Wrigley Field played host to the NHL’s second annual Winter Classic game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. Ty Conklin had already played two outdoor NHL games prior to New Year’s Day, and he still has the distinction of playing in every regular-season NHL outdoor game to this day (Conklin also played for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2003 Heritage Classic, which Montreal won by a score of 4 to 3).
Last year, Conklin was the goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who went on to defeat the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium on a Sidney Crosby shootout goal. This year, Conklin was the goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, who defeated the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 6 to 4 in the Windy City.
After a disappointing 4-0 loss to the Red Wings just two days before the big outdoor game, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville decided to start Cristobal Huet in favor of Nikolai Khabibulin. Unfortunately, not even a change in goal could help the Blackhawks overcome Red Wing adversity.
Prior to the 701st meeting between these two rivals, fighter jets flew over the rink while fireworks were ignited during the U.S. National Anthem. The 40,818 fans in attendance witnessed a back-and-forth, fast-paced, physical game in front of their eyes.
The second annual Winter Classic got off to a good start for the Blackhawks. Pavel Datsyuk was issued a 2-minute penalty for hooking Matt Walker, and just 90 seconds into the Chicago power play, Detroit was called for too many men on the ice; the latter penalty came soon after Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook knocked Detroit’s Dan Cleary into the Blackhawks bench.
The Blackhawks immediately answered when Kris Versteeg scored off of a Martin Havlat shot that bounced awkwardly off of the Detroit netminder. However, Detroit answered back with a power play goal of their own; Henrik Zetterberg skated around the back of Cristobal Huet and fed Mikael Samuelsson, who needed two shots to beat Huet for the equalizer.
However, the Blackhawks would answer back with another power play goal of their own; this time, it was Martin Havlat who answered with his tenth goal of the season. Ben Eager also found the back of the net late in the first period after finding open space between Conklin and the neighboring goalpost. After the first period, Chicago led 3 to 1.
While the Red Wings skated against the wind during the first period, the tables turned when Cristobal Huet had to sit in Ty Conklin’s shoes during the second period. Just 1:14 into the middle frame, Jiri Hudler scored with assists from Marian Hossa and Henrik Zetterberg to cut the Chicago lead in half. Eleven minutes later, Hudler found the net again after struggling to slam the puck into the open net. Then, with less than three minutes left in the third period, Pavel Datsyuk split the Blackhawks defense and scored on Huet with a backhand deke. After the third period, Detroit led 4 to 3.
Conklin had to defend his goal against the wind during the third period, but it was not a problem for his hot Red Wings. Brian Rafalski and Brett Lebda scored just 17 seconds apart to put Detroit up by a field goal early in the third period. Lebda’s goal was initially waved off, but after further review, it was determined that the puck had actually made contact with the corner of the net before bouncing back in play. As a result of the Lebda goal, Quenneville yanked Huet out of the net and replaced him with Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin would finish the last 16:36 of the game, shutting out the Detroit Red Wings with 13 saves on 13 shots.
As for the Chicago Blackhawks, they only beat Conklin once during the third period on a Duncan Keith slap shot with ten seconds left in the game. Nevertheless, the Detroit Red Wings came out on top in the NHL’s third outdoor regular-season game.
Ty Conklin, who now has won both Winter Classic games, made 33 saves on 37 shots en route to the victory. As for Huet, he faced 30 shots from the Detroit Red Wings, saving 24 of those shots.
Also noteworthy about the game was Reebok’s Lost Logo Challenge. Everybody playing in this year’s Winter Classic wore a jersey, be it Detroit or Chicago, but ONLY ONE PLAYER FROM BOTH TEAMS didn’t sport a Reebok logo on the back of his jersey. The object of the challenge was to spot the player whose jersey was missing the Reebok logo.
Entries were accepted only during the first two periods of the game. The fans in attendance could enter the contest by texting the word “Reebok” to 81812 or calling a toll-free number that was posted on the stadium scoreboard. The viewers at home could participate by logging onto www.reebok.com.
Who was the player that sported the missing logo? It was Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien, a 23-year old right winger from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The winners of the Lost Logo Challenge will be announced on January 2 on www.reebok.com (I hope I won, but odds are, I didn’t because I submitted my entry soon after the second period ended).