a night that goes (almost) just right


ANNAPOLIS — The buzz rippled through Navy-Marine Corps Stadium time and again.

The Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs put on a show on Saturday night. It wasn’t always smooth. But Washington’s 5-2 win was chock full of memorable moments.

The stadium’s power went out with 10 minutes left in the third period and the fans responded with a cell phone light show that cast a pretty glow over the rink. Alex Ovechkin scored his 40th goal and crept closer to 600.

The United States women’s hockey team and men’s curling team were honored for their recent gold medals in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” abounded. Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had three-point nights. Even Jakub Vrana scored for the first time since Dec. 14 and the Caps played one of their best games in weeks. Good timing as they head to California for a three-game road trip still in first place in the Metropolitan Division.  

Hard to find fault with any of that. And no one did. The crowd of just over 29,000, a few thousand shy of a sellout, still kept the old stadium close to full. Not even a power outage, with the Caps up 5-2 and 10 minutes left in the third period, could dampen the enthusiasm.

“I thought it was great. Perfect timing,” T.J. Oshie said. “There’s a three-goal difference. It seemed like things were dying down a little bit. We got the outage, and we got a small little concert there. I don’t know whose playlist was running, but they found us some good jams. The crowd got into it. The phone lights came out. Me and a couple of the fellas were jamming on the bench. So, the outage was perfect timing and a great way to finish the game there.”

The Caps are now 3-0 in outdoor games, each memorable in its own right. The game had an “event” feel all day. Everything fell into place once the NHL determined the fierce winds of the previous two days would die down enough to let the teams play.

The USA teams roamed the parking lots meetings fans, signing autographs and taking selfies while showing off their gold medals. Later, both teams met with reporters, then made their way to the ice in between periods for their recognition. The parking lots were filled with tailgating fans even as the temperatures dropped into the low 40s and hot chocolate was as prevalent as beer. Unlike previous Winter Classic outdoor games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks, the vast majority of fans were rooting for the Caps. The Toronto fans in attendance didn’t have a ton to cheer about anyway.    

It all added up to a Capitals team that played with tempo and energy and quickly took a 1-0 lead on a Kuznetsov goal 3:50 into the game. Zach Hyman tied it for Toronto at 5:20 of the first period and Ovechkin answered 59 seconds later to make it 2-1.

The pre-game introductions were appropriate given the scene and location. Midshipmen from the Naval Academy came out and surrounded the outside of the rink. The American and Canadian flags were unfurled on each end of the ice as the national anthems played. Fireworks popped. A single jet flew over the stadium and thrilled the crowd. Even the cell phone light show added to the unscripted fun.    

“That was great,” Backstrom said. “I loved everything about the atmosphere. Such a cool intro, I think. I was just enjoying everything.”

Photo by Brian McNally for The Sports Capitol

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