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NBC Game of the Week: Blackhawks vs. Capitals

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

Join us for a live chat during today’s game!

I’ve had this game marked down on the calendar all season long. A showdown between two teams that hope to be facing each other in just a few short months to play for the Stanley Cup. The questions for both teams, however, is if they have the ability to overcome the weaknesses they share.

The Washington Capitals taking on the Chicago Blackhawks feels like it would a game on the verge of insanity. The speed of both teams, the unbelievable skill and talent level of the forwards and the defensemen, combined with questionable goaltending on both sides will combine for an offensive explosion the likes of which the NHL has never seen before.

The Capitals are the league’s highest scoring team and it’s scary how much better they are at scoring than any other team. At 3.88 goals per game their firepower is able to overcome middle of the road goaltending and a defensive corps that is, let’s face it, not all that great defensively. Washington has flaws, and we’ve seen those flaws be exposed in the past week in a loss against the Dallas Stars. It’s not an absolutely overwhelming concern, since the Capitals have an incredible .739 winning percentage, even with some defense and goaltending that is just ‘okay’.

On the other side of the faceoff circle is a team that is struggling to find any answer for its woes in net, and they need that answer soon. Both Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi have struggled the past few weeks and it’s raised serious doubts on whether the Chicago Blackhawks have the ability to make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Their offense, while potent, is not as balanced or explosive as Washington -- which is hard to believe -- and the goaltending is downright astoundingly bad at times.

The Blackhawks are a team that allows an absurdly low amount of shots, and while the goals-against average is indeed great we’ve seen the past week what happens when these goaltenders are putting under pressure. The Washington Capitals have the ability to absolutely pepper the net (witness their 52 shots on goal on Monday night) and I shudder to think what would happen if the Chicago defense allows such a rubber fest. It could be 10-2 before we’ve all had a chance to get another drink.

That’s not to say that it’s hopeless for the Blackhawks and I don’t want Chicago fans to think that’s what I’m saying. Yet even the most diehard Blackhawks fan has to be scared stiff of the possibility of taking on Alex Ovechkin and company with the goaltending they have in place now.

The visual that comes to mind is one of valiant knights that have taken their spots outside the castle, fending off wave after wave of attackers, doing their best to protect the vulnerable princess that cowers inside.

Can Patrick Kane and his Chicago brethren not only protect the weakened castle but also mount a considerable counterattack? The defense on the other side is vulnerable as well; there’s going to be opportunities to take advantage and exploit those weaknesses.

Sunday’s game should be a mighty tilt between NHL powerhouses that hopefully is a preview of what could be the most exciting Stanley Cup finals since...well, last year. The big challenge for both teams is going to be just getting there.

NBC Star Cam - Head on over to NBC Sports during the game to follow your favorite stars through out the game.

Sunday on Pro Hockey Talk:
Is this year the best chance for Alex Ovechkin to win a Stanley Cup?
How have the Capitals and Blackhawks become league powers in just a few years?
We’ll break down all of the news from this week’s GM meetings.
Injury updates for both teams.
News and opinion from around NBC Sports.
A live in-game chat with Brandon Worley and James O’Brien.