CHICAGO -- Players were whiffing at pucks. Others were smacking them only to see them travel a few feet before having to knock them again. Most struggled to just locate the moving puck as visibility deteriorated.
Some of the world’s greatest hockey players were made to look ordinary, and sometimes even goofy, as snow accumulated on the rink in the middle of Soldier Field on Saturday.
But while most of the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins were dealing with conditions that made even the simplest plays look difficult, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews played as if immune to the weather. He skated, handled the puck, passed and shot as if he was back playing under the roof of the United Center.
Toews' play resulted in two goals, an assist, two takeaways and winning 15 of 27 faceoffs in the Blackhawks’ 5-1 victory in the Stadium Series game.
The one Toews play that particularly had his teammates talking afterward came on his first goal, midway through the second period. He skated with the puck up the middle of the ice and was confronted by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. Toews faked to his right, brought the puck to his left and skated past Orpik. Toews approached the net, put the puck on his backhand and slipped it through the legs of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
"That’s what we talked about how special he is a player," Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg said. "He can do that in the conditions like this and skate and move the puck the way he did. Also deke and kind of keep his speed up on that goal. It’s something special. That’s why he’s a special player."
Toews celebrated the goal as if he had won the Stanley Cup. He skated to the Blackhawks’ bench and jumped into his teammates. He also got together with Patrick Sharp for a bigger-than-normal celebration after he fed Sharp for the game’s first goal.
Toews certainly didn’t think people could label him Captain Serious after all that.
"I've been trying to lose that one for a while," Toews said of his nickname. "But, no, I think the celebration on the first goal, Sharpie, I already saw a funny picture where I knew he was going to jump into me, and I think Nick Leddy got caught right in the middle.
"Like I said, we were just excited to score a goal in the first. It was a great feeling to be able to get our team on the board, and the excitement just kind of carried on for the rest of the game. I guess I definitely got caught up in it a little bit."
Toews sensed early on the night was going to be special for him and his teammates. He felt as if they were almost invincible.
"Like I said, we felt like we could find a way to score every time we got the puck," Toews said. "It honestly did feel like we were playing shinny hockey in the backyard. We were playing smart in our own end the way we normally would, but we were making plays and just throwing everything on net and hoping for the best. So I think it was, after everything was said and done, we had a lot of fun out there playing."
Throw in a 2009 game at Wrigley Field, two Stanley Cups and two Olympic gold medals, and Toews has lived an extraordinary hockey life so far.
"It's been really cool," Toews said. "Just to think about all the different situations we've been in over the last year, couple of years. You know, there's always something great going on. I think it was exciting for us as players to be a part of this and play at Soldier Field.
"We've played in a couple different venues now in Chicago, and it's pretty amazing to think, but this is probably even more so great for the fans. I think, as a team, we're super happy. We're able to find a way to win, and not only win, but put on an exciting game for the fans, just like the weather. So I think it was a great night for Chicago hockey fans and fortunate."