Detroit won a wildly entertaining game Thursday afternoon, roaring back from a two-goal deficit to score five unanswered goals and take a 6-4 win and build an eight-point lead on Chicago in the race for the Central Division crown.
Chicago was just four points adrift of the Red Wings before this home-and-home series started Tuesday with the Wings' 4-0 victory in Detroit. The Red Wings have won all four games against Chicago this season.
Despite the loss and the problems it might create with the Hawks' short-term psyche, the Winter Classic still has to be considered a win for hockey and the Windy City. Historic Wrigley Field was a perfect host to a memorable game as 40,818 frozen fans watched the second Winter Classic -- and third outdoor game -- in NHL history.
In the inaugural Winter Classic last season in Buffalo, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Sabres managed just two goals in regulation before the Penguins took a 2-1 decision by winning the shootout.
This game, meanwhile, was played at a faster and more physical pace -- thanks, in part, to the lack of falling snow that was one of the signature moments of last year's game -- and featured 10 goals, including a few that will be on season-ending highlight reels.
Detroit defensemen Brian Rafalski and Brett Lebda, a Cubs fan who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, scored goals 17 seconds apart early in the third period to put a taut 4-3 game out of reach. Duncan Keith added a cosmetic power-play goal in the game's dying seconds for Chicago.
Rafalski's goal was on the power-play and featured a primary assist from Jiri Hudler, who started the five-goal run with back-to-back goals to open the second period and tie the game at 3-3.
Before the Wrigley crowd could even process that a 3-1 Chicago lead had turned into a 5-3 deficit, Lebda drilled a point shot just under the cross bar. The play went to video review, but was ruled a goal. That goal chased Chicago starter Cristobal Huet, who stopped 24 of the 30 shots he faced. Nikolai Khabibulin played the final 16:36.
Detroit goalie Ty Conklin, a veteran of the two previous outdoor games, looked shaky in the first period when he allowed three goals on 14 shots. But Conklin, the winning goalie for Pittsburgh in last year's Winter Classic, did not allow another goal until Keith's last-second shot to earn an impressive win, making 43 saves.
Conklin was helped by the heroics of Hudler, who started the comeback with a dominant second-period performance that stunned the raucous Wrigley crowd.
Hudler scored a pair of goals -- one just 74 seconds into the second and the other with 7:17 remaining -- to tie the game at 3-all before Pavel Datsyuk delivered a piece of individual artistry to give Detroit a 4-3 lead heading into the final period.
Datsyuk took a pass from Johan Franzen at the center ice line and split the two Chicago defensemen -- Cam Barker and Brian Campbell -- and then slipped a silky shot between Huet's leg pads.
Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat and Ben Eager all had first-period goals for the home team -- countered only by a Mikael Samuelsson goal -- to set the early tone and get the crowd into the game.
Not that this crowd needed much help in that department early on. In full throat from the start of the unforgettable pre-game ceremonies, the crowd never flagged and most of the fans remained standing throughout the game despite the 30-degree temperature that felt like 15 with the wind chill.
But Detroit did its best to quiet things to a dull roar with its dominant second period, headlined by the exploits of Hudler of Datsyuk.
The defending Stanley Cup champion -- using the tangible advantage of attacking with the wind -- dominated the tempo in the middle 20 minutes and clawed its way back into the game.
After two periods, six of the seven goals were scored against the goalie situated near the right-field foul line at Wrigley. The teams switched sides near the 10-minute mark of the third period to negate the wind advantage, but Detroit had already scored two goals against the wind in the third period's first three minutes to debunk that theory.
Hudler's two goals, though, had more to do with hard work than with wind gusts.
On the first goal, Hudler was in the right position to bang home a scoring attempt by Marian Hossa. Then, 11 minutes later, Hudler put himself to the left of Huet and had not one, not two, but three attempts to slam a bouncing puck home. He hit pay dirt on the third try, and suddenly the entire fabric of the game was changed.
The first period of this historic game at Wrigley Field -- witnessed by 40,000 raucous and raw fans -- was played at a furious pace, facing a slew of in-your face body contact from these fierce rivals desperate to claim Central Division supremacy.
Brent Seabrook announced Chicago's intentions just two minutes in when he hit Dan Cleary so hard in front of the Chicago bench that Cleary cartwheeled over the boards and landed on his head in the Hawks' bench.
The Red Wings were assessed a too-many-men penalty when Cleary's replacement jumped on the ice before Cleary could extricate himself.
During the ensuing power play, Versteeg slammed the rebound of a Havlat shot past Ty Conklin to give Chicago a 1-0 lead at the 3:24 mark.
After each team initiated a violent goal-mouth scrum during the next few minutes, Samuelsson answered for Detroit on the power play. After fanning on his initial one-time attempt on a Henrik Zetterberg feed, Samuelsson tucked the second try past Huet.
The 1-1 deadlock lasted less than three minutes, however, as the Versteeg-Havlat duo struck again while Lebda was serving a delay of game penalty for clearing the puck over the glass.
Versteeg made a sweet backhanded pass from behind the net right onto the stick of the onrushing Havlat, who beat Conklin to the far corner with a sick wrister to give Chicago the lead with 7:23 left in the period.
Both teams had other changes in the final seven minutes -- Detroit's Kronwall hit the crossbar and Conklin denied a piece of brilliance by Andrew Ladd -- but nobody could light the lamp to the final minute of the period when Eager bulled past Andreas Lilja at the back of the net and beat Conklin short-side with 49 seconds left.
With that, the teams left the ice with Wrigley serenading the Hawks for their effort in the first 20 minutes.
There was even excitement before the game.
The players entered the field at 12:20 p.m. to a pyrotechnic display as they passed home plate and the pitcher's mound to report to their benches.
There was another stunning pyrotechnic display, accompanied by a military jet flyover, during The Star-Spangled Banner that nearly brought the house down.
Finally, a ceremonial puck drop hosted by Ted Lindsay and Bobby Hull brought the pre-game show to a fitting end.
The official pre-game ceremonies started about 40 minutes earlier
At 11:45 a.m., the Wings took to the ice for warmups to a resounding chorus of boos from an already nearly full Wrigley. Two minutes later, the Blackhawks took to the ice to a deafening roar.
It was a perfect day for hockey, as well. A benevolent overcast sky cut the glare that could have been a problem. The temperature hovered near 30 degrees Fahrenheit, although it felt half as warm because of whipping wind that had the centerfield flags snapping at attention throughout the pre-game skate.
But the cold did not hamper the players as they ran drills and took shots on the goalies with gleeful abandon. It also did not dampen the spirits of a crowd that showed up to witness Hockey history as the NHL took its third outdoor game to a baseball venue for the first time after two editions held in baseball stadiums, including last season's inaugural Winter Classic in Buffalo.
"New Year's Day" by U2 blared in the background at the start of warm-ups. Players from both teams ditched their helmets for toques, in what has become a Winter Classic tradition.
There was also good news on the injury front from both sides as Chicago's Patrick Kane and Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom were among the players reporting for warm-ups. Kane was questionable after suffering a lower-body injury in Tuesday's 4-0 loss to the Red Wings in Detroit. Lidstrom, meanwhile, had missed the past two games with an ankle injury.