The first head-to-head matchup between two of hockey's top centers in a regular-season NHL game took place Saturday night in snow-globe conditions before 62,921 at Soldier Field, but it never materialized into the one-on-one battle many had anticipated.
Toews proved to be the dominant force with his first multiple-point game in almost a month to lead the Blackhawks to a 5-1 victory. He had two goals and an assist, tying outdoor records for goals and points in a game.
Crosby, who was 47 percent on faceoffs, finished with a minus-2 rating and three shots on goal in 22:02 of ice time.
"The score is 5-1; if it were a straight-up matchup Jonathan had two goals and we didn't match," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don't look at it as a straight-up matchup and one-on-one competition. Our team wasn't good enough. Our team wasn't at the level we needed to be and they were. You saw that pretty much right from the get-go of this game."
Crosby and his mates couldn't generate much during six power-play chances despite generating 10 of their 32 shots while playing with the extra man.
"They did a better job," Crosby said. "They outplayed us. They had the puck more and did a better job of creating things."
When the Penguins did plow into the opposing end and gain the territorial edge, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (31 saves) was ready.
The highlight, perhaps, came midway through the third period when the Penguins were finally exhibiting some puck movement on the perimeter before James Neal ripped a slap shot from the left circle that was tipped by Chris Kunitz in the slot only to be stopped by Crawford.
"I thought both goalies played well," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "[Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury] was fine. He had a couple tough bounces and some unlucky things around his net. We allowed too many odd-man rushes and that was difference."
The Penguins entered the game first in the League on the power play at 25.8 percent. Credit the Chicago forwards on the penalty kill for taking away the point shot by forcing the Penguins to shoot or pass faster than they wanted to.
Penguins forward Craig Adams felt his team was too hesitant throughout.
"I think the conditions did play a part, but the Blackhawks dealt with it better than we did," Adams said. "We didn't deal with it well. There were a lot of times we were caught halfway. I think we were deciding do we play like we normally play, let pucks die in the snow, or are we going to get to the puck. They certainly figured it out and we didn't."
The Blackhawks generated many more odd-man rushes because of that hesitation, much to the dismay of Fleury, who made 35 saves.
"It was a little different with the snow coming into your face, but again it was the same for both teams," Fleury said.
In the snowy conditions, getting the early lead was huge and that's precisely what the Blackhawks were able to do despite losing forward Marian Hossa to an upper-body injury in the first.
"The conditions were the same for both teams and they are a fast team too," Bylsma said. "It wouldn't have matter if we played this game inside or out, snow or no snow. They were better and more prepared to play whatever the conditions were.
"The first half of the game was a large indication of that. The territorial advantage and offensive zone time was in their favor."
The only goal for the Penguins, loser of three straight for the first time since a stretch from Nov. 6-13, came when Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook inadvertently slammed the rebound of Neal's attempt in the slot into his own net 6:21 into the third period.
"Losing three straight is not good," Crosby said. "We have to be better and you can't accept losing. We don't want to let this keep going on. We had a couple games after the Olympic break, and we need to be better."
To their credit, the injury-ridden Penguins did push a little harder in the third and actually outshot the Blackhawks 14-9.
Pittsburgh plays the second of a five-game road trip on Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.
Crosby is hoping his team can learn from this experience against the defending Stanley Cup champion.
"We had some chances and didn't convert and they got some chances and made us pay," Crosby said. "They are a good hockey team. We have to play a lot better."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
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