Saturday night’s outdoor matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks will bring the NHL’s inaugural Stadium Series to a close after previous games in Los Angeles and New York.
Interestingly enough, Soldier Field will also be the site of the first regular season battle between star centers Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, both of whom just returned from Sochi with their second Olympic gold medals. Crosby was drafted first overall in 2005 and Toews went third in ’06, but a combination of ill-timed injuries and sparse interconference scheduling have kept the two stern Canadians apart.
But beyond the al fresco atmosphere and the Crosby-Toews subplot, seeing the Pens and ‘Hawks on the same sheet of ice rekindles hope that the two elite sides may finally get together in the Stanley Cup Final.
Pittsburgh topped Chicago in four straight games to claim the title in 1992, but as far as the modern era goes, these teams have managed to avoid each other in the spring despite combining for three Cups and four Final appearances since 2008. Twice they’ve come within a series win of squaring off for the crown, with the Blackhawks coming up short in the 2009 Western Conference final and the Penguins bowing out in last year’s East final.
A high-stakes series between these star-laden clubs in passionate hockey markets would challenge NHL ratings records; moreover, it would likely showcase an entertaining style of play, as both teams like to skate at a fast tempo and give their offensive talent opportunities to excel.
For now, all we can do is dream about the possibility, although betting on a Chicago-Pittsburgh final wouldn’t be the biggest risk a gambler could take. The Pens have a five-point edge on Boston for the East’s top spot, while the ‘Hawks are tied with the Blues for first in the Central Division and are still within striking distance of the league’s No. 1 team, the Ducks.
Earning a high seed for the postseason tournament would be a nice head start toward what seems almost inevitable at some point: Crosby and Toews staring each other down at center ice in June.
Tonight’s Game: Penguins (40-15-4, 84 points – 1st Metropolitan) at Blackhawks (35-12-14, 84 points – T-1st Central) at Chicago’s Soldier Field
Faceoff: 8 p.m. ET
Radio: 105.9 The X
The Blackhawks started the post-Olympic portion of their schedule with a 2-1 loss at the Rangers on Thursday. Chicago went 3-2-2 in seven straight road matches, a stretch that ends tonight. This is the defending Cup champs’ second outdoor game in franchise history; they lost 6-4 to Detroit at Wrigley Field on New Year’s Day 2009.
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, who will don metallic gold pads and a Steelers-themed mask, will get the start in net. The Penguins are 1-1 in two outdoor games, earning a shootout win at snowy Buffalo in 2008 and falling in regulation to the Capitals at rainy Heinz Field in 2011.
The forecast for faceoff is 20 degrees with a better-than-average chance of snowfall during the game.