“Enjoy it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It will be a special moment in your life. It will be very memorable. At the same time, when that’s over and they drop the puck it’s time to play for keeps.
“Our guys have always responded in the right way to big challenges and big games and big moments and tonight’s a big game.”
The Hawks responded in a rollicking affair, with three third-period goals rallying the defending champions to a 6-4 win over the Capitals in the season opener.
Goals from Brandon Saad and Johnny Oduya erased a Capitals lead midway through the last frame, and a goal credited to Marian Hossa on an empty-net breakaway in the final minute sealed it.
First-period scores goals from Brandon Bollig and Patrick Kane were followed by a go-ahead power-play score from Brent Seabrook in the second frame to seize a lead, but a pair of power-play scores from the Capitals vaulted them ahead midway through the final period.
Then came Saad scoring the equalizer off a Michal Handzus feed on a rush, with Oduya then rocketing a shot that Capitals’ goalie Braden Holtby let slip between his glove and his leg pad for a soft score and the 5-4 lead with six minutes to go.
The Hawks would have to kill off a 5-on-3 advantage for the Capitals that lasted 86 seconds in order to maintain the lead, and then Hossa dashed down the ice after a loose puck with Holtby pulled. Hossa was taken out by Capitals defenseman Mike Green and credited with the final score.
The familiar, blaring strains of “Chelsea Dagger” filled the United Center instantly after Bollig’s early goal. But there was no shortage of loud, heady, light show-enhanced moments before the puck dropped Tuesday.
After a video presentation featured LED wristbands on fans throughout the building, after a montage of the Stanley Cup run last spring and early summer, master of ceremonies Eddie Olczyk took to the podium and welcomed 21,000-plus and a television audience to the banner raising ceremony.
First came remarks from owner Rocky Wirtz, who received a rousing ovation from the assembled masses.
“It took blood, sweat, guts to take home two Stanley Cups in four years,” Wirtz told the crowd.
“There’s a sense of wonderment in the United Center tonight,” Blackhawks CEO John McDonough said after members of the front office had been introduced. McDonough went on to talk about a “humble, hungry” group of Blackhawks in the dressing room and complemented the “21,000 Stanley Cup champions” in the building.
Ultimately, the Hawks would skate onto the ice one-by-one; first with defenseman Duncan Keith hauling the Cup to a table at center ice, all the way down to captain Jonathan Toews skating out last and taking one last mini-lap with the trophy before setting it down for good.
Youth hockey players from Illinois then brought out the banner, which the Hawks skated over to retrieve and unfurl. Brought to a corner of the rink, it then ascended into place next to the 2010 title banner, and the work of a new season began shortly thereafter.