The Games That Weren’t is one of many projects simulating the games lost by the NHL lockout. In the absence of actual games to write about, I’ll be checking in periodically on the fictional Red Wings’ season.
It was a cold, sunny day in Ann Arbor Tuesday afternoon, great weather for the Detroit Red Wings to host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2013 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium. The sixth iteration of the NHL’s annual outdoor event made the Wings the first team in league history to go 2-0 outdoors, adding to their 2009 win in Chicago with a 3-1 victory over the Leafs.
The Red Wings came into the game reeling, having dropped out of first place in the Central Division with a pair of road losses in the week after Christmas. The Maple Leafs were even further down, three points out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture despite a shootout win in Ottawa on Friday, where Detroit would lose on Saturday night.
The game would start out chippy and remain physical throughout. Dion Phaneuf and Mikael Samuelsson got tangled up just 13 seconds in, with Phaneuf being sent off for high sticking and Samuelsson for unsportsmanlike conduct. At 3:25, Mike Komisarek was caught elbowing Pavel Datsyuk in the ribs and at 6:43 Johan Franzen added another unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
Franzen’s penalty would lead to the game’s first goal, scored as he exited the penalty box thanks to a tic-tac-toe passing play by Valtteri Filppula and Datsyuk
Datsyuk sent the puck to Filppula on the left wing to gain the Toronto zone, then jumped into the high slot around defender John-Michael Liles to get the puck back before sending it back to the still-moving Filppula. With Liles shifting to Filppula and Mike Komisarek moving to cover Datsyuk, Franzen came out of the penalty box and drove down the right wing, cutting to the side of the crease just in time to take a pass from Filppula and roof it over Toronto netminder James Reimer.
The Red Wings carried the play for much of the opening period but after Henrik Zetterberg went off for charging Phaneuf with with 4:44 left in the period, Toronto picked up the pace. Detroit killed the penalty but the Leafs kept the pressure up and were rewarded for it with 1:29 left, when Wings’ goalie Jimmy Howard stopped a blue line blast from Phaneuf but seemingly got lost in the goalmouth scramble for the rebound, with James van Riemsdyk finding the puck and poking it into the net to tie things up.
Detroit regained the lead on a great individual play by Samuelsson at 4:26 of the second period. Samuelsson – often blamed for Detroit’s offensive woes dispite having twelve goals on the season – poked the puck away from Clarke MacArthur at the Toronto blue line, stepped unchallenged into the high slot, and rifled a shot over Reimer’s glove.
The physicality would resume late in the middle period with Detroit defenseman Jakub Kindl boarding Toronto’s Tim Connolly, then Nikolai Kulemin roughing Kindl up a few shifts later. To start the third, Matt Frattin and Daniel Cleary went off for high-sticking and charging, respectively, at 4:43.
Kindl and Cleary would appear on the scoresheet again midway through the final period, combining to put the game out of reach for the Maple Leafs. After a shot from the left point by Kindl was blocked in front, Drew Miller poked the loose puck from the top of the crease to Cleary in the slot. Cleary shuffled it back to Kindl for another drive that found its way through Miller’s screen and past Reimer to make it 3-1 with 9:09 left.
Down by two and running out of time, Toronto’s patience disappeared. van Riemsdyk tried to start a fight with Cleary with 6:06 remaining, resulting in a roughing call to the Maple Leafs forward. Frattin went off for a second high-sticking double minor with 53 seconds left after getting his stick under Carlo Colaiacovo‘s visor. With just two seconds left, Tyler Bozak went off after catching Justin Abdelkader in the nose with his stick.
With the late penalties, the Red Wings finished the afternoon scoreless on seven power play tries. The Maple Leafs did not score on their three attempts with the extra skater.
Howard made 18 saves on 19 shots. Reimer stopped 22 of the 25 shots he faced.
The announced attendance of 113,411 would be a new world record for attendance at a hockey game. It is the same announced attendance as the 2010 “Big Chill at the Big House,” which was later certified as only 104,173. The official attendance will be announced at a later date.