CHICAGO -- The Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks made sure their game at United Center on Sunday lived up to the hype as a possible sneak peek of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.
The Blackhawks fended off a late push by the Capitals, winning 3-2 in a game that had end-to-end action, solid defense and big saves by Washington goalie Braden Holtby (20 saves) and Chicago's Corey Crawford (28 saves).
A goal by Blackhawks rookie Dennis Rasmussen at 12:47 of the third period was the difference, but not before the Capitals sparked a dramatic finish on a power-play goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov at 16:39. Kuznetsov scored five seconds into what became a 6-on-3 advantage with Holtby pulled for an extra skater, forcing Chicago to preserve a one-goal lead by killing the remaining 1:55 of the power-play.
"We got a key goal there to go up by two, and then you're looking at a 6-on-3, and they score instantly on a great power play," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had to hold our breath a little bit there trying to get that last kill, but it was effective for us and it turned out it could've been the difference in getting it to overtime."
Video: WSH@CHI: Rasmussen doubles the lead in the 3rd
The Blackhawks, who played recently acquired forwards Andrew Ladd and Tomas Fleischmann, had a couple of unsuccessful chances to seal the game by scoring into an empty net. Their failure to do so gave League-leading Washington (45-12-4) hope until the end.
"They know how to take over games when they get the chance," Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "That was a heck of a hockey game today. A lot of high pace, good scoring chances, good goaltending, a lot of good stuff out there. Unfortunately, we were on the short end, but they're a good team."
Chicago (39-20-5), second in the NHL with 83 points, had lost its past two games and came into the game 6-7-1 since a franchise-record 12 straight wins from Dec. 29 to Jan. 19. The win split the season series against the Capitals, who are 13-4-2 against Western Conference teams and 6-3-1 against the Central Division this season.
After making three trades over the previous two days to add four veterans, Chicago overcame a slow start to build a 3-1 lead in the third on goals by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Rasmussen.
Video: WSH@CHI: Kane backhands it past Holtby to tie game
Cruising down the slot, Rasmussen received a kick pass from the corner by Richard Panik and banged it through Holtby's pads just past the midway point in the period for his first goal since Dec. 19.
"It's been awhile," said Rasmussen, who has centered the fourth line since Marcus Kruger was sidelined Dec. 17 with a fractured left wrist. "I've tried to work hard and create chances, but it was really nice to get that goal. It was a really nice pass. I've seen it done in practice, so I was ready for it."
Chicago wasn't ready for the Capitals' speed to start the game.
Washington dominated the first despite the period ending 1-1 on goals 31 seconds apart by Marcus Johansson and Kane. The Capitals outshot the Blackhawks 16-6, won the puck-possession battle and generated more scoring chances.
"It was tough watching that first period," Quenneville said. "It looked like a track meet and they were a little quicker than us on some of the rush chances for sure. But I thought we settled into the game and got through it 1-1. It was like a win."
The scenario flipped in the second. Chicago had two power plays and used the momentum, along with better skating, to outshoot Washington 14-4. The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead on Toews' power-play goal at 18:15, with Ladd and center Teuvo Teravainen assisting.
Ladd worked the puck to Teravainen in the slot. Teravainen spotted Toews in the left circle, sent him a feed and the Blackhawks' captain sent the puck into the net.
Video: WSH@CHI: Toews breaks tie with a power-play goal
"I saw [Teravainen] coming and I just kind of threw it," said Ladd, who won the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks. "I probably got a little lucky there, but I knew he was coming. He made a great play to [Toews] after that."
The Capitals activated forward Jay Beagle off long-term injured reserve prior to the game and moved injured defenseman John Carlson (lower body) to LTIR. Beagle played right wing on the fourth line.
Washington, which hasn't lost consecutive games in regulation this season, opens a three-game homestand Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Video: Crawford, Rasmussen lead Blackhawks over Capitals