Connor Bedard departs after big hit as Chicago Blackhawks lose 4-2 to New Jersey Devils

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Chicago Blackhawks center Connor Bedard falls to the ice after being checked by New Jersey Devils defenseman Brendan Smith (2) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

NEWARK, N.J. – Chicago Blackhawks rookie Connor Bedard departed after he was leveled in the first period of a 4-2 loss to Simon Nemec and the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

Bedard was hit by Devils defenseman Brendan Smith after the 18-year-old center carried the puck into Chicago's offensive zone. Bedard then skated to the bench holding his face as Nick Foligno, Brett Seney and several teammates ignited a skirmish behind the Devils net.

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Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson had no update on Bedard after the loss.

“Hopefully we'll know more tomorrow,'' Richardson said. “He obviously banged his head. ... We'll get him checked out at home by our specialists to see if everything is OK."

Foligno also departed after he fought with Smith in the second period, and Richardson said the 36-year-old forward also would get checked out after the team got back to Chicago.

The last-place Blackhawks, already missing several forwards due to injuries, host Calgary on Sunday.

Richardson said he didn't notice any malicious intent on Smith's part in the hit on Bedard.

“I don’t know if it was dirty. I think Connor was reaching for a puck and didn’t see him because he was behind another guy. I don’t think he stepped up on him,'' Richardson said. ”I think he kind of stopped and Connor kind of ran headfirst right into him. ... I think he was just playing hard on the blueline and trying to keep the puck out on the penalty kill."

After Bedard departed, there was a series of skirmishes before New Jersey rallied for its fifth win in six games.

Nemec and Alexander Holtz each had a goal and an assist as the Devils improved to 13-5-1 in their last 19 games. Michael McLeod snapped a tie in the third period, and Tyler Toffoli added an empty-netter for his 16th goal of the season.

New Jersey goaltender Vitek Vanecek made 23 saves.

Devils coach Lindy Ruff, a former NHL defenseman with Buffalo and the New York Rangers, said Smith's hit on Bedard was clean.

“It's a good hit. It's unfortunate where he got him,'' Ruff said. "At different times, all young players learn. ... I learned the hard way, I got knocked out cold.

“You've got to be aware. There was no intent or anything. That was just a solid hit.”

Injury-riddled Chicago lost its fifth consecutive game. The Blackhawks also dropped their 14th straight road game.

Jason Dickinson and Boris Katchouk scored for Chicago, and Arvid Soderblom made 28 saves.

“Our challenge is a next-man-up mentality. Guys will have to step up,″ defenseman Jarred Tinordi said.

Katchouk gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with a short-handed goal with 1:36 left in the second. Katchouk celebrated his third of the season by holding his right hand up to the side of his helmet, egging on the crowd for more noise.

Katchouk said he thought Smith's hit on Bedard was dirty.

“Everybody saw it,” he said.

The Devils scored three unanswered goals in the final period. Nemec tied it at 2 with his second of the season at 5:41, and McLeod got his 10th at 11:56.

“No one panicked. We were really confident going into the third that we would tie it up and win the game,'' McLeod said. ”It was really good to see."

Bedard was selected by Chicago with the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft. The 18-year-old center has 15 goals and 18 assists in 38 games.

Smith was not penalized for his hit on Bedard, but he was confronted by the Blackhawks at a couple different points after the play.

Tinordi appeared to have words with Smith as the teams were skating off the ice after the first.

“I didn't see it too well,'' Tinordi said of Smith's hit. ”Obviously, he got him up high."

Foligno and Smith had a prolonged bout early in the second period. Blackhawks defenseman Alex Vlasic also fought with Devils forward Nathan Bastian as part of a general on-ice fracas with most of the crowd at Prudential Center to its feet.

At one point, there were four Blackhawks and three Devils in their respective penalty boxes.

“It was fun, it was entertaining, that brings teams together," Ruff said.

Devils leading scorer Jack Hughes also didn't return after a hit late in the third period.

“No update on Jack right now, he left the game and wasn’t able to come back,” Ruff said.

The Devils were without injured forwards Ondrej Palat and Timo Meier for the second straight game.


Blackhawks: Host the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

Devils: Host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.



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