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Chicago Blackhawks

Saad, Blackhawks pound Penguins, 10-1, in opener

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad, left, scores against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad, left, scores against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO – Brandon Saad scored three times in his return to the Blackhawks and Ryan Hartman had a goal and four assists, helping the Hawks pound the Pittsburgh Penguins, 10-1, on Thursday night.

Nick Schmaltz added two goals and an assist as the Hawks kicked off their season in style with a runaway victory against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Patrick Kane also had a goal and three assists in the Hawks’ highest scoring game since a 10-1 win against Winnipeg on Oct. 12, 1988.

Pittsburgh was coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis in its season opener on Wednesday, and it looked every bit like a team on the second half of back-to-back nights. Antti Niemi was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots in his Penguins debut, forcing Matt Murray to come in after he took the loss against the Blues.

Sidney Crosby found Phil Kessel for a power-play goal at 2:05 of the second period, but the Hawks already had a 5-0 lead at that point. It was the most goals allowed by Pittsburgh since a 10-8 loss to San Jose on Jan. 13, 1996.

The Hawks won the Central Division last season and finished with the most points in the Western Conference. But they were swept by Nashville in their second consecutive first-round loss, leading to a flurry of moves by admittedly angry general manager Stan Bowman.

The Hawks, who won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, scored three goals in 13 periods in the series against Nashville. They got four in the first 9:16 against Pittsburgh.

Ryan Hartman scored off a slick pass from Kane at 6:21. After Saad got his first off a rush with Richard Panik, Kane made another great pass to set up Schmaltz’s backhander at 7:34. Saad then beat Niemi with a well-placed shot through a crowd in front, and the rout was on.

The 24-year-old Saad began his career with Chicago and helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups before he was traded to Columbus after the 2015 season. Bowman got him back in a blockbuster trade with the Blue Jackets in June, parting with dynamic winger Artemi Panarin in a multiplayer deal.

For one night at least, it looked like a smart move. Saad finished off his hat trick at 5:21 of the third, and Brent Seabrook made it 10-1 with a rebound goal with 6:15 remaining.

Hartman set a career high for points and assists in a game in Chicago’s highest-scoring opener, topping an 8-6 victory at Nashville on Oct. 5, 2006. Patrick Sharp also scored in his return to Chicago after signing a team-friendly, one-year deal with the Blackhawks in the offseason.

The one downer for the Blackhawks was an injury for Schmaltz in the third. He skated off gingerly at 7:49 and was helped to the locker room.

NOTES: Sharp’s first-period goal was his 600th career point. ... Blackhawks F Marian Hossa was greeted with a huge roar when he was introduced with the team before the game. Hossa has been ruled out for the season due to a progressive skin disorder, and it’s unclear if he will be able to play again. ... Former Blackhawks F Bryan Bickell received a standing ovation when he took one more skate with the team during the pregame festivities. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last November and signed a one-day contract Wednesday to retire with the Blackhawks.

UP NEXT

Penguins: Host Nashville on Saturday night.

Blackhawks: Host Columbus on Saturday night.

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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