WASHINGTON – The goalie who got dissed turned shaky into a shutout.
Alex Ovechkin took a hit to the knee so nasty he wasn’t penalized when he retaliated with a punch to the face.
That was just a taste of the animosity from the Washington Capitals’ 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, two rivals who put on a Super Sunday show for the second straight year and again left no doubt they wouldn’t be hanging out together afterward to watch the NFL’s big game.
Boudreau was particularly feisty after the Capitals’ eighth straight Super Bowl matinee win, a game in which David Steckel was targeted because of a hit on Sidney Crosby on New Year’s Day. Washington snapped the five-game winning streak of the star-starved Penguins, who are dealing with a likely season-ending knee injury to Evgeni Malkin and are awaiting Crosby’s return from a concussion.
“They don’t like us. We don’t like them,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s the way it should be.”
Michal Neuvirth, who was called “shaky” by Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma during the HBO series that shadowed these two teams during the build-up to the Winter Classic, made 22 saves for his second career shutout. Neuvirth got his first start since Jan. 18 because expected starter Semyon Varlamov was feeling ill. The young Czech wasn’t short on motivation.
“Before the game, I remembered when he said that,” Neuvirth said, “and I kind of looked at him during the warm-up and told myself that I got to shut these guys out tonight.”
Brooks Laich scored a blue-collar goal in the first period, Marcus Johansson got a flashy short-handed one in the second period, and Mike Knuble added an empty-netter in the third for the Capitals, who picked up some needed momentum with their second solid win a row, following the 5-2 win over Tampa Bay on Friday that snapped a three-game losing streak.
At first, there seemed no way Sunday’s game could recapture the magic of two of the teams’ most recent high-profile meetings. It was a year ago on Super Sunday that the Capitals rode Ovechkin’s hat trick to overcome a three-goal deficit in a rough, name-calling win in overtime while the rest of the nation’s capital was digging out from a massive blizzard.
Then, on New Year’s Day, the teams met at Heinz Field—home of the Super Bowl’s Steelers—where the Washington took a 3-1 win in the first prime-time Winter Classic.
Sunday was the first chance for the Penguins to retaliate for the hit Crosby took to the head from David Steckel in the Jan. 1 game. Crosby took another hit in the head from Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on Jan. 5 and has since missed 13 games.
It seemed right on cue, then, when Pittsburgh’s Tim Wallace, recalled on Saturday night from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, goaded Steckel into dropping the gloves after a faceoff in the third period.
“I certainly thought he did a good job of stepping up and fighting Steckel,” Bylsma said.
Boudreau was not pleased. He stated passionately that the Steckel hit on Crosby has been overblown because it wasn’t intentional.
“I’ve coached him for eight years and he’s never done it once,” Boudreau said. “So if they want to use it as a motivating tool, go ahead. But they send out a guy they called up (to fight). And Mike Rupp, who’s a fighter, knowing Dave never fought, challenging him. To me, it was (rubbish).”
Then, with 3:42 to play, Matt Cooke tripped Ovechkin knee-to-knee in the open ice. Ovechkin got up, and he and Nicklas Backstrom immediately charged Cooke, both landing punches to the face. Cooke was given two minutes for tripping; neither Ovechkin nor Backstrom was penalized.
“I didn’t think much contact was made,” Bylsma said. “Maybe their skates get wound up together.”
Boudreau would have none of that.
“It’s Matt Cooke. Need we say more?” Boudreau said. “It’s not like it’s his first rodeo. He’s done it to everybody. And then he goes to the ref and says ‘What did I do?’ He knows what he did. There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s good at it.”
There was no malice involved when blood was spilled on the ice at the end of the first period. Mike Green was struck on the right side of the head by a slap shot from Brooks Orpik and didn’t return, forcing the Capitals to play with five defenceman. Green had stitches next to his ear and a headache after the game and is day to day.
The Capitals also were without injured players Alexander Semin, Tom Poti and Eric Fehr. The Penguins are making do without Crosby and Malkin, who tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee on Friday. Mark Letestu is also out four to six weeks with a knee injury.
Boudreau figures it more or less evened out.
“We had no Semin. We had no Poti. We had no Fehr,” Boudreau said. “They’ve still got an awful lot of guys who won the Stanley Cup there. I don’t buy any of that stuff.”
Notes: The Capitals are 14-3-1 when hosting a Super Bowl matinee. … Johansson became the first Capitals rookie to score a short-handed goal since Ovechkin, who had three in 2005-06.