Connor Bedard aims to stay hot as Blackhawks welcome Devils

Sunday night’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and visiting New Jersey Devils initially shaped up as a matchup of two of the past five top overall picks in the NHL draft.

An upper-body injury to New Jersey star forward Jack Hughes, however, figures to shine more of the spotlight on Chicago’s Connor Bedard, the No. 1 selection in 2023.

Hughes’ status remained uncertain after he left during the first period of Friday’s 4-1 loss at St. Louis. Hughes, the top draft choice in 2019, crashed into the boards midway through the period while splitting the Blues’ defense. He returned for his next shift but went to the locker room shortly thereafter.

Sportsnet reported the Devils “avoided the worst-case scenario” with Hughes, who is expected to miss some playing time due to the injury.

“It’s tough,” the Devils’ Curtis Lazar said of Hughes, who leads the team in assists (15) and points (20) this season. “You look at the start he’s had — I’m not going to lie, we were a little dejected when it happened. But, again, you’ve got to kind of turn the page when you realize he’s not coming back and say, ‘All right, next man up.’ We have a lot of skill in this room. We’re getting tested early here, but I have full belief in this dressing room, too.”

New Jersey defenseman Kevin Bahl agreed and added that the club temporarily may have to shift styles without Hughes.

“We can’t be winning games 5-4, 5-3,” Bahl said. “We’ve got to win them 2-1, 1-0 now. We’ve just got to be better all around.”

Chicago moved to 4-0-0 when scoring at least four goals this season following Saturday’s 5-2 win against the visiting Florida Panthers.

Bedard scored early in the second period to stake the Blackhawks to a 4-0 lead. The 18-year-old has goals in three straight games and four of the past five.

The surge was enough as the Blackhawks notched their first victory at the United Center in three tries this season. It was the team’s first game since being drubbed 8-1 at Arizona on Monday.

“We want to make this place hard to play,” said Chicago’s Taylor Hall, who capped the team’s three-goal first period with what stood up as the game-winning tally. “The fans do their job. We have to do ours. It was a good win for us. It was a good first period. We kind of held on for the last couple periods, but overall, a good bounce back.”

Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek stopped 38 of 40 shots while benefiting from tough play in front of him, as Chicago blocked 29 shots compared with seven for the Panthers.

“Those are things that don’t go unnoticed in our dressing room,” Hall said. “We have a lot of guys willing to sacrifice their bodies and do the right things at the end of the game, and that’s how you win in this league.”

Philipp Kurashev had a goal and two assists for the Blackhawks.

New Jersey went 2-0-0 against Chicago last season, including a 6-3 victory at United Center on April 1.