Blackhawks

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

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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."

[SHOP: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

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."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

10 years with 'Coach Q' anything but ordinary

10 years with 'Coach Q' anything but ordinary

Over the last 10 years, the words “ordinary” and "OK" have taken on a new meaning to Blackhawks players and fans alike. 

That’s “Coach Q” speak. 

A language where “ordinary” means awful and “just OK” means you were a non-factor. The good news is the last 10 seasons under Joel Quenneville have been anything but ordinary at the United Center. 

On Oct. 16th, 2008, the Blackhawks let go of fan-favorite Denis Savard after a 1-2-1 start to the season and named Quenneville as head coach in his place. Quenneville coached the Colorado Avalanche the previous season, but after another disappointing exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the two mutually parted ways. He had originally planned to stay away from the bench for at least a season, but the Blackhawks triumvirate of Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough and then-GM Dale Tallon brought Quenneville on as a scout and then handed him the keys to the car shortly after.

“Dale’s obligation is to put together a winning team,” said McDonough at Quenneville’s introductory press conference. “At this point, Joel is the coach of that team.”

It was an emotional day at the Blackhawks offices. Savard – a Blackhawks legend on the ice and a coach the players held in high regard – was let go just as things started to turn upwards for the organization. The end of the 2007-2008 season saw the Blackhawks once again miss out on the playoffs, but the fans began to flock to the United Center once more, and the hype train around the young team built around Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane was gaining steam.

“Moving forward, if we want to be a championship-caliber organization, we have to make tough decisions,” said Tallon. “This was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.” 

Savard was 65-66-16 in parts of three seasons as head coach of the Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Quenneville had compiled eight 95+ point seasons behind the bench for the Blues and Avalanche in his 11 years as a head coach.

“We felt the experience and the track record of Joel would be a balance that we needed with a young, inexperienced team,” said Tallon. "Joel brings us a wealth of experience and a winning track record that will have an immediate and lasting impact."

The gamble paid off for the Blackhawks in a major way. Once Quenneville took over, the team got to the sought-after next level. 

They finished the 08-09 season with 104 points, third-most in the NHL’s Western Conference, had a franchise-record setting 9-game win streak in the month of December and returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season. The “young and inexperienced” Blackhawks took the league by storm, dropping the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs in six games before taking down the rival Canucks in the next round.

They ultimately lost out to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals, but the bar was now set for the organization. From then on, the Blackhawks were Stanley Cup contenders. 

Quenneville currently ranks 2nd in franchise history with 449 wins, trailing only Billy Reay’s 516. 

But most importantly, Quenneville’s 76 playoff wins rank at the top in the organization’s long and storied history, and those three Stanley Cups that he’s raised over his head were anything but “ordinary.”