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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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Scoreboard
Local
4th
BRK 80
CHA 108
 
2nd
DUKE 76
WAKE 37
 
Final
LOS 4
CWS 6
 
Final
CLE 4
CIN 2
 
Final
TEX 2
KAN 13
 
Final
SFG 2
OAK 9
 
Final
SEA 4
SDP 3
 
Final
MIL 8
WMIL 0
 
Final
COL 3
ARI 6
 
Final
MIN 3
UMIN 1
 
Final
IND 105
NYK 82
 
Final
ORL 100
PHO 105
 
4th
BRK 80
CHA 108
 
4th
TOR 101
CLE 108
 
4th
BOS 81
UTA 78
 
3rd
MIN 61
DEN 75
 
3rd
NOP 56
DET 57
 
3rd
MIA 65
LAL 59
 
4th
HOU 79
MEM 79
 
3rd
OKC 68
PHI 82
 
Half
SAN 54
SAC 38
 
10:30pm Tonight
GSW
MIL
10:30pm Tonight
LAC
POR
Final
UNCA 80
LIB 70
 
Final
PSU 67
OSU 77
 
Final
USB 62
BING 57
 
Final
FORD 66
DUQ 81
 
Final
GMAS 51
GWU 67
 
Final
UNH 54
HART 52
 
Final
STJOE 55
LAS 50
 
Final
Terriers 79
LIU 70
 
Final
GTDNS 83
MAINE 66
 
Final
LOU 59
ND 71
 
Final
SHU 66
PROV 79
 
Final
BRY 91
SHU 85
 
Final
MORE 79
SEMIZ 74
 
Final
MNTER 58
RFLSH 73
 
Final
LSU 63
TENN 78
 
Final
SFLA 74
UCF 45
 
Final
VERM 66
UMBC 39
 
Final
RMU 91
WAGN 68
 
Final
UMASS 53
RICH 56
 
2nd
TULA 50
HOU 48
 
2nd
YALE 69
HOW 53
 
2nd
PITT 51
MIAMI 54
 
2nd
TXPA 46
NMST 57
 
2nd
MSU 47
PURD 37
 
2nd
STLU 43
BONA 57
 
2nd
DUKE 76
WAKE 37
 
1st
TULSA 13
CIN 21
 
1st
VANDY 29
MSST 32
 
1st
OKST 28
TCU 27
 
1st
UCLA 38
USC 23
 
1st
WYO 32
UTST 26
 
1st
MARQ 18
STJ 16
 
1st
EILL 10
SIUE 10
 
10:00pm Tonight
FRES
AFA
10:00pm Tonight
SJST
BSU
10:00pm Tonight
NEV
COLST
10:00pm Tonight
ILL
NEB
11:00pm Tonight
ORST
OREG
11:00pm Tonight
UNLV
SDST
11:59pm Tonight
HAW
UCSB
 
3rd
WIN 0
OTT 3
 
2nd Intermission
DET 1
NYR 1
 
10:00pm Tonight
ANA
MON
10:00pm Tonight
COL
PIT