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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Tuesday, October 1st (All times Eastern)

Washington Capitals (0-0-0) at Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0), 8 p.m.

(SportsNetwork.com) - For the second time in four years the Chicago Blackhawks will raise a Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters at the United Center, as the club opens its title defense with Tuesday's season opener against the Washington Capitals.

The Blackhawks won it all in the spring of 2010, bringing the franchise its first Stanley Cup since 1961, and the club added a fifth championship in 2013 by eliminating the Boston Bruins in six games.

However, even if the Blackhawks are able repeat as champions by finishing on top in 2013-14, the club will be hard-pressed to top its start from last season. While some teams struggled to find consistency at the outset of the lockout-shortened campaign, Chicago went 24 straight games (21-0-3) without a regulation loss to begin the season. It was the best start to a season in NHL history and the league's third-longest streak without a regulation loss.

Over the course of the offseason, the Blackhawks were forced to part ways with some players from its most recent championship, though the roster upheaval wasn't nearly as great as it was following the club's 2010 championship. Still, general manager Stan Bowman knows better than anybody that tough decisions need to be made under a salary-cap system and he has earned Chicago's trust when it comes to making those calls.

After the Blackhawks won the title in 2010, Bowman cleaned house by letting players like Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg go, but without that roster purge the 2013 championship season may not have been possible.

Bowman's goal over the years has been to keep Chicago's core group intact. Returning guys like forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson and goaltender Corey Crawford have been identified as key pieces, while other talented assets have been deemed expendable.

Crawford is the latest addition to the list and he hopes to build off his best season as an NHLer in 2013-14. One of the reasons Bowman allowed Niemi to walk in the summer of 2010 was his belief Crawford could be a No. 1 goaltender. In 2013, at 28 years of age, Crawford finally made a believer out of everybody else.

When Chicago bowed out in the opening round in back-to-back postseasons in 2011 and '12, Crawford rightfully took a big chunk of the blame. However, he silenced the critics last spring by going 16-7 with a 1.84 goals against average and .932 save percentage. That came after Crawford went 19-5-5 with a 1.94 GAA during the regular season.

Crawford will start on Tuesday and see the lion's share of starts for Chicago this season, with 40-year-old veteran Nikolai Khabibulin serving as the backup.

In other news for the Blackhawks, Hossa expects to play in the opener after suffering an upper-body injury during the preseason.

"The preseason is over and now I can focus on a real game, and I'm sure I'm ready to go," Hossa told NHL.com.

While Chicago enters this season with talk of a dynasty, the Capitals could have a difficult time getting back to the playoffs in 2013-14. Thanks to the NHL's new realignment plan, Washington is stuck in the Metropolitan Division with teams like Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils and the eight-club division could be the toughest in the league. Meanwhile, Chicago is a favorite to win the Central Division with the St. Louis Blues expected to provide the most competition for that distinction.

Only the top three teams from each of the NHL's four divisions will receive automatic bids to the playoffs while both the East and West conferences will also get two additional wild card spots. Washington has made the playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but outside of the now-defunct Southeast, a division that earned its reputation as the NHL's weak link, that streak could come to an end.

The Capitals still have superstar forward Alex Ovechkin, who won his third Hart Trophy last season after leading the league with 32 goals in 48 games. However, the MVP didn't change Ovi's luck in the playoffs as Washington pushed the Rangers to seven games before being bounced out in the opening round. For all his personal accolades, the 28-year-old Russian has never led his team past the second round of the playoffs and Ovechkin's window to deliver a Stanley Cup title to D.C. could be slowly closing.

Washington had a quiet offseason in terms of signing free agents, but the club did ink former Toronto centerman Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year, $3 million deal. Grabovski hopes to make up for the loss of centerman Mike Ribeiro, who left over the summer to sign a four-year deal with Phoenix.

The Caps head into the season with Braden Holtby penciled in as the club's No. 1 backstop and he figures to get the call on Tuesday. Holtby was 23-12-1 with a 2.58 goals against average and .920 save percentage last campaign. He played in all seven games versus the Rangers and was right on par with his regular season numbers. Michal Neuvirth is back again to give Washington a solid No. 2 option behind Holtby.

Because the lockout-shortened regular season only featured intra-conference play, Tuesday's clash will be the first meeting between Washington and Chicago since the 2011-12 campaign.

The Blackhawks, who were 18-3-3 as the host in 2013, have won two of their last three home tilts against Washington. The Caps were just 12-10-2 as the road club last season.

