They didn't care that it was a preseason exhibition game or that the visiting team didn't start most of its big guns.
It was Chicago Blackhawks
vs. Detroit Red Wings
. It was NHL hockey back at the United Center for the first time since June, when the Hawks won the team's first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
It was hockey night in the Windy City, and the 20,553 fans who showed up Saturday night to watch the Hawks down the Wings 4-2 went home happy. The attendance was a Hawks preseason record, topping the 19,734 who showed up for a game against Washington on Sept. 19, 2009.
Players and coaches from both sides were equally impressed
"It's pretty fun to see, even in preseason to see the support," said new Hawks center Ryan Potulny, who opened the scoring late in the first period off a long rebound. "They came out and were there for us from the first drop of the puck."
It was a charged atmosphere for the visitors, as well -- even if the reception they get in Chicago wouldn't exactly be described as friendly.
"I was with Anaheim the year after they won the Cup and everybody is always so excited when that happens," said Wings forward Drew Miller
, whose goal 15:06 into the third period cut the Hawks' lead to 3-2. "It's definitely a fun rink. We had a lot of young guys with us, so it was fun for them to come here for the first time. It's a fun atmosphere for the visiting team as well."
Like Detroit did on Friday, Chicago started a lot of its regulars in front of the home fans while the Wings played without stars like Henrik Zetterberg
, Niklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk
Chicago outshot Detroit 34-25 and controlled play for most of the game -- which featured 11 penalties but just one power-play goal, by Duncan Keith
, between the two teams. Keith's goal was started by goalie Marty Turco, who wasn't given an assist but flipped a long pass down the ice to Patrick Kane
, who passed to Fernando Pisani for the set-up pass to Keith – who slapped it past Detroit's Chris Osgood.
Turco stopped 23 shots for the Blackhawks in his home debut, while Jack Skille and Marian Hossa
also added goals.
Skille came into the game wanting to make more of an impression than he'd been able to thus far, and he delivered while playing on a line with Pisani on the left wing and Potulny at center. Skille finished with a goal and an assist -- which was awarded after his first-period shot kicked out to Potulny for the score.
"Before today, it was more about knocking the rust off and trying to get back in the swing of things," Skille said. "You feel a little pressure (to make an impression), but at the same time you've just got to let those things happen. If you force it, then chances are you're not going to make a good impression."
His goal 10:39 into the third might leave a lasting impression on Hawks coach Joel Quenneville for the effort alone. Skille dove at a puck thrown at the net by Hossa and chipped it past Osgood for a 3-1 lead. His linemates, Potulny and Pisani, each stood out as well -- which is getting to be important as the Hawks keep paring down the roster.
Both players signed with the Hawks as free agents this summer after being teammates in Edmonton. Now they're in a battle for roster spots with the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"I try not to look at that too much," Potulny said. "Some guys know their spots are secure, but there's some of us who are battling for some spots, and I don't know if (any of us) feels comfortable. You just have to go out and play your game and do what you do best to try to help the team out."
Osgood made 31 saves and was pretty sharp for the Wings, keeping the Hawks off the board on a first-period power play by stopping several good scoring chances.
provided the second goal for Detroit on a great individual effort, holding off Hawks defenseman Shawn Lalonde
while skating in on Turco to get the Wings to within 2-1.
"I think I got kind of lucky there," said Filppula, one of Detroit's few regulars who played. "I think it might have hit one of their guys and went in. I was just trying to get to the net and get a good shot."