Game of the Week Preview: Blackhawks, Capitals must remain dominant

If the 2010-11 season experienced by both the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals teaches us anything, it’s that a typical NHL campaign features some brilliant peaks and some bleak valleys.

The Capitals experienced two wildly different streaks this season, as they lost eight consecutive games in time for the taping of HBO’s 24/7 series but now find themselves on a seven-game winning streak thanks in part to Alex Ovechkin’s resurgence. Many people were rolling out their “Told ya so” columns when things looked dark for the defending champion Blackhawks, but those people are noticeably quiet after Jonathan Toews helped them produce a 9-2-1 run in their last 12 games.

Yet as Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago points out, neither team can smell the roses during their recent parades of success. Sure, Chicago is currently holding a playoff spot in the West, but only one point separates the Blackhawks from ninth-place Nashville. While Washington’s playoff status is fairly safe, its Southeast Division lead is tenuous at best, being the Capitals are only three points ahead of Tampa Bay.

Myers asked Toews about his expectations for Sunday’s contest.

“We had a tough game against Tampa the other night and we expect the same thing against Washington,” Jonathan Toews said. “As tight as the West is it’s tight in the East, too. Every team’s trying to secure their playoff spots. Regardless of standings, teams want to play their best hockey right now. So you look at the top guns and they are starting to play better.”

So while the Hawks reminisce about their 2009-10 success with the most powerful man in the world, they cannot look at their visit to D.C. as a glorified photo op. A simple glance at the standings shows that both teams need every point they can get.

(Those points will be that much tougher to come by for Chicago with Dave Bolland banged up, as the underrated center is day-to-day after taking that Pavel Kubina elbow.)

Penguins’ Guentzel makes ‘kick save’ to stop Capitals

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It doesn’t get much better than a player making the type of save you’d only expect from a goalie. OK, how about this: when it happens amid the high stakes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel had already been distinguishing himself with a red-hot scoring start to the postseason, but he made a big difference in a way that won’t show up in the box score (aside from maybe as a blocked shot) for Game 1 against the Washington Capitals.

In one of the few golden opportunities in a notably tight first period, Guentzel made a “kick save” to keep it 0-0. He also managed to avoid giving the Capitals a penalty shot in the process, so this was quite the effort from the impressive rookie.

Video will be added soon. Here’s the moment in GIF form first:

Lundqvist snubs Sens with 21 saves in first (Video)

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You know how goalies claim they prefer to be busy rather than risking rust in seldom seeing shots? If that’s true, Henrik Lundqvist was really, really happy in the first period.

The Ottawa Senators generated chance after chance in a busy opening frame of Game 1, generating a 21-12 shot differential against the New York Rangers. The game remains 0-0 in large part because Lundqvist has carried over his momentum from the Montreal Canadiens series so far.

As you can see from the video above, Lundqvist made some absolutely fantastic saves, especially in somehow stopping Mark Stone.

In a duller game, 21 shots on goal could a team’s entire output.

That’s impressive stuff from what appears to be a “vintage” Lundqvist. We’ll see how much more the Rangers lean on him as this one goes along.

Oh, and here’s a GIF of the best stop of the bunch, because seriously.

Kunitz is in for Penguins vs. Capitals in Game 1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins get a familiar face back in the lineup, as Chris Kunitz is good to go against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

The 37-year-old has been sidelined since March 31, ending his regular season with just an assist in his final nine games. His last goal came on Feb. 16.

So, in other words … he’s not quite as big of a deal for this series as he had been in the past.

He’ll draw into a solid fourth line with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl, while Carter Rowney will be a healthy scratch. Check out the Penguins’ line combos heading into Thursday’s showdown:

Foligno, Getzlaf, Giordano vie for Messier Leadership Award

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award: Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) and Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames).

In case you’re curious about the process, the league explains how it works (and how the buck stops with Messier):

Mark Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel as well as NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates for the award. However, the selection of the three finalists and ultimate winner is Messier’s alone. 

So, yes, it might come down to steeliness/60.

Anyway, the most fun part of this award is that Getzlaf and Giordano just engaged in a first-round series, with Getzlaf’s hit on Giordano (see above) being one of the standout moments.

Perhaps Giordano will at least get the best of Getzlaf in this one?