Saturday sports post: Chi-Pitt Stadium Series (colder than Sochi), American Cup, EPL.

credit to: brentsabrookshair

CHICAGO -- The stars of the Chicago Blackhawks didn't let a little snow stop them from putting on a show at Soldier Field.

Captain Jonathan Toews had a highlight-reel goal among his three points, Patrick Kane set up another and the Blackhawks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 in a Coors Light 2014 NHL Stadium Series game Saturday night in front of 62,921 at the home of the NFL's Chicago Bears.

The snow began a couple of hours before puck drop at the stadium a few hundred feet from the Lake Michigan shore and did not stop. The precipitation was heavy early in the game and for a stretch during the second period.

Large quantities were shoveled off the playing surface during stoppages of play, and long passes along the ice left trails in their wake, but the Blackhawks did not appear troubled by the conditions. Chicago asserted its might early in this contest and did not relent until the three-goal lead was secured.

The victory pushed the Blackhawks ahead of the St. Louis Blues by two points in the Central Division, though the team that just acquired goaltender Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott has three games in hand. Miller will make his Blues debut Sunday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Pittsburgh has now lost two straight since the NHL returned from a break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and three overall, but remains comfortably in front of the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Missing several key players because of injury has been a theme for much of this season, but the Penguins looked like a team that was missing its top two defensemen and a first-line forward against the deep and talented Blackhawks.

Patrick Sharp gave the Blackhawks the lead at 15:35 of the opening period. Toews sent a pass from behind the Pittsburgh net to Sharp in the right circle, and he snapped a shot into the top left corner of the net for his 29th goal of the season.

Toews made it a 2-0 lead midway through the second period with possibly the prettiest goal scored in an NHL outdoor game. The Blackhawks captain collected the puck at center ice and blew past Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik with a backhand-forehand deke before slipping a backhanded shot through goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's legs for his 20th goal of the campaign.

Shortly after the Penguins' best shift of the first two periods, the Blackhawks scored a counter-punch goal to make it 3-0. Pittsburgh had an extended shift in the offensive zone, and seconds later were pushing again but caught with too many players in deep.

The Blackhawks collected the puck and went the other way on a 3-on-1 break. Kane carried it into the offensive zone and waited for Kris Versteeg to reach the far post before feathering a pass to the blade of his stick for a lay-up at 16:43 of the second.

Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook put the puck in his own net to but the Blackhawks' lead to 3-1 at 6:21 of the final period. Pittsburgh forward James Neal backhanded the puck from the side of the net, and Seabrook swept it into his own net instead of to the corner like he intended. Neal was credited with his 22nd goal of the season.

Bryan Bickell restored the three-goal advantage and ended any doubt at 13:57 of the third. Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad fed Bickell with a pass on a 2-on-1 break, and while Fleury stopped his first attempt, the big forward was able to stuff his second attempt under the goaltender for his ninth of the season.

Toews added the final tally on another 2-on-1. Sharp sent him a pass and Toews' shot went off Fleury and defenseman Simon Despres before trickling across the goal line at 17:52 of the third period.

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews remembers watching Sidney Crosby lift the Stanley Cup in 2009 and imagining himself in a similar position.

Toews matched Crosby's feat a year later and climbed to the top of the NHL mountain a second time in 2013. He and Crosby have been two of the premier players in the League for years. They're considered two of the best captains in the NHL and have been collecting individual and team honors at various levels of hockey for the past decade.

One thing Crosby and Toews have not done is play against each other. That will change Saturday when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks meet at Soldier Field in a primetime Coors Light 2014 NHL Stadium Series matchup (8 p.m. ET; NBC).

"It's kind of weird that it's taken this long," Crosby said. "I think I've been hurt for a few games, but I think just knowing that either we're going to go head-to-head or if not, I think he's a guy who's pretty competitive. That whole group of guys that I've played with for the last few weeks are pretty competitive guys and have a lot of pride, so I'm sure they'll be up for this one.

"But yeah, going head-to-head against [Toews], I'm sure it'll be a good challenge."

These franchises have met four times since Toews joined the Blackhawks at the start of the 2007-08 season, but Crosby has been unavailable each time. He missed games against Chicago on Feb. 27, 2009, and Dec. 5, 2009, because of separate groin injuries. He missed games against the Blackhawks on Feb. 20, 2011, and Dec. 20, 2011, because of lengthy absences stemming from post-concussion symptoms.

The first meeting of Crosby and Toews, two of the League's marquee stars, would be noteworthy at any point on the calendar. It carries extra significance because of the setting of this game at the home of the Chicago Bears and because of the stage they shared six days ago.

Toews had the opening goal and Crosby followed with the second in a 3-0 victory for Canada against Sweden in the gold-medal game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Crosby centered the top line for a dominant Canadian team, and Toews was in the middle of the second line.

