- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

CHICAGO | The atmosphere was electric. Bundled-up fans got a chance to extend their New Year’s Eve parties and watch hockey in a venerable stadium where baseball usually fills the seats.

But the result was the same as Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks again Thursday, this time out in the cold at Wrigley Field in the Winter Classic.

Players from both sides agreed on two things after Detroit’s 6-4 comeback victory: The weather and the condition of the ice had little or no bearing on the result, and the overall experience was a blast.

Temperature at faceoff on an overcast day was a bearable 32 degrees, even though a wind blowing at 18 mph made it a bundle-up day for 40,818 fans at the second-oldest baseball park in the major leagues.

The teams used the same locker rooms that the Cubs (Blackhawks) and visitors (Red Wings) use during the baseball season. The players trudging on covered skates through tunnels, up and down steps and across a tarplike carpet to the rink. The Red Wings’ coaching staff kept their heads warm with fedoras.

“It exceeded my expectations,” said Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, who returned after missing two games with a sore ankle. “I don’t think the wind or playing outdoors bothered either team.”

Martin Havlat had a goal and two assists to help the Blackhawks go up 3-1 after one period. But the Red Wings showed why they are the defending Stanley Cup champions, rallying to beat the Blackhawks for the fourth straight time this season and second time in less than 48 hours.

Havlat agreed the weather wasn’t much of a factor.

“It was not too bad,” he said. “You could feel it on your toes in the skates, but we were moving, and it was pretty warm on the benches.”

After splitting two Blackhawks defenders, Datsyuk backhanded the puck through Cristobal Huet’s legs to put Detroit up 4-3. The second-period outburst also included a pair of rebound goals from Jiri Hudler.

Brian Rafalski scored on a power play 3:07 into the third period for a 5-3 lead. Seventeen seconds later, Brett Lebda’s shot from between the circles appeared to hit the crossbar, and officials needed a video review to determine it was a goal. After it was ruled good, Huet was pulled for Nikolai Khabibulin.

Video screens in right and left fields were set up to help fans who couldn’t follow the puck from the lower seats. Most didn’t necessarily need them - they stood up behind the two dugouts to see over the boards - and stay warm at the same time.

Even though most of the snow in Chicago had melted last week, the entire field was covered by the white stuff - some of it compliments of a snowmaking machine.

Detroit goaltender Ty Conklin played in his third outdoor NHL game. He was the winner last year in the initial Winter Classic when the Penguins beat the Sabres 2-1 in a shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., before an NHL-record 71,217 fans.

He was also in net for the Oilers when they faced Montreal in 2003 before 57,167 fans outdoors in Edmonton.

Thursday’s game was halted momentarily in the first period for an ice repair that took less than a minute to complete. But there appeared to be no major problems with the surface, part of a two-week-long project to turn a baseball park into a hockey venue.

“The weather conditions were ideal, and ice was really good,” commissioner Gary Bettman said, adding he doesn’t have a location picked for next year’s Winter Classic.

If a player happened to step out the back of the penalty box, he nearly would land on the far side of the pitcher’s mound. The goals ran from the first-base line to the third-base line.

The ancient scoreboard at Wrigley Field - which is still hand-operated for many of the baseball operations - featured the day’s matchup of NHL games. There was also a temporary scoreboard below the big one, set up just for hockey.

Several Red Wings, including Conklin, entertained fans in the concourse about 90 minutes before the game by kicking and heading a soccer ball to one another.

Dan Cleary, whose hard check in Tuesday night’s game at Detroit caused a leg injury to Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, was driven into the Chicago bench early in the game on a hit from Brent Seabrook.

Kris Versteeg scored on a power play rebound to give the Blackhawks an early 1-0 lead.

Detroit evened it as a power play was winding down when Henrik Zetterberg went behind the net and fed Mikael Samuelsson. But minutes later, on yet another power play, Versteeg made a nice backhand pass to Havlat, who shot it past Conklin for a 2-1 lead.

Chicago’s third goal of the opening period came from Ben Eager with 42 seconds to go. He went behind the goal, withstood a hit from Detroit’s Andreas Lilja and then reversed his direction before beating Conklin to make it 3-1.

Less than two minutes into the second period, Hudler got a rebound goal, and the Red Wings tied it when Hudler scored again on a rebound one second after a power play for Detroit ended.

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