CHICAGO — Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews have played nearly 1,000 NHL games combined (998, to be exact) and yet they’ve never once been on the ice together as opponents. They’ve been teammates twice during the last two Olympic Games for Canada, but through All-Star Games and preseason games, two of the league’s preeminent players have not faced-off with one another.
When the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins meet at Soldier Field on Saturday night in the NHL’s first East vs. West outdoor game since the 2011 Heritage Classic, Crosby and Toews will go from from celebrating a second straight gold medal for Canada six days ago to finally battling one another.
On Friday, both players spent their time with the media discussing the outdoor elements and praising each other’s games.
“Offensively, he’s really dangerous,” said Crosby. “He’s strong on the puck. He competes every night, so he gives himself a chance to be consistent that way. Defensively, he takes a lot of pride in that side of things. Just their group as a whole, they pay together. You don’t win as much as they have in the past without everyone buying in and playing a certain way. He kind of leads the way there.”
“The one thing I noticed playing with him at the Olympics was just his speed through the neutral zone,” Toews said. “You see all the highlights of some of the goals he scores where he’s kind of sneaking through what seems like three guys. A lot of that is just that he’s able to find those holes and he does it with a lot of speed. That’ll be something we’ll have to be aware of.”
The Blackhawks and Penguins are tied for second overall in the NHL behind the Anaheim Ducks with 84 points. It’s also, arguably, the best match-up between teams in outdoor game history. Both Dan Bylsma and Joel Quenneville said that this was a game that each team had an eye on when the schedule was released in the summer. The teams don’t face one another often, so having their first meeting since Dec. 20, 2011 outdoors makes things even more unique.
With a little over 20 games left in the regular season for both teams, the rare meeting will serve as a measuring stick game. It's a game between Stanley Cup contender, two teams many have predicted the last few seasons to meet in the Final.
It's also a meeting between two teams who were widely compared with one another as their young superstars were coming of age. The Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010, one season after the Penguins claimed their third title in franchise history, and one not long after they realized how similar they were to one another.
“Even though we don’t see them a lot,” said Toews. “I’d say it’s a team that we probably measured ourselves up to and maybe we’ve been compared to for the last number of years.
“I can think back to when they won the Cup, I remember thinking that’s where we want to be and knowing that we weren’t far off.
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