PITTSBURGH — A matchup between the past two Stanley Cup winners, who also accounted for five of the past nine titles, held the promise of a close, intense game.
Instead, it fizzled Wednesday when the Chicago Blackhawks dominated, taking a four-goal lead in the first period as they routed the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Blackhawks’ domination had them feeling pretty good about themselves two weeks before the start of the playoffs.
“It was really good. It was a really good start,” said Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford, who stopped 31 shots and has won four of his past five starts. “Obviously, we scored a bunch of goals, but I thought our game was even better after that.
“It was a great game, full game for us.”
The win was No. 850 in Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s career. The Blackhawks matched a franchise record with their 24th road victory of the season.
Artemi Panarin, Richard Panik, Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa scored in the first for a 4-0 Chicago lead, and Tanner Kero scored on a breakaway, the Blackhawks’ eighth odd-man break, in the third. Bryan Rust scored for Pittsburgh in the third.
“I think it’s good to know we can play like that,” said Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, who had two assists. “So, let’s keep building. Let’s try to get this momentum going into the playoffs where we’re firing on all cylinders.”
The Blackhawks (49-21-7) won a regulation game in Pittsburgh for the first time since Feb. 22, 1997. The Penguins had been 7-0-5 at home vs. Chicago in the interim.
Defensive lapses were evident for injury-strapped Pittsburgh (46-19-11). The defending Cup champions lost four games in a row for the first time since Penguins coach Mike Sullivan’s first four games as coach in December 2015. The Penguins are 0-2-2 in the past four games.
“They’re a very good team at stretching the ice and bringing guys underneath with speed,” Pittsburgh defenseman Ian Cole said. “You see when they bring that third guy late, that fourth guy late how much they open it up. We play five-man team defense, and I think the ability to come back and sort things out will be beneficial come playoff time because a lot of teams do that.”
The loss put the Presidents’ Trophy, as well as the Metropolitan Division title, further from Pittsburgh’s reach. Pittsburgh also failed to gain on Columbus for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets, second in the Metropolitan, are two points ahead of the Penguins with a game in hand.
“They were a better team than us tonight,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s tough. I thought in the first period some of the chances we gave up were high quality and you can’t get in a track meet with that team.”
Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 31 saves for the Penguins, had been 3-0-2 in his previous five decisions.
“They’re a fast-break team, and they got behind us a few times,” said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who had no points after collecting eight goals, 12 points in his past nine games. “They don’t need a lot of chances to score. You look at a few of those chances, I think especially in the first, were odd-man rushes so they found ways to get behind us. I think in some of those situations I felt like we were pretty safe with our numbers, but they made some plays. It was something we were aware of but we didn’t do a good enough job.”
The Blackhawks, conversely, were strong all the way around.
“It was solid,” Quenneville said. “I thought we did a lot of good things — had a great start, some nice plays on the goals.”
Kane’s two assists gave him 84 points and moved him out of a tie with Crosby for second place in the NHL. He sits five points behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.
Kane’s slick play set up the first goal of the game. He skated behind the Pittsburgh net, but passed back against the grain to Panarin, who slipped the puck inside the near post for a 1-0 Chicago lead at 3:32 of the first.
The Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead at 14:39 of the first when Panik, from the slot, one-timed a pass from Nick Schmaltz.
Chicago then scored twice in the last minute of the first. Kruger scored from just inside the right dot with 54.8 seconds left, and Hossa converted off of a three-on-one with 15.2 seconds left for a 4-0 lead.
“The start was a big thing,” Fleury said. “They competed hard. They created a lot, offensively. They didn’t give us too much out there. That was a big key to the game. They had such a big lead. It’s tough to come back on a team like that.”
NOTES: Chicago LW Ryan Hartman and C Dennis Rasmussen returned to the lineup after being healthy scratches Monday. … Top-line RW/LW Conor Sheary played in his 100th NHL game after leaving Sunday’s game with a lower-body injury. That still left Pittsburgh with eight players out because of injury, including C Evgeni Malkin (shoulder, seventh game out) and D Kris Letang (lower body, 17th game missed). … The Penguins’ healthy scratches were RW Josh Archibald and D David Warsofsky. … Chicago scratched D Michal Kempny, C Andrew Desjardins, RW Jordin Tootoo and D Michal Rozsival.