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NHL Winter Classic

Winter Classic fun, important for Blackhawks, Blues

Each looking to start January on right foot after disappointing end to December

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

ST. LOUIS -- The 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is one of 82 regular-season games, but it isn't.

The Chicago Blackhawks know that better than anyone, and the St. Louis Blues are eager to find out.

For each team, the Winter Classic comes at a point in the season when a break from the routine, a pleasant distraction, is welcomed.

The Blackhawks are playing in their fifth outdoor game, the most of any team in the NHL, but this is the first for the Blues, and they have the added bonus of playing the host.

On Friday at Scottrade Center, however, it didn't seem like the Blues were prepared to have much fun after losing 4-0 to the Nashville Predators. They were demoralized and they were frustrated.

The loss completed a December for the Blues that has been defined by inconsistency. St. Louis has not won two games in a row since Dec. 1, when it won a third straight game, 5-4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Since that victory against the Lightning, the Blues have gone 5-6-2 and allowed 43 goals in those 13 games. They are spinning their wheels, and a lot of the negative feelings from a difficult month appeared to bubble over in the St. Louis dressing room after the loss to Nashville.

"That's the way our game is; it's kind of one up, one down lately, and we've got to turn that around," forward Paul Stastny said Friday. "It's been that way for a while now. It's got to go one way or another, and we've got to do everything we can, especially with this homestand; we've got to do everything we can to get back on the right track."

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Less than 24 hours later, Stastny and his Blues teammates were at Busch Stadium on Saturday to watch the 2017 Winter Classic Alumni Game, featuring Paul's father, Peter Stastny, who scored a goal in the 8-7 win for the Blues alumni.

"It was fun. It was just something he's done 450 times in his career," Paul Stastny said about watching his father score. "I knew if he wasn't going to get a goal or an assist, I think he wouldn't hear the end of it from my mom and my sister, and me and my brother, for sure, down the road."

The Blues did not look anything like the group that was so angry at themselves the night before. They were smiling and laughing and taking it all in, somewhat awestruck by the legendary players walking around the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse, which was used by the Blues alumni.

The Blues (19-13-5) probably need some fun right now, and that will continue Sunday when they and the Blackhawks will practice for the first time on the ice at Busch Stadium to prepare for the game Monday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) and get to spend some time with their families and loved ones on the ice during family skating sessions.

The Winter Classic is serving a valuable purpose for the Blues near the midpoint of the NHL regular season.

"This is very unique. I don't think this happens a lot in a lot of people's careers, especially when you're hosting the Winter Classic," Stastny said. "Everybody's got a lot of family and friends. I think this is one of those opportunities where, obviously the game's the most important thing, but at the same time, it's a whole event and you want to embrace it and have fun with it."

The Blackhawks could use a mental break just as badly as the Blues.

Their 3-2 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday was their fourth in five games, making it the worst stretch for Chicago (23-11-5) in what has been a highly successful season.

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Under those circumstances, having a chance to skate outside Sunday, the way they did as kids, might be therapeutic leading up to the game.

"It's definitely an exciting moment," coach Joel Quenneville said Friday. "It'll be a fun game for everybody. We know the importance playing St. Louis and the importance of points at the end of it. There's a lot going on for that game. I'm looking forward to it."

Having a day off Saturday and light day of practice and family time Sunday should make for an energetic game between two bitter Central Division rivals desperate for a win playing in a majestic atmosphere at Busch Stadium.

The Blues are eight points behind the Blackhawks in the division standings but hold two games in hand, so a St. Louis victory could close that gap in a hurry. Add the streaking Minnesota Wild into the mix, and the two points at stake become extremely important.

"You just look at the last number of outdoor games we've played, our record hasn't been that great," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, referring to their 1-3-0 record. "So I think we can look at it that way. Add to the fact that they're big points for us within the division, St. Louis and Minnesota are really close to us, we want to obviously start getting on the winning trend again."

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