The Washington Capitals wrapped up their first practice since beating Pittsburgh, 3-1, in Saturday night's much-hyped Winter Classic, and the mood in the locker room at KCI was as much relief as exultation.
"The win is nice," center Brooks Laich said. "If you lose that hockey game, you don't ever want to talk about the Winter Classic again because it's no fun. The feeling in the locker room [after beating the Penguins] was, I think, a different feeling than just your standard regular-season win. I think it was a little more special because of the event, but it's still only one hockey game."
It was a regular-season game watched by more viewers than any since 1975, according to NBC, which televised the Winter Classic at Heinz Field in prime time after originally scheduling it for a 1 p.m. start. Persistent rain on Saturday afternoon prompted the move, and the result was nearly 4.5 million viewers and a 22-percent spike from last season's game.
Eric Fehr scored twice after Mike Knuble tied the score at 6 minutes 54 seconds in the second period. Goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped 32 of 33 shots, and the Capitals won their third straight game. Washington is 5-0-1 since dropping a season-worst eight consecutive games. Its only loss over the past six games was to the Penguins in a shootout, 3-2, on Dec. 23.
"I think the most important thing for us was to get the win," Fehr said. "We didn't want to lose that game on the 23rd in a shootout. That kind of hurt, but to be able to redeem ourselves in the Winter Classic was special."
For veteran left wing Jason Chimera, it was the second outdoor NHL game of his career. When he was with Edmonton in 2003, Chimera played in the Heritage Classic against the Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The highlight for Chimera in the Heritage Classic was drawing a roughing call during the third period of Montreal's 4-3 victory that included two goals by the Canadiens' Richard Zednik, who spent a significant portion of his career with the Capitals.
"Cold and not cold," Chimera said when asked to compare the Winter Classic to the Heritage Classic, which factoring wind chill had temperatures reach minus-20. "It was damn cold in the Heritage Classic. It was a pleasant experience in [the Winter Classic] because you could actually hit people out there. I know guys were scared to hit people in the Heritage Classic because it was so damn cold. Both games were very unique and both very fun, and I think it was great to be part of both."