2017 NHL Winter Classic
The 2017 NHL Winter Classic featured a truly classic rivalry between two Central Division foes, the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. This would be the third Chicago Blackhawks Winter Classic, having gone 0-2 thus far in the Classic series, despite having won Stanley Cups in three of the previous seven years. 2017 would be the first St. Louis Blues Winter Classic, and they were coming into the game as strong contenders for a Stanley Cup run of their own.
Setting the Stage for the Blues Winter Classic — The Three Ws
Where: The NHL selected Busch Stadium for the 2017 matchup, home of the St. Louis Cardinals since 2006. St. Louis got the nod for the game in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the NHL’s big expansion in 1967, which featured the Blues as one of the league’s additions, along with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota North Stars.
When: Normally the Winter Classic is played on January 1, but in 2017, New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday, so the NHL followed its precedent from 2012 of deferring to college bowl games and scheduling the Classic for January 2. (Interestingly, an outdoor NHL game was played on January 1 anyway: Toronto hosted Detroit in the Centennial Classic to celebrate the Maple Leafs and the NHL’s 100th anniversaries.)
Weather: With the Classic tradition firmly in place of playing outdoors, weather is always a key element of the game story. This year it would be rain and fog. Unseasonably warm temperatures and threats of rain forced the league to consider rescheduling or a delayed start, but the game began at the scheduled time of noon CST, with heavy rain having come and gone before the scheduled puck drop.
The Blackhawks-Blues Rivalry
The Blackhawks-Blues hockey rivalry is about as friendly as the Cubs-Cardinals baseball rivalry (in other words, not very). Fighting is as much a part of Blackhawks-Blues matchups as playing, with this rivalry ranking first in the league for penalty minutes and fights. The close geographical proximity of the teams and being in the same division make players and fans intent on winning at all costs. In 2017, with both teams playing at a high level, the rivalry was as intense as ever.
All-time, the Blackhawks have the edge in total wins and regular-season wins. The Hawks and Blue have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs 12 times: Chicago won in 1973, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1989, 1990, 1992 and 2014; St. Louis prevailed in 1988, 1993, 2002 and 2016.
The Blackhawks-Blues Winter Classic Game and Aftermath
The Blackhawks started off with a bang, scoring 1:02 into the first period with a goal by Michal Kempny. The one-goal lead held up until Patrik Berglund tied it at 7:45 in the second period. From then on, it was an all-Blues Winter Classic. Scoring phenom Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice in less than two minutes in the third period to make it a 3-1 St. Louis lead. Alexander Steen scored again for the Blues as time was winding down en route to 4-1 victory. The Blackhawks were now 0-3 in Winter Classic games.
The capacity crowd of 46,556 — mostly Blues fans — went away happy, and the happiness continued deep into the 2016-17 season. St. Louis qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 99 points and proceeded to knock off Minnesota in the first round before falling to Nashville 4-2 in the second round.
As for the Blackhawks, their season would best be described as bittersweet. Chicago won the Central Division with 109 points, but were swept 4-0 by Nashville in the first round of the playoffs. Only time would tell whether this shocking loss was a hiccup or a sign of things to come.