Despite adverse weather conditions, the NHL got exactly what it wanted. The league showcased its most marketable players – Sidney Crosby
and Alex Ovechkin – and marketable rivalry – Pittsburgh and Washington – in a nationally televised NBC contest on the afternoon of the Super Bowl.
It wasn’t a typical day of traveling on the road... but I don’t think that’s any excuse. - Sidney Crosby
With a record snowstorm blanketing the Nation’s Capital, there was an outside chance that the game could be canceled, especially considering the Penguins had a brutal travel schedule just to get to DC.
Pittsburgh, which played the previous afternoon against the Canadiens, flew from Montreal to Newark and then took a five-hour bus ride to their hotel in Washington. The team arrived in Washington at 2:15 a.m. – nine hours before the noon scheduled puck drop against the Capitals.
With all of America huddled around the television for Super Bowl Sunday, the NHL expected to generate high ratings numbers, especially in the East Coast region where many people were snowed in, and likely turned to their TV for entertainment.
It was the first time these two teams met in Washington since Pittsburgh ended the Capitals’ championship dreams in a 6-2 Game 7 victory last year.
On the ice both teams, and superstars, delivered. It was a contest between the defending Stanley Cup champions and current leader in the Eastern Conference standings. In spite of the tough circumstances surrounding the Penguins, the team gave a spirited effort and took home one point for the standings, even though they ultimately lost, 5-4, in overtime.
“It wasn’t a typical day of traveling on the road,” Crosby said after the game. “But I don’t think that’s any excuse. We had a chance to win, especially early on. We were playing some really good hockey.”
“I thought we had plenty of jump,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I don’t think (the travel) was a factor at all.”
Ovechkin posted four points and his ninth career hat trick for Washington in the win.
Crosby, as usual, lived up to the billing and hype with two goals for Pittsburgh. He also finished the game with a game-high seven shots and won 16 faceoffs. Jordan Staal
, who normally gets overshadowed in these affairs, also stepped up big for Pittsburgh. The 21-year-old forward posted two goals on three shots and won 13 faceoffs.
Crosby started the scoring with two goals in the first period to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.
On his first tally, Crosby made a great play inside the Washington blue line to bat down an attempted clearing attempt by Tyler Sloan. Crosby knocked the bounced puck to the ice and skated towards the Washington net. Crosby’s linemates Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz
drove to the net, while Sloan and Tom Poti scrambled to recover on the play. Crosby put some beautiful stickhandling on display by maneuvering through the pile of bodies near the cage and snapping a backhander into the goal.
Crosby’s second goal, which was his 39th of the season to tie his previous career high from his rookie season in 2005-06, came on a Pittsburgh power play. Evgeni Malkin
made a marvelous backhand pass from the slot to Crosby below the near circle. Crosby carried the puck strong to the net one-on-one with netminder Jose Theodore. After several jukes, he buried a shot far side into the goal.
The Penguins built a 4-1 lead on Staal’s two tallies, both in the second period and 1:24 minutes apart. Staal one-timed a Tyler Kennedy
pass from the slot for his first goal. On his second score, Staal received a pass from Malkin on a two-on-one. Staal calmed the puck before ripping it into the goal.
The Capitals scored four unanswered goals to storm back and win the dramatic game in overtime. Add it all up – Penguins, Capitals, Crosby, Ovechkin, rivalry, animosity, drama, overtime, anecdotes, national TV audience, high viewership – and you have a recipe for selling the sport of hockey. The NHL took full advantage of the opportunity.