Outdoor gems too fun to get old

In Chicago, the Blackhawks, with two Stanley Cups in the past five years, are a top draw, selling out every game and averaging 159,000 local viewers a game on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, according to a recent Sports Business Journal story. Try to find a city bar not showing the Blackhawks during the regular season.

In Yinzer country, the Penguins are perhaps even more popular, averaging 91,000 viewers per local game, which is quite an audience considering their market size. According a Root Sports news release last May, Penguins games averaged a 12.66 local rating, the highest for a major sports team on a Root network since 2002.

"It's a good matchup to have for this type of game," Kane said Friday night. "Two teams that a lot of fans probably want to watch on TV, and when you mix it in with the Stadium Series type of game, it makes it even more interesting."

That the Blackhawks dominated thrilled the home crowd. When they last played an outdoor game, back in 2009 at Wrigley Field against the Detroit Red Wings, the Blackhawks were ascendant, but they hadn't arrived. Now they're the defending champions, looking to get in a groove before the playoffs begin.

While the first period was sluggish, as the shoveling crew worked overtime to clear the snow from the ice, Patrick Sharp ignited the crowd with a post-clanging goal off a perfect Toews assist.

"I honestly thought that was the game, 1-0," Sharp said. "The way the conditions were out there, it was tough to get the puck anywhere near the net, and those guys defend well. So our team took this game seriously. We wanted to win. But at the same time, we were out there having fun."

In the second period, Toews scored with a beautiful display of stick handling, followed by a ridiculously threaded cross-ice pass from Kane to Versteeg to give the Blackhawks a 3-0 lead going into the third period.

"Just drive the net, put your stick down and a guy like Kane is going to find you when he can," Versteeg said. "It was a great pass."

The Blackhawks were coming off a loss in New York following the Sochi Olympics and entered Saturday tied atop the Central Division with St. Louis. The Blues made a blockbuster trade for goalie Ryan Miller on Friday night, a deal that got the Hawks' attention.

Still, it didn't sound like there was a lot of chalk talk between periods. This game was about trusting their skills and living in the moment.

"I think we kept it really simple early on in the game and just threw pucks down the ice and chased after them," Toews said. "We were getting them and we were throwing everything on net."

"There was no real system or structure to our game," Sharp said. "We were hoisting the puck around and slapping it around and having fun doing it."

Fun. There's that word again. For as much as this kind of game is about marketing and TV ratings, and those precious two points, when you strip everything away, it's all about that three-letter word.

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