puck off the ice.

He didn’t, and as a result, he was robbed by sprawled out Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who made a spectacular desperation save with the paddle of his stick on the Lightning forward.

The save occurred just past the midway point of the third period. That kept the Penguins in the game, down by a goal at the time.

However, the Penguins couldn’t get the equalizer. The result was a 6-3 loss for Pittsburgh, as Tampa Bay scored twice later in the period.

Defending Eastern Conference champion Bolts continue hot streak

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Remember those distractions the Tampa Bay Lightning had to endure?

— The future of captain Steven Stamkos, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and whose contract situation has been an ongoing discussion point for months now.

Jonathan Drouin‘s camp publicly requesting a trade, then having the 20-year-old forward sent to the minors and then suspended by Tampa Bay, etc.

Well, through it all, the defending Eastern Conference champions have emerged and are now one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League . Since the start of January, the Bolts have lost twice. In 13 games.

They continued their hot streak Friday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins — another of those teams on an impressive streak — by a final score of 6-3, with Tyler Johnson leading the way with three points. He was one of six Tampa Bay players to record a multi-point night.

Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

Tampa Bay is now five points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Atlantic Division.

For the Penguins, the loss keeps them on the outside of the playoff bubble for now. They remain one point back of New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to nine games. He also has goals in five straight and is one point shy of 900 for his career.