The spectacle itself, the Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks, didn’t start like many before it had. The pageantry was given a healthy bump thanks to the team entrances, and the game itself was one of the better outdoor contests the league has seen.
Though the first game will always be the most memorable – the snow falling in Buffalo while Sidney Crosby, the face of the league, scored the shootout winner – 2015’s Winter Classic will certainly be remembered as one of the outdoor games that stand the test of time.
The game began with a tepid pace, as both teams seemed to test the ice, test the glare, and feel each other out. Regarding the glare, the one thing many thought would cause a delay in the game’s start time and maybe put a damper on the event, it was barely a problem at all. Aside from a quick break in the action at the 10-minute mark of the first period for both teams to switch sides, the glare wasn’t an issue.
As for the on-ice action, the game was played with just as much pace as any regular season contest. The ice surface itself held up throughout the game, snow buildup wasn’t an issue, and the only real comment any player had about the ice was Eric Fehr who, during intermission, said the only difficulty was the softness of the ice around the boards.
In the first period, the Capitals got out to a quick start with a Fehr breakaway tally, his third career outdoor game tally. The Capitals took a 2-0 lead when Alex Ovechkin scored with eight minutes left in the first, but the Blackhawks clawed back within one thanks to a Patrick Sharp just two minutes later.
Chicago’s Brandon Saad scored early in the second following a funny hop off the end boards, which Marian Hossa collected and moved to Jonathan Toews before Saad tapped it home. but aside from that, the rest of the game was a back-and-forth goaltending duel that wasn’t decided until the final frame.
With time winding down, and the Blackhawks on the penalty kill thanks to a Toews hooking call, Washington began applying pressure. As Ovechkin began to drive to the goal for what could have been the game-winning goal, Saad chopped down on Ovechkin’s stick, snapping it. With the delayed call, Troy Brouwer snapped off a wrist shot that found the back of the net, with 12.9 seconds left on the clock.
Chicago gave one last gasp, but it would not be enough. The Washington Capitals, the home team in a game which has not historically been friendly to home teams, picked up the 3-2 last-minute victory.
One of the major stories of the game was the Blackhawks special teams, which, aside from surrendering the late penalty kill goal, failed to connect on the power play aside from Sharp's first period marker. In total, the Blackhawks went 1-for-6 with the extra man.
To paraphrase what Braden Holtby said in a post-game interview with Hockey Night’s Scott Oake, if this game didn’t make you want to watch hockey, maybe nothing will.