STOCKHOLM, Sweden —
The Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 opener Saturday night at the Globe Arena delivered on all it promised, providing European hockey fans with a night to remember.
Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy, a role player with the Penguins, stole the show from the game's galaxy of superstars with two goals, including the game-winning tally with just 25 seconds left in overtime, as Pittsburgh escaped with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory.
Fans streamed into Globe Arena hours before game time, ready to see their NHL heroes up close and personal for the very first time. They were there to see Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin from the Penguins and Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza from the Senators.
But most of all, the sold-out crowd of 13,699 was there to see Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators captain and a national hockey hero in Sweden. Alfredsson has been the story here all week as he has made a triumphant return to his homeland, including an extended stay with the Senators in Gothenburg, his childhood home and the location of his first pro team.
"It was a pretty neat night," Alfredsson said, trying to dismiss the sting of his team giving up a third-period lead. "It was definitely a special experience. With it being a regular-season game, there was a lot more intensity out there. Both teams wanted to win today. There were a lot of chances being traded, especially in the third period."
Alfredsson was held of the scoresheet and was not much of a factor in the game, finishing at minus-2.
But any disappointment about Alfredsson's struggles was tempered by the surprise pregame appearance of another Swedish hockey hero.
Mats Sundin set the tone for the evening when he made an unannounced appearance to drop the ceremonial first puck. A packed Globe Arena rose as one and poured out its love and appreciation for Sundin as the former captain of the Swedish National Team and star of the Toronto Maple Leafs waved and bowed. It was one of the loudest ovations on a night made for cheering.
Sundin, 37, is an NHL free agent still trying to decide if he wants to continue playing. He spoke briefly to the media before the game, but shed little light on the timetable for a decision on whether he will return to the NHL, saying that there is nothing new with his status. He also hinted that it may be months before he makes a final decision.
But as good as it was to see Sundin, the crowd was here to see the stars of today go at it in the opening game of the NHL regular season for both teams. It did not take long for these two high-powered teams to begin delivering on the fireworks everyone expected.
Actually, it was the role players that finished the game off after the stars teed up the final 25 minutes of dramatics.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi scored the only goal of the third period, on a beautiful pass from Crosby, to tie the game at 3-3 and send things to the dramatic OT. With a shootout looming, Kennedy scored his second goal of the night by stripping the puck from Spezza and beating goalie Martin Gerber on a breakaway.
Not too bad a night for Kennedy, a guy who was slated to be Pittsburgh's fourth-line center just two days ago. But a groin injury to Petr Sykora on Thursday changed all that and Kennedy took advantage of Saturday's opportunity to play second-line minutes with Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
"The first goal, I was just happy to get that off my back," said Kennedy, who had struggled mightily to score at the end of last season, his first in the NHL. "The second one, I was just happy to help my team win a game."
Kennedy got his team off to a fast start by scoring just 40 seconds into the game when he skated in and wristed the puck past Gerber from a bad angle. Shean Donovan tied it at 9:13 when he tipped a shot by Dean McAmmond past Marc-Andre Fleury. Defenseman Filip Kuba, who started the move by quickly skating into the offensive zone, also got an assist.
Crosby, who showed flashes of brilliance all night — including the cross-ice pass past three players that set up Scuderi's goal — said it was nice to see Kennedy step up and contribute.
"TK keeps having nights like this and I think we'll be OK," Crosby said.
While the Kennedy story is a great one, this was a night for stars. And, as mentioned, they did not disappoint.
Before turning the puck over on the game-winning goal, Spezza was having a night to remember for all the right reasons.
He had a shorthanded goal and a pretty primary assist — on a power-play goal by Dany Heatley
at 12:15 of the second period — to help spur the Senators to a 3-2 lead. Heatley, the new alternate captain of the Senators, scored a typical Heatley goal on that play, hammering home a one-time pass from his center, something Ottawa fans hope they will see a lot of this season.
For the Penguins, both Crosby and Malkin showed off the skills the fans came to see. Not only did Crosby have the assist on the tying goal, but he was a plus-1 and had five shots on goal.
His penalty-killing work on a 5-on-3 to start the third period — when Ottawa led 3-2 and had a chance to salt things away — was probably the most unheralded part of Pittsburgh's third-period resurgence.
Malkin scored a dazzling shorthanded goal at 3:18 of the second period to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead before Spezza took over the second half of the middle period, setting up Heatley's goal and then scoring one of his own at 17:55 on a 3-on-2 shorthanded break.
On a busted play as Ottawa entered the attacking zone, Malkin grabbed control of the puck and raced it deep into the Senators' zone before making a last-second shake-and-bake move and sliding the puck past Gerber. Because he lost his balance on the deke, Malkin celebrated the go-ahead goal from the seat of his pants just in front of Gerber.
Despite the lack of style points in the celebration, the Globe Arena crowd still loved the goal.
The crowd loved everything about Saturday night's game, in fact — leaving extremely happy about the three hours of NHL magic that unfolded before their eyes.
It will be interesting to see what the Penguins and the Senators have in store for an encore Sunday night when they play the second game of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 series here, bringing down the curtain on a week-long run of memories in the Swedish capital.