10/01 10:34:09 ET

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Schedule

Sunday, April 20Full Scoreboard
Philadelphia «4Final | Box
NY Rangers2Rink Replay
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game Two. Series tied, 1-1.
Detroit1Final | Box
Boston «4Rink Replay
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game Two. Series tied, 1-1.
Tampa Bay2Final | Box
Montreal «3Rink Replay
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game Three. Montreal leads series, 3-0.
Los Angeles23rd Prd 5:44 | Box
San Jose7@theRink | TV: NBCSN, CBC, FSN-W
Western Conference Quarterfinals, Game Two. San Jose leads series, 1-0.
Full Scoreboard

Standings

2013 - 2014 NHL Eastern Conference Standings
 
Atlantic Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
p-Boston 54 19 9 117 261 177 31-7-3 23-12-6 18-9-3
x-Tampa Bay 46 27 9 101 240 215 25-10-6 21-17-3 19-8-3
x-Montreal 46 28 8 100 215 204 23-13-5 23-15-3 18-8-4
x-Detroit 39 28 15 93 222 230 18-13-10 21-15-5 17-8-5
Ottawa 37 31 14 88 236 265 18-17-6 19-14-8 14-9-7
Toronto 38 36 8 84 231 256 24-16-1 14-20-7 14-13-3
Florida 29 45 8 66 196 268 16-20-5 13-25-3 13-16-1
Buffalo 21 51 10 52 157 248 13-21-7 8-30-3 7-18-5
 
Metropolitan Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
y-Pittsburgh 51 24 7 109 249 207 28-9-4 23-15-3 20-8-2
x-NY Rangers 45 31 6 96 218 193 20-17-4 25-14-2 16-11-3
x-Philadelphia 42 30 10 94 236 235 24-14-3 18-16-7 15-11-4
x-Columbus 43 32 7 93 231 216 22-15-4 21-17-3 16-13-1
Washington 38 30 14 90 235 240 21-13-7 17-17-7 12-15-3
New Jersey 35 29 18 88 197 208 21-11-9 14-18-9 16-9-5
Carolina 36 35 11 83 207 230 18-17-6 18-18-5 15-13-2
NY Islanders 34 37 11 79 225 267 13-19-9 21-18-2 10-16-4
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
z= clinched overall points title
2013 - 2014 NHL Western Conference Standings
 
Central Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
y-Colorado 52 22 8 112 250 220 26-11-4 26-11-4 19-6-3
x-St. Louis 52 23 7 111 248 191 28-9-4 24-14-3 21-6-2
x-Chicago 46 21 15 107 267 220 27-7-7 19-14-8 13-13-3
x-Minnesota 43 27 12 98 207 206 26-10-5 17-17-7 14-12-3
x-Dallas 40 31 11 91 235 228 23-11-7 17-20-4 13-11-5
Nashville 38 32 12 88 216 242 19-17-5 19-15-7 12-13-4
Winnipeg 37 35 10 84 227 237 18-17-6 19-18-4 9-15-5
 
Pacific Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
z-Anaheim 54 20 8 116 266 209 29-8-4 25-12-4 22-4-3
x-San Jose 51 22 9 111 249 200 29-7-5 22-15-4 18-7-3
x-Los Angeles 46 28 8 100 206 174 23-14-4 23-14-4 16-10-3
Phoenix 37 30 15 89 216 231 22-14-5 15-16-10 14-9-6
Vancouver 36 35 11 83 196 223 20-15-6 16-20-5 12-13-4
Calgary 35 40 7 77 209 241 19-19-3 16-21-4 11-15-3
Edmonton 29 44 9 67 203 270 16-22-3 13-22-6 8-17-4
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
z= clinched overall points title
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    Saturday at 1:05 pm on 99.9 The Fan

Scoreboard
Local
Final
NOR 6
DUR 3
 
Final
MIA 99
CHA 88
12:05pm Today
NOR
DUR
 
Final
CLE 6
TOR 4
Final
DET 2
ANA 1
Final
NYM 4
ATL 3
Final
MIA 3
SEA 2
Final
PIT 2
MIL 3
Final
WAS 3
STL 2
Final
TAM 1
NYY 5
Final
KAN 3
MIN 8
Final
CHC 2
CIN 8
Final
TEX 2
CWS 16
Final
OAK 4
HOU 1
Final
LOS 4
ARI 1
Final
COL 9
PHI 10
Final
SDP 3
SFG 4
Final
BOS 6
BAL 5
11:05am Today
BOS
BAL
 
7:05pm Tonight
PIT
CIN
 
7:05pm Tonight
CLE
KAN
 
7:05pm Tonight
WAS
ANA
 
7:08pm Tonight
DET
CWS
 
7:10pm Tonight
ATL
MIA
 
7:10pm Tonight
NYM
STL
 
8:05pm Tonight
CHC
ARI
 
8:10pm Tonight
MIL
SDP
 
8:40pm Tonight
COL
SFG
 
10:05pm Tonight
OAK
TEX
 
10:10pm Tonight
SEA
HOU
 
10:10pm Tonight
LOS
PHI
 
Final
SAN 90
DAL 85
Final
MIA 99
CHA 88
Final
CHI 93
WAS 102
4th
HOU 106
POR 104
 
8:00pm Tonight
OKC
MEM
10:30pm Tonight
LAC
GSW
Final
NYR 2
PHI 4
Final
BOS 4
DET 1
Final
MON 3
TAM 2
3rd
SJS 7
LOS 2
 
7:00pm Tonight
MIN
COL
7:00pm Tonight
CLB
PIT
8:30pm Tonight
CHI
STL
9:30pm Tonight
DAL
ANA
Final
NOR 6
DUR 3
 
12:05pm Today
NOR
DUR