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Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks gut out thrilling victory in season opener

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It was hard to say which display was more impressive on Tuesday night: the one the Chicago Blackhawks were treated to when they unfurled their latest Stanley Cup banner or the one the Washington Capitals’ power play put on in netting three goals. But just when the Blackhawks penalty kill looked wounded and ineffective, it came up big at a most crucial time.

The Blackhawks killed off 1:26 of a Capitals 5-on-3, and Johnny Oduya scored the game-winner to celebrate his 32nd birthday as Chicago beat Washington, 6-4, in the season-opener for both. Brandon Bollig scored the first regular-season goal of his career, and Brent Seabrook scored a power play goal for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa — who was awarded an empty-netter when he was pulled down during a breakaway attempt late — also scored for the Blackhawks. Mikhail Grabovski earned a hat trick for the Capitals.

It was a come-from-behind victory for the Blackhawks, whose penalty kill was blitzed by the Caps’ power play, which was No. 1 in the league last season. So how ironic that the penalty kill was eventually what won it for the Blackhawks. Leading 5-4 and with Patrick Sharp and Joakim Nordstrom (serving for Corey Crawford’s delay of game) in the box, the Blackhawks got big blocks from their defensemen and bigger saves from Crawford. The Capitals power play, which scored three goals earlier in the evening, could muster no more.

“We gave up too many PK goals, but it’s funny that it came down to that,” Crawford said. “They move it around quick. Maybe we were a little too patient, but it’s hard when they have so many options, so many guys who can fire the puck. But we were able to get the pressure and some great blocks by (Niklas Hjalmarsson) at the end.”

Not pretty, but it worked. It was a pleasant end to a night that started off celebratory. The Blackhawks’ latest banner-raising ceremony was dazzling from start to finish, when eight youth hockey players handed the banner over to the Blackhawks. “It was amazing. So many lights in the stands,” Hossa said. “Just standing there, going down the ice and looking at 20-something-thousand people, it’s always going to stay in your head.”

The Blackhawks almost didn’t end the night as well as they started it. The Capitals were firing and scoring on their power play, either from clean shots or the tipped variety. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill, so good last season, was either feeling the loss of Michael Frolik, a little rusty or just bedeviled by a Washington power play that was clicking last season, too. “They’re a good team, especially on the power play. They have unbelievable skill, and it’s tough to kill those penalties,” Oduya said. “But some things we’ll have to look over and adjust, and next time hopefully we don’t give them three goals.”

Good news for the Blackhawks is they didn’t give up that fourth or fifth, despite the nearly 90 seconds of 5-on-3 the Capitals had. “It was pretty interesting the spot we put ourselves in,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They had the best power play in the league last year for all the right reasons. They have a lot of different looks and playmakers. We avoided what could’ve been a disaster. Crow made some big stops, and we got through it.”

The Blackhawks’ 2013-14 opener was memorable for a few reasons. They’ll keep that banner light show close in their minds. They’ll fix those penalty-kill issues ASAP.

“Give it to our defensemen on the 5-on-3 with a couple big stops,” Bryan Bickell said. “It was a great win. A couple of things to work on, but overall we’re happy.”

- Tracey Myers, CSN Chciago

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