By ALAN ROBINSON
2:29 PM AKST, January 1, 2011
Eric Fehr upstaged stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin by scoring twice and the Washington Capitals waded through rain drops to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in a wet Winter Classic on Saturday night.
It was the NHL’s first nighttime Winter Classic, and the first played in occasional rain, but the Capitals handled the elements — and a scoreless Crosby — just fine.
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.
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.
The game was originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m., before the NHL moved the start because of the rain threat.
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 Crosby, who went scoreless for a second successive game after posting at least one point in 25 consecutive games. He had five shots.
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. Zbynek Michalek upended Mike Green just to the right of Fleury, and Knuble took advantage of the confusion to score his ninth.
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.
As a steady rain fell during the third period, Fehr put it away with eight minutes remaining by racing to Jason Chimera’s up-ice pass and, a step ahead of defenseman Paul Martin, beating Fleury cleanly with a hard wrist shot from between the circles for his seventh goal.
The teams changed ends halfway through the third period, to keep it fair for both squads amid the poor conditions.
“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.”
Fehr had a career-high 21 last year, when the Capitals were the NHL’s best team during the regular season. It was his second career multi-goal game, and it helped the Capitals win their fifth in six games. Pittsburgh lost for the fifth time in 21 games.
The fourth Winter Classic became the first played at night, and the first in rain. There was a mist at times during the first two periods that became steady rain throughout the third, when the ice maintained a like-new look as if it was constantly being resurfaced by a Zamboni. There also was a trail behind the puck on any shot or pass.
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