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Crosby absorbs nasty hit near end of second period

| Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011

Penguins star Sidney Crosby absorbed a nasty, blind-side hit from Washington's David Steckel late in the second period Saturday during the NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field.

Crosby remained unaware of the details of the hit, perhaps because he never saw it coming, or perhaps because it knocked him silly.

"I couldn't even tell you what happened," Crosby said. "I think the puck was going to other way. And I turned and next thing I know, I am down. I can't really comment on it. 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. Got in my head, that's for sure. But I don't even know how it developed."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma didn't have a clear view of the hit because it came behind the play.

"The one person that was watching from above thought that were was some — it was a little bit incidental contact. I don't know exactly what happened at all.

"I just heard the talk on the bench that Crosby was down."

Although shaken, Crosby returned for the third period and nearly logged nine and a half minutes of ice time in the final 20 minutes.

Close to the vest

The weather conditions for the Winter Classic resulted in a deliberate style of hockey for the Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Thanks to a drizzle in the second period and steady rain throughout the third, neither team got creative.

"I thought this would be a grind-it-out game," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "(Friday) it didn't look like the conditions would be great, so we knew fancy, tic-tac-toe stuff wasn't going to work. We had to dump it in, and we had to win the game below the circles."

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin acknowledged that protecting the lead became a priority even before the third period started.

"When there was a lead, both teams concentrated on getting the puck in deep and playing defense," he said.

Eric Fehr, who scored two goals for the Capitals, said his team concentrated on keeping the Penguins away from goalie Semyon Varlamov. He stopped 32 of 33 shots.

"You could tell they were trying to get traffic in front," Fehr said, "But I thought we did a good job of boxing out."

The goal that wasn't

Bylsma was disappointed that the referees waved off an apparent goal by Mike Rupp with 34.7 seconds left in the second period. Rupp was called for incidental contact on Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov after redirecting a slap shot into the net.

"The skate does catch the pad," Bylsma said. "I would liked to have had the puck count, but I wasn't going to argue too much with the call."

Instead of taking a 2-2 tie into the locker room, the Penguins trailed by a goal as they prepared for the final period.

"It would have been a big lift," Bylsma said. "I would have liked walking off the field a little bit more with the fans cheering on that goal. But the referee had some reason to believe Rupp did interfere with him, but we still had 20 minutes to rebound. We still felt like we were going to win the third period."

Stars shut out

The Classic's two shining stars, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, each failed to record a point – though Ovechkin had a goal waived off, and Crosby was on the ice for a disallowed goal scored by Mike Rupp.

This is only the second time neither player recorded a point in a game against one another. The other was Feb. 3, 2007 – their respective second seasons in the NHL.

Ovechkin, though, scored in one way – his traditionally offensive-minded Capitals concentrated on defense once they took the lead.

“We had the puck, crossed the red line, (got) the puck in deep,” he said. “If we have a chance to go on the attack, we (made) a simple play.”

The Capitals took only four third-period shots.

Bylsma said he hasn't seen a significant difference in the way the Capitals have played in two games against the Penguins.

“Certainly tonight, and given the situation, they were content to get pucks out and get them deep and made it tough on us to try mount something against them on the offense in the third period.”

Goals self inflicted

On the Capitals' goals, the Penguins felt they were responsible for the chances.

Winger Pascal Dupuis: “I don't think they created much. I think whatever they had was created from bad bounces and tough luck. It was one of those games where the team that was going to take care of their chances on the bad bounces was going to win the game, and that's what happened.”

Winger Chris Kunitz: “We usually want to put pucks deep and go to the net and that's something we got away from. We were trying to make maybe too many plays in the neutral zone and the puck was bouncing away from us, but we should have put it in and made their D work, make them come 200 feet instead of turning pucks over.”

Defenseman Zbynek Michalek: “We made more mistakes, and we couldn't do much with the puck the way we wanted because of the conditions.”

Michalek also noted the difficulty goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had playing the puck, but said Penguins defensemen deserved blame for those struggles.

