CHICAGO (AP) — The swirling snow and frigid conditions made it even more fun for Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Toews had two goals and an assist at a picturesque Soldier Field, and the Blackhawks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 on Saturday night in the finale of the NHL Stadium Series.
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.
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 snow.
The flakes came down in waves for most of the first period, floating in circles in front of the upper deck before eventually descending. 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.
The winter wonderland made life difficult on the star-studded teams, full of Olympians and other All-Stars. It also provided a prime-time showcase for 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 sliding a backhander between Fleury’s legs for his 20th goal at 10:47 of the second.
Toews celebrated the goal by skating over to the Blackhawks bench and jumping into his delirious teammates.
Kane added his own flashy play, making a perfect pass to Versteeg for a goalmouth tip-in that made it 3-0 at 16:43. Versteeg ended an 11-game scoring drought by scoring at a third Chicago sports venue, joining Wrigley Field in the 2009 Winter Classic and the United Center.
Neal cut the lead to 3-1 in the third, but Bryan Bickell added his ninth goal at 13:57 before Toews finished the scoring with 2:08 to go.
Corey Crawford had 31 stops for the Blackhawks, who lost forward Marian Hossa to an upper-body injury in the first period.
It was unclear when exactly Hossa was injured. He took a hard hit from Penguins forward Craig Adams during Chicago’s second power play of the first period.
NOTES: The temperature was 17 degrees at puck drop. … Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman indicated before the game that his team likely would stand pat ahead of Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline. “We’ve got a great group here,” he said. “Lot of chemistry with our guys.” … Penguins C Brandon Sutter was hit in the face by the puck midway through the second, but returned to the game. … Blackhawks D Michal Rozsival was shaken up after he was punched in the upper chest by Penguins F Chris Kunitz in the second, but he also came back after a short break. … It’s the Penguins’ third three-game losing streak of the season. … The NHL’s last outdoor game of the season is Sunday in Vancouver, when the Canucks play the Ottawa Senators in the Heritage Classic at B.C. Place Stadium.
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