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When I turned on NBC and saw the snow falling down in such rapid speed I figured, "Man, this is going to blind the goalies. Final score 17-15 Pens." Considering the Penguins scored on an Crosby to Armstrong goal within the first 21 seconds of the game, my half-serious comment started to take a more honest tone.
From then on in it was a series of stoppages in play to repair the ice. From CO2 cans to buckets of water, each teams' star players were given the opportunity to rest up. Zambonis and teams of shovelers cleared the ice during commercial breaks, but the weather seemed to take its toll on the ice. In fact, it was really starting to impact the play. Attempts to clear the zone took more effort than usual. A casual wrister to the other end had to be taken with some extra force, often more of a lift than a slide to clear the puck. Why you ask? The snow piling up on the ice of course.
Behind the nets, where 'snow' normally gathers during regular indoor games, looked more like a snow bank in which the puck just died entirely. Scenes during the game showed Malkin slipping up when in the Sabres' zone and towards the end of the game even hindered the Sabres' attempts to win in regulation thanks to unusually mishandled pucks fighting against the elements.
The Pens may have jumped out to an early burst in the first period, but the Sabres absolutely dominated the second. That was more than evident by the shot count: Sabres 14 to the Penguins 2. Heading into the third, the score was tied at one thanks in part to an early second period goal from Brian Campbell.
By the third period the goaltending duel had risen to epic proportions. Ryan Miller stopped all 12 shots faced, while Ty Conklin looked like he was on the receiving end of a firing squad. As explained prior to the game, a stoppage of play awaited at the 10-minute mark of the third so as to allow the teams to switch sides and evenly pair them against Mother Nature. The same switch would be made two and a half minutes into overtime, but not until after the Sabres nearly won it in regulation in the dying seconds of the third.
Overtime came and went, starting with a full two-minute power play for the Sabres that found Colby Armstrong in the box for a hooking call after the last whistle of the third. Ty Conklin stopped all seven overtime shots and Jordan Staal was the unsung hero during the faceoff wins in the Pens' zone. Despite not having any shots on net in overtime the Pens managed to stick it out and draw the shootout. With the shootout series tied 1-1, Captain Crosby sealed the victory for the Pens beating Ryan Miller five hole on the last shot in the third round.
Overall it was an exciting game hindered only by short stalls in play to repair the ice mishaps from the outdoor atmosphere. The Sabres certainly played like the better team in the second half of the game, but the Pens stole this one right from under them in front of the home crowd in Buffalo. Either way you look at it, the Sabres earned that overtime point. Even Ray Shero joked earlier that each team should get a point just for playing. More importantly, Ty Conklin improved to 5-0 in net for the Pens, two of which have come in shootout victories. His outdoor record, previously winless as an Oiler against Montreal in 2003, improved to 1-1 with today's victory.
Next game is against the Leafs Thursday in Pitt. Some questions to come from Pension Plan Puppets along with a preview.
What say you of the Winter Classic? Did it do an efficient job at promoting the [new] NHL to the masses, or did it fall short and turn people off?