The last Stadium Series game of the year took place in Chicago Thursday night between two of the NHL's premier teams. And on the eve of the Heritage Classic between Vancouver and Ottawa Sunday, this Penguins-Blackhawks game was a sight that will be a challenge to live up to. Here are nine photos from the game in Chicago's famous Soldier Field.
Well, if you're going to have an outdoor hockey game in Chicago, there's only one way to get is started: the Star Spangled Banner, sung by Jim Cornelison.
It was loud, it was proud, it was everything you'd expect from the league's best anthem singer. American or not, his rendition sends chills down your spine.
As surprising as it sounds, this game would be the first time Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews played against each other on NHL ice. But it wasn't the all-star stare down many had hoped for. Crosby was a minus-2 on the night, while Toews scored twice and added an assist. As you see Crosby skate around during warmups, you might notice some snow on the ice. Ya, about that...
It kind of snowed. A lot. The pre-game forecast was right and it snowed nearly all game long. Against Buffalo, the Penguins played in snow and against Washington they played in rain, so wherever the Penguins play outside, the precipitation follows. While commercial breaks were used to shovel off the snow, the build up of it during play often made the puck hard to handle. Patrick Kane, one of the most sure-handed players in the league, had it pop off his stick a few times. Duncan Keith, one of the best first-passers in the league whiffed on one that got buried in snow. But...
This game had it's share of nice plays. With a 1-0 lead midway through the second period,
Jonathan Toews toyed with Brooks Orpik, moving in and out and through him with whiplash moves. He then went in alone on Marc-Andre Fleury and tucked the backhand deke behind the goalie for a 2-0 lead.
It was a tough night for Fleury, who had to look back into his net a lot on Saturday. At least he's got a cool looking helmet. This goal came six minutes after Toews', as Kris Versteeg buried a beautiful pass from Kane. This had come after Kane already hit two posts and with all the snow, it's a small miracle the puck stayed steady enough across the ice. This goal gave the Blackhawks a three-goal lead, which appeared insurmountable, especially given the conditions. The Blackhawks took it to the Penguins all night and threw 40 shots on net. Fleury stopped 35 of them, but was outdone by Corey Crawford's 31 saves on 32 shots. It's not that Fleury had a bad game - he got beat on a few pretty plays.
On into the night it snowed and snowed. Debate will surely follow in the coming days: does an environment like this compromise a legitimate NHL regular season game, or is the event worth it? Count me in the second group. When the Chicago Bears play a home game in the snow, there is no questioning the conditions. The event is what it is, indoor or not, and it's the same for both teams. It's less a TV event anyway, and more a live and unique experience. Just ask the fans...
There were 62,921 fans in attendance and the majority of them who were Blackhawks fans had no trouble keeping warm dancing to Chelsea Dagger. The Hawks scored five times and now average 3.36 goal per game to lead the league in scoring. The next game for the Hawks is Tuesday at home to Colorado, while Pittsburgh next plays in Nashville on the same night. Both teams lead their division.
In the end, the only goal the Penguins were able to muster was an accidental bank-in off Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. James Neal was just putting the puck out to the front of the net and it went off Seabrook's stick and in. As is customary for playoffs and special occasions, the teams went through a handshake line at the end. Early in the game, the two were in each others face in scrums, but as the game went on, the post-whistle nonsense dried up.
In all, the fans showed up and the weather cooperated in a very memorable way. The Snow Bowl may not have been the closest, most hard-fought outdoor game yet, but they can't all be nail-biters. And in the end, these games are about seeing first hand. Until the interest in showing up goes away, these events must be considered a success and a welcome sight on the NHL schedule. It's a party and a celebration - and you have to see it to believe it.
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