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Blackhawks begin Cup defense against Capitals

by Dan Rosen /

CAPITALS (0-0-0) at BLACKHAWKS (0-0-0)


Season series: The Blackhawks and Capitals have gotten familiar with each other during the past two weeks, playing each other twice in the preseason in preparation for the season opener Tuesday at United Center. However, after playing Tuesday they won't see each other again until April 11 at Verizon Center in Washington. That's the second-to-last game of the season for each team.

They did not play each other last season because the shortened schedule precluded Eastern Conference teams from facing Western Conference teams. The last time they played in a meaningful game was March 18, 2012 at United Center. Chicago won 5-2.

Big story: The Blackhawks will raise another Stanley Cup championship banner to the United Center rafters. That makes two in the past 36 months for a franchise that previously went 49 years between championships.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Forward Brooks Laich, who was bothered by a hip flexor throughout the preseason, said he is playing in the opener.

"I'm in," Laich told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Arlington, Va. on Monday. "Oct. 1 was the date that I had circled to be ready for. I would like to have had a couple more [preseason] games, but I felt great out there [Monday] and I'm in as far as I know. It's their call, but 100 percent, I feel great and I'm ready to go."

Laich likely will be the second-line left wing, which means Martin Erat or Eric Fehr will be the center on the third line. They have split time there in training camp despite neither having played the position before in his NHL career.

Alex Ovechkin was in Greece on Sunday to start the Olympic torch relay. He immediately flew back to Washington after carrying the torch and was back in time to practice Monday at Kettler. He again will be at right wing on the top line, with center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Marcus Johansson.

Blackhawks: Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus did not play in a preseason game, but they are expected to join Patrick Sharp on the second line Tuesday. They both had significant injuries that they were rehabbing during the summer, and Hossa then had an upper-body injury early in training camp that limited him.

They're hoping their timing will return quickly, and Hossa joked their job is to not slow Sharp down.

"The preseason is over and now I can focus on a real game, and I'm sure I'm ready to go," Hossa told "The timing could be affected, but the guys played maybe two or three preseason games so they're not huge ahead of me. The thing for me will be to keep things simple and just slowly get into it."

The surprise in the lineup will be Joakim Nordstrom, who was a longshot to make the team when training camp began, but he beat out Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin to make the opening-night lineup. He'll be on the fourth line, with Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig.

Injury report: The Blackhawks and Capitals should have their full complement of players for the season opener.


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