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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Capitals tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Capitals tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Washington Capitals tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

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Five Things to Watch:

1. A pair of winning streaks on the line.

In what could be an early preview of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks and Capitals are putting their winning streaks on the line when they clash for the final time in the regular season. Both teams have had multiple winning streaks of at least four games this year, with the Blackhawks hitting winning streaks of 7, 5 and now 4 and counting. The Capitals, who have had winning streaks of 5, 6 and now 7 and counting, own a plus-16 goal differential over their last seven games. It should be an entertaining one at Verizon Center between the best in the West, and a Capitals team that could take over the No. 1 spot in the Eastern with a win and Columbus Blue Jackets loss.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Braden Holtby.

Two of the best goaltenders in the world will go head-to-head for the second time this season. Holtby, who stopped 32 of 34 shots (.941 save percentage) and earned the victory in the first meeting, is 20-8-4 with a 1.90 goals against average, .932 save percentage and is tied for the league lead with five shutouts in 33 games. Crawford, who turned aside 24 of 27 shots (.889 save percentage) in the loss on Nov. 11, owns a 16-8-3 record with a 2.35 goals against average, .925 save percentage and three shutouts in 27 games. Both of them are among the top-four in save percentage during even-strength play, with Crawford at .946 and Holtby at .944. Expect these two names to be in the Vezina Trophy conversation at season's end, an award that recognizes the league's top goaltender.

3. Artemi Panarin and Alex Ovechkin from the left circle.

Russian wingers Panarin and Ovechkin have made a living burying one-timers from the left faceoff circle, particularly on the power play. They're lethal from that spot, and are two of the most dangerous snipers in the game. If and when the Blackhawks and Capitals get a power-play opportunity, you know where to find those too. And yet, it's still so difficult for goaltenders to stop, even when you know it's coming.

4. Beware the Beagle.

In the first meeting in Chicago, Jay Beagle scored two goals in a 3-2 overtime win for the Capitals in only 9:59 of ice time, which was — and still is — the second-fewest minutes he's played in 41 games this season. He also has just six goals this year, so one-third of them came in that contest against the Blackhawks. While he's not known for being a scorer, Beagle is five points away from matching his career-high of 20 points, set in 2014-15. This is the deepest Capitals team they've had in years, and any of the four lines can contribute offensively, including Beagle.

5. Patrick Kane's climb in the scoring race.

Here comes the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner. Kane has eight points (one goal and seven assists) in his last four games, and has jumped to second in the NHL with 45 points. He trails Connor McDavid by five for the league lead. The last player to win back-to-back scoring titles was Jaromir Jagr, when he won four straight from 1998-2001. Kane is putting himself in great position to win it again.

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Despite successful stretch, Blackhawks trying to put together full 60-minute effort

Despite successful stretch, Blackhawks trying to put together full 60-minute effort

The Blackhawks have won eight of their past 10 games, and have played themselves into a wildcard race after their playoff hopes appeared to be all but dead just a month ago. But they’re not satisfied with where their game is at.

The Blackhawks have put together this solid run without playing a full 60-minute game they’re comfortable with, and have gotten off track a little bit.

On Saturday night against Columbus, the Blackhawks had a slow start, a dominant second period and relapsed in the third period. On Thursday against Vancouver, they had another slow start, a good second period and survived the third. And on Tuesday against Boston, they weren’t very good all around.

While picking up a chunk of points is crucial at this time of year, the Blackhawks are more focused on the process and the way they’re playing. And right now they don’t like where it’s trending.

“We played the way we played the last few games,” Jonathan Toews said following Saturday’s 5-2 loss. “Obviously we didn’t have the 60, the full 60 that we wanted. There’s still some good spurts in there that allowed us to stay in the game. ... Just need to get back to having that 60-minute effort.

“When we do that, all four lines get engaged and we get contributions from all over. I think we need to be a little bit more consistent, play a complete game and things will go our way.”

The encouraging part of their successful stretch is that they’ve been finding ways to win despite not playing their best. That’s an internal belief.

Now the Blackhawks actually want to start playing their best, and not just getting away with it when they don’t. There have still been some positive developments, but putting it all together has been a challenge.

