Beninati: As good as the hype

Beninati: As good as the hype
December 24, 2010, 5:51 am
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Thursday, December 24, 2010 12:51 am

By Joe Beninati
Capitals Play-by-Play
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That was a terrific hockey game. Id like to think that fans on both sides of the rivalry would say that the Caps and Pens played their hearts out, and provided a night of thoroughly entertaining hockey at its finest.

Washingtons miseries on the power-play continued early in the game. They had great chances to score right off the bat, but were turned back by Marc-Andre Fleury who was a puck-stopping demon all night for Pittsburgh.

The Caps had the first six shots of the game, only to see Sidney Crosby score on the 7th, welcoming Michael Neuvirth to the heated contest. Crosby was left unattended at the near post and re-directed a Kris Letang slap-pass for the 1-0 lead. The Penguin captain has scored a point in his last 23 games and has 23 goals over that same stretch. Not too shabby.

In the first 30 minutes of the game it seemed like the Penguins were the ones being whistled for every penalty in sight. Their 1 ranked penalty-killing unit was put to the test repeatedly and has to receive credit for keeping the Pens afloat. The Caps had another lengthy 5-on-3 man-advantage in the second period, and just as it became a 5-on-4 Mike Green rifled a wrist shot that beat Fleury high on the glove side. The defenseman looked to the rafters and let out a huge sigh of relief, seeing the end of a 14-game goal-less drought.

Mike and his fellow blue-liners were in line for a lot of extra work after Tom Poti was lost to injury early in the game.

The Penguins raced out of their dressing room to start the third period. Crosby showed an extra effort to get off a one-handed backhand which resulted in a juicy rebound that was buried by Chris Kunitz, just 17 seconds into the frame.

Then it was time for the Caps to parade to the penalty box. The visitors had three consecutive chances on the power-play and failed to improve their lead, in fact they wound up losing it.

While the Caps were shorthanded Brooks Laich set up Mike Knuble behind the defense, and the veteran winger found a way to shovel his own backhand between the pads of Fleury. The ovation inside of Verizon Center conjured up memories of playoffs past and this game had a playoff-feel to it.

Knuble, who has forever been a thorn in the side of the Penguins, tied the game at 2 and thats the way regulation time would end.

The overtime would turn out scoreless, although not without controversy. Mike Green put on a dazzling individual effort, faking two defenders and Fleury almost out of the picture before the goalie reacted with his astoundingly quick glove to trap the puck at the goal-line. Several looks at video review could not conclusively prove that the puck was completely across the line despite the loud protests of Caps fans in the stands.

A seven-round shootout would decide this one. Alex Ovechkin and Kris Letang scored in the first round for their respective teams, but after that Fleury and Neuvirth were quite stingy. The Penguins had five straight chances to end the shootout and ultimately did when Pascal Dupuis roofed a quick snapshot over Neuvirths glove.

This prelude to the Winter Classic was a beauty and only heightens the anticipation for January 1.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone! See you on TV from Raleigh Sunday.