CHICAGO – The swirling snow came down in waves, dancing around the upper deck before eventually descending to the temporary ice rink in the middle of a football field.
Playing in a winter wonderland, Jonathan Toews showed his two-way game is perfect for any conditions.
Toews had two goals and an assist at a picturesque Soldier Field, and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 on Saturday night in the finale of the NHL Stadium Series.
“We felt like we could find a way to score every time we got the puck,” Toews said. “It honestly did feel like we were playing (pickup) hockey in the backyard.”
Patrick Sharp scored in the first period and Patrick Kane set up Kris Versteeg’s 100th career goal in the second, helping Chicago to its first win since Feb. 5 at Anaheim. The reigning Stanley Cup champions dropped their final game before the Olympic break, and then lost 2-1 at the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
James Neal was credited with Pittsburgh’s only goal when Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook sent the puck into his own net at 6:21 of the third. Marc-Andre Fleury had 35 saves in the Penguins’ third straight loss, matching a season high.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if we played this game inside or outside or it was snow or no snow,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “They were better and more prepared to play, whatever the conditions were.”
The crowd of 62,921, dressed from head to toe in several layers, usually topped by their favorite jersey, roared when the Penguins and Blackhawks emerged from separate tunnels before the game. The players were greeted by rows of fireworks and shooting flames that sent clouds of smoke into the falling flakes.
The snow was heavy for most of the first period, and then died down at the start of the second before picking up in intensity again. The small ice crew tried its best to keep up, but it was fighting an impossible battle, and inches of snow piled up on the surface between breaks in the action.
Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith tried to play the puck forward at one point in the first, but only got part of it and it sledded to a stop a few feet away.
“One time, I was carrying it up the ice and had to look down three or four times just to kind of see where it was,” Kane said. “You could feel the snow down there, so it’s obviously a little bit harder to push it.”
The snow and frigid temperatures — it was -8 C when the puck was dropped for the opening faceoff — made life difficult on the star-studded teams, full of Olympians and other All-Stars. It also provided a prime-time showcase for the considerable skills of Toews, who teamed with Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby to lead Canada to the gold medal in the Sochi Games last weekend.
Toews and Crosby had never played against each other in an NHL regular-season game.
First, Toews found Sharp for a slap shot that went over Fleury’s right shoulder and off the left post at 15:35 of the first, giving Chicago a 1-0 lead. Then, Toews made an outstanding move on Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik before squeezing a backhander between Fleury’s legs at 10:47 of the second.
Toews celebrated his 20th goal by skating over to the Blackhawks bench and jumping into his delirious teammates.
“I guess I definitely got caught up in it a little bit,” said Toews, who got his nickname of “Captain Serious” for his stoic demeanor.
Devils 6, Islanders 1
In Uniondale, New York, Jaromir Jagr became the seventh player to score 700 NHL goals, sparking New Jersey’s four-goal second period, and Martin Brodeur earned the win in his first start in over a month.
Capitals 4, Bruins 2
In Boston, Alex Ovechkin collected his 800th career point and raised his league-leading total to 43 goals with a pair of power-play scores.
Flyers 4, Rangers 2
In Philadelphia, Wayne Simmonds had a goal and an assist.
Blue Jackets 6, Panthers 3
In Columbus, Artem Anisimov scored a short-handed goal late in the second period and the Blue Jackets’ special teams provided four goals.
Kings 3, Hurricanes 1
In Los Angeles, Alec Martinez scored the tiebreaking goal on a power play with 11:45 to play, Jonathan Quick made 24 saves, and the Kings beat Carolina for their third victory in four days since the Olympic break.
Jets 3, Predators 1
In Nashville, Olli Jokinen, Andrew Ladd and Devin Setoguchi scored and Ondrej Pavelec stopped 39 shots.
Lightning 4, Stars 2
In Dallas, Martin St. Louis scored two goals for the second consecutive game.
Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 3 (OT)
In Montreal, Max Pacioretty scored his second goal of the game on a power play 3:28 into overtime.
Flames 2, Oilers 1 (OT)
In Edmonton, Sean Monahan scored two goals, including the winner in overtime.