“A lot of the things are still there,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “I’m not sure it’s so different. I think the results are different. We have a need to improve. ... I’m not going to get too high or too low. The result’s bad, so what? Let’s move on to the next one.

“Like I said to the players after the game, the negative is we lost two points and we missed an opportunity to close the gap in the race that we’re in. But the positive is also we were in a bad spot and turned the game. And we were right there. Let’s find a way to do it for more of the 60 minutes and we’re good enough.”

In Saturday’s case, the Blackhawks played a very good Blue Jackets team in the thick of a playoff race of their own in the Eastern Conference and that's a team that gives a lot of clubs problems with the way they possess the puck and generate scoring chances. Surviving those pushes and capitalizing when the Blackhawks have control is something they've harped ever since Colliton took over as head coach, and for the most part they've done that recently.

They just have to get back to doing it on a more consistent basis.

“Sometimes you’re going to play some teams that are coming at you with everything they got,” Toews said. “So you got to kind of expect that even if you’re playing well, there’s times you just have to manage the situation in your own end and weather the storm, as they say.

"The fact that we’re still in games, we’re giving ourselves a chance to win every single night even if we’re not playing our best hockey I think is showing how far we’ve come as a team. We know that there’s that next step that we need to take in these next 20 or so games. Points like tonight are so valuable, you can’t let them slip.”

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Four takeaways: Artemi Panarin guides Blue Jackets past Blackhawks in return to Chicago

Four takeaways: Artemi Panarin guides Blue Jackets past Blackhawks in return to Chicago

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in front of 22,196 fans — the largest crowd of the season — at the United Center on Saturday:

1. Blackhawks have no answer for Panarin-Dubois-Atkinson line

The Blue Jackets three leading scorers are Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin. A reason for that is they all play on the same line. And the Blackhawks had no answer for them.

Atkinson scored a goal, Dubois had a goal and an assist, and Panarin was named the first star of the game after scoring twice and adding a primary assist. Heck, the line nearly connected for a fifth goal but Atkinson was a smidge offside and it was overturned.

"I think we gave them their chances, whether we turned it over in the D-zone for a couple of their goals or they got a bounce going on a rush a couple times too," said Connor Murphy, who was on the ice for three of the five goals. "But they're a dangerous line and you gotta be more disciplined if you want to be better against them."

2. Struggling starts continue

The Blackhawks have been struggling out of the gates as of late. They gave up three more goals, and allowed 16 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the opening frame, according to naturalstattrick.com

Fortunately, they got one of their own when Patrick Kane found the back of the net to extend his point streak to 17 games. But the Blue Jackets — Panarin, who else? — responded 17 seconds later and then again with 46 seconds remaining in the period. The Blackhawks have now been outscored 8-3 in the first period in their past three games.

"We weren’t very good in the beginning of the game," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We were sloppy with the puck and too loose defensively, and they got some pretty good players who put the puck in the net. So we made it hard on ourselves. We looked like, for a bit, that we were going to get out of the period 1-1 and then obviously that was tough to go down two like that."

3. Sergei Bobrovsky staves off second-period push

After being outscored 3-1 in the first period, the Blackhawks completely controlled the tempo in the second period. They outshot the Blue Jackets 20-9, had 11 scoring chances at 5-on-5 to their six, and scored a goal with 33.6 seconds left to give them some momentum going into intermission.

But that's all they got, thanks to a two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie who stopped 39 of 41 shots for a save percentage of .951, with 33 of his 39 saves coming in the first two periods.

"He was good again tonight," Brent Seabrook said. "I think he's won the Vezina a couple times. Hell of a goalie."

4. Kane and Panarin share a moment

When the Blackhawks were in Columbus earlier this season, Kane and Panarin shared a funny moment at the end of warmups. Panarin waited for Kane to leave the ice before skating hard to the bench after Kane waved him on.

The bromance continued on Saturday night.

Kane and Panarin each took turns firing pucks at one another, with Panarin getting the last shot as Kane left ice. It was an enjoyable moment for Chicago fans between two former teammates who remain in touch.

"We have a pretty good relationship," Panarin said through a translator. "I kind of miss him a lot, so we decided to play around a little bit."

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