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Stars should shine when Capitals visit Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It's a matchup that won't lack for big names when the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals meet outside on New Year's Day at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa top the list of Chicago's elite players. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green will headline the roster for the Capitals.

The Capitals and Blackhawks will give fans a preview of that New Year's Day game Friday at United Center (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US). It's the only other time the teams will play this season, so it should be a good primer for the Winter Classic.

"They've obviously got some dangerous players that can hurt you pretty quick," Kane said of the Capitals. "As far as the Winter Classic goes it could be a great matchup with a lot of talent and a lot of players that can do some special things to maybe help get the fans out of their seats."

Kane is one of those players. With a hockey bag full of tricks to go with rare stickhandling and vision, he's always a threat for opponents. For fans, Kane is a good bet to do something special.

One of those fans is Ovechkin, who said he's most impressed by Kane's magical stickhandling ability.

"Not many guys can do all that he can do out there," Ovechkin said following the Capitals morning skate. "He's probably the best [at it]. He can put you in a bad position right away.

Kane sees Ovechkin in a similar light. As a lifelong hockey fan, he realizes why the dynamic Russian holds such worldwide appeal.

"You can see if you're an outside source, watching the game as a fan, how he can entertain you," Kane said. "He's very fast, explosive, he's got the big shot. He's big and strong. He hits. And, you know, he's one of the guys who likes to celebrate after he scores, too, so you can see how he can get fans out of their seats pretty quick."

Ovechkin has six goals and 13 points in 12 games this season. In Washington's 4-3 overtime loss against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, he had two assists to give him 827 points and move past Peter Bondra to become the Capitals all-time leading scorer. He accomplished that feat in 691 games, compared to 961 games for Bondra to reach 825 points. Ovechkin also has 428 goals, second on the Capitals' all-time list to Bondra's 472.

"When you're scoring goals that much, how can a fan not like him?" Kane said, smiling. "He's definitely fun to watch."

Ovechkin said he likes watching Kane but also enjoys seeing what the Blackhawks forward can do when paired with captain Jonathan Toews as his center. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville usually prefers to split them for better scoring balance, but every so often he puts them together on the same line for some extra offense.

The Blackhawks have struggled to score goals consistently this season, so Toews and Kane currently are on the top line. Their first game together was Chicago's 5-0 win Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Kane and Toews each scored a goal and their line combined for three points.

"Everyone knows they're probably the two best players in the world right now on their team, and their team won two Stanley Cups [since 2010]," Ovechkin said. "It's a huge challenge for this team. We want to play against them and see where we're at."

The first opportunity will happen Friday, which could set the stage for an explosive NHL Winter Classic to start 2015.

"Kane and Toews, with their skills, I like when they have the puck and what they do with it is incredible," Ovechkin said. "It's always fun to watch them play but it's hard to play against them. It's going to be interesting to see what we can do against those two guys especially. As frustrating as it might be, our line will want to play against them. It's going to be a challenge."

It also will be a challenge for the Blackhawks in trying to contain Ovechkin. Chicago also hasn't scored a goal on home ice in seven straight periods.

"We're looking to get the two points [Friday]," Kane said. "We're not looking to enjoy the game, just kind of bring it to them. We obviously want to get back on track here at home. The past couple we've been kind of struggling, so we'll see if we can come out hot and continue what happened the other night in Montreal."

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