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.

Capitals’ Schmidt hurt by Leafs’ Komarov; Record 18th playoff game to OT

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Now, players are known to at least try to return to games after injuries, sometimes ultimately demeaning such efforts unsuccessful.

So, it’s possible that the Washington Capitals should still be concerned about defenseman Nate Schmidt. The solid depth blueliner was helped off the ice after a hit by Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the good news is that he was at least able to make his way back for a spin later on in the same third period.

Does that mean he’ll be OK? We’ll see. The game is entering OT – the 18th of this round, a new NHL record – so a possible Schmidt injury could put Washington at a disadvantage during “free hockey.”

It makes sense that Toronto and Washington made it a new record, as this is the fifth time in six games that they beyond regulation in this series. Wow.

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.