Winter Classic Notebook: Steckel Flattens Crosby

By Jim Iovino
|  Sunday, Jan 2, 2011  |  Updated 1:00 AM EDT
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Caps Practice at Heinz Field

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PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins walks off the ice after being defeated 3-1 by the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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At the end of the second period, Sidney Crosby was knocked down on a blindside hit by Caps forward Dave Steckel behind the play in the Caps' end. 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 after the horn sounded. But he came back to play nearly half of the final period.

No one seems to know what exactly happened, including Steckel and Crosby.

"I didn't even know that I hit him," Steckel said. "I was coming back with the 3-on-3, and when the puck went the other way I was facing one way and I came back to join the rush, and I didn't even know it was him until I looked back."

"I haven't even seen the hit yet," he continued. "Obviously it wasn't intentional. I was just trying to get up in the play and he was there when I turned around, I guess."

Crosby eluded to getting his bell rung -- sort of. He said it "got in my head, that's for sure."

"I turned and the next thing I know, I am down," he said. "It's pretty far behind the play. Maybe the refs didn't even see it. A lot of people didn't. But I don't even know."

Pens coach Dan Bylsma said he didn't see the hit and had not seen a replay by the time he took the podium to address the media after the game.

"The one person who was watching from up above thought that there was some -- it was a little bit incidental contact," Bylsma said. "I don't know exactly what happened at all. I just heard the talk on the bench that Crosby was down and I did not see what happened. So I don't really have any comment for you."

Praise for Varly

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was super secretive about his starting goaltender until the morning skate. He decided to go with Semyon Varlamov over Michael Neuvirth, and the move seemed to pay off.

Varlamov stopped 32 of 33 shots and looked to be in control and on top of his crease throughout the night, even as the Pens tried to generate traffic in front of him.

So, is he the Caps' No. 1 goaltender? Not exactly. But his coach was impressed.

"He's making a great case this week," Boudreau said. "Who knows what can happen next week. I'm sure Neuvy will get a chance. Before he got hurt he was doing the same thing. So this competition is going to stay."

Fore!

A hockey game isn't likened to a round of golf very often. Actually, I don't think the two have ever been mentioned in the same sentence.

Until now! Take it away, Mike Knuble:

"It was fun. It's like going to Scotland and playing golf," he said. "You want the rain coming in. You want some of the elements. So we had some elements. It would have been better with some snow, but we got the elements tonight."

Ice Age

After a week of consternation, the verdict on the condition of the ice for the actual Winter Classic?

The Caps' players said that it wasn't great for the first period, but the ice guru did something different between the first and second that made it a lot better. The colder temperatures also helped.

"I think we were all looking at each other going through warmups going, 'Aww, it's gotta get better than this," Knuble said. "The ice was pebbly, so (the puck) wasn't sliding and sticking. It was cutting through the water so it wasn't creating suction. So you didn't have to worry about overskating the puck. But it was in much better shape than it was for practice yesterday.

"I don't know what they did between (the first and second) periods, but we came out and were like, 'Whoa, this looks like a real rink.' "

Things were looking up until the rains came in the third period, which did a number on the ice. At one point the rink staff was picking up shovels full of water during stoppages and throwing it off the rink through the doors. That rain probably helped the Caps in the end, because it became a lot harder to score near the end of the game.

"I was hoping they'd call it on account of rain in the third," Boudreau said. "But it ended up OK for us. So I'm happy."

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