Now in its 6th year the NHL’s premier event The Winter Classic was primed to be the biggest event yet. Being held at National’s Park home of baseball’s Washington Nationals seats 46,000 people. With promotion for the event going on since the season began it’s hard not to get excited for the game, even if you’re not a fan of the teams playing. If you do happen to be a fan of the Washington Capitals or the Chicago Blackhawks it makes the event all the more exciting. Since last year the Leafs played in Michigan (and won!) I don’t have a horse in this race. While I consider myself a Leafs fan first and foremost, I’ll watch a good game of hockey any day of the week.
The game started out chippy and fast paced right out of the gate. The weather was brisk and the sun was shining bright, much different than last year where a blizzard was going on during the game. The scoring opened up only seven minutes in when Eric Fehr on the Caps got a great breakaway and did a nifty forehand, backhand to forehand deke out to roof it behind Corey Crawford. The very pro-Capitals crowd got very loud. There is something special about seeing such a large crowd rallying behind a team. Every moment is amplified and causes goosebumps to crawl across your skin. All eyes are on the team’s marquee players like Alexander Ovechkin who batted in a rebound to give Washington a 2-0 lead. It wasn’t much longer that Chicago finally got on the scorecard. While on the power play Patrick Sharp got the puck right at the blue line and unleashed a bomb that soared over Braden Holtby’s shoulder.
After the intermission and a performance from Gavin Degraw the game started back up again. John Carlsson did a poor job trying to clear the puck from behind the net where Marrian Hossa was then able to quickly pick up the puck and fire it off to Captain Serious aka Johnathan Toews. Toews passed it across the crease to a wide-open Brandon Saad who buried it tying the game up two all. The game seemed evenly matched as both teams got to twenty shots a piece around the same time. While both teams scored twice early in the game, goalies Holtby and Crawford were routinely making big saves keeping the game close and entertaining for everyone watching.
Once again HBO produced their excellent series 24/7 where Liev Schreiber waxes poetically about the game of hockey and the pureness of playing outdoors. While the modern game of hockey has little to do with outdoor playing, it’s still in the history and the game’s blood. His soothing voice makes watching people build ice exciting (no really, they show the rink being built). The way the rink was set up it appears like a tiny table top hockey game for the fans way up in the nosebleeds.
With fewer than five minuets left in the third period the score was still notched at two apiece making the teams tighten up their defense and put extra pressure on their attacks. With the clock ticking down the game seemed vaguely familiar. Of the six previous Winter Classics, three of them went to a shootout and another game was decided by only one goal. Tight games make for fun games. While hard-core hockey fans don’t really like the shootout, when you have so many causal viewers it is a godsend for the league. With only three minuets remaining Matt Niskanen got a boarding penalty on Andrew Shaw giving Chicago a man advantage at a crucial time. What could have been a nail in the coffin for Washington turned out well for them as with one minute before the final horn Toews got called on a bogus hooking call which really was the end for the Hawks. Ovie got his stick shattered and Troy Brouwer found the loose puck just lying there and after doing a nifty spin move fired a wrister glove side across Crawford to take the lead with twelve seconds left. The Hawks had one last attempt when the pulled their goalie but alas the home team held on for the valiant victory. The sold out crowd was happy with the outcome, and commissioner Gary Bettman must be happy with the excellent final product. Another year, another classic game.