WASHINGTON -- The Classic was a classic.
Troy Brouwer capped an unforgettable 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Thursday at Nationals Park by scoring the winning goal with 12.9 seconds remaining to lift the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in front of 42,832 red-clad fans.
"The whole day was unbelievable," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "This event was outstanding."
Ovechkin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Capitals, who couldn't hold the 2-0 lead they built less than 12 minutes into the first period. Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp scored on the power play 13:36 into the first period and Brandon Saad tied it with an even-strength goal at 3:15 of the second.
Ovechkin had an assist on Brouwer's power-play goal, and had two of his team-high 13 shot attempts hit iron, one off the post and another off the crossbar. Washington defenseman Mike Green had two assists, and goalie Braden Holtby made 33 saves in his 14th consecutive start.
Fehr's goal made him the all-time leading goal scorer in NHL outdoor games with three. He had two goals in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. Jonathan Toews had an assist on Saad's goal, making him the all-time leader in points in outdoor games with five.
"I'm pretty sure that everybody is going to remember this moment for a long time," Ovechkin said. "It's a great feeling. It's going to be in our memories."
It will be not just for the win, which was obviously the most important takeaway for the Capitals, but also for the show, the atmosphere, the elements, the entire specatacle.
The build-up was dramatic, complete with Billy Idol rocking "White Wedding," fireworks shooting skyward from the light stanchions, an F-16 flyover, and a giant American flag stretched across a rink built on top of a baseball field with center ice laid atop second base.
The players from both teams were introduced to the crowd by stepping out from behind a replica of the Capitol Building and skating down a frozen version of the famous reflecting pool on the National Mall toward the rink.
There were fans from Chicago and Washington, members of the Armed Forces, and red, white and blue everywhere. The pomp and circumstance on this picture-perfect winter afternoon in the nation's capital city made this regular-season game have the feel of something huge.
"It was awesome," Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "This was quite the production. You could tell a lot of planning went into it. I was talking about it before the game, you're trying to soak it all in but at the same time stay focused on playing a hockey game because it is a real game. But it was really cool. All the colors in the stands, the fireworks show, the planes going over, I thought the whole thing was just a really cool event.
"It's a celebration of our game. It sounds cheesy but you feel like a little kid again, not necessarily with the crowd but you feel the wind in your face again, the ice is kind of cracking and popping as you skate over it, the sun is in your eyes. Just a really cool experience and it feels even better to win."
Washington won despite giving the Blackhawks six power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 91 seconds midway through the second period. The Capitals killed that off without allowing a shot on goal. They killed off another Chicago power play that started at 16:49 of the third period, when Niskanen went off for boarding Chicago forward Andrew Shaw.
Chicago mustered one shot on goal during that power play, which ended two seconds premature because Toews was called for hooking Karl Alzner at 18:47.
Brouwer scored with a wrist shot through traffic that went under Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford's glove. If the puck hadn't gone in, the Capitals were going to have a 5-on-3 because Saad slashed and broke Ovechkin's stick one second before Brouwer put the puck in the net.
"I was trying to go to the net because I knew [Ovechkin] was shooting and we were running out of time, and when I saw the puck laying at his feet when he broke his stick, somebody had to try to keep it alive," Brouwer said. "So I turned around, threw it to the net. I'm not sure where it even went in, but I heard the noise of the crowd, heard the noise of the guys on the ice, and it was one of those where you know the time, you know the score, and you're just trying to get a puck on net. Thankfully it went in."
Toews didn't agree with the hooking penalty.
"I don't think that given the circumstances that that situation should have been called, but that's just my opinion and it's the way it goes, I guess," he said. "You don't agree with everything that happens out there."
The Blackhawks bigger concerns Thursday were the early deficit and their failed 5-on-3 in the second period.
That they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game didn't take away from the fact that they gave up two more first-period goals, making it nine goals against in the past four games. They are 2-2 in those games.
"I don't know if I'd throw that in with any sort of trend that's been going with the way we've been playing recently," Toews said. "Sometimes it happens. The good news is we're able to reverse that momentum a little bit and battle our way back. You never want to put yourself in that situation but if you do, we have confidence we can come out of it."
Washington coach Barry Trotz said the Capitals 5-on-3 kill was the biggest difference in the game. Toews said the Blackhawks were too pass happy.
"That was the tipping point of the game," Trotz said. "We don't kill that off, the Chicago Blackhawks are leaving here with the two points and we probably have a pretty disappointed locker room."
The Capitals had some luck on their side too as Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith broke his stick on his one-timer attempt from inside the Winter Classic logo. Washington was able to clear the zone to kill more time.
"You don't score on 5-on-3s, you generally don't win," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, "and that ended up being the result."
The goalies had to fight the sun early, particularly in the first period when the teams switched ends midway through the first period to minimize any advantage gained from the elements.
Sharp scored on Holtby off a wrist shot through traffic from the point which came out of the sun and into the shade. Ovechkin scored at 11:58 of the first period off a rebound after Crawford fumbled Green's shot from the point.
Holtby gave up two goals on 16 shots before the rink was completely covered in shade and he made 19 consecutive saves. Crawford allowed two goals on the first 13 shots he faced, but once the sun faded, he made 21 consecutive saves before Brouwer beat him.
"The first period was definitely a challenge," Holtby said. "It was tough to pick up pucks, but it's equal for both goalies. I think the people involved with putting it on did their absolute best at making sure it was comfortable for us as players and the product on the ice was really good."
It was matched by the spectacle put on around the rink.
That the Classic had a classic finish made a sunny New Year's Day afternoon in the nation's capital all the more unforgettable.
"I don't get chills very often going out for games or anything like that, but when we came out of the Capitol, skating down the reflecting pond, and seeing the crowd go crazy, that was a real special moment," Fehr said. "I thought they did an unbelievable job of what D.C. represents to this stadium and showing America what D.C. is."