NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Wednesday, January 1st (All times Eastern)
Toronto Maple Leafs (20-16-5) at Detroit Red Wings (18-14-9), 1 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - Original Six members as well as division rivals both past and present, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings have met 645 times during the regular season.
The 646th matchup will be one to remember.
The Red Wings play host to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday afternoon in the 2014 edition of the Winter Classic that is set to take place at Michigan Stadium.
The two franchises have been waiting to engage in the NHL's sixth Winter Classic, having been set to meet on New Year's Day in 2013 only to have the game wiped out due to the lockout.
They now meet as division rivals, with the Red Wings having shifted from the Western Conference to the East in the new-look Atlantic Division following realignment. The two clubs are tied for fourth place in the standings with 45 points, five back of Tampa Bay and Montreal.
That makes today's matchup an important one in the grand scheme of the season and not just for the novelty of playing outdoors.
"We all understand it's a great event and a great showcase for the league," said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. "It's our responsibility to participate.
"To tell you the truth, as I said lots of times, it wasn't high on our list because we have lots of things going on. With it comes a lot of distractions. But, again, the most important thing to us is that we're going to go out and compete and give ourselves the best chance to win."
While the Maple Leafs will be making their Winter Classic debut, the Red Wings visited the Chicago Blackhawks and Wrigley Field on Jan. 1, 2009 and secured a 6-4 victory in front of 40,818 fans. Detroit rallied after being down 3-1, with Jiri Hudler scoring two goals and Ty Conklin making 43 saves.
Detroit has a few holdovers from that game, including Pavel Datsyuk (1 goal) and Henrik Zetterberg (3 assists) as the duo helped the Red Wings score a single team-high six goals for a Winter Classic game.
Now Detroit takes its turn to host at Michigan Stadium, the largest college football stadium in the country that is known as "The Big House." The official capacity for a football game at Michigan Stadium tops 100,000 people.
"You don't remember everything in your life, but you remember moments. This should be one. But it's way more fun when you win. It's been like that since you were six," said Detroit head coach Mike Babcock.
The Red Wings and Leafs offered a preview of this matchup in Toronto on Dec. 21, with Detroit earning a 5-4 shootout victory. Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson both scored in the tiebreaker and Jonas Gustavsson was perfect in the shootout for the Red Wings.
Toronto overcame a 3-1 deficit and led by a goal before Detroit's Tomas Tatar netted the equalizer with 6:16 on the clock in the third period.
Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves for the Maple Leafs in relief of James Reimer, who was pulled after the first period having allowed three goals on 12 shots.
Despite the loss, the Leafs are still 4-1-1 in their past six meetings with the Red Wings but have lost five of their last seven as the visitor in this series.
Dion Phaneuf had a goal for the Maple Leafs versus the Red Wings and will play in his first game today since officially signing a seven-year contract extension on Tuesday. The new deal is worth a reported $49 million.
Phaneuf has four goals, 11 assists and a plus-13 rating in 39 games this season and has missed just 18 games since coming to Toronto via a trade with Calgary on Jan. 31, 2010.
"You grow up playing on outdoor rinks as a kid. And to be able to come here and, obviously, with this news (of the extension) being announced, to have my family here ... it's going to be a special game to be a part of. I'm really looking forward to stepping out there, not only (Tuesday) to practice but (Wednesday) when there are 110,000 people. It's going to be an experience I'll never forget as a player," said Phaneuf.
Toronto has a chance to win three straight for the first time since Oct. 26-30 today. The Maple Leafs split four games decided in a shootout from Dec. 19-27 before picking up a 5-2 win over Carolina on Sunday.
Phaneuf had a goal and Phil Kessel scored twice to reach 20 goals on the season. Center Tyler Bozak returned following a 12-game absence caused by an oblique injury and had three assists.
Bernier helped the Leafs to the victory despite the club getting outshot 43-27. He came away with 41 saves in his third straight start.
Bernier will draw the start today over Reimer and is 1-1-1 with a 3.13 goals against average in five career games versus the Red Wings, two of those starts.
He doesn't expect the outdoor conditions to impact his play too much.
"It's actually good," Bernier said of the ice conditions on Tuesday. "The only thing was probably the wind sometimes when it was blowing, especially most of the practice it was blowing in my face. It was pretty cold, but other than that, it felt good."
Detroit had won three of four before suffering a 6-4 setback to the Nashville Predators on Monday. The Red Wings fell to 3-6-2 in their last 11.
Datsyuk, Justin Abdelkader, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller all scored in the loss while goaltender Jimmy Howard showed some rust in his first game since Dec. 10. He yielded five goals on 28 shots faced in his return from a sprained left MCL.
"That's a tough thing for the goaltender. So the great thing about (Howard), he's a world-class goalie. He's always been good. He usually bounces back good," noted Babcock.
Howard is 0-1-0 with a 3.43 GAA in two career meetings with the Leafs.
Alfredsson was a late scratch with an upper-body injury and his status for the Winter Classic is unknown.
The New York Rangers defeated the Flyers 3-2 in the most recent Winter Classic on Jan. 2, 2012 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
01/01 10:24:59 ET