DENVER (AP) — Mikko Rantanen and his teammates logged a lot of extra ice time in the opener.
Well worth it, of course, to take part in the emotion-stirring, banner-raising ceremony before the game that lasted 20 or so minutes.
Artturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin each scored two power-play goals, Rantanen had four assists and the fast-skating Colorado Avalanche began their Stanley Cup title defense with a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
Shortly after raising their newest banner to the rafters, the Avalanche went to work. Andrew Cogliano scored Colorado’s first goal of the season, the only goal in the game that wasn’t on the power play. Nathan MacKinnon, fresh off a new lucrative contract, contributed two assists, while new goaltender Alexandar Georgiev stopped 15 shots.
“Our championship team is in the rafters forever,” said Rantanen, who turned in the 12th four-point night of his career. “You don’t think about it too much (now), but I think we will appreciate it later.”
Jonathan Toews and Max Domi had goals as Luke Richardson made his coaching debut for the Blackhawks. Petr Mrazek finished with 30 saves against an Avalanche team that won the title last season by dethroning Tampa Bay in six games.
“Obviously it’s special to see that banner go up there, to contribute to history,” Toews said. “But I think once the puck drops the attitude is it’s behind you and nobody really cares. You got to go out there and try to win the game.”
Colorado moved defending Stanley Cup champions to 60-26-16 in openers.
The crowd was revved up well before the puck even dropped.
The appetizer: A highlight video of Colorado’s run to the franchise’s third Stanley Cup title. Then, some music as Mark Hoppus of the Blink-182 led a sing-along of the band’s tune “All The Small Things,” which became an anthem for the Avalanche.
There also was captain Gabriel Landeskog hoisting the Cup and skating around with the trophy (he missed the game with a lower-body injury). Of course, there were plenty of on-ice pictures, including a memorable shot of the team with Blackhawks defenseman Jack Johnson joining in. Johnson was with Colorado last season.
Finally, the feature attraction — the banner raised to the rafters. As it climbed higher and higher, the cheers got louder and louder.
“I got pretty emotional actually when they’re doing the video beforehand,” said Johnson, who was wearing his championship ring in his postgame interview. “Some day I can bring my grandkids or my kids, if they don’t believe that dad played, and show them.”
Once the pregame celebration concluded, Colorado’s title defense got underway.
The Avalanche took a little bit of time to find their rhythm, but once they did they were flying around the ice. They scored four power-play goals, including two by Lehkonen in the second period, for a 4-1 lead.
“Pretty emotional, but I thought we came out really well,” Lehkonen said.
After a summer filled with parades, parties and celebrations with the Cup, the Avalanche embark on the difficult task of becoming a back-to-back champion. In the NHL’s salary cap era that began in 2005, only Tampa Bay (’20, ‘21) and Pittsburgh (’16, ’17) have accomplished the feat.
“Raising that banner, I only think it’s going to motivate us more to do it again,” said defenseman Cale Makar, who had two assists. “Knowing that we all accomplished that together and being on the ice together again, it’s only going to drive us forward.”
It’s got to be the tune. Or at least that’s the opinion of Hoppus, whose band’s song was belted out at Ball Arena all the way to the title.
“Because they played our song, they won the Stanley Cup,” Hoppus cracked before the game. “Every other team didn’t play our song. No Stanley Cup.”
The Avalanche held a private dinner and ring ceremony Monday night for their players, coaches and team members. Among those on hand was Johnson, who played in 13 playoff games for Colorado last season.
“Ideally, you’d love to have all your guys here. It’s not possible, obviously,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “To be able to have Jack here and have dinner with us the other night … and then obviously the banner, it’s pretty special.”
Blackhawks: At Vegas on Thursday night.
Avalanche: At Calgary on Thursday night to face former teammate Nazem Kadri, who signed a $49 million, seven-year contract with the Flames in August. “There’s no friends on the ice for me,” Makar said. “I love guys off the ice and I loved Naz when he was here. But he’s with Calgary now.”
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