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Blackhawks Mon Mar 03 2014
There was a flurry of scoring at Soldier Field Saturday night in prime time that for once didn't involve Jay Cutler or any of his weapons on offense. Though, unlike the inhabitants of the 90-year-old stadium, sans enhancements, this defense actually showed up that would have made Papa Bear himself proud.
The NHL brought its Stadium Series to the shores of Lake Michigan for a nationally televised showdown in primetime, just as "Bear weather" moved in from the Hawk off the lake. It didn't stop nearly 63,000 fans from the North Shore to Northwest Indiana from packing the place, nor did it inhibit the defending Stanley Cup champs from marching "Sid the Kid" and his Penguins back to Pittsburgh after a 5-1 beat-down.
It's hard to believe this was the first meeting between Jonathan Toews and Crosby, but injuries and a lockout prevented what a lot of hockey fans looked forward to over the past seven seasons. Needless to say, there was a lot of hype going into this potential Stanley Cup matchup, which prompted NBC to air the first NHL game in prime time on network television in 40 years.
The comparisons between Toews and Crosby always have been made, including the debate on which Canadian is more accomplished at such an early age. Crosby, 26, is the darling of the NHL and already owns two Olympic gold medals and a Stanley Cup (2009). Toews, 25, has as many gold medals but has one more Cup (2010, 2013). Both are elite but Crosby is the face of the league, which you know only motivated Toews to show the millions watching at home that he belongs in the same conversation.
The Blackhawks were coming off two losses -- a 2-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 7, just before the Sochi Olympics, and a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers, the team's first game back after the Olympic break -- and were tied with the St. Louis Blues for second in the Central (the Blues had a couple of games in hand on the Blackhawks, too). So needless to say, getting back on track in this outdoor game was necessary in order to keep pace with its main rival, a team that recently made a big trade with the Buffalo Sabres for goalie Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott.
After Jim Cornelison warmed masses with another stirring rendition of the National Anthem, Toews wasted no time in winning the opening draw on Crosby, which drew a loud cheer from the capacity crowd. Granted, the game of hockey isn't necessarily about one-on-one match-ups, like watching LeBron and Durant go at it up and down the court. So the idea of watching Toews and Crosby battle each other all night wasn't going to happen, so instead the idea was to key in on how each player was going to perform with their respective teammates, especially in the blizzard-like elements.
The Blackhawks defense held Crosby to just three shots on goal while the centers outdrew the opposition 39 to 30. Toews had himself a game, scoring two goals, one that will live in the memory bank of fans for a very long time, and notching one assist, which was to Patrick Sharp to score the first goal of the game.
In the end, the Hawks looked like the team that plowed through its opponents earlier in the year, scoring upwards of five goals and playing well on defense -- Corey Crawford included. The stretch run is here with 21 games remaining, two against the Blues. The outdoor game against the Penguins showcased our fair city as well as a team looking to repeat as champs this June. It not only was a win in the box score that could get this team back on track into Spring, but a win for all who got a chance to finally watch the Toews-Crosby hype.