The Chicago Blackhawks opened their season in the same way they spent much of their 2013 year: winning. The ‘Hawks played a very exciting game with the Washington Capitals, the first meeting of the two teams since March 2012.
Before the game began, one of the best ceremonies ever witnessed in the United Center took place, with the official raising of the Stanley Cup Champions banner. Eddie Olczyk, former Blackhawk, was the emcee for the event, which started with a montage, included player introductions, and ended with the legendary national anthem. At last, the Blackhawks’ season was underway!
- First Period
The Blackhawks were able to shake off the sentiment and emotion from the ceremony quick, with great offensive pressure early. Brandon Bollig (yes, Brandon Bollig) got things started early, when the puck found his stick right in the crease early. The former grinder became the Blackhawks’ leading goal-scorer for the first time in his career. Bollig’s time on cloud 9 didn’t last long, as he took an offensive zone penalty just 6 minutes later. Alex Ovechkin, who was denied a great chance earlier in the frame, made no mistake the second time around, ripping a bar-down shot on the power-play.
The regular-season MVP got his goal, and the MVP of the playoffs followed suit just 24 seconds later. Patrick Kane gloved a puck down, and with what seemed like all day, sniped short-side past Braden Holtby. The Blackhawks would look kill off a penalty heading into the intermission, one of their several impressive defensive displays of the frame, and the lead would stand. Shots at the end of 20 minutes were 12-8, Washington. The Capitals also lead in face-off, and hits, 8-7 and 13-10 respectively.
- Second Period
Same as the first, the Blackhawks came out ready to create offense once again. Good fore-checking was the staple of the first two minutes, highlighted by a near-goal by Patrick Sharp after a defensive turnover. Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made a great pad save however, and the game would remain tied. After some great goaltending by Holtby and his counterpart Corey Crawford, the Capitals’ physical play made an impact, when Jason Chimera‘s hit on Michael Handzus sent the 36-year old to the dressing room. The Capitals seemed to take control, but a great shift by the Blackhawks’ fourth line stifled that. As they made their way off the ice, the Capitals headed up-ice on a 2-on-1 break, and Mikhail Grabovski scored his first goal with the club, knotting the game at 2.
The Capitals stunted their offense with a penalty, and Brent Seabrook made them pay. The top defenseman on Chicago scored the huge power-play goal, giving the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead. Just 20 seconds later, Patrick Kane had a great chance to extend the newfound lead on a break thanks to a great pass from Bryan Bickell, but his Forsberg-like move was stopped by Holtby. All of a sudden, the tides shifted in Chicago’s favour, and chances came easy for the remainder of the period. The Capitals goaltender was keeping them in it, and the Capitals would hold off the rest of the offense. the Blackhawks would carry their one-goal lead to the third.
- Third Period
The Blackhawks didn’t have a great opportunity to start strong again in the third, as Andrew Shaw had to serve time for a tripping call he took at the end of the second period. The Capitals did a good job of entering the zone and staying there. Just over 30 seconds in to the period and the penalty kill, Mike Green‘s point blast found the net after a tip from Grabovski, the second power-play goal of the game for the Capitals. After the goal, Blackhawks’ back-up goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was seen stretching, but Corey Crawford remained in the game. The Capitals kept on riding that momentum, and their speed was the catalyst for yet another Chicago penalty 3 minutes later. Yet again, Mike Green took a point shot, and yet again, Grabovski tipped it on the way in. It was the Capitals third power-play goal of the night, one that gave Washington as their first lead of the game, as well as the former Toronto Maple Leaf a hat-trick in his first regular season game with the Caps.
It wasn’t built to last, as Michael Handzus and Brandon Saad rekindled some of their playoff magic, tying the game at 4. Handzus’ pass was arguably the best setup of the game, taking ‘Hawks fans back to their shorthanded Stanley Cup Finals goal from last year. The goal couldn’t come at a better time, as Washington was slowly turning the tables. The Blackhawks continued to push, and got their break four minutes later: Johnny Oduya‘s point shot deflected of Joel Ward‘s stick, and trickled past Holtby to restore the one-goal lead.
The Blackhawks would get into penalty trouble just after, however. A questionable call on Patrick Sharp gave the Caps the power-play, which was amplified when Joakim Nordstrom took a delay-of-game penalty on a clearing attempt. However, gutsy blocks, and great saves by Crawford, smothered all Washington attack. Marian Hossa added the empty netter, and the Blackhawks win, 6-4!
Blackhawks Defense stood strong all game, and was the reason Chicago held on to their lead, after a 5-on-3 and 6-on-4 kill. Brent Seabrook stole the show on the blue-line, with over 20 minutes in TOI, as well as his first goal of the year.
Corey Crawford proved all initial doubts wrong, and looks better if anything when compared to his 2013 self. Crawford looked more agile than before, possibly because of the reduced pad size, and his glove side looked greatly improved.
The Penalty Kill was the lone dark spot in the win on Tuesday. For a special teams unit that ranked third in the NHL last season, they looked dreadful, letting in 3 goals, all in the same way.
The Blackhawks started their defense of the Cup title well, and proved that the offense hasn’t gone anywhere in the off-season. 23 games to go!
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