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Blackhawks raise banner, top Capitals in opener

by Dan Rosen /

CHICAGO -- They've had their days with the Stanley Cup, received their championship rings and can now look up to the rafters inside United Center and see their 2013 championship banner hanging next to the one that went up three years ago.

It's time for the Chicago Blackhawks to turn the page to defending the Cup. They set their course the right way Tuesday night.

After taking part in an emotional 30-minute banner-raising ceremony, the Blackhawks put five pucks past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and were granted an empty-net goal in the final minute for a 6-4 win in the season-opener for both teams.

Chicago had six different goal-scorers, including defenseman Johnny Oduya, who celebrated his 32nd birthday with the game-winning goal. Corey Crawford made 28 saves and the Blackhawks successfully killed off an 86-second 5-on-3 late in the game to preserve the win.

"Coming off a championship, every team is going to bring their best game against us," Crawford said. "We've gotta be ready. [That] was a hard-fought game."

The Capitals had a 4-3 lead after center Mikhail Grabovski completed a hat trick in his first game with Washington by tipping a pair of Mike Green slap shots past Crawford for power-play goals within the first 5:16 of the third period. However, Chicago left wing Brandon Saad tied the game with 12:05 left and Oduya scored the winner 5:58 later when his slap shot, which appeared to be going wide, deflected off a defender's stick and was instead redirected into the net by Holtby (29 saves).

Marian Hossa was credited with an empty-net goal in the final minute after he was hauled down by Green on a breakaway on his way to scoring.

"We had so many things around the Stanley Cup, so many presentations, the rings, raising the banner and now it's over," Hossa said. "Everything was great, but now we can just focus on the game, which is great too."

Washington's power play, tops in the NHL last season at 26.8 percent, scored three times on its first four chances. But when the Capitals needed a power-play goal, down 5-4 late in the third period, the Blackhawks' penalty kill -- which allowed a League-low 18 goals in 48 games last season -- wouldn't allow it.

Chicago killed off a pair of overlapping minor penalties, including 86 seconds of 5-on-3, during the final 4 1/2 minutes of the game. Crawford made four saves during the 5-on-3 kill, including a point-blank stop on Eric Fehr, who tried to beat him from the left post. The Blackhawks blocked two shots during the 5-on-3 and another during the 5-on-4 advantage.

The puck went into the netting after two of the blocks, giving Chicago's PK a chance to catch its breath and reset.

"Sometimes when a guy blocks a shot it stays on the ice that helps the power play because now they're moving around, where if a guy blocks a shot and it happens goes in the stands we have to reset and we have to win a draw again," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "That hurt us a bit, [we] lost a little momentum from that."

Neither team was able to sustain momentum throughout the game. They traded goals, starting with Brandon Bollig's first career regular-season goal 4:06 into the game, until Grabovski scored twice early in the third period.

However, Saad tied the game less than three minutes after Grabovski's second goal when he completed a give-and-go with Michal Handzus. Oduya scored his winner approximately six minutes after that. The defenseman said he was shooting for the far side, hoping for a rebound. He wouldn't rule out the goal being a birthday gift.

"I got lucky," he said. "It went off his glove, but when it's your birthday..."

The Blackhawks knew what was ahead of them when they came into the game. Only one of the past five Stanley Cup champions had won the night they watched their banner go to the rafters. Chicago even ruined the Los Angeles Kings' banner-raising party last season with a 5-2 win at Staples Center.

Overcoming the obvious lingering emotion from the half-hour ceremony prior to the game was something the Blackhawks had discussed in depth leading up to Tuesday. They were relieved to be able to do it.

"It kind of puts everything together," Oduya said of the banner-raising. "In the same way, this might sound weird, but it's nice to get an ending on it and start a new year, which is something we have to do. We can't look at last year, we've gotta move forward."

They wasted no time doing that. Bollig gave Chicago a 1-0 lead 4:06 into the game, but Alex Ovechkin tied it with a power-play goal at 10:42. However, Patrick Kane gave the Blackhawks the lead back 24 seconds later, ripping a slap shot from the left circle past Holtby.

Grabovski tied it again, this time at 2-2, with his first goal of the game 10:30 into the second period. Brent Seabrook cashed in on a power play with 5:28 to play before the second intermission to send the Blackhawks into the break with a 3-2 lead.

By that point the ceremony was the last thing on the Blackhawks' minds. Soon enough they found themselves trailing, but like last season, they weren't about to count themselves out.

The Blackhawks may not always do things the easy way, but if what happened Tuesday is a sign of things to come, the hard way will work too.

"It was a pretty interesting spot we put ourselves in," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We give up three power-play goals and then we're facing a 5-on-3 for almost two full minutes against the best power play in the League. We avoided what could have been a disaster. [Crawford] made some big stops and [we] got through it."


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