It was not one of the prettiest NHL games ever played, but it certainly was the largest of scale. Today's outdoor game featured a crowd of 105,491, the largest of its kind. Official attendance figures will be reviewed by the Guinness Book of World Records to determine as to whether or not the world record for the attendance of a hockey game was broken.
In all likelihood, it wasn't.
Nevertheless, today was a regular season hockey game, albeit a special one, as two division rivals re-kindled their (old) new-found rivalry in grand fashion. "Game aside, as a coach I was thrilled with the opportunity to participate, to have your family here, to have so many fans selling hockey," said coach Mike Babcock. "It wasn't just today. Great week for hockey."
Mother nature helped paint the scene like a souvenir snow globe, conditions that are not necessarily favorable for sleek puck movement or skating. "The conditions made it so some of the skill in the game was eliminated, but I thought the players competed hard," said Babcock. "I thought our team played well"
It was an ugly, dump and chase, kind of game, one that viewers are seeing a lot from the Wings as of late, though the team is moving in the right direction.
The scoreless first period saw the Red Wings dominate possession numbers and the shot clock, only to have Jonathan Bernier hold them in the game. Bernier went on to record the most ever saves in an outdoor game, allowing two goals on 43 shots and stopping 41. The Red Wings tied their own record for shots on goal in an outdoor game, set in Chicago back in 2009.
Whether or not this solidified the number one job in Toronto as Bernier's is a different story in coach Randy Carlyle's eyes. "I know there's always -- there has been this constant 'who is number one?' question hovering over our hockey club," Carlyle said. "Right now Johnny is on a little bit of a run, and as long as he continues to provide us with the level of goaltending he has, it would be foolish for us to look another direction."
The level of play that Bernier displayed in this game was unbelievable. "Coming back and coming into this game and obviously we needed the two points, and kind of hard to stay focused at the same time," the Toronto netminder said.
Bernier did come up with two big saves in the shootout, ironically running into one against the Red Wings on December 21. "I try to play the odds with the ice. The advantage probably as a goalie, I try to take away the angles and be more aggressive a little bit"
The game was going to be chippy, but many were taken aback by a hit late in the first period, as Leafs center Joffrey Lupul collided with Patrick Eaves, knocking the winger down onto the ice, with a point of contact to the neck. Eaves would not return and is currently being evaluated for a concussion; there were no broken bones or any other injuries as of the post game conferences.
It took over thirty minutes of game time for the first goal to be scored, as Daniel Alfredsson deflected Henrik Zetterberg's pass into the net off of a two on one. The point was Zetterberg's third since returning from injury against Florida. "I think it was a little lucky bounce," said Zetterberg. "It hit [Alfie's] skate I think and went in. It was nice to see that we got the lead."
The Wings, despite their early puck luck on bad ice, would get burned in the final minute of the period as James van Riemsdyk put a wrist shot by Jimmy Howard just as the "closing hand over the puck" penalty to Jakub Kindl expired. Jimmy Howard made a remarkable save, but he could only stop so many in such a short duration.
As the snow started to lighten up, the third period saw the pace pick up, and a fairly early Leaf goal, with Tyler Bozak redirecting a point shot from defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Though the play was reviewed for potential high-sticking, it was ultimately called a good goal.
Eventually, the game would return to the home team's favor, as Justin Abdelkader pulled off a backhanded one-timer to tie the game late in the third period. The irony behind the goal, of course, coming from the fact that the former Michigan State Spartan scored inside of the Big House, one of the biggest of his career."That goes up there ... one of my bigger goals," Abdelkader told Senior Writer Brian Compton of NHL.com. "We talked about getting pucks to the net and making simple plays. With the snow on the ice, it wasn't easy. I knew he was going to try and get it to the front there, and I was just trying to get position and get my stick on it."
Overtime saw some more bad luck for the Wings, as Henrik Zetterberg was halted on a breakaway by the buzzer at the 2:50 mark, signaling for the teams to switch ends due to oncoming wind. The extra frame wound up solving nothing, and the shootout saw the Leafs claim the Winter Classic for the city of Toronto on goals by Lupul and surprise hero Tyler Bozak. "I mean, I was thinking I was going to shoot," said Bozak. "I didn't really want to stick handle the puck on the ice. I didn't want to have to deal with that."
Darren Helm was a late scratch because of a sore groin, a fashion trend among Red Wing players as of late. Unfortunately, this led to Datsyuk and Zetterberg playing on separate lines, something that coach Mike Babcock wanted to avoid. Datsyuk went scoreless on the game, but scored the only Red Wings goal in the shootout.
Many saw the Wings' best player as Tomas Tatar, and Mike Babcock spoke highly of all of his younger players and farm system during the post game press conference. "I thought Tatar was on it pretty good today," Babcock said. "We've been running a tryout just because we've had so many injuries. We've had a lot of kids that most kids you call up, what they do is they play good for a little bit and then they fall off."
Mike Babcock kept it low key and simple while speaking to the media after the game, but perhaps his greatest message came in a lesson about notable moments in life. "Life's about moments," Babcock said. "You only remember moments. You don't remember everything. This is one of those things. And for today, for those kids that were skating on the ice, the kids that were introduced, the Olympians, all those things were very special."
He might not be the most eloquent of speakers, but he sure knows how to coach a team and captivate the room.
- The visiting team is now 6-1-1 in outdoor games since the 2003 Heritage Classic
- The Leafs move one point ahead of the Wings in the wild card race.
- Joffrey Lupul will in all likelihood be facing supplemental discipline for his cross check to the head on Patrick Eaves. No official word has been given yet.
Update 1/2/14 4:00 PM: Joffrey Lupul will have a hearing with player safety for his hit on Patrick Eaves. Supplemental discipline is expected.