WASHINGTON – A bit too much sunshine filled the sky at the opening faceoff of the Winter Classic, and seat cushions rained down when the winning goal was scored just before the final whistle.
Alex Ovechkin, the player most responsible for making the nation's capital worthy of hosting the NHL's annual outdoor game, scored a goal, and he was also among the first to mob teammate Troy Brouwer when Brouwer's power-play goal decided the game with 12.9 seconds to play Thursday.
The NHL showcase was every bit the thrill for the host Washington Capitals, who beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on New Year's Day.
"We start talking about Winter Classic since we started the season, and this is it," Ovechkin said. "I remember Brouwie said it's a good time to show up and make a show. And he did."
Brouwer scored against his former team to cap a chaotic sequence. Ovechkin had his stick broken on a slash by Brandon Saad. While Ovechkin was raising his hands to make sure the officials would call the penalty, Brouwer gathered the loose puck in the left circle.
"Somebody had to try and keep it alive, so I just kind of turned around, threw it to the net," Brouwer said.
The seventh Winter Classic drew 42,832 to Nationals Park. Players stood on a sheet of blue ice meant to represent the Reflecting Pool during the national anthem, then faced off under a gorgeous blue sky — too gorgeous, if truth be told.
The sun's glare on the white ice of the main rink made it difficult to see the puck, and Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner made good on his plan to play the game wearing sunglasses. It seemed totally unfair when Patrick Sharp launched a sun-to-shade slapshot that beat goalie Braden Holtby on a power play for Chicago's first goal. "I didn't see it," Holtby said.
The first goal was scored by Eric Fehr, making him the career leader in outdoor NHL hockey. Sharp cut the deficit to one, and Saad tied it in the second period.
After Washington's Matt Niskanen was sent off for a marginal boarding penalty with 3:11 to play, Jonathan Toews was cited for an even more dicey hooking infraction with 1:13 remaining — setting the stage for Brouwer's power-play winner.