Wild finish caps NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park
Capitals grab lead with 12.9 seconds left; players praise opportunity for outdoor game
While fans usually head out to Nationals Park to cheer on the boys of summer, on Thursday the 2015 NHL Winter Classic marked quite a change of pace.
Those who braved the winter weather in Washington saw a thrilling finish between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals, with Troy Brouwer scoring the go-ahead goal with 12.9 seconds left to secure a 3-2 win for the hometown team.
Nationals Park is the latest stadium to host the Winter Classic. In 2009, the Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-4, at Wrigley Field. The next year, fans braved the cold at Fenway Park to see the Boston Bruins beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, in overtime. In 2012, the Flyers played host, beating the New York Rangers, 3-2, at Citizens Bank Park.
Brouwer's goal came against his former team to cap a crazy sequence of plays. Teammate Alex Ovechkin had his stick broken on a slash by Brandon Saad. While Ovechkin was raising his hands to make sure the officials could see the penalty, Brouwer gathered the loose puck in the left circle.
The players couldn't help but celebrate afterward along with fans in the stands. Those who stayed the whole game swung their commemorative Winter Classic seat cushions in the air when the final buzzer sounded.
"It's unbelievable. I've seen it once before during baseball, so I know what it looks like. It was special to get out there and play," Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. "It would've been fun if we played in front of 5,000 fans on a pond. Either way, it's cool to play outdoors, but to have everybody come here and it looked like they appreciated everything, all the work that had been put into this. So, it was a good experience for us."
The seventh Winter Classic drew 42,832 to Nationals Park, validating D.C. as a hockey town. During the national anthem, players stood on a sheet of blue ice meant to represent the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
Players had difficulty with the elements at the beginning of the game, as the sun's glare made it hard to see the puck. Alzner started the game wearing sunglasses.
"The ice was good," Caps forward Marcus Johansson said. "I thought it was going to be a little more wet since it was pretty hot out and the sun was out there. The ice was great."
The first goal was scored by Capitals right winger Eric Fehr. A Winter Classic veteran, the score made Fehr the career leader in outdoor NHL hockey with three goals.
"What a cool event today. I was focused on the game, but every chance I got, I was trying to look up in the stands, up at the scoreboard and looking at the planes flying overhead," Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It was such a cool event, it really is that much sweeter when you come out on top."