Less than four weeks away from the Winter Classic, the Detroit Red Wings erased a 4-2 deficit with a pair of third-period goals en route to a 5-4 shootout victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night.
The teams will meet on New Year's Day at Wrigley Field in what is destined to be an unforgettable scene. If Saturday night was any indication, the game itself should be pretty darn good, too.
"They're good … they're talented," Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the Blackhawks. "They have front-line players and good goaltenders. I expect them to be good for a long time coming. I expect us to have some real entertaining hockey games with them."
Detroit appeared to be on the fast track to an easy victory as it found the back of the net twice in the first 4:33 of the game. Valtteri Filppula got the Red Wings on the board just 92 seconds in, as his one-timer from the left circle beat Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet. It was the Wings' first shot of the night.
Jiri Hudler then put Detroit up by a pair with his 12th goal of the season. With the teams at even strength, Hudler took a pass from Filppula and fired one home from the left circle after Huet got caught behind the net.
''It's frustrating,'' Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. ''We need to shore that up. We need to be better with the puck.''
But the Blackhawks roared back, scoring three times before the end of the first period to take the lead. Patrick Sharp cut the deficit in half with a power-play goal at 9:08, when he one-timed a feed from Patrick Kane past Ty Conklin for his 15th goal of the season.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews then gave the Hawks the lead with a pair of goals just 3:28 apart. The first came at 16:27, when he got around Dan Cleary and made another move before beating Conklin to make it 2-2. He put a second one past Conklin with just five seconds left via the power play, on a shot from the top of the right circle than managed to beat Conklin glove side.
"It was a tough first period," Conklin said. "I'm not going to beat myself up too much about the first two, but the third I'd like to have. As a team, I felt like we got better as the game went on."
Chicago had the only goal of the second period, which was scored by Andrew Ladd at the 2-minute mark. With the teams at even strength, Ladd one-timed a shot from between the circles past Conklin for his fourth goal of the season.
The Red Wings entered the second intermission trailing by a pair. But they weren't exactly prepared to throw in the towel.
"There was a lot of confidence that we could win that game between the second and third," Conklin said. "Maybe in some other locker rooms, you don't know if you can do that. We know we can score goals. I know I feel that regardless of what the situation is that we can win any game."
Henrik Zetterberg put the Wings on the comeback trail with his 12th goal of the season at 6:32 of the third. After Duncan Keith was whistled for interference, Zetterberg poked Johan Franzen's feed past Huet to make it 4-3.
Marian Hossa then sent the home crowd into a frenzy when he tied the game with 9:37 remaining in regulation. The speedy winger finished off a 3-on-2 as he took a pass from Cleary and beat Huet with a wrist shot for his 15th goal of the season.
"I've been on a few teams, but this is as calm as it gets in the dressing room," said Hossa, who turned down a multi-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins for a one-year contract with Detroit. "It doesn't matter what the score is, we know what to do and there's no panic at all."
Chicago fired 13 shots on goal in the third period, but failed to beat Conklin, who got better as the night went on. He faced only one shot in overtime before denying Toews, Sharp and Kane in the shootout.
"I thought he played well," Babcock said of Conklin. "We gave up some quality chances tonight. He probably wasn't impressed with the third one, but it's just one of those things. He battled at the end and made some big saves in the shootout. Those were three good shooters."
"I think more than anything, you just try to dictate what they're going to do by your positioning," said Conklin, who played with Hossa in Pittsburgh last season. "It was nice -- especially after that third goal -- to be able to battle through it. I feel like I played two pretty solid periods in the second and third."
Hossa was happy to see his goaltender redeem himself after a tough first period. Conklin has never lost to the Blackhawks in his career (5-0-0).
"Ty saved the game at the end," Hossa said. "He made some key saves. That's what we need from our goalie, and he was strong at the end. It was nice to see Ty shut them down in the shootout."
Despite blowing a two-goal lead, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was pleased with his team's effort -- especially after falling into an early 2-0 hole.
''Good effort on our part,'' Quenneville said. ''A tough ending.''
If anything, though, it was a phenomenal show put on by the two teams that will make history at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1. Saturday night was certainly a most-filling appetizer.
"It's two good teams going after each other," Hossa said. "That's what the fans want. They have a talented team, a lot of young guys. They skate well, and they proved it tonight."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.