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Chicago and Washington: Rising to the top

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals 12:30 p.m. EST - Sunday, March 14, 2010 Live on NBC

It’s just a normal, regular season game between two teams that meet just once a year - but today’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals is so much more than that. It’s a game between two potential Stanley Cup finalists and two teams who have mirrored the other in a rise to tops of each conference.

We always love to make the most of the storylines each game and perhaps make them out to be a bit more than they really are. Yet today’s game is such an interesting matchup that I can’t help but look ahead at what these two teams could bring in what would be perhaps the most exciting playoff series the NHL has even known. The skill on display by each, the amount of goals scored due to goaltending ineptitude? It’d be like an all-star game, but much more physical and the stakes are just a bit higher.

From mediocrity to potential greatness.

The Blackhawks and Capitals have each risen from the ashes that lie in the dredges of each conference to become the two most exciting teams in the NHL. The San Jose Sharks lead the Western Conference, technically, but their style is so methodical - and perhaps boring -- that the Blackhawks have certainly taking the lead in scariest team in the West.

Just a few years ago both of these teams were either out of the playoffs or just lucky to get there. For the Blackhawks it was much worse; the team had just one postseason appearance in 10 seasons. Yet when a team is that bad for that long, there are some positives that come from all of the frustration: high picks in the draft.

It’s all about the draft, baby.

While Chicago’s rise has been a bit swifter than Washington’s, each team boasts a nucleus of great players taken in the draft. Sure, not every team with a number one draft pick becomes great just a few years later - but it sure doesn’t hurt when trying to rebuild. The Capitals and Blackhawks both built a team predicated on speed and skill, and they drafted players that fit into that mold.

Of course, getting Alex Ovechkin in 2004 certainly helped speed up the process for Washington but it’s still taken them a number of years of building around him to get where they are now. Plus, the combination of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could be considered an ever greater threat than the Great Ovechkin alone.

Who’s greater? Let’s find out.

Are the Capitals really as good as their record says they are? I know they score a lot of goals, but they can’t be just heads and shoulders above every other team like it seems they are on paper. And despite my constant harping on Chicago’s goaltending situation, there’s no doubt its defense is miles ahead of Washington’s.

Perhaps Washington’s bloated points lead is the result of playing in perhaps the worst division in the NHL. Well, maybe not the worst - but having just one team in the top eight in the conference doesn’t help the argument. And while we all fawn over Chicago’s exciting style and their great defense, our lamenting of the goaltending is perhaps a bit overplayed.

So who is better? Which team’s offense can overcome the other’s the most? These are the two most exciting teams in hockey to watch and they’ll be taking on one another in a one-game playoff to determine which team really has risen higher in such a short time. I know that it’s just one game but these are two teams that are at the peak of their skill level after years of re-tooling and rebuilding. They’ve been raised side by side, their styles mirroring each other and now we get to see them faceoff for the only time this season.

Hopefully it won’t be the last.

Join us for a live chat of today’s game at 11:30 a.m. EST, only on Pro Hockey Talk!