Blackhawks 'a good measuring stick' for first-place Capitals


Blackhawks 'a good measuring stick' for first-place Capitals

To be the best, you've got to beat the best.

The Capitals fell short of that task in Sunday's 3-2 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, but they know they're right there.

"It was a huge test," Alex Ovechkin said after the game. "But how we played in the first period, I don't think any team can hang with us."

The Capitals dominated possession in the opening frame, holding a 16-6 shot advantage over the Blackhawks. Marcus Johansson, on the power play, put the Capitals on the board first, which has been a vital part of the team's success this season, owning the league's best winning percentage (28-1-0 entering Sunday) when scoring the game's first goal.

But the Blackhawks had something to say about that, shifting the momentum just 31 seconds later when Hart Trophy favorite Patrick Kane fooled Vezina Trophy favorite Braden Holtby with a highlight-reel goal, thanks to a heads-up pass by Trevor van Riemsdyk.

"When we got the lead, we sort of had them on their heels and gave it right back," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "To me, that was pretty key for them coming out of the first period even. For us, we put a lot of effort into that first period and you want to get a better result."

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Jonathan Toews potted his 22nd goal of the year on the man advantage late in the second period to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame, putting the Capitals in a position that doesn't faze them — they entered Sunday's contest with a 6-7-2 record when trailing after two periods, which is also the league's best winning percentage in that category.

Unfortunately for Washington, the same applied to the Blackhawks, who improved their stellar record to 63-0-2 when leading after two periods, a run that dates back to the start of the 2014-15 season, including playoffs.

"They're really good in the third period," Trotz said. "They've got their key, core people who have been in real pressure moments and they have really good D, especially their top-four. They're hard to score on. It's why they're such a good hockey team. But I thought we matched up well in a lot of areas, so that's encouraging for us."

Dennis Rasmussen registered, what turned out to be, the game-winning goal — the first game-winner of his career — at the 12:47 mark of the third period, stretching the Blackhawks' lead to 3-1.

T.J. Oshie, who knows the Blackhawks all too well from his days in St. Louis, committed an interference penalty shortly after, perhaps channeling his frustration the wrong way.

[MORE: Blackhawks reclaim Central Division with win over Capitals]

But the Capitals quickly steered the ship in the right direction, capitalizing on a 5-on-3 power play — which was actually a 6-on-3 advantage with an extra attacker on for Holtby — with under four minutes to play and nearly cashed in during the final minute with a late surge.

"We had to hold our breath a little bit there getting that last kill, and it was effective for us," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It turned out it could have been the differential getting to overtime."

Chicago and Washington met twice last season, both of which resulted in 3-2 victories for the Capitals. They were good then.

But the Blackhawks certainly notice they're getting even better.

"They’re deeper," Quenneville said when asked to compare this year's Capitals team to last year. "They have scoring on most of their lines. Some speed; they’re quicker than I thought. They have a good back end and a great goalie. That depth is showing through and their quickness and skill are very dangerous."

Despite the loss, the Capitals are only six points away from cracking 100 this season with still 20 games remaining.

[RELATED: Five Things - New Blackhawks making immediate impact]

The Capitals have run away with the Eastern Conference, building a large enough cushion that they can afford to take some nights off. It sounds familiar, but this team isn't like the previous ones that win the Presidents Trophy only to get bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

They're structured, well-coached and resilient, like they showed again on Sunday during a valuable matchup against the Blackhawks.

"You see why their top players are top players," Trotz said. "I thought today had a little bit of a playoff feel, especially in the building, there was a lot of real good energy. It's a good experience for us. ... They're always a good measuring stick."

It was a treat to watch for 22,218 fans at the United Center, the largest crowd of the season.

It could be an even bigger treat if these two teams haven't seen the last of each other, with a potential Stanley Cup Final showdown a possibility in June.

If that happens, don't expect the Capitals to back down from that challenge.

"They have a solid group of guys out there that knows how to win," Ovechkin said. "If we're going to meet them in the future, we're going to know how to play and we're going to know exactly what we have to do."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis welcome Nick Gismondi into the fold before discussing Friday's win over Columbus. Robin Lehner played stellar and is forming quite a tandem in net with Corey Crawford (4:10), while the DeBrincat/Kane connection is alive and well (6:10), and the Blackhawks' struggles at even strength continued (12:10). Then, the guys react to the breaking news of Kirby Dach's recall from Rockford and discuss where he might fit into this lineup (15:10).

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast


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Oct. 19, 2007: An important Blackhawks milestone

Oct. 19, 2007: An important Blackhawks milestone

Oct. 19, 2007 — The Blackhawks beat the Avalanche 5-3 at the United Center. Pulling up the webpage shows an ordinary early-season NHL game, but it’s quite significant for a few reasons — and not only because of Jonathan Toews’ incredible highlight-reel goal at 06:59 of the first period to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead (please take a minute to find that highlight if you can. It’s a great goal).

Patrick Sharp added a goal at 08:29, and at 14:36, Patrick Kane scored a goal of his own. It was the first goal of Kane’s NHL career AND the first time that both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane scored a goal in the same game.

About five years ago, I started keeping track of when they both scored a goal in the same game. It became a thing that I’d post on Twitter whenever it happened. And people started asking what their record was when it happened, so I’d have that too. It was, and still is, one of my favorite things to follow when the Blackhawks take the ice.

As of this writing, Toews and Kane have scored a goal in the same game 96 times (102 including postseason). And the Blackhawks are 84-7-5 when they do so (with an additional 6-0 in playoffs), which is to be expected when your best players combine to do good things.

I was curious, so I enlisted the help of the Elias Sports Bureau to take things a bit further.

Believe it or not, Toews & Kane do NOT have the lead among current teammates in instances with a goal in the same game. Here’s that list (regular season only):

101 — Nicklas Backstrom & Alex Ovechkin (Capitals)

96  Jonathan Toews & Patrick Kane (Blackhawks)

94 — Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin (Penguins)

64 — Patrick Marleau & Joe Thornton (Sharks)

63 — Dustin Brown & Anze Kopitar (Kings)

What is probably NOT as surprising is that they don’t have the Blackhawks record in instances with a goal in the same game. Because the Blackhawks have two all-time greats who played a long time together. Here’s that list (regular season only):

139 — Bobby Hull & Stan Mikita

96 — Jonathan Toews & Patrick Kane

88 — Steve Larmer & Denis Savard

77 — Bobby Hull & Kenny Wharram

75 — Dennis Hull & Stan Mikita

Toews and Kane may not top the list of current teammates, but the duo from the Nation’s Capitol have but one Stanley Cup together whereas the Chicago tandem has three (though Crosby and Malkin are right there with them). As for trailing Hull & Mikita… well, there’s no shame in that. Plus there’s time to add to that total. There’s a good chance they break triple digits this season, and that will be fun to track. Where will they end up when they hang up the skates? That remains to be seen, as they both seemingly have plenty of good hockey left to be played.

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