Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews initially offered to move his bag out of the way, perhaps not realizing the gesture would open up even more space for the cameras and reporters about to swarm his locker. Just moments removed from playing a central role in the dramatic finish to the 2015 Winter Classic, Toews then let loose an audible groan.

Though this highly anticipated outdoor matchup will be no more important in the standings than any other NHL game on the calendar, there was an unmistakable sense of regret in Chicago’s locker room given the charged atmosphere and national audience that served as the backdrop Thursday afternoon.

Toews, for instance, watched from the penalty box as Washington’s Troy Brouwer, a member of Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup team, scored the game-winning goal against his former teammates with 12.9 seconds remaining in the third period and lifted the Capitals to a 3-2 win over the Blackhawks in front of 42,832 at Nationals Park.

Given that blow, Toews could hold back only so much when asked about the questionable hooking penalty that led to the sequence, insinuating it was a makeup call by the referees.

“I don’t know how much that play deserved a call there, how much it had to do with us getting a few more opportunities on the power play previously in the game,” Toews said. “They got their bounce they were looking for . . . and we walk away with nothing.”

Dan Craig, known to many as "The Ice Man," and his son, Mike, help assemble the rink inside Nationals Park for the NHL's 2015 Winter Classic. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

Those words were echoed throughout the visitor’s clubhouse, where blame was easy to dole out.

For the fourth straight game, Chicago fell behind in the first period. In the second period, it had a five-on-three advantage for 1 minute 31 seconds and couldn’t muster a shot on net. Less than two minutes before Toews’s pivotal penalty, Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen was whistled for boarding and Chicago’s power play came up empty.

Then came the final miscue by Chicago’s league-best penalty kill, on a broken play in which Chicago’s Brandon Saad snapped the stick of Capitals star Alex Ovechkin — a sequence that would have earned Washington a two-man advantage heading into overtime — and Brouwer blasted the loose puck past Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

“They had a power play right before that, so both teams had their turn,” Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville said. “They cashed in.”

One Blackhawks player thought the game should have been delayed because of the sun glare issues that threatened to derail Thursday’s 1:30 start.

“It was pretty tough, to be honest with you. It was not the best for us to play in that kind of weather,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It was tough to see the puck, and I think it was kind of dangerous. But no one get hurt at least, and the second and third was much better.”

Hjalmarsson joined several Chicago players in expressing gratitude that the buildup associated with the Winter Classic is over, noting he “can’t wait to get in the locker room and sit in the players’ lounge and we don’t have a camera in our face.” But once Saad tied the score at 2 early in the second period, off a tic-tac-toe feed from Toews and forward Marian Hossa, Chicago’s motivation became clear.

The assist gave Toews the NHL’s outdoor game scoring record (five points in three games). It just didn’t matter anymore by the time he fielded another question about the penalty that ultimately set the stage for his team’s demise.

“It’s not a good feeling, especially [with] the excitement, the hype, the energy that surrounds this whole thing,” Toews said. “You want to find a way to win.”