It's all systems go for the Detroit Red Wings
in their quest Thursday afternoon to win their fourth of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks
when the Bridgestone Winter Classic is staged at Wrigley Field.
They realize it won't be easy.
"I think they always plays us tough," Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall
told NHL.com. "We've had some trouble with them in the past and all our games with them have been tight games. We know they're going to give us everything they have, especially with the game being played outdoors and there's so much hoopla surrounding it."
Still, the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings appear to be hitting on all cylinders heading into their fourth of six regular-season meetings with the Blackhawks on New Year's Day. The club is ranked second in the Western Conference and first in the Central Division with 24 wins and 53 points. Chicago is fourth in the conference and second in the division with 20 wins and 47 points.
On top of that, the Red Wings appear to be in the heads of the Chicago players after Tuesday's 4-0 lOss to the Wings in Detroit. Now, the team feels the opening 10 minutes against white-hot goalie Ty Conklin
is critical on Thursday.
"I think we got away from the main focus of our game and failed to stick to our system," Chicago wing Dustin Byfuglien
said. "We have to continue to stay physical and continue to do what we were doing when we were winning. After they scored a couple on us, we started panicking because it's been a while since we were down like that."
Conklin will be making his third start in an NHL game held outdoors on Thursday.
"I did think it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but now three times in my lifetime," Conklin said. "They are all neat and new and I've looked forward to all of them. I think everybody does and it's great to be a part of it all."
Detroit's 4-0 decision against Chicago two days ago snapped the latter's nine-game winning streak, including five consecutive wins on the road. In fact, it was the first setback for Chicago since the Wings scored a 5-4 shootout decision Dec. 8. In that game, Conklin denied Chicago sharpshooters Jonathan Toews
, Patrick Sharp
and Patrick Kane
during the shootout.
Even Detroit's struggling penalty-killing unit, which is ranked 21st in the League, was on top of its game Tuesday -- stifling all six of Chicago's power-play attempts.
"Our penalty-killing was great and was a big part of our victory," Conklin said. "We dodged some early bullets when Chicago hit a post and we got a couple of good bounces."
Wings defenseman Chris Chelios
already sensed on the ride to Wednesday's practice that his team is raring to go for Thursday's historic game.
"I could see it in their faces on the bus ride over to the field that they were excited," Chelios said. "I skated out there and my kid was out there with me and it was great. It's almost like an all-star game in some ways. It's a great two or three days in Chicago."
Chelios, of course, spent eight-plus seasons with the Blackhawks before being traded to Detroit in 1999. The 46-year-old Chicago native will likely make his third appearance of the season for Detroit on New Year's Day.
"I guess the tough thing being my age and being on the best team in the League, or one of the best teams, is I knew I wouldn't be getting much ice time and getting hurt early in the season didn't help," Chelios said. "Then Nick (Lidstrom) was hurt and now it looks like he'll play (today) but I'll still have a chance to play in the game and I'm excited about it."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock knows Chelios brings energy and enthusiasm into the lineup.
"I think Chelios is an important part of our team," Babcock said. "I don't think (Wings GM) Ken Holland would have him on our team if he wasn't important to our team. So what we try to do is we try and win each and every day, and we try to make the decisions the best to help us win, and that's what we're going to do again (on Thursday)."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.