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Caps, Hawks set to clash on NBCSN

by Brian Hedger
CAPITALS (36-29-6) at BLACKHAWKS (39-25-8)


Last 10: Washington 6-3-1; Chicago 6-3-1.

Season Series: This will be the only time in the regular season the Caps and Hawks faceoff against each other. They've met once each of the past two seasons, with Washington winning 4-3 both times in games that lasted past regulation. The Caps won last season's meeting at the Verizon Center in overtime and outlasted the Hawks in a shootout during the 2009-10 season.

Big Story: The Capitals have 78 points and found themselves sitting squarely on the postseason bubble in the East's eighth and final playoff spot going into Saturday's slate of games, while the Blackhawks (86 points) appear to have a lock on the sixth spot in the West with a chance to catch Central Division rivals Detroit and Nashville for either fifth or fourth. Chicago has 10 games remaining and prior to Saturday's games trailed the Predators by four points and Red Wings by five. The Hawks have also fully recovered from the nine-game losing streak to start February that knocked them from first in the League to where they are currently. They are still without injured center Jonathan Toews (upper-body injury speculated to be concussion related), but are 6-1-1- in their last eight games.

"I don't think you try to forget it," Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp said on Saturday. "That's something you need to remember. You know, we're a first-place team in the NHL and then we go and lose nine straight. That's something that you can keep in the back of your mind and know that you can never be satisfied in the NHL. Since that streak we've won a few and lost a few, but for the most part we've brought a strong effort every night."
Team Scope:

Capitals: This will be the third leg of a season-long five-game road trip for Washington, which split the first two by beating the New York Islanders and then losing to the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 at MTS Centre on Friday night. Brooks Laich and Mathieu Perreault scored for the Caps, with the latter's goal coming on a power play 27 seconds into the third period to tie the game. Former Blackhawks star Dustin Byfuglien, however, potted the eventual game-winner nearly eight minutes later for Winnipeg -- which trailed Washington by just two points for the East's final playoff spot heading into Saturday.

"This one stings a little bit more than a playoff loss, because a playoff loss you forget about it and move on," said Washington's Troy Brouwer, Byfuglien's former Blackhawks teammate from the 2010 Stanley Cup championship team. "But this one, we really needed the points in the standings to try to get some separation between us and Winnipeg. But now it's going to make this race a little bit tighter."

Blackhawks: Despite not having Toews, their captain and top centerman, Chicago has found a groove and is back to playing solid hockey. The Hawks still haven't had either goalie, Corey Crawford or Ray Emery, seize the full-time starting job but Crawford looked back to his top form of a year ago in Friday night's 4-1 road victory against the Dallas Stars. The Hawks have only lost once in regulation since the trade deadline and defense acquisition Johnny Oduya continues to shine in their puck-moving up-tempo system. It's also helped that healthy stars like Sharp (2 goals, 8 shots vs. Dallas), Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are leading the charge.

"You see a lot of guys are playing a lot of different roles now," said Kane, who's filling in for Toews as top-line center. "It's good to see everyone step up, too. Everyone knows we miss Johnny, but there's really no predicting when he'll be back. You can't really think about it. You've just got to have different players step up."

Who's Hot: Laich has four goals in the past six games and has tallied points in five of those contests, while Marcus Johansson has three assists in the last two games for the Capitals; Kane has a four-game point streak going and has recorded nine points (5 goals and 4 assists) in the last nine games for the Hawks.

Injury Report: Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) missed his 33rd game on Friday night and is listed as day-to-day, while Tom Poti hasn't played since early October and is out indefinitely for the Capitals; Toews has missed 12 straight games with what's widely believed to be a concussion, while Steve Montador has also missed the last 18 straight contests for Chicago with an upper body injury speculated to be concussion-related. Hawks defenseman Sami Lepisto (lower body) is out indefinitely.

Stat Pack: The Caps' 10 defensemen have combined to score 28 goals and tally 102 assists thus far for 130 points, which is nine more points than Washington's blueliners scored all of last season; Chicago has a record of 18-18-6 in games the opponent scores first, which tops the League in wins for that scenario.

Puck Drop: Brouwer will be facing the Hawks, the team that drafted him 214th overall in the 2004 NHL Draft, for the first time since being traded to Washington last summer.

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