Live Blog From the Winter Classic

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01: Captain Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates a goal by teammate Mike Knuble #22 with fellow teammates during the second period of the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

    Final score:  Caps 3, Pens 1.  Winter Classic 2011 is in the books...

    10:40 p.m.: Moderate rain started to fall early in the third period on the 68,111 people in attendance at Heinz Field, making the already tricky ice surface that much more interesting.

    The Pens couldn't capitalize on a power play chance as Varlamov denied several good chances.

    And then the Caps got an insurance goal thanks to a strong outlet pass by ... John Erskine? That's right. Erskine pushed a pass out of his own end that led to a give and go between Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera. Chimera's pass sent Fehr in behind the Pens' defense and he sent a wicked wrister top shelf that beat Fleury glove-side for the 3-1 advantage.

    That led to a hearty cheer of "C-A-P-S Caps Caps Caps!" from the Washington fans in attendance.

    We're heading to the locker room soon, so more updates may have to wait until after the game.  Stay tuned...

    10 p.m.: The Caps nearly took a 2-1 lead but Jason Chimera couldn't convert on a wraparound on an empty net at about the 9-minute mark of the second.

    While Chimera missed his chance at glory, Eric Fehr made sure of his. With just over five minutes left in the period, Fleury came out of his crease and tried to play the puck behind his own net. But it bounced by him. Marcus Johansson came in and quickly dished it to Fehr in front, who fired it into the empty net.

    The Pens nearly tied it with 37 seconds left in the period, but the goal was waived off after Mike Rupp knocked into Varlamov. The referee called incidental contact with the goalie -- no goal.

    At the very end of the period, Sidney Crosby was knocked loopy by Dave Steckel. Crosby was down on the ice for several seconds and eventually made his way back to his own bench as the horn sounded for the end of the period. He was still feeling the effects as he slowly made his way off the ice and back to the dressing room.

    It will be interesting to see how Crosby plays in the third and whether that hit will have any lingering effects.

    9:35 p.m.: The Penguins got the first goal of the Winter Classic -- but Ovechkin had two perfect opportunities just before to do the same thing.

    Ovechkin went in alone on a breakaway a minute into the second period after a puck deflected off Michalek's skate. Ovie picked it up at the blue line and skated in on Fleury. He made one move to his forehand, but Fleury stuck out his left pad and made the save. Ovechkin was given another chance in front on the same shift, but Fleury said no.

    That save led to a goal at the other end. Kris Letang picked up the loose puck and fired a bank pass off the boards to Evgeni Malkin, who raced past John Erskine and went in alone on Varlamov. He shot five-hole and beat Varly for the opening goal.

    A Max Talbot penalty four minutes later led to the Caps' equalizer.

    Talbot got two for holding Ovechkin as he went into the Pens' end. Some digging in the crease on the power play by Mike Knuble eventually led to a goal. Nicklas Backstrom made a pass from behind the net to Mike Green, who was streaking to the crease. He fell, however and the puck eventually bounced underneath Fleury. But Knuble played until the whistle blew, and eventually dislodged the puck from under the goalie and into the net.

    9 p.m.:  The ice definitely was a factor in the first period, from bouncing pucks to falling players -- including a big-time whiff from Alex Ovechkin.

    With just under three minutes to play in the opening period, Ovechkin revved up his motor at his own blue line and made a mad dash toward the Pittsburgh end. As he approached the Pens' blue line, he wound up for a slap shot, but lost an edge and stumbled. The puck went into the corner, Ovechkin hit the ice belly-first and a Pens' defenseman fell on top of him. Ovi was alright, but we're sure more than a few Caps fans held their breath.

    But that wasn't the only ice-related incident in the first.

    Jay Beagle had a great chance early against Marc-Andre Fleury thanks to a bouncing puck. Pens' d-man Deryk Engelland was back up in his own end and tried to clear the puck, but it bounced over his stick, giving Dave Steckel time to push it toward Beagle cutting down the middle. But the puck never settled on the chippy ice and Fleury was able to make the save.

    The biggest cheers of the night so far were for Mike Rupp and John Erskine, who dropped the gloves deep in the Caps' zone about 12 minutes into the first period. Both guys let loose, firing overhand rights continuously. Several landed for each player, and eventually Rupp said he had enough. We'll call it a draw.

    The teams then traded post shots. First, John Carlson fired a puck through a screen and rang iron to the left of Fleury. Soon after Mark Letestu made Big Ben ring at the other end with a shot from the slot that eluded Semyon Varlamov.

    But after one period of play, there was no score. Perhaps that's not very surprising considering the amount of time players are focusing on settling down the puck on the choppy ice. The Pens lead in shots after 1, 16-12.

    8:45 p.m.: Jay Beagle had a great chance early against Marc-Andre Fleury thanks to a bouncing puck. Pens' d-man Deryk Engelland was back up in his own end and tried to clear the puck, but it bounced over his stick, giving Dave Steckel time to push it toward Beagle cutting down the middle. But the puck never settled on the chippy ice and Fleury was able to make the save.

    The biggest cheers of the night so far were for Mike Rupp and John Erskine, who dropped the gloves deep in the Caps' zone about 12 minutes into the first period. Both guys let loose, firing overhand rights continuously. Several landed for each player, and eventually Rupp said he had enough. We'll call it a draw.

