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 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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Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

USA Today

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

For 33 years, Mike Gapski has been the glue of the Blackhawks' support staff. He's the longest-tenured head athletic trainer in the NHL, landing the job in 1987 shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

It's been a dream come true for Gapski to work in his hometown all these years, and on Thursday he is set to be involved in his 2,500th regular season game with the Blackhawks.

Current and former players took the time to congratulate and give thanks to Gapski, and share what he's meant to the Blackhawks:

Kirby Dach:

"It's crazy, you have the same guys in junior, but it's a little bit different level here. These guys take care of us, it's unbelievable the job they do. It's a tremendous accomplishment for Gapper. Couldn't be happier for him. I've only known him for a little bit and he's a really nice guy and helps everybody out and is very kind and caring. And that's what you need in a trainer, somebody who's going to have your best interest at heart. It's good for our group and obviously he's been through a lot with some of the older guys in here. I'm sure it'll be a fun celebration for those guys and for our group as well."

Alex DeBrincat:

"He's great. He's always helping. You try to stay out of the training room, but it's always nice to go in there and talk with those guys. Gapper specifically is a great guy to have around, always fun and lighthearted around there. He obviously knows his stuff, he's been in the league a long time, he's seen a lot of injuries. He's pretty quick to help us out and know what we need to get better."

Steve Konroyd:

"Michael Gapski, congratulations on 2,500 games. You're one of the first guys I ever met when I got traded to the Chicago Blackhawks way back in 1988. You're knowledgeable, you're professional and above all else you're a great guy. I was very proud to have you as a trainer and I think the Blackhawks are very lucky to have you over all these years."

Jamal Mayers:

"Just want to say congratulations to Mike Gapski on 2,500 games. Wow. That's a lot of games, Gapper, congratulations. I know all the players that have ever had you are thankful to have you around. You're a professional, you do things the right way, you really care about the players, it comes across every single day. And thanks for keeping me together when I was 37 and 38 at the end of my career."

Eddie Olczyk:

"Hey Frank, congratulations — 2,500 games standing behind the bench for our Chicago Blackhawks. A tremendous honor, congratulations to you and your family. One thing I love about you, Frank, is you're the same guy today as you were back in the late '90s when we were working together when I was still a player. So congratulations and here's to another 2,500 more."

Patrick Sharp:

"Gapper, Gappity, Frank, Mike Gapski, thank you so much for all the years that you've put in to the Chicago Blackhawks training staff. Countless players have come through the organization, nobody's got a bad thing to say about you. 2,500 games, that's no joke. How about we do another 2,500? Congratulations on all your success. I came to Chicago in 2005 as a young man, spent my whole adult life with having you taking care of me at the rink, so thank you for everything over the years. All the best to you and your family, Frank."

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Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Kris Versteeg recently retired and now the Blackhawks are honoring him with the team’s “One More Shift.”

Versteeg began the season with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, but retired in November after playing six games for the IceHogs this season.

The 33-year-old wrote an emotional letter to the Blackhawks organization after requesting his contract with Rockford be terminated.

Versteeg will be honored before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He will join the team on the ice for the national anthem and highlights of his career will be featured in the United Center.

Versteeg won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, in 2010 and 2015. He is part of the Blackhawks celebrating the 10-year anniversary of that 2010 Cup win. Brian Campbell was given the same treatment on Nov. 21.

The first 10,000 fans into the UC can get replicas of the 2010 ring.

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