Capitals vs. Blackhawks: Washington can't keep pace with Chicago on banner night
CHICAGO (AP) - The Chicago Blackhawks watched as their championship banner rose to the rafters at the United Center. They took another look at the Stanley Cup, and soaked in the applause from the sellout crowd.
Then Johnny Oduya and Co. went out and reminded the rest of the NHL how they won that title.
Oduya, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa scored in the third period, and the Blackhawks kicked off their title defense with a 6-4 victory over Mikhail Grabovski and the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.
"We wanted a good start. I think we got that," Oduya said. "Maybe in the second we came down a little bit, the win is the key thing to that, and to keep building on that. There's a lot of games this year, so we've got to stay strong and get better."
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, and coach Joel Quenneville made it clear in training camp that another opening surge is a priority.
"The guys have always been in a good place since Day 1 of the season," Quenneville said. "You've got to commend them on how they prepared themselves."
Grabovski 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.
"They got a little bit lucky today," Grabovski said. "We need to learn from our mistakes what we did. We just need to play better the next game."
Grabovski 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.
"It just completely fooled me," Holtby said. "I had a clean look at the shot, it was just one of those sinkers. It happened. It was one I would love to have, but I think there are a couple of others in the game that I should have done a better job on, more than that one."
Hossa finished the scoring when he was dragged down from behind as he skated toward an empty net in the final minute, prompting the officials to award him with an insurance goal.
Cheered on by the rollicking 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 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.
"It was amazing," Hossa said. "So much light in the stands. To stand on the ice and look at 20-something-thousand people just celebrating. It's going to stay in my heart for the memories."
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 made 29 saves in Washington's first regular-season 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.
"The first 40 minutes I thought that we played pretty good hockey," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "If anything, our turnovers gave them momentum and gave them some life. They've got a good hockey team. It's hard to play that way."