Chicago and Washington: Rising to the top

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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!

Former NHLer LaCouture pleads not guilty to assaulting woman

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Dan LaCouture #28 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 19, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins won 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) A former NHL player has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted a woman in Massachusetts over the weekend.

The Cape Cod Times reports Daniel LaCouture appeared Tuesday in Barnstable District Court on charges of assault and battery and vandalizing property.

Police responded just after 6 p.m. Saturday to a house in Centerville, where they say the 39-year-old LaCouture hid underneath a vehicle in the home’s driveway before confronting the victim and striking her in the collarbone.

LaCouture is due back in court July 15.

A phone number listed for LaCouture in online public records was disconnected.

LaCouture made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 1999. The forward had 20 goals and 25 assists in 337 career games with six NHL teams.

He is one of dozens of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the NHL over concussion-related injuries.

A better start is key for Sharks in Game 2

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It’s easy to suggest that perhaps the San Jose Sharks got caught up with some nerves during the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After all, this is a franchise that, after well-documented playoff shortfalls, is playing in the championship series for the first time. The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, well they’ve been here before — seven years ago.

Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns conceded that his team may have been overwhelmed at first, outshot 15-4 in the opening 20 minutes, before eventually getting back on track in the middle of the game.

The result was a two-goal deficit, as the Penguins jumped into the lead. San Jose fought back, but ultimately lost on a late Nick Bonino goal.

The Sharks, of course, have stressed getting out to a better start, and that what happened Monday can be a learning experience, as they look to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“We were excited to play. We felt we were ready. Then at the start, we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We try to take that lesson and learn from it,” Joe Pavelski told reporters on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can have a better start. Obviously it’s exciting to be here. I don’t know if it’s your first time or your fifth time, I’m sure it’s exciting every time. So we’ll learn from that game and hopefully have a better start.”

 

Bears face Monsters for the AHL’s Calder Cup

MILWAUKEE - JUNE 15:  Chris Bourque #17 of the Hershey Bears kisses the Calder Cup after the Hershey Bears defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in game six of the AHL Calder Cup Finals on June 15, 2006 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bears defeated the Admirals 5-1 in game six to win the AHL Calder Cup. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Hershey Bears and Lake Erie Monsters will play for the 2016 Calder Cup, as the American Hockey League’s championship series begins Wednesday.

The Bears, who start with home ice advantage, enter the series having won the Calder Cup 11 times — the most of any franchise in the league’s history. They also enter the final having dispatched the Toronto Marlies — Canada’s remaining hope for an AHL championship, right…? — in the third round.

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Meanwhile, the Monsters have been on a torrid run in the playoffs, losing only twice in 13 games so far. They’ve earned the sweep in two of three series, making quick work of the Rockford IceHogs and Ontario Reign.

Bears forward Carter Camper, a journeyman in the minors with three games of NHL experience with Boston in 2011-12, is second in AHL playoff scoring with 15 points in 17 games.

For the Monsters, Blue Jackets prospect Lukas Sedlak has been on a roll, offensively, and now has 13 points in 13 post-season games this year.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Sedlak was regarded as a smart two-way forward, but his offensive production was minimal, almost non-existent. Players like that tend to drift away after a few seasons, pushed aside by the next wave of young talent and high draft picks.

“I’d say right around Christmas I started wondering what was going to happen,” Sedlak said. “I was asking my agent what Columbus thought of me, and I was prepared for everything — maybe even going back to Europe.

“I knew my contract was up after the season. I thought I was playing pretty well … but you just don’t know.”

 

Stars sign Dowling, Ranford to one-year deals

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The Dallas Stars made a pair of depth moves on Tuesday, announcing the signings of forwards Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford to one-year contracts.

Both players have put up good numbers in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.

This past season, the 24-year-old Ranford scored 19 goals and 59 points in 76 games — all career highs for him in the minors. He played once for Dallas last season, but didn’t register a point.

Initially undrafted and a Stars’ free agent signing from two years ago, the 25-year-old Dowling was also productive with 11 goals and 46 points in 52 games.