PITTSBURGH - As the Winter Classic got wetter and wetter, the NHL nearly experienced its first rain delay. The Washington Capitals weathered the conditions with a performance that proved they can handle a big-game setting, even one in the great outdoors.
Eric Fehr upstaged stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin by scoring twice and the Capitals waded through rain drops to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the NHL's first nighttime Winter Classic on Saturday night.
"It was raining pretty good out there," Fehr said. "But it was a perfect night."
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. Mike Knuble also scored on a power play.
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.
"I can't imagine what football players (feel) playing like this," Ovechkin said. "It's unbelievable. It makes you want to do it all the time."
And the Capitals, perennial playoff underachievers, showed they can handle the main stage for a change. While this was far from a playoff game, it's certainly the kind of win that can ignite a team that won the Presidents' Trophy last year as the regular-season's best squad, only to lose in the first round of the playoffs vs. Montreal.
"It was close to the Stanley Cup finals," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We don't deny it meant more than just two points. It was a fabulous game."
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 NHL scoring leader Crosby, who went scoreless for a second successive game after posting at least one point in 25 consecutive games. He had five shots.
"You know they're not going to make those tic-tac-toe plays no matter how they good they are on this ice and in these conditions," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "So you can play it a little bit differently. You can really not worry about (Crosby) getting behind you and making a 40-foot pass tape-to-tape."
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.
The conditions may have been bad but, for the Capitals, it became a Fehr-weather game.
"It's frustrating," said Fleury, who made 29 saves. "There was so much build-up to the game. It's definitely disappointing to lose that one."
The teams changed ends halfway through the third period, to keep it fair for both squads amid the worsening weather.
Ovechkin had a goal disallowed in the third, after incidental contact with Fleury. Pittsburgh's Mike Rupp had the same situation on Varlamov in the second.
"In the third period, weather became a problem," Ovechkin said. "But we handled it, and it was a pretty good game."
Fehr, who had a career-high 21 goals last year, posted his second career multi-goal game, and it helped the Capitals win their fifth in six tries since losing eight straight. Pittsburgh lost for just the fifth time in 21 games.
The fourth Winter Classic became soggy in the third period, 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.
"Pucks were bouncing everywhere," Fehr said. "Sometimes they're sticking on the ice. It was really tough to make any passes out there."
PHT: The Penguins' win in Game 4 shoved the Senators to the brink of elimination, but Ottawa has vowed to bring a better effort tonight (Coverage at 6:30 p.m. ET; Live Extra, NBCSN).
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