2011 NHL Winter Classic
The 2011 NHL Winter Classic might have been known as “The Rain Bowl” or the “The Noah’s Ark Bowl” if it had started on time. Unseasonably warm weather in Pittsburgh — with temperatures in the 40s and a threat of rain — hung over Heinz Field at the scheduled start time of 1 p.m. EST, forcing the league to push back the puck drop to 8 p.m. Thus, the game became the first night content in the Winter Classic’s still short four-year history.
The game featured two terrific teams with an intense rivalry: the visiting Washington Capitals and the home team Pittsburgh Penguins. In the 2010-11 season, the Pens would finish the regular season with 106 points, right behind the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division. The Caps would go on to win the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division with 107 points.
The Penguins, making their second Winter Classic appearance, featured Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal (just back for the game and the 2010-11 season after an eight-month injury absence), Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury. The Capitals had a strong lineup as well, including Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin.
The teams had met many times in the Stanley Cup playoffs over the previous two decades, with the Pens coming out on top all but once. Nevertheless, the Capitals came into the Penguins’ Winter Classic home game with plenty of confidence. The team was really starting to come together around its superstar leader, Ovechkin — but then again, the Pittsburgh fans could say the same thing about their team and Crosby.
Weather Takes Center Stage at the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals Winter Classic
Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers since its opening in 2001, was the 2011 NHL Winter Classic venue, another strong choice for the league. Heinz Field is a modern stadium that sets up well for hockey, Pittsburgh is a solid hockey town, and the winter weather is perfect for an outdoor game.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
As luck would have it, the forecast for Jan. 1, 2011 called for temperatures in the 40s and the possibility of severe thunderstorms. In light of this, game time was pushed back to 8 p.m., by which time temperatures had cooled to near freezing and the threat of rain had dwindled. Even with the delay, Heinz Field was packed to hockey-spectating capacity with 68,111 fans in attendance.
During the game, conditions on the ice were definitely subpar, with puddles and periods of rain, especially in the third period. As a result, the pace of play slowed down, but it was still a hard-fought contest.
Pittsburgh jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:13 into the first period on a goal by Malkin. In the second period, Washington scored twice, on a power play goal by Mike Knuble and then a full-strength goal by Eric Fehr. In the third period, Fehr scored again at 11:59, making it 3-1, Washington. That stood as the final. Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov was the first star selection on the strength of his 32 saves (.970 save percentage). The second and third stars went to Fehr and Malkin, respectively.
Pittsburgh’s Uniform Curse
The Penguins rolled out new alternate uniforms for the 2011 NHL Winter Classic, designed like their original 1967-68 jerseys, but with reversed dark and light blue colors. At the end of the second period, Crosby suffered an injury on an accidental hit from the Capitals’ David Steckel. It turned out to be a concussion, and it put Crosby out for the rest of the season and the first 20 games of the 2011-12 season. Malkin and Staal were injured in other games wearing these throwbacks, and then in 2013, Crosby was hit by a slapshot in a game against the New York Islanders, sending several teeth flying out his mouth and breaking his jaw. Guess which uniform he was wearing? Three days later, the Penguins scrapped the blue throwback uniforms.