Penguins going outside again as part of outdoor series
The Penguins are going outside to play hockey again.
Multiple sources confirmed to the Tribune-Review late Tuesday that the Penguins will play the Blackhawks at Chicago's Soldier Field on March 1.
The contest will be part of an NHL series of outdoor games, the sources said.
The NHL has not yet committed to sending its player to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Those games are scheduled to run from Feb. 7-23. The outdoor series is slated to be played before and after the Olympics.
The Penguins and NHL declined to comment.
However, an announcement of an outdoor series — starting with the New Year's Day Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto at Michigan Stadium — is expected before the Stanley Cup playoffs, the sources said.
“It will be cool playing in front of a huge crowd outdoors, regardless of who we play, but to be against my hometown team makes it that much more exciting for me,” said Brandon Saad, a Gibsonia native and Blackhawks rookie.
This will mark the third outdoor game for the Penguins, who were part of the original Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2008.
They won that one — played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. — on a shootout-winning goal by captain Sidney Crosby.
Images of Crosby, donning a baby blue Penguins throwback uniform, scoring on Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller as snow fell from a darkened western New York sky were lauded by NHL chief operating officer John Collins as a picture-perfect moment.
Collins previously worked for the NFL and is credited with selling NHL brass on an events-driven strategy to attract corporate sponsors. He is credited with conceptualizing the Winter Classic that since has become a staple of NBC programming on New Year's Day.
Penguins CEO David Morehouse told Collins at the 2008 Classic that team ownership wanted to bring an outdoor game to Pittsburgh.
Heinz Field staged the 2011 Classic between the Penguins and Washington Capitals.
HBO cameras followed both teams in the months preceding that game. A four-week series — “24/7: The Road to the Winter Classic” — proved a critical and ratings success, and it was warmly received within the NHL offices.
Inclement weather forced the 2011 Classic to be played at night for the first time, though that outdoor game is famous for something else.
Near the end of the second period, Crosby was hit from the blind side by Washington's David Steckel. Crosby played in the third period, but he would play in only one more game until November.
The hit by Steckel, along with a blow from behind by Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman in the Penguins' next game, led to a concussion diagnosis for Crosby.
He was the NHL leader in goals and points at the time of those hits and was on pace for his finest season in both categories.
Crosby did not completely recover from concussion symptoms until March 2012, and over those 15 months he became the poster boy for that injury.
The NHL lockout wiped out the 2013 Classic, which was to be played at Michigan Stadium between Detroit and Toronto.
That game will take place Jan. 1, 2014, and serve as the opening faceoff for the six-game outdoor series, the sources said.
Anaheim and Los Angeles will play at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25. The New York Rangers will play twice at Yankee Stadium, against New Jersey (Jan. 26) and the New York Islanders (Jan. 29).
Those games will serve as a hockey lead-in to the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2.
The Penguins-Blackhawks game will be part of “Hockey Weekend Across America” and be followed by a Heritage Classic that will bring Ottawa to Vancouver the next day, the sources said.