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Chicago, Montreal surprise as NHL back

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Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik (center) inspired his Blackhawks to a 6-4 victory over Edmonton in game one of their best-of-five qualifying series. AFP

Chicago, Montreal surprise as NHL back

Chicago and Montreal, with the fewest wins of any National Hockey League playoff teams, ignited the rink return from a Covid-19 hiatus with upset triumphs in Saturday openers.

NHL Rookie of the Year candidate Dominik Kubalik inspired the Chicago Blackhawks to a 6-4 victory over Edmonton in game one of their best-of-five qualifying series at Edmonton, scoring two goals and assisting on three others.

“We were ready to go and I think the game was pretty good,” Kubalik said. “I felt pretty good and everything went my way, so it’s nice, but it’s just the first game, so we’ve got to keep going.”

Montreal’s Jeff Petry scored with 6:03 remaining in overtime to give the Canadiens a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh in their opener at Toronto after each team had missed a late penalty shot.

Other playoff games on the first day of the NHL return from a March 12 coronavirus shutdown saw Carolina edge the New York Rangers 3-2, the New York Islanders beat Florida 2-1 and Calgary defeat Winnipeg 4-1.

Edmonton is the Western Conference hub city and Toronto the Eastern Conference hub city for quarantine bubbles being used to help safeguard NHL players from Covid-19, which halted the campaign with three weeks remaining in the season.

A dozen teams from each conference are in the playoffs, the top four season finishers in each city playing one another to determine seeding order for the first round of the playoffs.

The other eight clubs in each conference meet in qualifying best-of-five matchups to decide the other four teams who will reach the first round of the best-of-seven playoffs.

At Toronto, Montreal’s Carey Price made 39 saves for the 12th-seeded Canadiens to stun the fifth-seeded Penguins.

Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary missed wide left on a penalty shot with 3:03 remaining in the third and Montreal’s Jonathan Drouin missed a penalty shot on a backhand at 6:46 of overtime.

At Edmonton, Jonathan Toews scored twice for Chicago while Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome added goals for the 12th-seeded Blackhawks and Corey Crawford made 25 saves.

“It just was not good enough, all around,” Edmonton star Connor McDavid said. “Game one is important. We lost it. Nothing we can do about it now. All we can do is focus on game two.

“We did a better job as the game went on of keeping it simple. That’s what our team needs to do, ultimately, is be simpler.”

NHL fights racism

Before the Edmonton-Chicago start, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, who is Filipino-Canadian, knelt on the ice during the US anthem after vowing the Hockey Diversity Alliance will fight for social justice and against racism.

Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban and Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, who are black Canadians, stood beside him and put their hands on his shoulders.

“During this pandemic, something unexpected but long overdue occurred: The world woke up to the existence of systemic racism and how deeply rooted it is within our society,” Dumba said. “Racism is everywhere and we need to fight against it.”

Carolina won the first NHL game in 143 days, Jaccob Slavin and Sebastian Aho each with a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes in a hard-hitting matchup.

“There was a lot of pent-up energy from a lot of players,” Hurricanes forward Justin Williams said. “Months without playing a meaningful hockey game is tough.”

Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anthony Beauvillier scored for the New York Islanders while Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves in beating Florida.

Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau equalized 7:06 into the second period and the Flames scored four unanswered goals to down the Jets.

“We had a pretty complete game,” said Gaudreau. “We worked hard in training camp and it showed.”

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