WASHINGTON -- While members of the Chicago Blackhawks were appreciative of the opportunity to play in a signature game like the Bridgestone 2015 NHL Winter Classic and, as a whole, enjoyed the experience, it didn’t take away any of the sting of dropping two points in the 60th minute Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park.
The Blackhawks fell behind early, rallied and carried the play in the middle of the game but ultimately left empty-handed for the first time in three outdoor games with a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals.
“It’s not a good feeling especially with the excitement, the hype and the energy that surrounded this whole thing leading up to this game,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We wanted to come in and steal two points from them in their own building, here on the road. It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to but in a couple of days it’s back to our normal routine and we’ll be ready for that. It’s unfortunate that break at the end.”
Chicago has been one of the best teams in the NHL this season at killing penalties, but Washington also possesses one of the League’s elite power-play units. With Toews in the box, Troy Brouwer scored on a weird play with 12.9 seconds left as the home team won for just the second time i.
Alex Ovechkin’s stick was broken with the puck on it and he threw his hands in the air in protest. Brouwer was inches away and collected the loose puck. He wheeled and snapped a shot that seemed to surprise goaltender Corey Crawford, who had just set himself for Ovechkin’s attempt.
“It was a scrum. I think Ovechkin got his stick knocked out and it was kind of a broken play. Their guy made a quick shot and it squeezed through,” Crawford said. “It is hard. You battle all game and lose in the last, I don’t know, 15 seconds or so. There’s nothing to say about it. You’ve got to find a way to get points and we didn’t find a way.”
Chicago had plenty of opportunities to score on the power play as well. Patrick Sharp had one extra-man goal, but the Blackhawks failed to score on a lengthy two-man advantage and went 1-of-6.
At one point, Duncan Keith’s stick broke while he attempted a one-timer and another time he missed one. Both led to clears for the Capitals, but the Blackhawks were disappointed in a different aspect of that situation.
“We were waiting for the perfect chance to shoot. We didn’t shoot the puck enough,” Toews said. “A couple of times the puck seemed to be bouncing and it was chipping up quite a bit out there. Five-on-three, even five-on-four we were just making sure that we were making the passes square and were being overly cautious. We didn’t just make plays. It wasn’t easy by any means but when the ice is like that you just have to shoot the puck and keep things simple.”
Washington grabbed an early 2-0 lead, which is something the Blackhawks have plenty of experience with lately. Chicago has fallen behind in four straight games, yielding nine goals in the first 20 minutes.
The Blackhawks dominated the second period, collecting 70.3 percent of the shot attempts but only one goal. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville sees the recent issues early in the game as a sample-size fluke and didn’t seemed concerned after the game.
“I still think we're ready to play and we usually play the right way,” Quenneville said. “I just think that at the end of the first we might have had more chances than them. So, I think it's a trend that before we were having trouble scoring in the second period and now we're giving them up in the first, I think that, over time, I don't think too much has changed in how we approach it or how we're playing.”
As it typically ends up at these outdoor NHL games, the losing dressing room has a different vibe than a typical regular-season game. Players talk of disappointment, but also of enjoying the experience.
The Blackhawks did enjoy participating, but yielding a game-winning goal in the final seconds was not the scenario they envisioned.
“[I’m] just grateful to have been a part of this event,” Blackhawks forward Ben Smith said. “Amazing support from the fans. Throughout the last month it's been a nice build-up. Just an honor to have been a part of it.”