Here are nine quick thoughts after Chicago’s 5-1 win over Pittsburgh in the finale of the 2013-14 NHL Stadium Series:
• When NHL execs pitched an expanded outdoor schedule for this season and planted a Pittsburgh-Chicago match at Soldier Field less than a week after the Olympics, their expectations couldn’t possibly have exceeded the reality these two teams delivered tonight.
If there was a bounce to be generated after Sochi, this event delivered everything that might hook the casual fan. From the magical snow-globe images to the marquee teams to 17 Olympic heroes, including Team Canada captains Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, this was as thrilling as a 5-1 rout can be.
I’ll admit the lousy conditions took me right out of this year’s Winter Classic but the challenges of inch-deep snow that coated the sheet at Soldier Field seemed more charming, or at least more visually appealing, than the hard, bouncy ice that plagued the big game at the Big House. Passes left a wake like a cruise ship and skidded to an early halt like that high-tech puck in the Bridgestone ads. Every hard stop sent a sheet of snow cascading into the air. Even the sound of the blades chittering across the ice was different, somehow more exotic. This, finally, was real pond hockey. The elements were an additional player, not an impediment, and the game was better for them.