DENVER – Paul Stastny patterned his game, in part, after Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic.
Matt Duchene had posters of Patrick Roy plastered all over his bedroom wall.
With their boyhood heroes in the house, Duchene and Stastny put on quite a season-opening show.
Stastny scored two goals, including the game-winner 3:40 into overtime, and Duchene added another to lift the Colorado Avalanche to a 4-3 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.
Duchene and Stastny staged a performance that even had Roy raving. The Hall of Fame goalie was on hand as the Avalanche honoured their 1996 Cup-winning team in a pre-game ceremony.
“Great game,” Roy said. “Really entertaining. It was a great night for us, for sure.”
Stastny’s winning goal from in front was set up by a pass out of the corner by Duchene. Blackhawks goalie Marty Turco got a piece of the puck, but it trickled into the net.
“I just tried to shoot it quick,” Stastny said. “If it goes in, it goes in. If not, ‘Dutchy’ is there.”
Duchene—or “Dutchy” to his friends—was there all night. He also scored when he deflected a pass from Adam Foote into the net in the second period.
To him, the most rewarding part was that Sakic, Roy and Forsberg were there watching. He had posters of all three growing up and secretly wanted to become a goalie, following in Roy’s path.
But he became a forward, instead, leading NHL rookies in scoring last season.
“Some of those guys were like gods for me growing up,” Duchene said. “They were my idols. It was great meeting them and talking to them.”
And leaving an impact.
“He’s only 19 years old, but he’s handling the puck really well and competes well,” Roy said of Duchene.
Patrick Sharp tied the game midway through the third period for Chicago. Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa also scored for the Blackhawks, who have dropped five of their last six season openers.
The Blackhawks have a decidedly different look this season after severing ties with playoff standout Dustin Byfuglien and Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi as part of moves to get under the salary cap.
Still, their youthful and skilful core remains in tact, making the team a strong title contender again. Sharp and Jonathan Toews, two of those tenacious 20-somethings, each had an assist.
To replace Niemi, Chicago brought in veteran goalie Turco. He was shaky in the second period, giving up two goals, including a power-play tally by Stastny that trickled through his pads.
But he came up big in the third, especially in the closing seconds. Turco landed on a loose puck as Colorado players collapsed around him, smothering it with his back while his legs were in the net.
Turco stopped 37 shots.
“Played very well. Made several key saves—none bigger than the one in the dying minute of the game,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “He was big. A lot of high-quality chances in the game, more than we’d like to give up.”
Craig Anderson was solid for the Avalanche, stopping a flurry of shots late in regulation and finishing with 35 saves.The team relied heavily on him last season as he set franchise marks in games played, minutes, shots faced and saves.
While the Blackhawks launched their title defence Thursday, the Avalanche looked back. There were 24 players and coaches in attendance for the reunion, including Sakic, Roy and Forsberg.
The Avalanche swept the Florida Panthers in the finals that year, giving the state of Colorado its first major pro sports title in the team’s first season in the Mile High City after relocating from Quebec.
The ’96 squad gathered on the ice, shaking hands as they made their way along the red carpet.
Foote skated out to meet his former teammates and posed for a few photos. Then, he glided over to his current crew, donning that model of the Avalanche sweater on top of his ’96 uniform.
Entering his 19th season, Foote is the lone player from that squad still playing for Colorado.
“It goes so fast,” Foote said.
The Avalanche crew had a chance to mingle and reflect at a celebratory dinner on Wednesday. Quenneville, who was an Avalanche assistant coach back then, was in attendance.
“It’s fun to get a chance to see everyone again and kind of reminisce about the old times, especially us old, retired guys,” Sakic said.
Notes: Quenneville coached his 1,000th NHL game Thursday. … Avalanche F Peter Mueller (concussion) is out indefinitely. … Chicago’s D Nick Leddy and Colorado F Mark Olver made their NHL debut Thursday.