"We don't see Pittsburgh too often to begin with, but I think it is always fun to play against the top guys in the League and he is pretty much that guy," Toews said. "It will be interesting to see how we match up."

Crosby and Toews are one of several interesting storylines for a game featuring two of the top franchises in the NHL. Chicago and Pittsburgh share similar recent history; each has climbed from the depths of the standings to become consistent Stanley Cup contenders.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2008 and 2009. Toews and Patrick Kane led the revival in Chicago, and the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010 and 2013.

The teams are among the top Cup contenders again in 2013-14.

"They've had a great year and they have some firepower over there," Kane said. "We feel the same way about our team. I think that's a great matchup to have for this kind of game. It is two teams that a lot of fans want to watch on TV, and when you mix in the Stadium Series type of game like this, it makes it even more entertaining."

The fact the Penguins and Blackhawks haven't played each other in more than two years adds a little spice.

"You might have three opponents like this for our team. You're playing a Western Conference team and we don't play them very often," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "They are Stanley Cup champs and again, one of the best teams, best records in the League. I think when the schedule comes out and before you know this is going to be an outdoor game, you know you're facing the Blackhawks first and foremost. You circle that as a big date, a big game on your calendar."

While Crosby and Toews experienced Olympic triumph, Kane and Malkin came back from Sochi with similarly frustrating stories to tell. Each struggled to produce at expected levels, and neither came back with a medal.

Bylsma coached Kane with the United States team in Sochi and had a chance to see more of one of the League's most talented players in person.

"You see it live, and he's a head-shaker," Bylsma said. "Some of the stuff that he does, bringing the puck up on our power play and distributing the puck, I had seen it and watched it, but he's just got some nasty skill with the puck. I call it head-shaker because he makes a play and pulls up and floats a pass right onto someone's tape and you have three or four guys on the bench just shaking their heads at how good he is with the puck."

This game will not only be a matchup of two of the NHL's top clubs but a celebration of how the Blackhawks and Penguins have become two of the top hockey markets in the United States. They were at the bottom of the heap a decade ago; now they are in the midst of lengthy sellout streaks, consistently deliver strong television ratings, and are among the NHL's go-to teams for events such as this one.

"Chicago is a team that everyone likes to watch on TV," Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "The way they play, I know the guys in our room has a lot of respect for the guys on their team and the way their team plays. I think it is a more of a measuring stick to see where you are at. It is a good challenge for our team."

Kane said, "I like watching Crosby and Malkin, just kind of to see how they're playing and see if I can pick up anything or what they're doing on the ice. They are, it seems like, a well-coached team that plays hard. The bottom two lines are tough to play against, and it seems like they follow a team-oriented structure that works for them. They've been a good team for a long time, and you can see why."

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- American gymnast Elizabeth Price has been dealing with injuries off and on since the 2012 Olympics.

Now that she's healthy, Price is showing why she could be a contender at the 2014 World Championships. Price dominated the field to win the women's all-around title Saturday at the American Cup, the only major international gymnastics competition held in the United States.

"USA Gymnastics knew what I was capable of," said Price, an alternate on the team that earned the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. "This was just me coming back and saying 'I'm still here and I'm still as good.'"

Price scored 15 points or better in two of four events, including a 15.7 on the vault. She was the top scorer in three events and finished with a total score of 59.966 points, ahead of American Brenna Dowell (57.532). Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland was third.

Defending national and NCAA champion Sam Mikulak won the men's all-around title after a mistake by Japan's Shogo Nonomura in the final event at the Greensboro Coliseum flipped the standings.

Mikulak finished with a total score of 90.098 points to 88.965 for Nonomura, whose last World Cup title came in 2011 at Stuttgart, Germany.

Daniel Purvis of Great Britain was third at 88.899, and moved to the top the overall World Cup standings ahead of Andrew Likhovitskiy of Belarus by 25 points.

"I don't always like winning by someone else falling, but I'll take my victories and be happy I came out on top," said the 21-year-old Mikulak, who finished sixth at last year's world championships.

The 17-year-old Price won her second World Cup title this season, her fourth overall, and clinched a share of the overall World Cup championship with her performance.

In the overall World Cup standings, Price holds a 35-point lead over Italy's Vanessa Ferrari with one event remaining on April 15 in Tokyo.

"I was able to hit all four pretty strong routines," said Price, who was invited to the American Cup after 2012 Olympic medalist Kyla Ross withdrew because of an injured knee. "I knew I was in first, because they tell us after every rotation. But I had no idea of what the range was.

"But it's pretty cool. No matter what happens at the next World Cup event, I'll definitely have a medal."

