From the sun glare to Billy Idol to the early New Year's Day start time, there was little routine about playing in the Winter Classic. That was often apparent watching the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, and it ultimately cost the team in a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park.
Troy Brouwer scored the game-winning goal for the Capitals with 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation after captain Jonathan Toews was sent off on a questionable hooking call at the 1:13 mark. Chicago couldn't capitalize on a power play of its own just before the Toews penalty, then faltered late with the game nearly in overtime.
It's certainly a disappointing result for the Blackhawks, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the first period to make this a fantastic contest, but this was a performance full of mistakes. The Capitals easily could've came away with more than three goals in this game, and it took a resilient performance after a poor start to rally for the tie.
The Capitals got the scoring going early when Brent Seabrook fumbled a pass near the blue line and allowed Eric Fehr to get a breakaway chance on Corey Crawford. There's just something about Fehr and outdoor games, because he had little problem sliding it past the goaltender for his third goal in two career Winter Classics.
Seabrook's error was just the first example of some early jitters costing the 'Hawks, something that's been a theme for the team in recent games. Instead of using the big stage and new year to put an end to that recent stretch of weak play in the first period, the Capitals were the ones getting big chances on goal during the first dozen minutes.
It would prove costly again minutes after the Fehr goal, when Crawford allowed a rebound that fell right to Alex Ovechkin, who had little problem firing it home for his 18th goal of the season. A dozen minutes into the game, the 'Hawks were trailing 2-0 and badly in need of a spark before things got out of hand.
A blowout loss by the Blackhawks on this kind of stage would've been utterly stunning, though, and the team quickly rallied after the Ovechkin goal to change the flow. Patrick Sharp was the one to get on the scoreboard, beating Braden Holtby with a shot near the blue line after Nicklas Backstrom put the 'Hawks on the power play less than two minutes after his team went up by two.
It seemed like we might have a high-scoring affair at that point, but both sides settled in once the lighting and shadows evened out with the sun setting in the background. The only goal for the next 46 minutes would be Brandon Saad's game-tying goal on a bit of tic-tac passing early in the second period.
There was still some sun shining over the ice at that point. By the third period, the stadium lights had been turned on and the sun was setting in the nation's capital. That seemed to help both goaltenders, who were regularly being challenged by two of the best offenses in the NHL.
Crawford finished the game with 32 saves on 35 attempts, while Holtby finished with 33 saves on 35 attempts.
Those identical shot totals show how close this game was, and Brouwer's last-minute goal deprived us of what would've been an awesome overtime. Ultimately it's hard not to be disappointed that the 'Hawks failed to get a win, but this was also a pretty spectacular showcase of hockey for national audiences by the NHL. So that's certainly good, and the 'Hawks can get back on the ice in a few days to face the Stars to get back on track.
2015 wasn't supposed to start this way, but if the NHL wants us back next year, we're totally in.