Troy Brouwer scored a powerplay goal with 13 seconds left in regulation as the Washington Capitals rang in the New Year with a thrilling 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the outdoor Winter Classic.

Brouwer, who won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, provided a few more New Year's Day fireworks in the U.S. capital when he spun quickly and blasted a shot past the out-stretched glove of Chicago netminder Corey Crawford at Nationals Park.

In just seven years the outdoor game that started as nothing more than a one-off novelty has grown into the league's marketing centre piece, a New Year's Day showcase that has become the NHL's signature event - and big business for the league and host cities.

A concept that has captured the imagination of casual hockey fans, the Winter Classic has an appeal that lies in the game's outdoor roots, anchored by romantic nostalgia and wintery charm.

"Probably the most dramatic goal I've scored," said Brouwer. "Just the time, the event here, the Winter Classic, and the fact it was against my former team."

After last year's Winter Classic attracted a record NHL crowd of more than 105,000 at Michigan Stadium, Thursday's game was played in front of 42,382 at the home of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals.

The puck was dropped under brilliant blue skies and the Capitals made a bright start with Eric Fehr, who scored twice in the Capitals' 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2011 Winter Classic, and Alex Ovechkin putting them up 2-0.

Before the end of the period, Patrick Sharp would answer for Chicago while Brandon Saad had the only goal of second to leave the contest deadlocked at 2-2 going into the final frame.

The first regular-season outdoor game took place in 2003, when the Montreal Canadiens faced off against the Edmonton Oilers at Commonwealth Stadium while the first Winter Classic was staged in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

Since 2003, there have been 13 regular-season outdoor games, seven of them played at football venues and six at baseball stadiums.