CHICAGO – On a night when the Capitals’ power play looked almost unstoppable, the Blackhawks shut it down when they needed to most and skated away with a thrilling 6-4 win in front of a Cup-crazed crowd of 22,158 at United Center.
Mikhail Grabovski had one of the most productive nights of his career with three goals and an assist and the Caps’ power play picked up where it left off last season with three goals on six attempts.
But when the Caps had a 5-on-3 advantage and a chance to tie the score with 3:33 remaining in regulation, the Hawks somehow kept the puck out of the net, getting a handful of spectacular saves from goaltender Corey Crawford.
So what happened on that 5-on-3? Alex Ovechkin answered pretty bluntly.
“Fehrsie missed empty net,” said the Caps’ 28-year-old captain, who picked up a goal and an assist in his debut. “It happens.”
To be fair, Crawford robbed Eric Fehr from the side of the net and earned every bit of the Blackhawks two points with 28 saves.
The Caps continued to pressure the Hawks until Marian Hossa was awarded an empty netter with 38 seconds remaining in regulation when he was hauled down by Mike Green, a play that left Green with a bloodied face and Adam Oates unhappy with the call on the ice.
“We fought so hard to get the lead and then we let it get away,” Oates said. “They’re the champs for a reason. They kept coming. Their goalie made some good saves for them and you leave with a little bit of a hollow feeling right now.”
The Caps mounted three comebacks and took the lead on Grabovski’s third goal of the night, a deflection of a Green shot that gave the Caps a 4-3 lead with 14:44 remaining in the third period.
That was plenty of time for the Hawks to return the punch. Brandon Saad snuck behind a crossed-up John Erskine and rookie Connor Carrick to tie the score and Johnny Oduya netted the game-winner when he blasted a rolling puck off the caching glove of Braden Holtby and behind him with 6:07 to play.
“I’m sure that’s one Holtsy will want back,” Oates said.
Ovechkin agreed, and so did Holtby.
“Bad goal on game-winning goal,” Ovechkin said. “If he’s going to shoot one more time like that 100 percent it not goes in.”
“I kind of lost vision of it,” Holtby said. “I was not expecting it to hit me in my glove, that's for sure. I was expecting it to go well wide. I have to look at what exactly happened.”
The Caps’ rookie contingent of Carrick [10:46, 2 hits, 1 giveaway, minus-1], Tom Wilson [6:40, 1 hit, 1 shot, even] and Michael Latta [6:04, 1 hit, 1 shot, 3-for-6 on faceoffs] managed to get through the night “fine” in the opinion of Oates.
“Tough environment, first game, this building, Cup champs,” Oates said. “Kind of overwhelming. I thought they did good."
Overall, Oates said he was happy with the way the Caps handled the emotion of the game, but did not like the wide-open pace of the action.
“If anything our turnovers gave them some momentum, gave them some life and they’re a really good hockey team. It’s hard to play that way. You don’t want to trade chances. That’s more their style than ours. We’re more about territory.”
Nicklas Backstrom said he’s happy about the way the power play looked overall, but …
“We had that chance 5-on-3 and we should have scored,” he said. “Every game is so important and we’ve got make sure we start winning.”