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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
NCCU 108
BASC 52
 
Final
CHA 106
PHO 111
Final
NCSU 83
TENN 72
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
TOR
 
8:00pm Tonight
DUKE
UCONN
 
Final
CLE 98
ATL 127
Final
CHA 106
PHO 111
Final
DET 106
DAL 117
Final
BOS 109
ORL 92
Final
MIA 87
UTA 105
Final
TOR 105
BRK 89
Final
SAN 116
MEM 117
Final
POR 104
MIL 97
Final
DEN 111
HOU 115
Final
LAC 102
IND 100
8:00pm Tonight
CHI
NYK
 
8:30pm Tonight
HOU
NOP
 
10:00pm Tonight
SAC
MIL
 
10:30pm Tonight
GSW
OKC
 
Final
UNT 78
LANG 65
 
Final
Terriers 64
DELST 72
 
Final
MSST 55
ARKST 69
Final
NCCU 108
BASC 52
 
Final
GMAS 99
CATAWBA 69
 
Final
WOFF 64
CSOU 58
 
Final
HIGH 106
FERR 48
 
Final
JVU 68
GWEBB 65
 
Final
ILL 73
HAMP 55
 
Final
BST 52
JMU 72
 
Final
YOUNG 84
KNST 90
 
Final
UMO 71
LONG 60
 
Final
PITT 65
MAN 56
Final
OSU 97
NCAT 55
Final
FSU 93
UNF 77
 
Final
TOL 83
RMU 57
 
Final
CAMP 70
SIUE 65
 
Final
DUQ 52
RFLSH 67
 
Final
NCSU 83
TENN 72
Final
UCF 75
DET 70
Final
UNCW 73
LIB 70
 
Final
LOYC 83
ABCHRIST 44
 
Final
MURST 94
ALCOR 56
 
Final
HOU 56
ARKPB 61
 
Final
NW 67
CMICH 80
Final
WKENT 75
CHIST 60
 
Final
ODU 58
UGST 54
Final
SMU 67
ILLCH 46
Final
LALAF 115
MLGN 76
 
Final
TULSA 74
MIZST 70
Final
UWGB 66
MORE 50
 
Final
NEOM 92
NCOL 82
 
Final
TTU 101
SCST 39
 
Final
DEN 83
TAMCC 73
 
Final
STEPH 66
TXST 60
 
Final
STLU 75
TXPA 69
 
Final
MEM 83
USCU 73
 
Final
ILLST 64
TENNM 54
 
Final
MSU 66
EMICH 46
Final
GRCN 80
INCWORD 82
 
Final
STAN 67
LMU 58
Final
BAY 66
NMST 55
 
Final
CIN 71
SDST 62
Final
AUB 80
WINT 62
 
Final
NMU 76
CARK 55
 
Final
PEPP 53
HOW 45
 
Final
CPSL 60
NE 58
 
Final
UNLV 75
PORT 73
Final
OREG 79
CSNO 56
Final
WASH 86
GRAM 38
12:30pm Today
RICE
STTHOMASTX
 
7:00pm Tonight
UVA
CLST
 
7:00pm Tonight
LIU
FIU
 
7:00pm Tonight
STET
GSOUT
 
7:00pm Tonight
QUIN
LEH
 
7:00pm Tonight
SFLA
SHU
 
7:00pm Tonight
RICH
SALA
 
7:00pm Tonight
CAN
USB
 
7:00pm Tonight
DEL
TEMPL
 
7:00pm Tonight
WCU
WRST
 
7:00pm Tonight
VERM
YALE
 
7:30pm Tonight
SDKST
IDST
 
7:30pm Tonight
RIDE
MRGST
 
7:30pm Tonight
LATU
NICST
 
8:00pm Tonight
CHAR
APP
 
8:00pm Tonight
MISS
CCAR
 
8:00pm Tonight
DUKE
UCONN
 
8:00pm Tonight
BRAD
EUREK
 
8:00pm Tonight
PEAY
OAKC
 
8:00pm Tonight
JST
SMISS
 
8:30pm Tonight
SD
MNTST
 
9:00pm Tonight
UAB
LSU
 
9:05pm Tonight
EVAN
OHIO
 
10:00pm Tonight
CSFU
CSDH
 
10:00pm Tonight
ORST
DEP
 
10:00pm Tonight
PAC
NEV
 
10:00pm Tonight
USF
PORST
 
10:00pm Tonight
IDAHO
WALLA
 
10:05pm Tonight
UTST
CALST
 
Final
NJD 0
OTT 2
Final
MIN 2
BOS 3
Final
VAN 0
DAL 2
7:00pm Tonight
PIT
COL
 
7:00pm Tonight
PHI
FLA
 
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
TOR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CLB
WAS
 
7:30pm Tonight
MON
ANA
 
10:30pm Tonight
SJS
EDM
 
10:30pm Tonight
LOS
STL
 
8:25pm Tonight
JAC
TEN