Troy Brouwer’s first goal against his former National Hockey League club was a fairytale last-minute game winner, lifting Washington over Chicago 3-2 in Thursday’s Winter Classic outdoor game.
The 29-year-old Canadian right wing netted the power-play tally with 12.9 seconds remaining to make the Capitals the first team with two triumphs in the NHL’s signature New Year’s Day event, having also won at Pittsburgh in 2011.
“It was pretty special for sure,” Brouwer said. “The finish couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Not only did Brouwer get back at the Blackhawks, who traded him to Washington in 2011 after he had helped them win the Stanley Cup the year before, but he was also the hero in the first game in Washington attended by his father Don, 67, who suffered a stroke and was hospitalized during his son’s title run with Chicago.
“Knowing how my dad is right now, he has probably got a couple of tears,” Brouwer said.
“I’ve had some good moments in my hockey career, but this one, with all the intangibles that played a part in it — my parents being able to come into town, playing against my former team and the dramatic fashion at the end, it’s it’s going to be a memorable day, a memorable event.”
Brouwer’s crucial goal was set up when Chicago captain Jonathan Toews was whistled for hooking with 73 seconds remaining in the third period to put the Blackhawks a man down.
“We had a power play before that, so I think both teams had their turn and they cashed in,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
“Penalty killing has been one of our key strengths all year long and we didn’t capitalize on it. At the end of day, it was a brutal loss.”
Hundreds of Capitals fans hurled free souvenir seat cushions into the air in celebration of Brouwer’s goal, which lifted Washington to 19-11 with seven regulation draws. The Blackhawks fell to 25-11-2.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, a four-time NHL goal scoring champion from Russia, and Eric Fehr had opened the scoring for the Capitals in the first period but Chicago equalized on goals by Patrick Sharp in the first and Brandon Saad in the second. Washington goalkeeper Braden Holtby made 31 saves to collect the victory.
The matchup drew 42,832 spectators at the home ballpark of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals for the 14th regular-season NHL stadium contest.
Teams agreed to have teams trade ends after the first 10 minutes of each period, a concession to the sun’s glare and shadows of the stadium’s upper deck that covered part of the ice rink in the first period.
“The first period was definitely a challenge,” Holtby said. “It was tough to pick up pucks.”
The Capitals’ defenders denied Chicago for 90 seconds in the second period while down two men in the penalty box, a span both sides deemed crucial.
“That was like scoring a goal for us right there,” Holtby said.
“If you don’t score on five and threes, you generally don’t win and that ended up being the result,” Quenneville said.
While it took Brouwer’s late heroics to decide it, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said the penalty kill was the turning point for the hosts.
“To me, that was the tipping point,” Trotz said. “We don’t kill that off, the Chicago Blackhawks are leaving here with the two points and we probably have a pretty disappointed locker room. That was huge.”