(Reuters) - The National Hockey League kicked off its 2015-16 campaign on Wednesday with a quartet of games that helped bring the focus back to the ice after an offseason littered by sordid headlines.
The reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks arrived for their home opener in gleaming limousines and then walked a red carpet into their arena to a throng of cheering fans.
Blackhawks players then gathered on the ice to watch their championship banner raised to the rafters but the mood quickly dampened when the visiting New York Rangers scored less than two minutes into a game and went on to win 3-2.
Chicago forward Patrick Kane, who is under investigation on suspicion of an alleged sexual assault, was among several players who had trouble with the law over the last few months.
Kane, who has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing, had one assist in the loss.
The opening games followed an offseason that gave the NHL a black eye. Since Chicago won their third title in six seasons, one player was charged with impaired driving, another was charged with possession of a controlled substance and another returned home to Russia in the wake of domestic violence charges.
Two days before the start of the season, the NHL acknowledged that more of its players are using cocaine than in previous years and the league might have to be more proactive in testing for it.
But for one night at least, all that seemed forgotten as fans packed arenas from Toronto to Los Angeles to kick off an 82-game regular season that will be followed by a grueling two-month postseason that will crown a winner in mid-June.
Opening night also saw one of the NHL’s new rules utilized as Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock made the first coach’s challenge in league history after his goalie was interfered with on a goal that would have put the Montreal Canadiens ahead 2-1.
The referee’s original call was overturned but Montreal still went on to earn a 3-1 victory behind a 36-save performance from reigning NHL Most Valuable Player Carey Price.
In the two late games, San Jose were at Los Angeles while Calgary hosted Vancouver.
The anticipation for the first slate of games will most likely spill over into Thursday when 18-year-old Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, the league’s most marketable prospect since Sidney Crosby, makes his NHL debut.
McDavid, a so-called ‘can‘t-miss’ prospect who has already been compared to some of the game’s greatest players, will be the star attraction when Edmonton visit the St. Louis Blues.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Julian Linden