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Melrose Minute: Ice will dictate pace of Winter Classic

by Barry Melrose

The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is always a major event on the NHL calendar and this season's edition is a spectacular matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks. More importantly? It's just 24 hours away. As always, I think ice will dictate a lot of what we see. You've got two very skilled teams playing, two teams that thrive on speed, and if the ice is heavier or slow, it will affect both teams like these a lot more than it would affect a team like the New York Rangers or Los Angeles Kings. Dan Craig and his crew never cease to amaze me with how good a job they do building an NHL-quality rink in just two weeks, but it's clear that the better the ice this time around, the better the game we'll see.

Washington should have decent weather, which will help, but perhaps more important than the weather is the experience. These teams have each played outdoors before, or at least most of the players have. Nobody will be surprised by the elements or the spectacle. The trainers will also be experienced in preparing equipment and things like that. The ice crews have already been through this as well. This isn't any other game, but the experience will let the players settle into it like it is. They've done it before, so they're going to be ready for it. The players will know what to expect.

As for the matchup itself, we've got two hot teams playing well. I really like the way Washington is playing right now. Even though the Capitals lost in their final game before the NHL Winter Classic against the New York Islanders on Monday, they still rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period to steal a point. There was no quit in that team. In their game before that, Alex Ovechkin was tremendous against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Nicklas Backstrom looks great, Braden Holtby looks strong in net and in general the Capitals have been in a great groove.

Meanwhile, Chicago is Chicago. There are just no weaknesses on a great hockey team and the Blackhawks come into the game with some momentum after rallying for a big division win against the Nashville Predators. This is going to be a great game, with a lot of star quality, and it'll be a great yardstick for the Capitals. Coach Barry Trotz will know a lot about his team when the final whistle blows. This is one of the best teams in the East against one of the best teams in the West. It should be an intense, fun, entertaining game. Just like the rest of you, I can't wait for it.

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