PITTSBURGH (AP) — Connor Bedard did not disappoint in his NHL debut.
The Chicago Blackhawks rookie picked up an assist and dazzled occasionally with his skating as Chicago rallied past Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 on Tuesday night.
The 18-year-old Bedard, the top pick in the NHL draft, played over 21 minutes, often sharing the ice with Crosby, one of his idols. Bedard registered five of the 35 shots Chicago fired at Tristan Jarry as the Blackhawks began a new era with an impressive victory over the veteran-laden Penguins.
Chicago trailed 2-0 when Crosby began his 19th season by scoring his 551st career goal, a shot into an open net off a pass from Jake Guentzel 11:56 into the second period.
The Blackhawks roared back behind a goal from Ryan Donato — with a secondary assist from Bedard — in the second period and Cole Guttman’s goal midway through the third. Jason Dickinson gave Chicago the lead with 4:31 remaining. Nick Foligno’s empty-netter with 1:33 to go sent most of the sellout crowd that came to watch one of the NHL’s brightest stars take on one of its newest.
Petr Mrazek stopped 38 shots for the Blackhawks.
Crosby and Bryan Rust scored for the Penguins, who had their run of 16 consecutive playoff appearances end last spring thanks in part to a late-season pratfall against the Blackhawks. Pittsburgh retooled over the summer, including adding three-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson.
Fireworks, however, were hard to come by for the NHL’s oldest team. Jarry made 32 saves but the Penguins let a lead slip away late, a problem that plagued them at times last season.
Bedard’s arrival in the NHL had been anticipated for years, much like Crosby’s when the Penguins grabbed him with the top overall selection in 2005, all of 13 days after Bedard was born. His arrival in Chicago has given the beleaguered franchise a much-needed jolt even though there almost certainly will be some growing pains on a team that’s missed the playoffs five of the last six seasons as the dynasty that won three Stanley Cups between 2010-15 faded.
Like Crosby, Bedard seems at ease with the attention, pressure and expectations that will follow him throughout his career. He joked during the morning skate that he slept “like a baby.” He sprinted onto the ice with fellow Blackhawks rookie Kevin Korchinski during warmups, the two teenagers having the rink to themselves momentarily as is tradition for players making their NHL debuts.
Bedard was fidgety during the national anthem, his legs in constant motion, eager to get a moment he’d been dreaming about since he was a phenom growing up in British Columbia, Canada watching Crosby become one of the cornerstones of the NHL.
Referee Kelly Sutherland welcomed Bedard to the NHL right before the opening faceoff. Sutherland then dropped the puck between two generational talents and the jitters vanished.
Bedard recorded the first shot of his career just over six minutes in on a one-timer with Chicago on the power play. He kept right on firing at Jarry, his No. 98 constantly in motion. He was unafraid to fling his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame into tight spaces, be they the front of the net or the corners.
Bedard seemed to surprise Jarry with a shot from the short side early in the second and collected the first point of his career late in the second period when he dropped a backhand pass to Alex Vlasic, who then bulled his way in close for a shot whose rebound ended up on the stick of Donato to bring the Blackhawks within 2-1.
Guttman then tied it just past the midway point of the third period with a laser from the slot and Dickinson put the Blackhawks in front to offer a glimpse of the team Chicago hopes it can become on a regular basis, with Bedard at the center of it all.
Blackhawks: Travel to Boston on Wednesday.
Penguins: Visit longtime Metropolitan Division rival Washington on Friday.