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3 stars of the game: Caps complete two-game sweep of Columbus

3 stars of the game: Caps complete two-game sweep of Columbus

The Caps traded blows with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the early going, but two goals in the second period allowed the Caps to take control en route to a 4-2 victory on Friday.

John Carlson drew first blood just over five minutes in, but Columbus responded less than 90 seconds later after a weird bounce off the boards bounced to the front of Braden Holtby and left him helpless against Pierre-Luc Dubois. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with 1.4 seconds left in the first, but the Blue Jackets responded again just 27 seconds into the second period.

The game turned later in the second when Jay Beagle restored Washington's lead and Lars Eller extended it less than two minutes later. Columbus would not recover from that two-goal deficit.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov: Kuznetsov recorded an early assist as he used some fancy footwork to free himself from Dean Kukan and then fired a backhanded pass to John Carlson who was waiting at the backdoor for the goal.

Kuznetsov then tallied a goal of his own as he beat the buzzer with just 1.4 seconds left in the first period. With time winding down, Kuznetsov came out of the penalty box and made a beeline for the net. A centering pass managed to trickle through the traffic and Kuznetsov fired a one-timer on the open net for the late goal.

He also a drew a penalty early in the second period. Kuznetsov now has recorded at least a point in six-straight games and has 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in his last 12 games.

2. Lars Eller: Eller scored the prettiest goal of the night as he rifled one past Sergei Bobrovsky on the rush. The Blue Jackets tried to strike while shorthanded, but the result was three penalty killers getting caught deep in the Caps' zone. T.J. Oshie launched the counter rush and passed up to Eller in the neutral zone. Eller carried it in on what was a late-developing two-on-one, looked off Bobrovsky with a long look at Oshie, then called his own number and fired it past the handcuffed netminder.

The goal put Washington up by two in what had been a very close game up to that point. Eller would also add an assist on the night on Kuznetsov's goal.

3. Matt Niskanen: Braden Holtby had a strong game for the Caps, but needed help late in the second period with the Caps trying to kill off a late Tom Wilson penalty. A wild flurry broke out in front of the net that left Holtby sprawling high in the crease. When the puck made its way to Nick Foligno, he had an open net to shoot at with Holtby desperately diving to try to stop the puck. Luckily, Niskanen was there as he slid into the crease and kicked out the leg like a veteran netminder to keep the Caps up by 2. 

A late goal at the end of the period to pull Columbus within one would have been a big momentum swing and perhaps the turning point of the game. Instead, the Blue Jackets were kept off the board the rest of the night. In addition to his second period save, Niskanen also recorded an assist.

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Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Where: United Center, Chicago, Ill.

When: 8:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blackhawks will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Blackhawks game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

The Capitals (33-17-7) take on the Blackhawks (24-26-8) Saturday, February 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET in Chicago.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Blackhawks game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 7:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 8:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 11:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 12:30 a.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

7:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
8:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blackhawks
11:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
12:30 a.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Blackhawks game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Alex Chiasson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Jakub Vrana, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS GAME?

The Capitals-Blackhawks game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-BLACKHAWKS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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NHL Awards tracker: How Malkin is helping Ovechkin's case for the Hart

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: How Malkin is helping Ovechkin's case for the Hart

A week by week look at where the race for the major individual NHL awards stands and which Caps could be in contention.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been red-hot as of late and so has Evgeni Malkin. In his last nine games, Malkin has tallied a whopping 11 goals and 17 points. His current run has some people talking about him contending for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player.

But if you want to talk about Malkin for the Hart, you have to talk about Alex Ovechkin as well.

Malkin has 66 points this season, Ovechkin has 65. Even with his impressive goal run of late, Malkin still trails Ovechkin in the goal-scoring race 34-32. What's more, Ovechkin's Capitals still hold a three-point lead over Pittsburgh with two games in hand in the Metropolitan Division.

Granted all of this could change by next week. Perhaps Malkin will pass Ovechkin in goals or the Penguins will pass the Caps in the standings which will change the conversation. Until then, however, there's no way to push Malkin's Hart candidacy without thinking about Ovechkin. What he is doing at the age of 32 with a Capitals team in which no one really knew what to expect is more impressive than what the 31-year-old Malkin is doing with players like Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is third among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With two rookies on the blue line and an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Braden Holtby

In contention for: Vezina

Holtby is on pace to be a 40-win goalie for the fourth consecutive season. He would be the first goalie in NHL history to accomplish that feat.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

If Malkin is a Hart candidate, so is Ovechkin who has done more with less in Washington this season.

Barry Trotz

In contention for: Jack Adams

The Caps still hold a three-point lead in the Metropolitan Division despite having two rookies on the blue line, dealing with more injuries than they have seen in years and down offensive years for some of its top players. Trotz deserves a lot of credit for that.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!