ST. LOUIS -- Three months before the Cardinals open the 2017 season with a primetime home game against the rival Cubs, Busch Stadium served as the epicenter for another St. Louis-Chicago showdown on Monday afternoon.
In a spectacle that brought together the city's two professional sports teams, the Cardinals lent their stadium to the Blues and Blackhawks for the National Hockey League's ninth Winter Classic. With 46,556 fans in the ballpark and an overflow crowd packed inside neighboring Ballpark Village, the Blues used a pair of third-period goals by Vladimir Tarasenko en route to a 4-1 victory.
"As I told the players, once the puck's dropped, it's 85-by-200 [feet], and it's a glassed-in hockey rink. It's just almost overwhelming to look around," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after the win. "I think the thing that's really interesting is the feel I got from a baseball standpoint -- I could hear what everybody was saying to us as we were coming on and off the ice. I think for our players that was a great experience to feel like you were a player of another sport."
Busch Stadium joined Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Citizens Bank Park and Nationals Park as the fifth Major League Baseball stadium to host the event. Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III and Blues chairman Tom Stillman nudged the NHL for years to consider St. Louis as a Winter Classic site, and the NHL's decision to bring the game to St. Louis at this moment seemed fitting.
For a city that lost its National Football League franchise almost exactly one year ago, Monday's game offered the Blues and Cardinals the chance to come together and showcase St. Louis as a vibrant sports town.
"[When the Rams left], people questioned, 'What kind of sports city is that?' Stillman said. "I think St. Louis has demonstrated what kind of city it is. St. Louis is a city that pulls together. I'm glad that, in this case, it's sports that help bring people together."
"I think the fans know that we root for the Blues and they root for us," DeWitt added. "We do things together, and this is the ultimate reflection of that."
The NHL took over Busch Stadium last month and transformed a decade-old baseball stadium into a winter stage. The rink rested where the infield dirt will be in three months, and a guitar was constructed to run the distance from home plate to center field.
The rest of the field was covered in white, giving it the look of snow-covered grounds on a day when rain threatened to delay the game. Though part of the first period was played in a drizzle, once the puck dropped at 12:32 p.m. CT, play ran uninterrupted by the weather.
"It was a little misty, but that's somewhat the charm of this event, that it's unpredictable," DeWitt said. "I think that's why it connects with people. When kids grew up playing hockey on the ponds. It was rough. No Zamboni. It might freeze. It might be a little risky. And that's what it was like today."
Chicago took an early lead when, 62 seconds into the action, Michal Kempny scored the second-quickest goal in an NHL outdoor regular-season game. The Blues tied it with a second-period goal from Patrik Berglund, and Tarasenko then found the net twice within a 113-second span to put St. Louis ahead in the final period.
An empty-net goal by Alexander Steen punctuated the win.
"You get so into the game and playing against our biggest rival it's just business as usual," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "But I think after the game when you stop and take a look ... I don't know about these guys, but it's probably the coolest thing I've been a part of."
The Cardinals were not only represented at the Winter Classic by DeWitt III and his father, Bill DeWitt Jr., but also by several of their players. Lance Lynn, Kolten Wong, Matt Adams and Kevin Siegrist sat in stadium seats on Monday, as did strength-and-conditioning coach Pete Prinzi and former Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay.
The Blues enjoyed swapping perspectives, too, as many took advantage of their temporary facility and enjoyed a session of batting practice in the cages over the weekend. Goalie Carter Hutton was surprised with a Stan Musial autographed baseball as a thank you for featuring the Cardinals Hall of Famer on his mask.
Monday's game was also bookended by special snapshots. A ceremonial puck drop by Brett and Bobby Hull highlighted the pregame ceremonies. After the win, several Blues players tossed their sticks into the stands after saluting the crowd. Tarasenko stopped to snap a selfie before ducking into the Cardinals' dugout.
"It was a special day for our city and for our team, and for us as players," Blues right wing Scottie Upshall said. "It was everything we were hoping for. I thought we played with a lot of energy. The ice held up well. We played a great team over there today, and came out on top."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.