With a hockey rink stretching across the infield of historic Wrigley Field and a festive crowd enjoying its New Year's Day outside rather than in the comforts of home watching college football, the 2009 Winter Classic had the makings of something special.
The Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings didn't disappoint, thoroughly entertaining a North American viewing audience and 40,818 spectators Thursday at the venerable and chilly ballpark.
In the end, the Wings spoiled some of the fun for the Blackhawks and their fans with a 6-4 victory that again proved it doesn't matter if it's indoors, outdoors, day or night—they remain the better team this season. The defending Stanley Cup champion Wings defeated the Hawks for the fourth time this season and second in two days, opening an eight-point gap between first and second place in the Western Conference's Central Division.
The Hawks came out of the gate flying and looked as if they would avenge Tuesday night's 4-0 defeat by the Wings, a game in which Detroit manhandled them up and down the ice.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook got the crowd roaring and his team pumped when he exacted a little revenge on Dan Cleary, who had knocked star Hawks winger Patrick Kane temporarily from Tuesday's game with a big hit. Seabrook checked Cleary clear into the Hawks' bench, and the crowd and the home team responded.
Kris Versteeg scored a minute later, 3 minutes 24 seconds into the game, knocking in a rebound of a Martin Havlat power-play shot past Wings goaltender Ty Conklin.
After Mikael Samuelsson scored to tie it 1-1 some six minutes later, Versteeg and Havlat again teamed up to give the Hawks the lead. Versteeg sent a nifty backhand pass from behind the net that Havlat knocked in from the bottom of the right circle to make it 2-1.
Ben Eager extended the lead in the final seconds of the first when he outfought Brian Rafalski for the puck behind the Wings' net and wrapped a shot around the right post past Conklin.
The 3-1 lead had the crowd buzzing throughout the first intermission, but Detroit owned the final two periods, scoring five consecutive goals to hand the Hawks their second straight loss after they had recorded a franchise-record nine-game winning streak.
"We let them off the hook to start the second," Seabrook said. "They're the best team in the league, the Stanley Cup champions. We have to step on their throat and put the game out of reach when we have a chance."
Instead the Hawks allowed the Wings to score three times in the second period and twice in the third before a Duncan Keith goal in the waning seconds stopped the bleeding.
"We played great hockey in the first period, but that was basically it," Havlat said. "We stopped playing and they showed how strong they are.
"We stopped doing the little things right and stopped putting the puck in their zone and at their net. That was the biggest reason we didn't play very well in the second and third periods."
Jiri Hudler's two goals in the second tied it, and Detroit then stepped on the gas as Pavel Datsyuk, Rafalski and Buffalo Grove native Brett Lebda all scored on Hawks goaltender Cristobal Huet.
"For us to beat these guys we have to play our best and realize that when the momentum changes we have to be smart and work harder to get it back," Keith said after scoring a power-play goal with 10 seconds remaining. "They have experience on their side. They're Stanley Cup champions for a reason, but I still think we can beat those guys. Maybe we're not there yet, but if we keep working, one day we will be."
The disappointing outcome couldn't ruin what was a special day for the Hawks playing at "home" on the Cubs' field.
"It was a great experience for everybody," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "The fans were great, the building was excited. It was a special place to play. Certainly we're not happy with the way it ended up, but it was a privilege to be here."
Former Blackhawk Chris Chelios, who was born in the Chicago area and was on the ice for the opening faceoff for the Wings, relished his Winter Classic experience.
"They should play here at Wrigley every year," Chelios said.
"Standing on the ice, looking at the surrounding rooftops and the bleachers and being on an ice surface in the middle of Wrigley Field is not a normal, everyday thing. I've skated at outdoor rinks, but you're never going to get a better setting than this."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times