Crosby's shot wins 1st outdoor US NHL game

January 1, 2008 3:28:28 PM PST
Sidney Crosby's shootout goal will always be frozen in time. The Penguins captain somehow saw space between Ryan Miller's pads as he shifted through driving snow and gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the outdoor Winter Classic in front of an NHL-record 71,217 fans on Tuesday.

In elements way more suited for football than hockey, Crosby won the NHL's second outdoor game - and first in the United States - in the most dramatic of fashion at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

Crosby skated down the middle, eluded a pokecheck by Miller and put a shot between the goalie's pads on the final round of the shootout.

Ty Conklin allowed Ales Kotalik's goal to open the tiebreaker before stopping Tim Connolly and Maxim Afinogenov.

Kris Letang also scored for the Penguins, pushing his shootout record to 4-for-4.

Colby Armstrong gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead just 21 seconds after the opening faceoff, and Brian Campbell tied it 1:25 into the second.

Despite both teams dressed in retro-style jerseys, this games was decided by the most modern of methods - the shootout. Surprisingly, Zambonis didn't clean the ice as they would for a regular NHL game.

Given the choice of which goal to defend, both Miller and Conklin picked the West end to avoid the heavy snow that swirled and poured in toward the right.

Blowing winds and dropping temperatures worked against everyone inside the vast stadium that easily housed the hockey rink between the 16-yard lines. By the time the shootout became necessary, no one seemed to mind the typical January weather in western New York.

With the success of this event, it seems likely the NHL would seek to host more, perhaps even on an annual basis.

"When you see 70,000 people packed into a stadium to watch hockey, that's usually a good sign," Crosby said.

The record crowd that topped the one in Edmonton four years earlier, cheered and took pictures as the conclusion approached. The camera flashes dotted the entire stadium as each of the six shooters came in on goal through lake-effect snow.

When Crosby saw the puck cross the goal line, he spun toward the jubilant Penguins bench and jumped up and down with his hands raised.

Fans in the lower bowl stood throughout to get a better view of the puck as they looked out over the height of the rink's boards and the NBC and CBC television broadcast platforms behind the penalty boxes.

The biggest cheers came from hits and the few good scoring chances. Boos broke out when Penguins fans were pictured on the big video board behind where Crosby scored the winner.

The snow and cold was embraced. One enthusiastic patron held a poster that read, "Look Mom, no roof."

That was most clear in the final 5 minutes of regulation when snow fell at its heaviest clip and continued at that pace through the finish.

Miller and Conklin both had one game of experience playing a major game in the great outdoors, but neither owned a victory. Miller earned a 3-3 tie for Michigan State against Michigan in the 2001 "Cold War" game in front of 74,554 fans.

Conklin took the loss in host Edmonton's 4-3 defeat to Montreal on Nov. 22, 2003, during the NHL's first outdoor game that was attended by 57,167.

Miller donned a cap, fashioned out of a hockey sock, on top of his mask. Conklin went with just a standard head covering that featured snowflakes and a Winter Classic theme.

Sabres forward Thomas Vanek was the last to wear the full head sleeve that stretched over his mouth in warmups but was pulled down to his chin by the third period. Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor shed his visor that fogged and absorbed pelting snow and sleet.

Another lengthy delay occurred when an ice flaw required attention in the Buffalo zone.

When the buzzer sounded to break up the third period, it didn't stop a rush or any kind of scoring chance. The Penguins peeled back in their zone and essentially took a knee where Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly did many times in the glory days of the Bills, letting the final seconds tick off before the clubs changed sides at the 10-minute mark.

The final mid-period Zamboni run took longer than the others as the second cleaning machine was blocked in the tunnel by a chunk of ice. The wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the chilly players skated and stretched in a seemingly futile attempt to keep their muscles warm.

Vanek had two prime chances to win it in the final minute for Buffalo when he tried a wraparound and then forced Conklin to make a juggling catch.

Momentum changed with the weather that featured snow through the first 10 minutes, benign cloud cover through the opening intermission and then a wintery mix during the second. The stadium lights took effect as the sky darkened and provided a unique brightness to the rink.

The NHL supplied flames and smoke as the players left the tunnel en route to the ice and fireworks after the anthems.

As though they were trudging from home to the frozen pond, each team plodded down mats from the tunnel to the ice - stopping first to peel off their skate guards. Moms weren't there to call these grown kids back inside, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman didn't do it, either.

The only thing that got in their way was a buildup of snow that held up the movement of pucks and skates and the occasional Zamboni break to give the rink a clean and shine during a slow-paced first period.

Armstrong provided the lightning with his quick goal, with help from the snow. The puck came to a stop in the neutral zone near center ice, and Crosby carried it into the Sabres zone.

He got off a shot that Miller stopped, before the snow put another hold on the puck in front. It sat there for Armstrong to punch in his sixth goal and Pittsburgh's quickest of the season.

The snow slowed and tapered off about midway through the first, and the ice got a mid-period shine from the Zambonis with 9:54 left.

Three trouble spots cropped up along the wall in front of the players' benches, two in the zone Buffalo defended in the first period. Before the Penguins' third power play of the frame, with 7:43 remaining, the ice crew did patch work that caused a delay for several minutes.


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