Last season’s Stanley Cup finalists found themselves on the losing end of their home openers as the 2011-12 NHL season kicked off Thursday.
The defending champion Boston Bruins gave up goals to Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek in the final minute of the first period in a 2-1 loss to the new-look Philadelphia Flyers.
The win came after the Bruins raised their Stanley Cup banners to the rafters in an emotionally charged ceremony at the TD Garden.
“It was a big night for Boston, but we came here with a business,” said high-priced goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who was making his Flyers debut. “We did not came here to celebrate with them.”
In Vancouver, the defending Western Conference champion Canucks battled back from a pair of two-goal deficits, but ultimately fell 4-3 in a shootout to a Pittsburgh Penguins team still missing superstar Sidney Crosby.
“It was definitely fast for the first game of the season,” said Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke, who returned to haunt his old team with two goals.
“They have a great squad. I know the expectations for their team is to be there (Stanley Cup final) in the end, and that’s similar to us. It was two good teams going at it at a pretty high pace.”
Also Thursday, Toronto opened against longtime rival Montreal for the second straight season, with the Maple Leafs defeating the Canadiens 2-0 behind 32 saves from James Reimer.
At Boston, Brad Marchand scored an early goal for the Bruins before the momentum turned the Flyers’ way.
Bryzgalov made 22 saves and Jaromir Jagr recorded his 1,600th NHL point in his first game back in the league after three years in Russia.
“We played the Stanley Cup champions. It’s not easy,” said Jagr, one of eight new players for Philadelphia, including three rookies. “They’re probably the best team in the NHL and we’ve got totally a new team. A lot of young guys. A lot of rookies. You’ve got to give us time.”
Marchand scored midway through the first period for Boston, and reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas stopped 27 shots on the night the 2011 Bruins shared the stage with Bobby Orr and a handful of others from the 1972 Stanley Cup champions.
During a half-hour pre-game ceremony the Bruins, who clinched the Cup in Vancouver, took the opportunity to pass the Cup from player to player and skate with it in the TD Garden for the first time.
“I think that’s one thing everyone wants to do, is lift it on the home ice,” Marchand said. “That was nice to do.”
The Bruins won their sixth Stanley Cup title last season, sweeping Philadelphia out of the Eastern Conference semifinals in the process. The loss sent the Flyers scrambling to rebuild in the off-season, and among the new acquisitions was Jagr.
The 39-year-old former Penguins star—the NHL’s leading scorer among active players, and ninth overall—assisted on the game-tying goal when he led Giroux across the blue-line, and he found a space in the middle of four Bruins defenders before beating Thomas.
“Gi made a great play,” Jagr said. “I told him not even Mario Lemieux can make those plays.”
The Flyers also acquired the rights to Bryzgalov and signed him to a US$51-million, nine-year deal to replace the ineffective rotation they have used for the past several years. Also gone are offensive stars Mike Richards, their former captain, and Jeff Carter, the team’s leading goal-scorer last season, who were traded on the same day in separate deals, in part to create salary cap room to sign Bryzgalov.
The sold-out crowd stood throughout the pre-game ceremony, and it wasn’t long before Marchand, a surprising star in Boston’s Cup run, scored a power-play goal on a pass from Tyler Seguin to give Boston a 1-0 lead. It was the first goal in the NHL this season; Marchand also scored the last goal in the NHL last season, an empty-netter against Vancouver in Game 7 of the finals.
But the Flyers answered with two in the final minute of the first, including Giroux’s goal off an assist from Jagr with 50 seconds left. With just 2.4 seconds remaining in the period, Voracek gave Philadelphia a 2-1 lead with a shot through Thomas’ legs.
At Vancouver, Malkin scored the deciding goal in the shootout for the Penguins.
The Russian star waited for Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo to go down, then lifted a shot over him into the net.
Kris Letang also scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh. Vancouver shooters Mikael Samuelsson and Alex Burrows both missed on their chances.
Vancouver twice battled back from two-goal deficits to force overtime.
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault said his team started slowly.
“We didn’t get off to the start we wanted at home,” said Vigneault. “For the first 25 minutes of this game they were the best team on the ice.
“Our guy gutted it out, down by two goals against an elite team, and played a real strong third period and overtime.”
Cooke, who spent almost seven years playing in Vancouver before being traded in 2008, scored on the power play and short-handed for Pittsburgh. James Neal also scored a power-play goal.
Daniel Sedin, Keith Ballard and Maxim Lapierre scored for Vancouver. Henrik Sedin added two assists.
At Toronto, Matthew Lombardi scored a short-handed goal in his first game in almost a year to help the Maple Leafs overcome a sluggish start against the Canadiens.
Lombardi only played two games with Nashville last season before suffering a concussion that left him wondering about the future of his career. Acquired over the summer in a four-player trade, his tenure in Toronto got off to a dream start.
“It was almost like (the puck) was waiting for me just to put it in,” said Lombardi. “It felt unreal, I didn’t know what to do. It kind of happened so fast. You know, it was pretty awesome. It’s hard to explain.”
The goal gave the Leafs a shot of life after a lacklustre opening period that saw Montreal outshoot them 14-4.
Dion Phaneuf had the other goal for the Leafs, who also opened last season with a victory over Montreal.
Reimer picked right up where he left off by registering his fourth career shutout with 32 saves.
He wasn’t particularly pleased with his performance during the exhibition schedule, but felt comfortable when the games started counting again.
“That’s why you can’t take too much out of pre-season,” said Reimer. “Honestly, I just felt like I wasn’t getting the bounces (then) and tonight I felt that I was. You have to get pretty lucky to get a shutout.
“I thought I played pretty good tonight, but at the same time they could have had three goals.”
The Habs were stymied by Reimer during the first period—Max Pacioretty was denied early off the rush while a rebound after P.K. Subban’s one-timer was swept off the post—and couldn’t maintain their effort after falling behind.
“We just weren’t good enough in the second period. We were complacent,” said forward Mike Cammalleri.