Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
Auston Matthews and Connor Bedard had their names on the marquee ahead of a mouth−watering matchup.
Matthews for his eye−popping, back−to−back hat tricks to open the NHL season.
And Bedard for his first swing through hockey’s biggest market.
In the end, a grizzled veteran and a backup goalie grabbed Monday’s headlines.
Corey Perry scored the winner in the second period and Arvid Soderblom made 35 saves to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4−1 win over the Maple Leafs in Bedard’s Toronto debut.
“Fun game to play,” Soderblom said. “Great team game. The boys made it easy for me. I had to step up there in the end with a couple of big saves, but overall we made a huge effort.”
MacKenzie Entwistle, Tyler Johnson and Taylor Raddysh, into an empty net, had the other goals for Chicago (2−2−0). Andreas Athanasiou added two assists.
“Just kept sticking to our game,” Entwistle said. “We had a lot of big blocks, (Soderblom) played amazing. It was awesome.”
The No. 1 pick at the 2023 draft — and the NHL’s most−hyped youngster since Connor McDavid — Bedard continued a season−opening road tour of hockey hotbeds after starting his professional career against childhood idol Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins before facing the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
The 18−year−old, who wasn’t made available to reporters post−game, entered with a point in each of his first three NHL appearances, but was held off the scoresheet.
“A lot of chances,” Entwistle said. “They’re soon gonna start going in. He’s an awesome guy in the room and an awesome teammate.”
John Tavares replied for Toronto (2−1−0). Joseph Woll made 26 saves in his first start of the season.
“We were really sloppy with the puck in the first period,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “And then got beat in transition in the second.”
Just the second player in the last 106 years to open a season with consecutive hat tricks, Leafs centre Auston Matthews was held in check after Toronto combined to score 12 goals over its first six periods of 2023−24.
Perry, who jawed and tussled with Leafs tough guy Ryan Reaves earlier in the game, snapped a 1−1 tie at 14:46 of the second when he took a breakaway feed and fired past Woll.
“It’s cool to have a guy like that, a guy like (veteran Chicago forward Nick) Foligno in the locker room mentoring the young guys,” said Blackhawks defenceman Alex Vlasic, who sprang the 38−year−old Perry. “They’re super vocal and super helpful for everybody that’s coming up through the program.
“Little bit of a fanboy moment at first when he first came in here … but he’s been great.”
Johnson, who had two goals in Saturday’s 3−2 loss in Montreal, then made it 3−1 on a power play at 17:05 when he got behind Toronto’s defence off the rush.
Matthews rattled Soderblom’s crossbar on a deflection four minutes into the third — the closest he would come to a seventh goal on the young season — and Woll made a good stop on Bedard midway through the period.
Toronto got a power play with eight minutes to go in regulation, but couldn’t generate much against the rebuilding Blackhawks’ penalty kill before Soderblom robbed Tavares twice on the doorstep with Woll on the bench for an extra attacker.
Raddysh then iced it late into the empty net with the Leafs pressing.
“We handled it well, but you have to be on your toes,” Soderblom said of a long 6−on−5 for Toronto late in the third that included a goal by each team getting called back for offside.
“There’s players everywhere, sticks everywhere.”
Booed at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Bedard faced off against Matthews for the opening draw at Scotiabank Arena, and had an electrifying rush late in the first where he stepped past a defender and forced a nice save from Woll.
The Leafs goaltender, who got the start after Ilya Samsonov allowed nine goals in consecutive victories to open the schedule, made good stops on odd−man rushes earlier in the period off Foligno and Ryan Donato.
Chicago opened the scoring three minutes into the second when Entwistle beat Woll right after he denied Athanasiou.
Toronto got that back 1:45 later when the red−hot William Nylander, with his sixth point of the season, collected a pass, moved into the offensive zone and dropped the puck to Tavares, who fired upstairs before Chicago pushed ahead.
“Careless with the puck,” Keefe said of his team’s performance early. “It’s all our best players — really, really careless to start the game. That didn’t give us a chance to take a hold of the game.
“You let your opponent hang around, we’ve seen this movie before.”
Blackhawks winger Taylor Hall (shoulder) was back in the lineup following a one−game injury absence after being originally listed as out week−to−week.
BEDARD’S DEBUT TOUR
The phenom’s entrance into the NHL has been quite the gauntlet.
The long road trip, which wraps up later this week in Denver, has included lots of attention — and plenty of media obligations.
“Handling it really well,” said Hall, another former top pick. “He does way too many in−game interviews … they need to find a way to just let him play.”
MATTHEWS’ SHOT BLUEPRINT
Bedard’s lethal pull−and−drag release that tweaks the angle and has fooled many a goaltender is something he took from Matthews’ arsenal.
“Someone I feel pioneered this certain shot,” Bedard said. “Ever since he came into the league, he’s someone I’ve loved to watch. I looked up to just how he plays the game.”
Leafs: Open season−long five−game road trip Thursday in Florida.
Blackhawks: Conclude a five−game road trip Thursday in Colorado before Bedard’s home debut Saturday against Vegas.
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