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'Star Sunday' on NBC: 5 Storylines

Capitals host Flyers, continue push for first place; Avalanche seek home-and-home sweep of Blackhawks

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor

The Washington Capitals can build upon their lead for first place in the Metropolitan Division by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers at Capital One Arena in the first game of NBC Sports' "Star Sunday" doubleheader (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC). The Capitals (43-24-8) enter Sunday one point ahead of the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers (36-31-8), who were defeated 4-2 by the Islanders on Saturday, are seven points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

In the second game, the Colorado Avalanche (34-29-12) will try for a home-and-home sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks (32-32-10) when they play at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 4-2 at Pepsi Center on Saturday to move into the second wild card from the Western Conference; they are one point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild. The loss dropped the Blackhawks six points behind Colorado.

Here are 5 storylines to keep an eye on:

 

Ovechkin still chasing 50

Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals for most of the season, and his 48 goals are five more than runner-up Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers. But Ovechkin has gone three games without a goal and hasn't scored in seven of his past eight; he scored two goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. Ovechkin is two away from reaching the 50-goal mark for the eighth time in his NHL career, more than anyone else except Hockey Hall of Famers Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky (nine times each). Ovechkin has 34 goals in 52 regular-season games against Philadelphia, including one in the Capitals' 5-2 victory at Wells Fargo Center on March 6.

Video: WSH@TBL: Ovechkin pots second goal of the game

 

Capitals struggling down stretch

Ovechkin's struggles to score have coincided with a slump by the Capitals during the past two weeks. Washington is 2-3-1 in its past six games and is coming off a 2-1 home loss to the Wild on Friday. Before that, the Capitals won seven in a row to move into first place. The Capitals are 3-0-0 against the Flyers this season, scoring five goals in each game. The Capitals are 5-0-2 in their past seven games against the Flyers at Capital One Arena, where Philadelphia hasn't won in regulation since a 3-1 victory on Feb. 8, 2015. 

 

Flyers running out of time

Philadelphia is 21-13-1 since 2019 began, but a loss to the Islanders on Saturday, a game that saw them allow the go-ahead goal with 3:57 remaining in the third period and surrender another goal 1:23 later, was their second at home in five days. With so much on the line, expect coach Scott Gordon to give his top players all the ice time they can handle; on Saturday, six Flyers played at least 20 minutes, led by defenseman Ivan Provorov with 28:50.

 

Grubauer coming through for Avalanche

Colorado was one of the best teams in the NHL through mid-December, largely because its top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen helped overcome inconsistent goaltending. But when the top line cooled off, so did Colorado, which went 11-18-6 after starting 18-9-6. Goalie Philipp Grubauer has helped Colorado revive its playoff hopes. The Avalanche were four points behind the Wild for the second wild card in the West before a 3-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres on March 9, when Grubauer had an 18-save shutout. Grubauer has taken over the No. 1 goaltending job and has allowed six goals in his past six starts. He's been in goal for each game during the four-game winning streak that has put the Avalanche into the second wild card and two points behind the Dallas Stars for the first wild card.

Video: COL@DAL: Grubauer shuts down Benn at doorstep

 

Blackhawks need win after rough week

The hot streak that got the Blackhawks back into the playoff race came to an end during the past week. The Blackhawks are 0-2-1 in their past three games after the loss at Colorado and are six points behind the Avalanche and five behind the Coyotes and Wild. The Blackhawks begin a three-game road trip at Arizona on Tuesday, followed by games at the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. The Blackhawks have plenty of offense, with three 30-goal scorers (Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews), but are next-to-last in goals allowed with 269.

Video: CHI@DAL: DeBrincat snaps quick shot by Khudobin

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