“ ‘Flower' likes to play the puck, it's his style,” Michalek said, “We have to do a better job talking to him.”

Jumpy Geno

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said Episode III of HBO's “24/7” series, in which Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau laid out a game plan to extract retaliation penalties from his game, was not on his mind during a joyful celebration of the Penguins' lone Classic goal.

“No, no, not at all,” he said. “It was my second Classic. I did not score in (the) last one. I don't know why I jumped. I was just happy.”

Malkin was somewhat surprised to see the Capitals so joyously celebrating their Classic victory, saying it's “just one game.”

He had support on that line of thinking from Capitals winger Mike Knuble.

“It's still just two points, and it's still just one out of 82 games," he said. "It wasn't the Super Bowl. It wasn't the Cup (Final)."

Tough day for Adams

The need for first-ever Winter Classic morning practices, held at Consol Energy Center on Saturday, proved costly for Penguins winger Craig Adams. During a faceoff drill, Adams broke his stick, and the inside of his right glove was cut by one of the pieces. Not only did the glove require stitch work; so did Adams, whose hand was bandaged to protect the stitch work to his palm.

Adams, though, did not let the injury keep him out of the game.

The Penguins decided to make LW Chris Conner a healthy scratch with C Jordan Staal making his return to the lineup. RW Eric Godard and D Ben Lovejoy were also scratched from the game.

Washington scratched D Tom Poti and D Tyler Sloan.

Black and gold

Forward Max Talbot had a Terrible Towel stuffed into his hockey shorts during the pregame skate, and he waved it when he skated onto the ice for the start of the game. Pascal Dupuis had worn a Steelers black helmet for Friday's practice at Heinz Field.

Fresh face

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wore a special mask for the Classic, which was his first. The design honored legendary French Canadian player Marcel Dionne. Fleury's regular mask includes a Fleur-de-lis and a frog, both of which are meant to homage his French Canadian heritage.

Special night

Crosby didn't have a problem with the conditions, even if they weren't necessarily beneficial for a player whose greatest asset is speed.

"The conditions were all right," he said. "I think when it started to come down pretty good there, you could see the puck started to bounce even a little bit more. And who knows• Even if it didn't rain, it might have continued to do that just because it's the third period and it's been played on a bit more. But it's easy saying, looking back, when you're down, you would have liked a delay or something like that."

Crosby acknowledged that taking part in the Winter Classic was a special experience.

"It's an amazing feeling," he said. "And I said the same thing when we played in Buffalo. But it's pretty easy to see why you see those guys so pumped up every week. Come down the tunnel, it's a pretty amazing feeling. And playing hockey in front of that many people, it's probably something that none of us every dreamed of doing. Would have been nice to be on the other side of things, but it's still a privilege to be part of that. And we had amazing support. The event was great."

Staal's return bittersweet

Jordan Staal couldn't have a picked a better game in which to make his long-awaited season debut.

He could think of better ways it could have ended.

“Obviously, we want to win the game,” he said following the Penguins loss. “It's still a good opportunity. We really wanted to win it, but you can't win them all.”

Aside from the disappointing defeat, Staal was thrilled to be back on the ice after missing training camp and the first 40 games of the season recovering from complications from an offseason foot surgery and a broken hand sustained in practice Nov. 1.

“It was a lot of fun. With all I've been through, it was nice for me to be back and be a part of (the Winter Classic),” Staal said. “It was nice to hear the crowd cheer. On my first shift, I was pretty jacked up to be out there and get going, get those legs going – a lot of chills and a lot of fun.”

His teammates are glad to see Staal back on the ice, too.

“He played a great game,” left winger Pascal Dupuis said. “He looked like he didn't miss a beat out there.”

The center made an impact from the start. Regarded as the team's best penalty-killer, Staal showed he still had the gift on a kill during his second shift by breaking up a pair of passes and getting a shot on goal.

Staal finished with three shots, three hits and won 11 of the 18 face-offs he took part in.

By Rob Rossi, Josh Yohe, Dan Stefano and Joe Rutter

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