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Red Wings roar back to take lead

by Shawn P. Roarke
CHICAGO -- The Blackhawks may have taken a convincing two-goal lead into the first intermission Thursday at the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic here at Wrigley Field, but Detroit had no interest in allowing the coronation to continue for the final 40 minutes.

Jiri 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 and then 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 Cristobal 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. 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 a dominant second period, headlined by the exploits of Hudler and 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 goal situated near the right-field foul line at Wrigley. The teams will switch sides at the 10-minute mark of the third period to negate the wind advantage.

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 goalie Cristobal 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 the player cart-wheeled over the board 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 from the Chicago bench.

During the ensuing power play, Versteeg slammed home the rebound of a Martin 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 Detroit defenseman Brett 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.

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 Detroit Red 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's 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 Wrigley crowd of 40,000 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 Thursday. 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.
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