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Hawks, Caps vying for position without top centers

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- They might be from opposite conferences and only play once a a year, but the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks both value the two points at stake from their upcoming game Sunday night (7 p.m, NBCSN) the same.

Both teams are locked in unique playoff races.

The Capitals (36-29-6) are on the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference's eighth and final spot with 78 points, just two ahead of the hard-charging Winnipeg Jets in ninth -- who also play Sunday night.

The Blackhawks (39-25-8), meanwhile, are sitting sixth in the Western Conference with 86 points but have a couple of teams just ahead in the low 90s and a slew of teams not far behind in the low 80s.

"You look at the standings and the points, it's hard not to get yourself up for games these days," Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said after practice Saturday. "It seems like every game is more important than the next one. You look to [Sunday night] and Washington's going to come in fighting for the playoffs and we're still trying to get as many points as we can. You can't get comfortable at all."

Especially not when the teams are missing key players.

The Hawks will be without their captain and top center, Jonathan Toews, for a 13th straight game because of an upper-body injury that's widely believed to be a concussion while the Caps are hoping Nicklas Backstrom can get back in the lineup at some point this season. He has 33 straight games with a concussion.

Corey Crawford will get his second straight start in net for the Hawks after relieving Ray Emery just one period in last week against the St. Louis Blues and picking up a huge win in a shootout. Braden Holtby was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League for Washington because Tomas Vokoun has a nagging injury.

Here is a look at how the lineups might look on Sunday night at the United Center:


Alexander Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Dmitri Orlov - Mike Green

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby


Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Jimmy Hayes

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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