In front of a record crowd for a hockey game, the cold, wind and snow threatened to make life difficult for goal scorers in the 2014 Winter Classic. Instead, it was the goalies who deserved most of the credit for keeping the score down and the game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs tense enough that it had to be settled in a shootout.
Jimmy Howard, who ended his day by getting named to the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team, played one of his better games in recent memory. But his opposite number Jonathan Bernier shined even brighter, bailing out the Leafs multiple times so they could escape the Big House in Ann Arbor with a 3-2 victory.
Snow that began before the first puck was dropped and continued throughout the afternoon made for an awe-inspiring backdrop but also turned up the difficulty level on stickhandling and passing. The Red Wings seemed to adjust better, generating the majority of the scoring chances in a scoreless first period.
Bernier made 13 saves in the first 20 minutes, but Detroit finally got to him 13:14 into the second frame. Daniel Alfredsson, a game-time decision thanks to an upper body injury, opened the scoring off a feed from Pavel Datsyuk that deflected in off his right skate and held up after video review.
Howard had already robbed Nazem Kadri with a stellar toe save, and he made an acrobatic twisting stop with his arm to keep things scoreless early in a Toronto power play. James van Riemsdyk managed to beat him late in that same man advantage by knocking a puck out of mid-air, knotting the score at 1-1 just before the second intermission.
A mid-air deflection by Tyler Bozak put the Leafs ahead at the 4:41 mark of the third, standing up despite Howard’s feeling that it was hit with a high stick. Bernier made several big saves to preserve the lead until Justin Abdelkader charged hard to the net and deflected a centering pass from a pinching Brendan Smith to make it 2-2 with 5:32 remaining.
Toronto had chances to win in the final minute of regulation and early in OT. The hosts had opportunities too, as Henrik Zetterberg‘s breakaway was halted by the mandatory halfway horn to switch ends and Gustav Nyquist nearly broke in alone with just seconds left.
Ultimately though, the Red Wings found themselves in a place that’s been both familiar and unpleasant this season: the shootout. Datsyuk scored with a trademark backhand, but both Joffrey Lupul and Bozak found the net with wristers, helping the Red Wings join the growing list of home teams who have lost the Winter Classic.
Detroit outshot Toronto 43-26 on the day and put at least 13 shots on net in all three periods. The lone dim spot on offense was the power play, which went 0-for-4.
Of course Bernier had a lot to do with that too. The Red Wings ran into a hot goalie on a very cold afternoon, and despite the unforgettable atmosphere, probably left the Big House a little frustrated that they only got a single point.
The game was over when…
The shootout reared its ugly head once again. It didn’t help that Tomas Tatar failed to even get off a shot once Lupul equalized for Toronto, making too many dekes on the way in. Howard just can’t seem to master the shootout, and he was beaten pretty decisively on both Toronto goals.
The unsung Red Wings hero was…
Smith for having a good game at both ends of the ice. He made an excellent decision to step up and an even better pass to set up the Abdelkader goal.