    The teams then traded post shots. First, John Carlson fired a puck through a screen and rang iron to the left of Fleury. Soon after Mark Letestu made Big Ben ring at the other end with a shot from the slot that eluded Semyon Varlamov.

    8:30 p.m.: When the puck was dropped, the official gametime temperature was 51.7 degrees.

    The Caps came out flying, literally. Alex Ovechkin started things off with a crushing check on Zbynek Michalek behind the Pens' net that shook the glass loose.

    The Caps then got a good matchup with Ovechkin's line going up against the Pens' fourth line and crated several good chances.

    When the frst stoppage was called, we learned more about how the rink crew would try to salvage the ice surface. The guys with shovels came out and cleaned nearly the entire zone in each end.

    8 p.m.: The marching band is ready. The cauldrons have been lit. The lasers are ready to go. And the refs are on the ice.

    All we need now are the teams to emerge from the locker room. And here they come... walking side by side between two rows of the marching band.

    It's a great day for hockey in Pittsburgh. Let's get this game started.
     

    7:30 p.m.: The Caps and Pens take the ice for warm-ups.

    It was an interesting test once the players started messing with the pucks. With the ice still looking wet, you could tell that the puck was sticking in places.

    A few players had trouble with their passes on the 2-on-1s. A spray of water could be seen when the Pens' Chris Kunitz took a wrist shot from the left circle.

    Eric Fehr whiffed on a shot at the other end, presumably because of the water on the ice. The puck fluttered to the right of the net.

    A few other notes: Max Talbot came out for warmups with a Terrible Towel hanging out of his hockey pants.

    And we've already had our first piece of debris hit the ice. An empty plastic bag floated down out of the stands and onto the ice. Luckily a Penguins player saw it, picked it up with his stick and flicked it off the ice over the boards.

    It's not something you think about, but debris on the ice could be dangerous if a player skates over it.  Let's hope the wind doesn't pick up...

    7:15 p.m.: The ice looks really wet right now, and the Zambonis appear to be on standby as the ice crew deliberates its next move.

    With the countdown clock at about 18 minutes before the players take the ice for warm-ups, it looks like it's make-or-break time for the Heinz Field rink.

    The nets are in place and the practice pucks are on the ice.  We're ready for some hockey.  Finally.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman entered the arena at the same time as your humble reporter at about 5:30 p.m.

    He stopped on the grounds outside the arena several times to take pictures with fans (both caps and Pens fans). One fan even yelled out, "You're doing a great job, Gary!"

    6:35 p.m.:

    Some player updates for you:

    Semyon Varlamov is starting in goal for the Caps over Michael Neuvirth.

    "I think they both want this job," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And I mean, if Neuvy hadn't have got hurt the day after Christmas, he would still be playing. But he got hurt and then all of a sudden (Varlamov) gets a chance, and he plays a great (game) against Carolina and he shuts out Montreal, how can you not give him the start?"

    Tom Poti is not playing due to a concussion.

    Jordan Staal is supposed to suit up for the first time this season for the Pens after battling foot and hand injuries.

    "He's been healed, and every doctor will tell you he's ready to go and his hand is good to go," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. "So it’s just a confidence issue and getting back in the lineup his first time out there, and we're all going to see that tonight."

    6:15 p.m.: The NHL ice guru, Dan Craig, just gave an update on NHL Network about the ice conditions.

    "As it stands right now, we're toughening it up," Craig said. "It tempered out for us pretty well this afternoon. We got a lot of water this afternoon and the guys worked really hard since the rain started and got everything cleaned off right around 11 a.m. and the front moved through, and looks like we'll be in good shape."

    Craig said another front should be headed through the area any time now, and once that goes through the temperature should drop about 10 degrees.

    "That's where we're looking good," he said.

    Original Post:  Greetings from a rain-soaked Pittsburgh. As of 4 p.m., the rain had stopped, so it looks like it's game on for the Pens and Caps at Heinz Field.

    I'll be live-blogging throughout the evening, so keep checking back for updates.

    First, a quick recap of what's going on outside the arena. There's been a steady stream of fans checking out all of the action in the parking lot and on the road in front of the stadium. There is tailgating aplenty -- signified by the puffs of smoke scattered throughout the parking lots. The grilling, however, should not be confused with the fog that has been rolling along the Allegheny River that flows past the stadium.

    The tailgating gives the game more of a football feeling than a hockey game, but you wouldn't mistake the two by the number of Caps and Pens jerseys that fill all of the booths and the skating rink.

    In fact, a group of fans Rocking the Red could be seen in Gold Lot 1 being interviewed by the NHL Network.  There  was a little bit of heckling going on by Pens fans, but it was all in good spirit. 

    And, of course, there's Elvis. Check out the picture of the apparently "living" legend of The King hanging out outside Heinz Field. How was I sure it was Elvis? Well, he had business cards. So there ya go.

    How's the ice look?  Well, to be honest, from sitting up here in the press box, it looks really wet.  There's a shine to it that shouldn't be there if it was set up as planned.  So there's still some work to do.  Let's hope there is no more rain the rest of the evening and that cold front actually moves in.

    The Caps arrived by bus at 5:08 p.m. The Penguins followed at 5:27 p.m. So it indeed is game on in Pittsburgh...