If the NBC Game of the Week between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals really ends up being a preview of the Stanley Cup finals, then hockey fans are in for an absolute treat. The two teams played a fast-paced, feisty game that ended with an electric overtime frenzy capped by a Mike Knuble game-winner.
Capitals fans must be delighted to see the team catching fire at the right time, as they are on an eight-game winning streak with the playoffs about a month away.
For a moment it seemed like the Blackhawks might have been able to steal a game in which they were generally outplayed, as Jonathan Toews scored a brilliant power-play goal with only 39 seconds left in the third period. Duncan Keith shot wide on purpose, forcing the puck to carom off the boards and onto Toews’ stick for the tying goal.
The Capitals didn’t let that goal take the wind out of their sails, though, as they came out charging in the overtime period. Although there was plenty of end-to-end action (I only counted one whistle for offsides during a frantic four minutes of four-on-four hockey), Washington out-shot Chicago 6-0 in overtime.
Knuble showed excellent patience in moving the puck from his backhand to forehand and then raised it just high enough to put it past Corey Crawford’s glove for the winning goal.
Brooks Laich gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead in the third after Eric Fehr set him up with a gorgeous feed from behind the Hawks’ net. Boyd Gordon and Jason Arnott scored Washington’s other goals while Tomas Kopecky and Nick Leddy joined Toews as the Blackhawks’ goal scorers.
Braden Holtby had some shaky moments in this game (particularly with the Kopecky goal in the second period), but he still earned his fourth straight win after stopping 27 out of 30 shots. Crawford was pretty strong at times for the Hawks, keeping them in the game by making 38 out of 42 saves.
While their transition to a more defensive-minded approach has been noticeable during most of the 2010-11 season, this game provided one of Washington’s best all-around efforts since they were dangerous on offense and responsible on defense. They also played pretty well on special teams, earning a goal on the power play and penalty kill.
The Caps improved their Southeast Division lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning to five points while they moved within one point of the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the East. (It’s important at this point in the season to note that the Lightning hold a game in hand while the Flyers have two more games remaining than Washington, though.)
Chicago probably has mixed feelings about this game. The negative side is that the Blackhawks are now on a three-game losing streak after reeling off eight straight wins. That being said, two of those losses included “charity points” so their current road trip probably won’t bury their chances. Toews & Co. remain in fifth place in the West, at least as of this writing.
It’s starting to look like the “old” Capitals are back, only this time they might be a whole lot tougher on defense, making the Eastern Conference playoffs that much more intriguing.