Troy Brouwer pirouetted, the puck zipping toward and past Corey Crawford's glove. He stood in the slot just inside the left faceoff circle and raised his arms, inviting the dogpile that would soon envelop him.
Nicklas Backstrom reached him first, leaping into Brouwer's arms with enough gusto to knock him to one knee. Alex Ovechkin, arms already airborne in incredulity after his stick was slashed from his hands, kept them up in celebration as he scrambled for somebody to embrace. Marcus Johansson was in there somewhere, Washington's first power-play unit resembling a deep-red mass.
Meanwhile, the overjoyed crowd of 42,832 at Nationals Park erupted, the commemorative seat cushions doubling as streamers as they cascaded from the sky.
"We were screaming so hard in the huddle, I almost passed out," Mike Green said. "I could only imagine what the fans were doing."
Brouwer's goal, scored with 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation, provided a thrilling end to the Capitals' 3-2 victory against the Blackhawks in the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
The league's annual outdoor spectacle was marked by sounds -- the whoosh created by the D.C. Air National Guard flying overhead, the inoffensive pop rock performed by Gavin DeGraw during the first intermission. But the consonance created by the combined elation of the Capitals and their fans, a "deep rumble" as Karl Alzner described it, was harmonious.
“It’s relief and euphoria,” he said.
Leading into the Winter Classic, several players spoke of how the game could be viewed as a testament to the Capitals' evolution from also-rans into one of the NHL's premier franchises.
That transformation began several seasons ago when a bunch of youngsters would regularly punctuate their goals by swarming each other with unbridled ebullience, excitement that was displayed Thursday on one of the biggest stages in franchise history.
“I think it was kind of like an old Capitals celebration,” Backstrom said. "When we were a little younger, we used to jump around.”
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