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Winter Classic loss could be a win for Hawks in future

Friday, 01.02.2009 / 9:00 AM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

CHICAGO -- Was the media hype and pre-game ceremonies from the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 too much for the Chicago Blackhawks to overcome?
   
Possibly. It sure didn't seem that way, though, when Ben Eager's goal in the final minute of the opening period gave the young squad a two-goal lead at the first intermission. But when the final horn at Wrigley Field sounded, the Hawks looked like a completely different team in dropping their second straight to the Detroit Red Wings in a 6-4 loss in front of 40,818 fans Thursday afternoon.
   
Certainly, there was plenty to get the Blackhawks pumped up as the Winter Classic approached. From the stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner to the pyrotechnics to the chilling fly-by of two fighter jets, it's hard to imagine that the blood wasn't flowing at an intense rate.
   
"Before the game, everybody was kind of looking around and trying to take in the atmosphere and get accustomed to it," said Patrick Sharp, a veteran Chicago forward. "Certainly, the energy level was high to start. Everybody was pumped up. The pre-game festivities were very exciting and we came out and played the way we wanted to start the game."
   
Thursday marked the second straight Winter Classic for Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell, who took part in last year's festivities as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. Campbell admitted it was difficult not to be distracted by the unique surroundings and atmosphere of this game.

"There was a lot going on and a lot you want to see and take in as a player," Campbell said. "You want to enjoy it, but there is a game to be played. I thought we could handle it early on."

They did.

Kris Versteeg and Martin Havlat each scored on the power play before Ben Eager scored in the final minute to give Chicago a 3-1 lead after one period. But whatever Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said during the intermission helped his team flip the switch.

And, the champions never turned it off, scoring five unanswered goals before Chicago added a consolation marker in the game's final minute. Seventeen of Detroit's 43 shots came in the third period; a clear indication that the veteran Wings never let up on the young Blackhawks.

The loss made it difficult for Chicago captain Jonathan Toews to appreciate this wonderful event, at least for now.

"It's hard to right now," Toews said. "It's definitely a tough pill to swallow. We wanted to do it for ourselves, but most of all we wanted to do it for the fans and everybody that supported this team for so many years. It was a pretty big game. It's disappointing that we couldn't come out with a win. It was a pretty sinking feeling in the locker room."
   
Toews wasn't about to use the unique and unfamiliar open-air rink as an excuse. After all, the Red Wings had to skate on it, too.
   
"I think it goes both ways," Toews said. "Yeah, we were excited to come out there. We were fine in the first period, but after a while, I think the environment and the ice and everything was pretty standard. We tried our best to keep it going, but Detroit is such a consistent team that they don't get rattled when they get down a few goals. I don't think (the environment) had an effect on us."
   
Chicago's recent nine-game winning streak -- which was halted Tuesday night by the Red Wings in Detroit -- did nothing but help build the excitement leading up to Thursday's game. With a win, Chicago could have pulled within four points of first-place Detroit in the Central Division standings. Instead, Chicago sat eight points out as they left Wrigley Field on Thursday night.

Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith was disappointed that he and his teammates were unable to send their fans home with a victory.
   
"Obviously, there was a lot of media attention," Keith said. "There (were) a lot of fans and maybe some people who turned on the game to watch us today. It's fun to be a part of. It's too bad we didn't get the two points that we needed. But we'll take the positives from it and get better for the next game."

Even with the unfulfilling result, it will be difficult for the Blackhawks to reflect on this game with anything but fond memories as the initial pain of losing begins to fade.

"It was thrilling," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "From the National Anthem and walking out before the game started, it was a special feeling. Everything from the pre-game to the game itself was a lot of fun.

"Certainly, we didn't like to see some the things we saw, but it will be a good memory. It was a special game for everybody. It wasn't just another game."