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Blackhawks raise banner, spirits with 6-4 opening-night win

Updated: October 2, 2013 10:19AM



For some 40 minutes, the Blackhawks and their delirious fans basked in the literal glow of their most recent Stanley Cup championship — rink-size images of memorable moments engulfing the ring, and 21,158 flickering wristbands lighting up the United Center as a montage of highlights and soundbites played on the big screen.

And as the fifth championship banner rose to the rafters — just one shy of their co-tenants now — cameras flashed and fans roared and players beamed from the ice below, as the unforgettable 2013 season officially came to a close.

Now it’s over. And now it begins.

The Hawks opened their defense of the Stanley Cup — and more importantly with so many pieces still in place, their pursuit of another — with a wild 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night, overcoming a Mikhail Grabovski hat trick, three power play goals, and a frenetic 86 seconds of a Washington 5-on-3 in the waning minutes.

It wasn’t quite “17 seconds,” but the Hawks rarely make things easy.

“No, we don’t,” said Brandon Saad, who had a goal and two assists. “It was a crazy game. It’s nice to have the win.”

Saad tied the game 4-4 at 7:55 of the third, chipping in a beautiful cross-ice pass from Michal Handzus. And Johnny Oduya celebrated his 32nd birthday by scoring the game-winner, his knuckling shot from the point deflecting off Braden Holtby’s glove and in with 6:07 left in the game.

“Why not?” Oduya said with a smile. “My lucky day today.”

Marian Hossa added an empty-netter, sort of, in the final minute. He was awarded a goal rather than a penalty shot after he was taken down on his way to the empty net.

“First goal of my career I didn’t have to score,” he said.

It was a memorable, energetic game — fitting, as it came after a memorable, energetic pregame. It was less than nine months ago that the Hawks waited for the Los Angeles Kings to raise their banner to the Staples Center rafters, and then pounced for an easy win as the Kings slogged through the game. The Hawks — who insisted they learned from that experience and their own banner-raising in the fall of 2010, a 3-2 loss to Detroit — had no such issues on Tuesday.

Brandon Bollig showed his strong preseason was no fluke, scoring his first career regular-season goal just 4:06 into the first period to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. Alex Ovechkin tied it on the power play at 10:42, and Patrick Kane took the lead right back 24 seconds later — both goals coming on wicked shots from the left circle.

Grabovski tied it on a two-on-one midway through the second period, but Brent Seabrook gave the Hawks a 3-2 lead on a power play goal at 14:32, rifling in a Marian Hossa rebound. The power play was encouraging for the Hawks. After two seasons of struggles, and a 1-for-23 preseason, the Hawks were more aggressive, taking eight shots on four power plays.

In a twist, it was the Hawks’ penalty kill — one of the keys to their success last season — that nearly did them in. Washington’s lethal power play — they led the league last year with a 26.8 percent success rate — scored three times, including Grabovski’s game-tying goal 59 seconds into the third, and his go-ahead tally barely four minutes later.

The Hawks only allowed three power-play goals in a game once last season, and it took 11 games for them to give up three total.

“Our PK wasn’t good enough tonight,” Hossa said. “We know that. The good thing is we’ve got lots of time to fix it. We know what we should do. We just have to do a little more details on that. I think the 5-on-3 was excellent and that saved us in the end.”

Indeed, the PK unit wound up securing the win, killing 86 seconds of a 5-on-3 after Patrick Sharp took an interference penalty, and rookie penalty-killer Joakim Nordstom flung the puck over the glass. After a Caps timeout allowed Joel Quenneville to tell his team what to expect, Corey Crawford made four big saves down two men to seal the victory — or, as Quenneville put it, “avoid what could have been a disaster.”

There’s a long way to go before the next banner-raising ceremony, of course. And the Hawks are a mere 23 games shy of their season-opening point streak from earlier this year. But on a memorable first night in October, the Hawks began their new journey with a win, and that’s all that mattered.

“That was an amazing feeling,” Crawford said of the ceremony. “A little bit emotional, but it was cool to see that go up. And I thought we came out pretty quick at the start. The whole game was fast-paced, back-and-forth, and when it came to crunch time, our guys came through and did the job.”

EMAIL: mlazerus@suntimes.com

TWITTER: @marklazerus



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