DENVER — The fake snow surrounding the rink was only intended for decoration. Certainly made for a nice blizzard, though, when the whipping wind caught hold of the cotton-like substance and sent it flying everywhere.
“It was snowing, right? In the 50s,” Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek cracked.
This “snow” storm couldn’t derail Detroit as Brad Richards scored the winning goal with a minute remaining and the Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-3 at Coors Field on Saturday night in the NHL’s warmest regular-season outdoor game.
Richards, playing in his fifth NHL outdoor game, flipped a shot over the shoulder of Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader also scored for the Red Wings. Darren Helm added an empty-netter to seal the win.
“I’d be lying if I told you I was trying to put it in,” Richards said of his goal that he just tried to put on net after a save from Varlamov. “But we’ll take those.”
Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie and Alex Tanguay had goals for the Avalanche in the first NHL outdoor game in Colorado.
Talk about a heated rivalry: The game-time temperature was an unseasonably balmy 65 degrees at puck drop. The warmest game-time temperature before Saturday in an NHL regular-season outdoor game was 62 degrees on Jan. 25, 2014, when Los Angeles hosted Anaheim at Dodger Stadium.
And yet there was a blizzard as the wind lifted strands of cotton into the air in front of a capacity crowd of 50,095.
“The guys did a good job of cleaning up when they had to,” Abdelkader said. “It really didn’t affect the game.”
The wind was a different matter. It was gusting so hard that with 10 minutes left, the teams changed ends so one didn’t have an advantage.
Asked if the wind bothered him, Richards joked: “You have to ask the faster skaters how the wind was affecting them. I was the same speed all night.”
Following Richards’ goal, Colorado pulled Varlamov for the final minute. But the Avs couldn’t get anything past Mrazek, who finished with 24 saves.
Abdelkader gave the Red Wings a 3-2 lead with 6:32 remaining after Nyquist tied the game earlier in the period. Just 14 seconds later, though, Tanguay knotted it on a rebound. It was Tanguay’s first goal since Jan. 20.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get the win, especially after the big goal by Tanguay,” Jarome Iginla said. “You could see it tighten up in the third. We played it like a playoff game.”
The league staged quite a show at the home of baseball’s Colorado Rockies, complete with fake snow that stretched all the way to the outfield wall. Good thing, too, because the real stuff would’ve melted. There also was a backdrop that included faux mountains near a stage where Andy Grammer belted out some of his hit songs, including “Keep Your Head Up” — solid advice for a hockey player. Denver-based rockers The Fray also performed.
Matt Duchene donned eye black just like a baseball player might. Fitting, since one goal was situated near third base and the other close to where first base would be located.
After Tatar’s goal at 5:07 of the opening period, Colorado answered with two of its own, one by MacKinnon and another from Barrie that withstood a Detroit challenge. The Red Wings argued that Carl Soderberg interfered with Mrazek as the goaltender tried to stop Barrie’s shot and challenged the play. It appeared that Mrazek’s skate bumped into Soderberg, but after a review the officials upheld the call of a goal.
In this rivalry’s heyday, it was one of the best around and one of the most bitter. The Red Wings and Avalanche met six times in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the winner of the series going on to hoist the Cup four times.
The festivities began Friday with an alumni game. Led by Hall of Fame goaltender-turned-coach Patrick Roy, the Avalanche beat Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings 5-2.
But the Red Wings atoned in a game that mattered in the standings. Both teams are in the middle of a playoff push.
“It’s really tough with the loss,” MacKinnon said, “but, all in all, it was an awesome game.”
NOTES: D Jonathan Ericsson was back after missing the last six games with a lower-body injury. … The Avs became the 21st team to play in a regular-season outdoor game. … Duchene will auction off the skates he used in the game for charity.