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Every point crucial for Blackhawks, Capitals

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Every point crucial for Blackhawks, Capitals

Friday, March 11, 2011
Posted: 1:02 p.m.
By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. The Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals can relate to each other quite a bit right now.

Both teams are playing some of their best hockey during this stretch run. Both are young, fast, exciting teams to watch. And both are involved in tight conference races where every point, every game is incredibly critical.

The Blackhawks have gotten points in nine of their last 10 games, with their season-long eight-game winning streak ending Tuesday night in Florida. While they spent Friday afternoon at the White House, basking in one last moment of Stanley Cup-championship celebration, their thoughts were nonetheless on Sundays formidable opponent.

We had a tough game against Tampa the other night and we expect the same thing against Washington, Jonathan Toews said. As tight as the West is its tight in the East, too. Every teams trying to secure their playoff spots. Regardless of standings, teams want to play their best hockey right now. So you look at the top guns and they are starting to play better.

The Blackhawks entered Friday fourth in the Western Conference with 81 points, one of three teams with that point total. The Capitals, meanwhile, entered Fridays tilt against Carolina riding a six-game winning streak that puts them second in the East (86 points). Like the Blackhawks, the Capitals struggled early but have reversed that trend.

They have a lot of skilled players and they didnt start off that great, kind of like we did, turning the corner as of late, Patrick Kane said. We dont want to get into a run and gun match with them. It seems the teams that do end up in trouble.

Why have both thrived lately? It doesnt hurt that right now, each teams best players are playing accordingly. Patrick Sharp has been consistent throughout this season, but several other Blackhawks have gone on noticeable scoring spurts recently. Toews has points in 10 of his last 11 games (9 goals, 9 assists) and Marian Hossa enjoyed an eight-game point streak prior to Wednesdays tilt in Tampa Bay (7 goals, 5 assists).

Alex Ovechkin, who had a sizeable goal drought earlier this season, now has points in 10 of his last 11 games (6 goals, 10 assists). The Capitals have also been tight defensively during this six-game win streak, allowing two or fewer goals in each victory.

It doesnt matter that the Blackhawks and Capitals arent jockeying for position in the same conference. Theyve both been down this playoff road before, both know what it takes to get back and are executing at a high level right now.

That wont change on Sunday. Or beyond it.

Theyve really improved on their team game, their defensive play, and that makes them even tougher to play against, Sharp said of the Capitals. Theyve been a good team for a couple seasons now. They know they feel they can win a Cup. We know its going to be a tough game.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.