Puck Daddy - NHL

WASHINGTON, DC - The Washington Capitals' 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins didn't feel like Penguins vs. Capitals, outside of some Matt Cooke(notes)-inspired drama late in the game.

The 12:30 p.m. start on Super Bowl Sunday made for a formless, unemotional start. But a Penguins/Capitals game without either Sidney Crosby(notes) or Evgeni Malkin(notes) on the bench contributed to that unengaged vibe in the building, too. If this would have been HBO fodder, most of it would have hit the cutting room floor.

Alex Ovechkin(notes) said a win over the Penguins is always a welcome development, but that this Pittsburgh team isn't the same one the Capitals saw in rainy Heinz Field a few weeks back.

"They lost two key players: Crosby and Malkin. They lost a couple of key offensive weapons. You can see how they played more safely than they usually play," he said. "Without two best players on the team, two best players in the League, they tried to play a more physical game, give more attention to the front of the net.

"It's always nice when you have a win. But if they were in the lineup, it would have been a different game."

Ovechkin was involved in the one moment that rose to the frequently chaotic and controversial level of this rivalry: Former Cap Matt Cooke's hit late in the third period that sparked a brawl and left Ovechkin flexing his left leg near the Washington bench:

Said Cooke after the game: "I just checked the puck. He tried to cut back on me, and we clipped skates."

Said Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma after the game: "I didn't think much contact was made. Maybe their skates get wound up together. But, you know, Ovechkin was out on the ensuing power play."

Said Nicklas Backstrom(notes), who was in the melee, after the game: "I just think it's Matt Cooke being Matt Cooke. I don't think he's trying to show something [about David Steckel's hit on Crosby]. It happens in hockey. He got a penalty for it."

Said Ovechkin after the game: "I don't know. I think he was frustrated, he wants to do something. It's his game. It's OK."

But Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau? He had much, much more to say.

"It's Matt Cooke. Need we say more?" said Boudreau.

Well, he did. 

"It's not like it's his first rodeo. He's done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says, 'What did I do?' He knows damn well what he did. There's no doubt in my mind that he's good at it and he knows how to pick this stuff. And we, as a League, buy into this like it's an accidental thing."

This was the first game between the Capitals and Penguins since the Winter Classic and Dave Steckel's(notes) incidental, blindside hit to Crosby's head that caused and/or contributed to a concussion that has kept the Penguins star out of the lineup since early January.

In the third period, right wing Tim Wallace(notes) of the Penguins took on Steckel in a fight:

Boudreau said any retribution against Steckel was misguided.

"If anybody wants to build this whole Crosby thing up, I mean, he didn't hit him intentionally. I've coached him for eight years now, and he;s never done it once. If they want to use it as a motivating tool, go ahead. And they send out a guy they call up ... Mike Rupp, who's a fighter, never challenged him. I thought it was crap."

Other notes from the Capitals' win:

Mike Green(notes) took a puck to the side of the head off a Brooks Oprik shot to end the first period, leaving him bleeding on the ice. He didn't return. Boudreau said he's day-to-day and had a headache.

Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) was outstanding for the Penguins, keeping his team in the game with a 21-save performance. Michal Neuvirth(notes) was no slouch, making 22 saves for the shutout win in what was a bit of an emergency start due to Semyon Varlamov's(notes) illness.

• Loved seeing Wallace take on Steckel. Here's a physical 26-year-old guy trying to secure a place in the show, and he steps to the player that may have knocked the captain out of the lineup. That's a calling card for Bylsma and the coaching staff.

• The Capitals' Swedish centers, Backtrom and Marcus Johansson(notes) (who scored a shorthanded goal in the win), where thrilled to hear Peter Forsberg was back in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche.

"It's awesome. He's one of the best players I've ever played against," said Johansson. "He loves the game, he loves to play. It's always good for hockey to have a player like that."

"He's one of my biggest idols growing up," said Backstrom. "I think he's going to be better than he was [in the Olympics]."

• This was the 18th Super Bowl Sunday game the Capitals have hosted, and they're 14-3-1 in those games, having won the last eight.

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