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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.

Five takeaways from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

We're going to be a little honest. The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs could've been better.

It didn't help that the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks swept their series', wiping out those West Coast games for the last week and a half. There were also only five overtime games, four of which came in the Washington-Columbus series, compared to 18 in the first round last season.

But having said all that, we might be in for one of the most entertaining second rounds in recent memory.

Before we get to that, here are five takeaways from Round 1:

1. Artemi Panarin is a playoff performer.

We're not going to rehash whether the Blackhawks made a mistake in trading away one of the best offensive players in the league.

Instead, let's talk about how the Bread Man proved to skeptics that he's a superstar in his own right, yes, even without Patrick Kane.

It was fair to wonder whether Panarin's production would be on par with what it was in his first two seasons in Chicago, because it was also fair to do the same for Kane, who put up his best point totals in each of those two seasons as well playing alongside Panarin — 106 points in 2015-16 and 89 in 2016-17, respectively.

But the idea that Kane made Panarin was always a lazy narrative, because they both benefited from each other. In fact, Panarin set a Blue Jackets record by registering a 82 points in a single season without Kane, proving he could thrive in a role where he was "The Guy."

Panarin finished the regular season with five straight multi-point games, and opened the playoffs with seven points (two goals, five assists) in three games, including the overtime winner in Game 1. He went pointless in the final three games, but he admitted after the Blue Jackets were eliminated that a knee injury sustained early in Game 5 played a role in his effectiveness — or lack thereof — over the final two contests. That's not an excuse, just a fact.

He now has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 17 postseason games for his career, which is nearly a point-per-game average. Panarin is a big-game player, and anybody that thinks otherwise is reading too much into the Blackhawks' first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators last season, where every single member struggled.

2. Do the Penguins have what it takes to three-peat?

The Penguins became the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Now they can become the first to make it three in a row, and there's a realistic chance of that happening after they became the sixth team in NHL history to win nine straight playoff series following their first-round win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

There's one major caveat, as there is to almost anything: Can they stay healthy?

Evgeni Malkin will miss Game 1 against the Washington Capitals with an apparent leg injury, and Carl Hagelin has already been ruled out for the first two games.

That's a huge factor in all this, because the Penguins still have three more rounds to go if they want to make history and would need to do it with their second-best player clearly not at 100 percent and probably won't be for the rest of the playoffs.

If there's a year the Capitals can finally slay the dragon having lost nine of their past 10 playoff series against Pittsburgh, it's this one. They've got home-ice advantage, they're healthy, playing well in all phases and don't have the expectations that have seemed to weigh on their minds in the past.

3. Vegas, baby.

Has there been a more fun bandwagon to be a part of than the Golden Knights' during their inaugural season? They racked up 109 points, won the Pacific Division and swept the Los Angeles Kings when many perceived that to be a coin flip.

Marc-Andre Fleury was ridiculous, recording a 0.65 goals against average, .977 save percentage and two shutouts in four games against the Kings. Vegas as a team allowed only three goals and scored seven, with each of those seven goals coming from a different player.

It's been an incredible story.

The next stop will be against the San Jose Sharks, which certainly won't be a cakewalk. Expect that to be an evenly-matched series between two teams that aren't satisfied with how far they've come already, especially the Golden Knights. They want to make history by winning a Stanley Cup in Year 1 of existence.

Would it surprise anyone at this point?

4. Boston-Toronto lives up to the hype.

The script was set up perfectly.

Five years after the Maple Leafs overcame a 3-1 series deficit but collapsed in Game 7 at TD Garden by squandering a three-goal lead in the third period, the opportunity to rewrite history was right in front of them.

The Maple Leafs again fell behind 3-1, rallied back to win two straight, had three separate one-goal leads in Game 7 at TD Garden but couldn't seal the deal. It also could've served as a healing moment for the city of Toronto, which was hit with tragedy when a van drove onto a sidewalk and killed 10 people and injured 15 others, the same way Boston came together following the marathon bombings in 2013.

Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, destiny did not prevail and they're still seeking a first-round series win in the salary cap era.

It was as riveting a Game 7 as you'll see, and the hockey gods rewarded fans after a dull first round. But...

5. Get ready for Round 2.

Nashville vs. Winnipeg. Vegas vs. San Jose. Tampa Bay vs. Boston. Washington vs. Pittsburgh.

Close your eyes and pick a series and that could be the most entertaining of the second round. Each of them have the potential to be great.

It's the first time in NHL history the final eight teams standings compiled at least 100 points in the regular season, meaning it truly is the best of the best that's left. So enjoy it.

And good luck with your predictions, because going 0-for-4 looks more likely than 4-for-4.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Attempting to rebuild Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Attempting to rebuild Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish joins Pat Boyle to answer your mailbag questions. Among the questions they tackle: What was your favorite moment from the Blackhawks’ past season and were you surprised that Joel Quenneville didn’t make any changes to his coaching staff? 

They also discuss re-signing Vinnie Hinostroza, backup goalie options for Corey Crawford and who do they like in the Jets-Predators second-round series?

Plus, Burish looks at the Penguins roster and sees some similarities to the Blackhawks’ situation and attempts to rebuild a Stanley Cup contender.

Listen to the full podcast right here: