(Reuters) - The Blackhawks scored three unanswered third period goals to open the defense of their Stanley Cup crown with thrilling 6-4 comeback victory over the Washington Capitals in Chicago on Tuesday.
In other opening night action, the Toronto Maple Leafs held on to edge the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in an Original Six matchup while the Winnipeg Jets got off to a flying start by rallying to beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-4.
The Blackhawks kicked off the new National Hockey League season by celebrating last year’s championship, raising the Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at a rocking United Center, then set to work on collecting a third title in five years.
The crowd was on their feet again in the third period as Chicago staged a furious rally, scoring three times in the final 12 minutes to stun the visitors.
Trailing 4-3, Brandon Saad tied the game while Johnny Oduya celebrated his 32nd birthday by notching the winner and Marian Hossa added an insurance marker with 38 seconds to play.
Brandon Bollig, Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook also found the back of the net for the Blackhawks, while Mikhail Grabovski bagged a hat-trick and picked up an assist, and was unlucky to finish on the losing team in his first game as a Capital.
Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s most valuable player, scored the other Washington goal.
“If anything, our turnovers gave them momentum, gave them life, and they’re a really good hockey team,” Capitals coach Adam Oates told reporters. “It’s hard to play that way.
“You don’t want to trade chances, trade opportunities with them. That’s more their style, not ours. We’re more about territory.”
In Montreal, James van Riemsdyk’s powerplay goal gave Toronto a 1-0 lead before Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher responded for the Canadiens to take a 2-1 advantage into the first intermission.
The Maple Leafs regained control in the second with an even-strength goal from captain Dion Phaneuf and short-handed one from Tyler Bozak.
Mason Raymond, in his first game for Toronto, put the Maple Leafs 4-2 ahead early in the third before Eller, with his second of the night, closed out the scoring.
“Tonight, I thought our special teams were the difference in the game,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “The short-handed goal kind of turned everything in our favor and the powerplay got us going.”
One of the NHL’s most bitter and fierce rivalries turned nasty when Canadiens enforcer George Parros was taken out of the arena on a stretcher after banging his head on the ice during a third period fight with Toronto tough guy Colton Orr.
Parros lay motionless on the Bell Centre ice as Montreal medical staff rushed to his side and the sellout crowd went silent.
He was transported to a Montreal area hospital. The Canadiens later released a statement saying Parros had sustained a concussion but was alert and conscious.
“You never want to see a guy get hurt like that, it’s a scary situation,” Orr told reporters after the game. “I just hope he’s alright.”
As the Blackhawks had done earlier, the Jets struck for three unanswered goals, including two from Michael Frolik, to clinch an opening night win.
With Edmonton leading 4-2 late in the second, Frolik cut the Oilers lead to one before the end of the period.
Jacob Trouba pulled the Jets level midway through the third with his first career NHL goal before Frolik sealed the victory with just over five minutes to left in regulation.
Mark Scheifele and Bryan Little had the other Winnipeg goals while Mike Brown, Boyd Gordon, Ales Hemsky and Jesse Joensuu tallied for the Oilers.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Park City, Utah; Editing by John O'Brien