At a place normally reserved for football, a hockey game was played Saturday night.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins took the ice at Soldier Field for the fourth and final game of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series amid the heavy falling snow and swirling wind. Chicago cruised to a 5-1 victory in what some considered a potential Stanley Cup Finals preview.
“Probably the greatest setting you could ever want,” said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. “It was a very memorable night for our guys.”
“It honestly did feel like we were just playing shinny hockey in the back yard,” added Jonathan Toews.
An opening period controlled by Chicago saw just one goal on a rifle from Patrick Sharp from the side of the net. After Toews made a pinpoint pass from behind the net, Sharp rattled home his team-leading 29th goal of the season off the pipe. An already electric crowd of 62,921 erupted, as did the Blackhawks bench.
“We were just excited to score a goal,” said Toews. “Great feeling to be that team to get on the board and the excitement just carried on for the rest of the game. I kind of got caught up in it.”
The second period saw more of the same, with the Blackhawks adding two more goals in the frame to open up a comfortable three-goal lead after 40 minutes. Toews made a move that very few can in the snow, weaving around Brooks Orpik and finishing on a backhander through Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury five-hole to put Chicago up two. Just under six minutes later, Kris Versteeg extended the lead to three, putting home a tap-in on a three-on-one rush led by Patrick Kane.
“Some great finishes and great plays by really special players,” said Quenneville.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if we had played this game inside, outside, snow, no snow,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. “They were better and more prepared to play whatever the conditions were.”
James Neal gave Pittsburgh some life in the final period, throwing a puck off of Brent Seabrook’s stick and in to cut the deficit to two goals. It was Neal’s 22nd goal of the season. However, Bryan Bickell would respond for Chicago and put the game away with six minutes remaining. Bickell stuffed home a second chance opportunity off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Brandon Saad.
As he embraced Bickell in front of the net, it was a special moment for Saad, playing against his hometown team for the first time in his NHL career.
Toews would add insult to injury a few minutes later, scoring his second goal, and third point of the game and the Blackhawks eased to a 5-1 victory.
“I think it was a great night for Chicago hockey fans and sports fans,” added Toews.
With fireworks sounding, Chelsea Dagger blaring, and the snow continuing to blanket the ice at Soldier Field after the final horn, it was a sight to see.