CHICAGO - Jiri Hudler took centre stage as the Detroit Red Wings once again demonstrated why they're the top franchise in hockey.
The speedy winger had two goals and an assist in front of a national television audience and sellout crowd at Wrigley Field on Thursday as the Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-4 in the Winter Classic.
It was the 701st time the teams had met but this one was unlike any of the others.
Fighter jets flew over the stadium, fireworks were set off during the American national anthem and team flags blew in the wind at the top of the yellow foul poles.
Mikael Samuelsson, Pavel Datsuyk, Brian Rafalski and Brett Lebda also scored for Detroit (25-7-5).
Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat, Duncan Keith and Ben Eager replied for the Blackhawks (20-8-7), who have lost all four games they've played against the Wings this season.
This would have been considered an entertaining hockey game if it were played in any of the league's 30 hockey stadiums so it was a smashing success in this setting. The play was fast and physical, making it the best of the three regular season games the NHL has held outdoors.
It was also back-and-forth, with Chicago grabbing early momentum behind the support of the majority of the 40,818 in attendance before Detroit's skill was put on display while scoring five unanswered goals.
The temperature was about 0 C when the puck was dropped but it felt much colder because of a stiff wind that blew across the ice surface. Some players sported neck warmers to combat the cold, but many simply stuck to wearing thicker undergarments.
The atmosphere around the stadium was electric. Jersey-clad fans filled bars in the local Wrigleyville neighbourhood more than two hours before the game and spilled on to West Addison Street.
When the Red Wings team bus pulled up to the stadium, the visitors were greeted by a loud chant of "Detroit sucks! Detroit sucks!"
The same refrain was repeated when the Detroit players walked out of the visitor's dugout to take the warmup before the game. Even though there were many Red Wings supporters in attendance, they were largely drowned out until the third period.
It was impossible to miss the ballpark feel. The smell of hotdogs wafted through the stadium while the pitcher's mound and home plate were left exposed for the first hockey game ever played here.
Fans in the lower section of the stadium and bleachers stood all afternoon, trying to improve their low-angle view. The sightlines were much better for the pricier seats in the upper deck.
Even though the action was tougher to follow than it would be at the United Center, the feel of the event more than made up for it. The roar that accompanied Brent Seabrook's early hit that sent Dan Cleary into the Chicago bench could easily have come during a ninth-inning rally by the beloved Cubs.
It only got louder too.
Versteeg opened the scoring 3:24 into the first period by sweeping a rebound behind Ty Conklin, who has been in goal for all three outdoor games. Samuelsson soon tied it but the Blackhawks kept on coming.
Havlat roofed a hard wrist shot and Eager made a great move to shake defenceman Andreas Lilja and score on a wraparound, giving Chicago a 3-1 lead at the first intermission.
That's two more goals than were scored in regulation during last year's Winter Classic, when Pittsburgh beat Buffalo 2-1 in a shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Ice guru Dan Craig and his team clearly benefitted from the extra time they had to prepare the surface at Wrigley Field. The puck didn't bounce nearly as much as it did in Buffalo - although there was no snowfall during this game - and the players were able to make plays as a result.
Hudler scored both of his goals from almost the same spot during the second period. He was at the right of the goal when he knocked the puck behind Cristobal Huet at 1:14 and 12:43.
The defending Stanley Cup champions began flexing their muscles and showing why they will likely be the team to beat again this season. Datsuyk put his team ahead 4-3 after splitting the Chicago defence and beating Huet with a backhand deke at 17:17.
The Blackhawks began the third period with the wind at their back but weren't able to take advantage. Rafalski and Lebda scored goals 17 seconds apart, prompting coach Joel Quenneville to send Nikolai Khabibulin in for Huet.
There would be no comeback for the home team.
Still, most of the fans stuck around to the bitter end, undeterred by the 6-4 score displayed on the manual green scoreboard in centre field.
Notes: Conklin took a bathroom break during a break in play ... Actor Vince Vaughn was among the celebrities in attendance ... Former Cubs pitcher Fergie Jenkins of Chatham, Ont., was among seven Chicago sports legends honoured before the game ... Gravenhurst, Ont., was featured during the first intermission of NBC's coverage because the Blackhawks travelled to the town earlier this season for the funeral of GM Dale Tallon's father ... Detroit scratched Derek Meech and Tomas Kopecky ... Aaron Johnson and Adam Burish sat out for the Blackhawks.