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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
Final
UVA 27
UNC 28
 
Final
NCCU 42
SAVST 14
 
8:07pm Tonight
SFG
KAN
Final
WISC 52
MD 7
Final
SMU 10
MEM 48
Final
ILL 28
MINN 24
 
Final
RICE 41
UNT 21
 
Final
NEB 42
RUTG 24
Final
KST 23
TEX 0
Final
ARK 45
UAB 17
Final
UVA 27
UNC 28
 
Final
EMICH 17
NILL 28
 
Final
NAVY 41
SJST 31
 
4th
BST 19
AKR 21
 
4th
GASTATE 17
GASO 48
 
4th
TOL 28
UMASS 20
 
4th
WMICH 28
OHIO 7
 
3rd
COL 14
UCLA 31
 
3rd
UMO 7
KSU 3
 
2nd
WAKE 0
BC 17
 
2nd
BUF 6
CMICH 14
 
2nd
MARS 14
FATL 13
 
2nd
PITT 7
GT 28
 
2nd
SMISS 7
LATU 3
 
2nd
MSU 7
MICH 0
 
2nd
KENT 10
MSST 17
 
2nd
STAN 21
ORST 7
 
2nd
TCU 31
TTU 17
 
2nd
OKST 10
WVU 14
 
1st
WKENT 21
ODU 3
 
2nd
UTST 7
UNLV 0
 
2nd
MIZZ 3
VANDY 0
 
5:00pm Tonight
UCF
TEMPL
6:00pm Tonight
WASU
ARZ
7:00pm Tonight
CLEM
SYR
7:00pm Tonight
LAMON
TXST
7:00pm Tonight
TXSANANTO
UTEP
7:00pm Tonight
COLST
WYO
7:15pm Tonight
LSU
MISS
7:30pm Tonight
TENN
ALA
7:30pm Tonight
AUB
SCAR
8:00pm Tonight
PSU
OSU
10:00pm Tonight
UTAH
USC
10:45pm Tonight
WASH
ARST
11:59pm Tonight
HAW
NEV
1st Intermission
SJS 0
BUF 0
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOR
BOS
7:00pm Tonight
NYI
DAL
7:00pm Tonight
PHI
DET
7:00pm Tonight
OTT
NJD
7:00pm Tonight
MON
NYR
8:00pm Tonight
STL
CHI
8:00pm Tonight
NAS
PIT
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
TAM
9:00pm Tonight
ARI
FLA
10:00pm Tonight
CAL
WAS
Final
NCCU 42
SAVST 14