(AP) Blackhawks score 3 in 3rd, beat Capitals in opener
By JAY COHEN
AP Sports Writer
Brandon Saad, Johnny Oduya and Marian Hossa scored in the third period, and the Chicago Blackhawks kicked off their Stanley Cup title defense with a 6-4 victory over Mikhail Grabovsky and the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.
Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Brandon Bollig also scored for Chicago, which won its first game for the second straight season. Corey Crawford made 28 saves, including a couple of huge stops when the Blackhawks killed off a late 5-on-3 power play.
Chicago ruined Los Angeles’ title celebration with a 5-2 victory in last season’s opener, and then set an NHL record by recording at least one point in its first 24 games. The fast start played a key role in the Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup title, and coach Joel Quenneville made it clear in training camp that another opening surge is a priority.
Grabovsky had three goals and an assist in his first game since he signed with Washington in August. Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, but the Capitals dropped their opener for the second straight season.
Grabovsky had consecutive power-play goals in the third, lifting Washington to a 3-2 lead with 14:44 left. But Saad finished a beautiful give-and-go with Michal Handzus, and Oduya converted a long slap shot at 13:53 to put the Blackhawks ahead to stay.
Oduya caught a fortunate break on his 32nd birthday when his fluttering shot went in off the glove of goalie Braden Holtby on its way to the net.
Hossa finished the scoring when he was dragged down from behind as he skated toward an empty net in the final seconds, prompting the officials to award him with an insurance goal.
Cheered on by a raucous crowd of 22,158, the Blackhawks staged one last celebration of the franchise’s fifth title. The team handed out special wristbands that lit up during parts of the pregame ceremony, making the rows of seats at the United Center look like a clear night sky full of stars.
The wristband lights were joined by camera flashes as a group of youth hockey players presented the championship banner to the 19 returning players from last year’s squad, who carried it to the spot for its trip to the rafters.
Front office staff and players posed for a picture with the banner hanging just over the ice. It was then raised to the top while the crowd roared.
Chicago then brushed aside any concern of a letdown caused by the banner ceremony and grabbed the lead when Bollig stuffed home a rebound 4:06 in for his first career regular-season goal.
After Ovechkin tied it with a power-play goal, Kane sent a wrist shot past Holtby to make it 2-1 at 11:06. Kane won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when the Blackhawks made their run to the championship.
Holtby finished with 29 saves in Washington’s first game in Chicago since March 18, 2012. NHL teams played games strictly within their own conference last season after the lockout cut the campaign nearly in half.
NOTES: Chicago beat Washington twice during the preseason, including a 4-3 overtime win on Saturday. … The teams will meet again in Washington on April 11. … NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was booed repeatedly during the pregame ceremony.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap