The goalie who got dissed turned shaky into a shutout.
Alex Ovechkin took a hit to the knee so nasty he wasn’t penalized when he retaliated with a punch to the face.
That was just a taste of the animosity from the Washington Capitals’ 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, two rivals who put on a Super Sunday show for the second straight year and again left no doubt they wouldn’t be hanging out together afterward to watch the NFL’s big game.
“They don’t like us. We don’t like them,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s the way it should be.”
Boudreau was particularly feisty after the Capitals’ eighth straight Super Bowl matinee win, a game in which David Steckel was targeted because of a hit on Sidney Crosby on New Year’s Day. Washington snapped the five-game winning streak of the Penguins, who are dealing with a likely season-ending knee injury to Evgeni Malkin and are awaiting Crosby’s return from a concussion.
Michal Neuvirth, who was called “shaky” by Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma during the HBO series that shadowed these two teams during the build-up to the Winter Classic, made 22 saves for his second career shutout. Neuvirth got his first start since Jan. 18 because expected starter Semyon Varlamov was feeling ill. The young Czech wasn’t short on motivation.
“Before the game, I remembered when he said that,” Neuvirth said, “and I kind of looked at him during the warm-up and told myself that I got to shut these guys out tonight.”
Brooks Laich scored a blue-collar goal in the first period, Marcus Johansson got a flashy short-handed one in the second period, and Mike Knuble added an empty-netter in the third for the Capitals.
Sunday was the first chance for the Penguins to retaliate for the hit Crosby took to the head from David Steckel in the Winter Classic game on Jan. 1 at Heinz Field. Crosby took another hit in the head from Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on Jan. 5 and has since missed 13 games.
It seemed right on cue, then, when Pittsburgh’s Tim Wallace, recalled on Saturday from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, goaded Steckel into dropping the gloves after a faceoff in the third period.
Then, with 3:42 to play, Matt Cooke tripped Ovechkin knee-to-knee in the open ice. Ovechkin got up, and he and Nicklas Backstrom immediately charged Cooke, both landing punches to the face. Cooke was given two minutes for tripping; neither Ovechkin nor Backstrom was penalized.