Connor Bedard ignites Blackhawks’ rally in opening-night win over Penguins

Bedard’s first career point in his first career game — an assist on Ryan Donato’s second-period goal — propelled the Hawks to a 4-2 victory in Pittsburgh.

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Connor Bedard celebrates Ryan Donato’s goal Tuesday.

Connor Bedard earned his first point in his first game, a 4-2 Hawks win over the Penguins on Tuesday.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

PITTSBURGH — In the first battle of Connor Bedard versus Sidney Crosby, Bedard came out on top.

Only in the faceoff circle, where Crosby cleanly beat Bedard on opening night’s opening draw and in six of seven draws overall, was that not the case.

Everywhere else, the 18-year-old kept up with the 18-year NHL veteran without difficulty — and where it mattered most, Bedard’s Blackhawks rallied for a stirring 4-2 win over Crosby’s Penguins.

“It was really cool, really special [and I was] trying to take it in,” Bedard said. “But in the end, you’re focused on the hockey game. There’s nerves, of course. It’s a pretty big moment in your life. But [I was] just trying to settle in and focus on that.

“You remember [your debut] with a little better taste in your mouth when you win.”

Cole Guttman’s tying goal, Jason Dickinson’s go-ahead goal and Nick Foligno’s game-sealing empty-net goal — all within the final 10 minutes of regulation — made the difference on the scoreboard as the Hawks won a season opener for the first time since 2018.

And the obvious No. 1 star was goalie Petr Mrazek, who kept the Hawks alive for much of the night and ultimately saved 38 of 40 shots for the second consecutive time at PPG Paints Arena. He put up the same line when the Hawks essentially knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs late last season.

But realistically, all eyes were on Bedard, and the No. 1 overall pick found a way to deliver. He looked just as unperturbed by the spotlight and pressure as he promised he would be, immediately emerging as the Hawks’ most dangerous and assertive offensive weapon.

“He’s all in on the team, but he has obviously shown he’s not afraid to use his talents when the other team is vulnerable,” Hawks coach Luke Richardson said. “There was maybe only once or twice in the whole game where he tried to do everything by himself. ... Other than that, he was really carrying the play.”

Bedard led team forwards with 21:29 of ice time, tallied 11 shot attempts and five shots on goal — the most by a Hawks debutant since Bryan Bickell in 2007 — and produced a team-best 63.3% expected-goals ratio during five-on-five play.

Most notably, he earned his first career point with a secondary assist in the second period. Drawing the Penguins defense’s attention, Bedard created space for Alex Vlasic to slip down the wall and then executed a slick give-and-go passing sequence with Vlasic to create a two-on-one down low. That culminated in Ryan Donato depositing a rebound to cut the Hawks’ deficit to 2-1, igniting the comeback.

“I was the least important guy on the goal, but obviously it feels good to get one there,” Bedard said.

After morning skate, Richardson had tried his best to temper expectations, noting Tuesday would mark for Bedard just the first of 82 games this season and first of ideally 1,000-plus over his career. But he knew not to dare attempt to say the same things directly to Bedard.

“He’s got a whole career ahead of him,” Richardson said. “He doesn’t have to crush the world tonight, all in one game. But I think he wants probably to do that.”

As it turned out, Richardson need not have worried. Bedard proved, for the first of likely many times, that he actually can crush the world.

“He’s a very mature kid for his age,” Dickinson said. “There’s a ton of pressure that’s been put on him, [but] it doesn’t seem to faze him. It doesn’t seem to even hit him.

“He looked great. He fit right in. He didn’t look like a young kid trying to find the game. He was controlling the puck really well. He was making plays.”

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