Blackhawks snow the Penguins 5-1 in Stadium Series

Photo by Cheryl Adams

The defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, versus the popular Pittsburgh Penguins. A powerhouse showcase at Soldier Field. Megastars Jonathan Toews versus Sidney Crosby, playing their very first game against one another despite both being in the league for seven seasons. A kid who grew up watching the Penguins but has now won a Cup with the Blackhawks. Players who were medal-winning teammates in Sochi a week ago now facing off across the ice.

Going into Saturday night's Stadium Series game in Chicago, the stage was set with storylines galore. You could hardly turn without bumping into one.

Ultimately, however, the story was about the weather - and a 5-1 Blackhawks romp of a win over the Penguins.

After a disappointing loss to the Rangers in New York on Thursday night, the Blackhawks weren't about to lose in front of a home crowd that was 62,921 strong.

Game day started with clouds and watery sunshine. But by the time that fans began to arrive for the game, a light snow had begun to fall. Like the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor on New Year's Day, the snow grew steadily heavier, and at some points during play, it was challenging to even see across the stadium bowl.

The snow made play challenging, of course, but both teams had to play under the same conditions.

Patrick Sharp opened the scoring for the Blackhawks late in the first, his 29th of the season. After the game, Sharp said, "There was no systems or structure to our game. We were just kind of hoisting the puck around, slapping the puck around and having fun doing it."

The Blackhawks were feeling relaxed, and it translated into domination on the ice. Jonathan Toews scored a beauty of a goal midway through the second period to make it 2-0.

Kris Versteeg scored six minutes later, giving the Blackhawks a 3-0 lead. Not only was it Versteeg's 100th NHL goal, but it gave him a distinctly unique honor: the only player to score on United Center, Wrigley Field (Winter Classic 2009), and Soldier Field ice.

Despite a steady stream of Blackhawks penalties in the second period, the Pens couldn't make a dent in the score sheet.

James Neal was credited with getting the Penguins on the board 6:21 into the third - although technically, it wasn't his goal at all. His shot attempt was blocked by Corey Crawford; the rebound went to Brent Seabrook - who managed to swat it into his own team's net.

Chicago's Bryan Bickell would collect the Blackhawks' fourth goal of the night, and Toews would salt the evening's rout away with a fifth goal to make it 5-1, with 2:08 left in the game. The Blackhawks outshot the Penguins 40-32; and if it wasn't for Seabrook's unfortunate blooper, Crawford would have collected another shutout.

Toews went 56% on the dot and led his team with 7 SOG, having a beast of an evening in messy conditions. His counterpart, Sidney Crosby, was 47% at faceoffs and managed just 3 SOG. James Neal led the Pens with 7 SOG, followed by Evgeni Malkin with five.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma admitted after the game that his team had not brought the same effort as their Chicago opponents, stating, "They were better and more prepared to play, whatever the conditions were."

The win put the Blackhawks briefly in posession of the Central division lead, but the St. Louis Blues played on Sunday and rallied for a win in front of newly acquired goalie Ryan Miller. Both teams now have 86 points, but the Blues have two games in hand over Chicago.

Chicago will welcome the Colorado Avalanche to the United Center on Tuesday.

Three stars:
1. Jonathan Toews (2G/1A) - CHI
2. Patrick Sharp (1G/1A) - CHI
3. Patrick Kane (1A) - CHI

Sunday notes: the Blackhawks traded forward Brandon Pirri to the Florida Panthers for a pair of Draft picks. Despite a strong performance at the AHL level, Pirri had bounced in and out of the Blackhawks lineup.