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All eyes turn to Bridgestone Winter Classic

by Mike G. Morreale /
The buildup to the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic reaches a crescendo Thursday when the host Chicago Blackhawks face the Detroit Red Wings in an outdoor matinee at Wrigley Field.

The 701st meeting and second in three days between the Hawks and Wings is the one hockey fans have anticipated ever since Sidney Crosby meandered through the snowflakes for a shootout goal to lead the Penguins over the Sabres before 72,217 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium last season.

So what is Chicago's Patrick Kane expecting? Even he isn't sure.

"You don't really know," Kane said. "You don't really know what you want as a player, either. I guess you want it to be a little cold so the ice is better and all of the ice complications are worked out. But at the same time, you don't want it to be too windy where the wind is blowing in your face the whole game. I'm sure it will be a cold day, but a fun day, so I'm looking forward to it."

Red Wings goalie Ty Conklin earned the win against the Sabres last season as a member of the Penguins. How did he manage?

"There's some nights where you're not going to get a whole lot of action, and I think seeing 20 to 25 shots (in Detroit) is a lot different than seeing 30 to 35 shots (in Pittsburgh)," Conklin said. "You have to do different things to stay involved in the game and to keep yourself sharp mentally. Staying warm will be another challenge."

Then there's Eddie Olczyk, who'll stand on the broadcaster's podium to call the game beside play-by-play man Mike Emrick, during NBC's exclusive coverage of the game.

"It's going to be one of those real special moments doing this game, being a Chicago native my whole life and growing up a diehard Cubs fan," Olczyk said. "And the buzz in that town has been at a fever pitch since the announcement. With the way (Chicago) has played and the way the team has really transformed over the last year, it's added to the excitement. It's such a small venue and people are going to be right on top of the rink, so to be a part of it is something real special. The people have been talking about it for a long-time in Chicago and the Hawks have done a great job of really promoting and publicizing and pumping it up. If you can't get there, then you'd better be watching on television."

Keep checking back to for extensive coverage of the Winter Classic from start to finish.

Unforgettable -- In addition to the outdoor extravaganza at Wrigley Field in Chicago, there are four other games slated for New Year's Day. Here's a closer look:

Pittsburgh at Boston -- Things haven't gone according to plan in Pittsburgh in recent weeks, particularly after suffering its first shutout loss of the season last Tuesday -- 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Penguins have gone 4-6-0 over their last 10 while losing four of their last five tries on home ice. The Bruins, meanwhile, are 9-1-0 over their last 10 and sit atop the Eastern Conference with 26 wins and 56 points. The club has won its last 13 games on home ice -- its longest winning stretch since a 16-game skein in 1976. Center David Krejci has registered a point in seven straight games (5 goals, 9 assists) -- all victories.

Buffalo at Toronto -- The Sabres currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 17 wins and 39 points. Wing Clarke MacArthur has notched at least one point in five straight games (4 goals, 1 assist) for the Sabres, who have gone 5-3-2 over their last 10. The recent talk in Toronto has centered around rookie goalie Justin Pogge, who won his NHL debut against the Thrashers, 6-2, last Monday. The Leafs reached the holiday break with a .500 record while winning five of their last seven games. Entering Sunday's game against the Capitals, Toronto was 11th in the East with 14 wins and 34 points.

Tampa Bay at Washington
-- Did you know the complete package that is Alex Ovechkin ranks third in the NHL in goals (23) and points (47) and fourth in hits (125)? The Capitals are second in the East with 22 wins and 47 points and are 8-2-0 over their last 10 games. The Lightning snapped an 11-game winless streak with a 2-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins last Tuesday. The club then scored back-to-back triumphs over the rival Florida Panthers to equal a season-best three-game winning streak. Tampa's top line of Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone combined for 4 goals and 7 assists in a 6-4 victory on Saturday.

Vancouver at Nashville -- Here's an interesting fact: The Canucks have an all-time record of 160-54-21 when both left wing Daniel Sedin and center Henrik Sedin find the score sheet in the same game. Vancouver's record this season when both twins record at least one point is 12-5-1. The club is currently fifth in the Western Conference with 19 wins and 41 points. The Predators are eighth in the Conference with 17 wins and 37 points and the New Year's Day clash with Vancouver will be the first of five straight at home for Nashville, where it is 10-4-1.

Battle of New York -- Throw the records out the window when the Islanders (11-21-4) visit Madison Square Garden to play the Rangers (22-13-3) on Monday.

The teams have split the season-series -- with the Isles scoring a 2-1 victory back on Nov. 4 when Isles goalie Joey MacDonald turned aside 35 of 36 shots. Isles incumbent starter Rick DiPietro made his first start in a little over two months Friday in a 4-1 victory over the Maple Leafs and stopped 28 shots. DiPietro returned after missing 27 games following his second knee surgery in five months. Coming off surgery on his right knee in June, DiPietro had appeared in only three games this season, the last being a one-period stint against Carolina on Oct. 25. He had arthroscopic surgery on Oct. 31 to repair a torn meniscus. The victory over Toronto was the first for the Islanders in the month of December (1-9-2).

After starting off the season in dominant fashion, the Rangers, 4-5-1 over their last 10, have cooled down considerably. Center Scott Gomez has just 6 goals and is minus-11 in 33 games. He has just 2 goals and has averaged 4.2 shots over the club's last 14 games. Nikolai Zherdev, who was acquired via trade from Columbus on July 2, leads the Rangers with 33 points (12 goals) in 38 games.

Rangers coach Tom Renney wasn't particularly thrilled with his club's performance in a 4-2 loss to the Devils on Saturday.

"It's brain-dead hockey," Renney said after the game. "You try and cheat your way in to a win right off the bat. If we don't start the hockey game down 2-0 we have a chance to win."

Patrik Elias scored a shorthanded goal 4:14 into the game to give New Jersey a 2-0 edge before Nigel Dawes pulled the Rangers within one just a minute later.

Better late than never -- Just four full days remain in the XM NHL All-Star Fan Balloting presented by 2K Sports to determine the starting lineups for the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal. It's time to get those last-minute votes on record to make certain your favorite player is competing at Bell Centre.

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby has already eclipsed Jaromir Jagr's record for the most votes ever received by one player in one season in the history of NHL All-Star Game fan balloting. Jagr, who earned 1,020,736 votes as a member of the Pens in 2000, was surpassed by Crosby (1,323,117 current votes) on Dec. 21.

If balloting concluded Sunday morning, the Eastern Conference starters would consist of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexei Kovalev at forward, Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar on defense and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal. In the Western Conference, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf are the leading candidates among the forwards with Brian Campbell and Nicklas Lidstrom on defense and J.S. Giguere in goal. 

NHL Hour on hold -- With the Bridgestone Winter Classic slated for New Year's Day, the NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement, which airs every Thursday from 4-5 p.m. throughout the season on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208), will resume programming on Jan. 8.

NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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