Mikulak, competing in his first World Cup event, had two scores of 15 points or higher, including a 15.666 in the floor exercise. But Nonomura, whose last World Cup title came in 2011 at Stuttgart, Germany, posted three 15s in the first five events. He held a 0.234-point lead heading into the high bar.

However, after Mikulak had posted a 14.9 on his routine, Nonomura lost his grip on the bar. He finished the event with a 13.533, helping Mikulak move into the lead.

"I regret making that mistake," Nonomura said through a translator. "I hit everything, but not as strong as I usually do."

Mikulak, who was watching the final routines, said he knows just how Nonomura felt after the fall.

"I feel especially bad for him," Mikulak said. "Last year at worlds, I was up there in the all-around rankings and could have been second if I had hit my high bar set. But I made a mistake and fell.

"I was rooting for him. If I was going to beat him, I wanted to beat him at his best and respectfully take the second if it came my way. But it came out with me on top. Now, I've got to get back to the gym and train so that it doesn't happen to be such a nail-biter the next time."


14.733 (finally hit that Tweddle! \o/)


Everyone's favorite racist flopped on beam, btw.


Liverpool put themselves into the Premier League title reckoning as they moved into second place yesterday evening, winning on a ground where the two teams they climbed above, Arsenal and Manchester City, had settled for draws.

Luis Suarez celebrated his 100th Premier League appearance for Liverpool by scoring for the first time since the 4-0 victory over Everton on 28 January, a drought of five matches in all competitions. Raheem Sterling then netted with his first touch after taking the field as a second-half substitute to ensure Liverpool’s ninth League match without defeat, a fourth successive victory and a first win at St Mary’s since 2003. Steven Gerrard added a late penalty after Jose Fonte had tripped Suarez to make the win appear more comfortable than it was.

Saints beat Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield in September and 3-1 at St Mary’s in March – arguably the Reds’ most disappointing performance of last season – but yesterday the visitors rode out several spells of pressure to inflict back-to-back League defeats for Southampton and record a welcome clean sheet.

The subplot was the presence of nine members of Roy Hodgson’s squad for Wednesday’s England friendly against Denmark at Wembley – four from Saints, including the newly called-up Luke Shaw, and five from Liverpool, though Raheem Sterling began on the bench.

Southampton made one change to the team that lost 3-1 away to West Ham seven days previously, restoring Croatia defender Dejan Lovren to the centre of the back four for his first appearance since suffering an ankle ligament injury in the 2-2 draw away to Sunderland on 18 January. Liverpool’s only change from the team that beat Swansea City 4-3 last weekend was a place for Joe Allen at the expense of Sterling.

No doubt buoyed by the news of Arsenal’s defeat at Stoke City, Liverpool pressed forward from the kick-off, and came close to an opening goal in the first five minutes when Allen’s first-time pass sent Sturridge clear down the right It looked certain that a square pass would set Suarez up for a tap-in, but Sturridge did not put quite enough pace on the ball and Fonte slid in to intercept at the expense of a corner.

There was a brief scare when Shaw went down in a heap after an aerial challenge with Liverpool’s right-back, Jon Flanagan, but he continued after treatment. Flanagan was involved in another incident soon afterwards when he challenged Adam Lallana in the penalty area. The Saints captain fell, but Lee Probert, the referee, was unimpressed.

Instead of going a goal down, Liverpool found themselves ahead after 16 minutes. Suarez collected a throw-in on the left and moved infield, intent on exchanging passes with Sturridge. Southampton intercepted Sturridge’s return only for the ball to ricochet off Fonte and back into the path of Suarez, who slipped the ball low past the left hand of Artur Boruc.

Southampton should have been level just past the half-hour. Jay Rodriguez crossed from the right and Rickie Lambert chested the ball down into the path of Lallana. An excellent first touch gave the latter the space he needed to slip the ball past Simon Mignolet, but he rolled his shot against the foot of the post instead of into the net.

Liverpool, were now being increasingly starved of possession, although that was no excuse for Sturridge throwing himself at the turf on two occasons in the vain hope that Probert would err in his favour.

Rodgers brought off the increasingly ineffective Philippe Coutinho for Raheem Sterling, and it paid off instantly. Suarez took Steven Gerrard’s pass from deep and turned into space on the right. His low cross found Sterling, who stabbed the ball low past Boruc, 80 seconds after taking the field.


Southampton (4-3-3): Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; S Davis (Ramirez, h-t), Cork (Wanyama, 76), Schneiderlin; Lallana, Lambert (Gallagher, 76), Rodriguez.

Liverpool (4-1-3-2): Mignolet; Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Gerrard; Henderson, Coutinho (Sterling, 57), Allen; Sturridge (Aspas, 86), Suarez.

Referee: Lee Probert.

Man of the match: Suarez (Liverpool)

Match rating: 7/10

sources: blackhawks.nhl//nhl//espn//USAG YT//Independent