The Detroit Red Wings rallied from a two-goal deficit to shoot down the Chicago Blackhawks 6-4 on Thursday in the NHL’s Winter Classic outdoor game.
At venerable baseball ground Wrigley Field, transformed for the occasion into a hockey arena, the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings denied the host Blackhawks and stretched their lead over Chicago atop the NHL’s Central Division to eight points.
Despite the disappointment for Blackhawks fans, the entertaining New Year’s Day contest was no doubt just what the NHL had in mind when they scheduled the third outdoor game in league history, after last year’s inaugural Winter Classic in Buffalo and the Heritage Classic in Edmonton in 2003.
At Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs since 1916, 40,818 fans braved freezing temperatures and were rewarded with a fast, physical game.
Detroit defensemen Brian Rafalski and Brett Lebda — a Cubs fan who grew up in the Chicago suburbs — scored goals 17 seconds apart early in the third period to stretch the Red Wings lead to 6-3.
Duncan Keith pulled one back with a power-play goal in the game’s waning moments for Chicago, who also had goals from Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat and Ben Eager.
Rafalski’s power-play goal featured an assist from Jiri Hudler, who started a five-goal run for Detroit with back-to-back goals to open the second period. The Red Wings also had goals from Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk.
Lebda fired just under the crossbar for a goal that stood up to video replay review.
Lebda’s goal at 3:24 of the third period, spelled the end of the day for Chicago’s starting goaltender Cristobal Huet. The Frenchman stopped 24 of the 30 shots he faced before he was replaced by Nikolai Khabibulin.
Detroit goalie Ty Conklin, who played in both previous outdoor NHL games, finished with 43 saves.
He, like many others, was impressed with the condition of the ice surface created at the famed ballpark.
“The ice was in as good a shape as any of [the outdoor games],” he said. “It was a good atmosphere. “It’s a perfect day for this, no glare. The ice was as good as you could hope for in a baseball stadium.”
SABRES 4, MAPLE LEAFS 1
At Toronto, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy each scored twice for Buffalo and Ryan Miller stopped Niklas Hagman on a penalty shot to finish with 27 saves.
Roy also added an assist. John Mitchell scored for Toronto.
BRUINS 4, PENGUINS 2
At Boston, Manny Fernandez made 30 saves to remain perfect at home and help Boston take the overall NHL lead with its 10th straight victory, its longest since March 1973.
With the home-and-away sweep over Pittsburgh, the Bruins also moved into the top spot in the NHL with 62 points, one more than idle San Jose.
David Krejci, P.J. Axelsson, Milan Lucic and Marc Savard scored for Boston. Dustin Jeffrey scored his first NHL goal, and Ruslan Fedotenko added a goal for Pittsburgh.
In other NHL action, it was:
• Capitals 7, Lightning 4
• Canucks 2, Predators 1