Red Wings soar in Wrigley Field affair
The Detroit Red Wings scored five consecutive goals en route to a 6-4 victory in the NHL's second annual New Year's Day Winter Classic.
Jiri Hudler led the Red Wings back from a 3-1 deficit, scoring a pair to tie the game. Pavel Datsyuk put Detroit on top with a pretty breakaway goal late in the second, with Brian Rafalski and Brett Lebda widening the gap to 6-3 in the third.
Ty Conklin made 33 saves in his third NHL outdoor game. Conklin was also a winner last year with Pittsburgh in Buffalo. He was the losing netminder in the 2003 Heritage Classic when he was with the Edmonton Oilers.
"I think the ice was a little bit better this time," said Conklin. "It got a little bit cooler than last year.
"These things are great."
Hawks take charge but drop off
Conklin appeared headed towards another outdoor defeat, and possibly a seat on the sidelines, after Chicago's early three-goal burst in the first period at Wrigley.
Kris Versteeg and Martin Havlat were buzzing much of the period, with each finding the mark for the Blackhawks. Ben Eager put Chicago up 3-1 near the end of the first, but the last 40 minutes were dominated by the Red Wings.
Duncan Keith, who played in a massive outdoor game while at Michigan State, scored late in the third period.
Cristobal Huet lost for the first time in six starts. Huet stopped 24 shots and was pulled after the sixth Detroit goal in favour of Nikolai Khabibulin.
Detroit (25-7-5) has taken all of a possible eight points in games against Central-division rival Chicago this season. The Blackhawks gained two points from shootout losses early in the season.
Conklin made 36 saves earlier this week in the third meeting as the Red Wings blanked Chicago 4-0. Detroit opened up an eight-point Central lead with the home-and-home sweep.
"Standing-wise, we were virtually tied with them," said Rafalski. "These were very important points this week and we were able to come out with all four."
The NHL players were anything but tentative in the unusual surroundings, with plenty of scoring chances and hits. Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook deposited Daniel Cleary into the laps of his Blackhawk teammates with an early hit.
The game's first three goals came on the power play.
Rookie Versteeg had a half-empty net to convert a rebound from Havlat's slapshot at the 3:24 mark to open the scoring.
Not long after Rafalski hit the bar behind Huet, Henrik Zetterberg controlled the puck behind the Chicago net and fed to Mikael Samuelsson, who scored from the slot to tie the game for Detroit.
Versteeg backhanded a pass from behind the net to a waiting Havlat, who buried it high to the left side of the net to restore the home team's lead.
Defensive lapses cost Chicago
Eager scored with 42 seconds left in the period. The grinder outworked Andreas Lilja on the end boards, and wrapped the puck around between the right post and Conklin's pad.
Chicago's defensive lapses in the second paved the way for the comeback. Hudler was left alone early in the second on the doorstep to make a move around Huet for a one-goal game.
From nearly the exact same spot, Hudler added another goal 11 minutes later to make it 3-3.
Conklin made a key save to keep it tied by getting a piece of Patrick Kane's high shot.
Detroit then moved the length of the ice to set up Datsyuk's dazzler. Rafalski and Johan Franzen got the initial touches, with the Russian superstar then taking over to split the Chicago defence and beat Huet with a deke at 17:17.
Wings break game open
The Red Wings broke it wide open with goals 17 seconds apart early in the third.
Rafalski made it a two-goal cushion with a weak goal between Huet's pads at the side of the net just over three minutes into the frame. Hudler grabbed his third point with an assist.
Detroit resumed the attack and Lebda's shot caromed off the underside of the top of the net and bounced out quickly. Video review confirmed it good, and Khabibulin replaced a beleaguered Huet.
Zetterberg and Marian Hossa each notched their third assists on the scoring play.
Keith's goal with 10 seconds left was meaningful only in giving Chicago a 3-for-6 ledger on the power play. Detroit converted on two of five chances.
The game was played with many former Chicago sports greats on hand.
Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Bobby Hull and Denis Savard were among the local hockey legends, with former Cubs Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg and Canadian Ferguson Jenkins returning to their old haunt.