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Fehr scores twice as Caps top Pens in Winter Classic

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Eric Fehr scored twice and goaltender Semyon Varlamov stopped 32 of 33 Penguins shots as the Washington Capitals upended the Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. Evgeni Malkin scored for the home team.

Capitals 3 - Penguins 1

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, P.A.

Intermittent rain and wind gusts couldn't stop the fourth annual NHL Winter Classic, played in front of 70,000 strong Saturday night at Heinz Field. But the home town team didn't shine in prime time, as the Capitals downed the Penguins 3-1 on the strength of airtight goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and two goals from forward Eric Fehr. Evgeni Malkin got on the score board for the Pens, but he was the only one who beat Varlamov, the game's first star. Neither of the NHL's premier stars, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, scored a point in a contest characterized more by crushing hits and the elements than slick skating and high-octane offense.

GAME FLOW

With drums banging and flames shooting high into the air as the teams took the ice together, the Capitals and Pens proceeded to pound each other during a scoreless first period. Ovechkin set the tone early, laying a hit on defenseman Zbynek Michalek that damaged the glass and required a stoppage of play. Jordan Staal, making his season debut in the Winter Classic after missing the first 39 games due to foot and hand injuries, matched Ovechkin's intensity by flooring Washington center Matt Hendricks near the boards a little more than four minutes into the contest. Adding to the Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em, atmosphere, Mike Rupp and John Erskine exchanged right hands during a brawl.

Both teams had a power play opportunity in the opening period, as Paul Martin was called for hooking on Washington's David Steckel and Matt Green clutched Sidney Crosby for dear life as the NHL's leading points scorer dashed toward the net. However, both the Caps and the Pens killed off the penalties. Staal was key in Pittsburgh's penalty kill, nearly netting a short-handed score against Washington's Varlamov.

Overall, the Pens and Caps registered 28 shots in the first period (16 for Pittsburgh), and each club clanged one off the post. John Carlson hit the iron with 6:43 remaining in the period, and Mark Letestu did the same with 5:36 left. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Varlamov denied players on top-shelf scoring opportunities, as Fleury stopped a Jay Beagle shot at point-blank range 8:06 into the game and Varlamov blocked a Mark Letestu backhand as time expired in the first period.

The rain started falling as the second period opened, but that didn't slow down Malkin. He broke a five-game goal drought 2:13 into the period, getting wide open and putting the puck between Varlamov's legs on a wrist shot. Both Letang and Fleury were credited with assists on the play. The Caps' Brooks Laich was called for goalkeeper interference less than a minute later. The visitors recovered, though, by killing off the penalty. They then evened the score on a power play goal, the man advantage the result of a Max Talbot penalty for holding Ovechkin. Mike Knuble scored 6:54 into the period, poking a loose puck past Fleury during a scrum in front of the net after the Pens goalie had turned away a Mathieu Perreault backhand.

Washington had a fantastic chance to make it 2-1 on a Jason Chimera shot, with Fleury scrambling to get back in position on the wrap around attempt, but Brooks Orpik managed to get his stick in the way. Fleury wasn't as lucky later in the period. He got caught in no-man's land trying to clear the puck, seemingly losing track of it as it dribbled away from him behind the net. Marcus Johansson then grabbed hold of it and passed to Fehr, who buried it home to make it 2-1 Caps with 5:15 remaining in the period. While the Pens got another power play chance following a hooking call on Erskine, the 19th-ranked special teams unit couldn't tie it up. And in the waning seconds of the period, Crosby was shaken up on a Steckel hit that would have made James Harrison proud.

As the rain came down harder and the wind whipped during the third period, Pittsburgh tried in vain to get another goal. Malkin put a backhand shot toward Varlamov 4:36 into the period, which hit the post. Letang slapped a 60-footer back toward the net moments later, but the 22-year-old Russian goalie walled off the scoring attempt yet again. Pittsburgh was further frustrated during a power play opportunity arising from a Mike Knuble delay of game penalty 7:28 into the period. Alex Goligoski, Letang and Crosby all got off shots. Yet Karl Alzner blocked Goligoski's chance, Varlamov corralled Letang's shot and Crosby's wrist shot went wide of the net.

While the Pens couldn't get past Varlamov, the Caps padded their lead. Assisted by Chimera and Erskine, Eric Fehr netted his second goal of the game on a wrister with 8:01 left. Pittsburgh pulled the goalie in a Hail Mary effort as the clock ticked down around the one minute mark. Crosby got off a shot that Varlamov snagged out of the air with six-tenths of a second left. The Pens and Caps got chippy before the last face-off, with Ovechkin and Chris Kunitz grappling. Time expired, and the clubs headed back to their respective locker rooms without shaking hands.

SCORE SHEET

Goals: PIT- Malkin (14) ; WAS- Knuble (9), Fehr (6, 7)

Assists: PIT- Letang, Fleury ; WAS- Backstrom, Green, Johansson, Chimera, Erskine

Special Teams: The Pens were 0-for-4 on the power play in the Winter Classic, dropping their success rate to 16.4 percent for the season. Washington went 1-for-4, getting a goal from Knuble when Pittsburgh was short-handed.

IN THE NET

Fleury stopped 29 of 32 shots for a .906 save percentage. He got caught out of the net a few occasions, lucking out on a chance by Chimera but getting burned by Fehr in the second period. Varlamov, meanwhile, racked up a .970 save percentage by turning away 32 of 33 Pens tries. He sat last time these teams hooked up on Dec. 23, when the Pens topped the Caps in a shootout. But Varlamov was the main reason Washington evened up the season series tonight.

UP NEXT

The Pens will look to snap a two-game losing streak when they head back indoors to play the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 5 at Consol Energy Center. But before the Lightning take on the Pens, they will battle the surging Capitals (winners of 5 out of their past 6 games) at Verizon Center on Tuesday, Jan. 4 at 7 p.m.

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