Washington Capitals v Chicago Blackhawks

NHL on NBCSN: Caps fight Hawks team they could have been

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Washington Capitals host the Chicago Blackhawks at the Verizon Center at 7:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Capitals might want to watch the Blackhawks closely tonight because they represent what they had the potential to be, and could still become.

Both are teams that struck gold with a pair of forwards selected high in drafts in close proximity and both franchises quickly looked dangerous as a result. But while the Blackhawks were able to add key players like Marian Hossa on the free agent market, develop an enviable defense, and build a team that went far beyond Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the same can’t be said for Washington.

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The result is that Chicago can use tonight’s contest as a tuneup game in preparation for their bid to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in five years. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and the Capitals’ streak of disappointing playoff runs will come to an end courtesy of a lackluster season.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the difference between these two teams can be illustrated by the fact that Toews and Kane are both out tonight, and yet Chicago still has a great chance of beating Washington. It helps that Chicago has six players that have scored at least 19 goals while the Capitals have three. Beyond the big two in Washington, no one has reached the 50-point mark. Three players have accomplished that feat in Chicago, not including Kane and Toews.

“Before the Capitals season started, I was quoted as saying I didn’t see any weakness in our lineup,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. “While I knew some aspects of our team were stronger than others, I didn’t see anything that I believed was a specific weakness. Obviously I was wrong.”

No team is devoid of weaknesses, but his original statement in October is in some respects more suited to the Capitals’ opponents tonight than themselves.

While Washington conducts it’s “comprehensive review,” the Blackhawks will fight to earn their fifth straight victory. It won’t change their playoff seeding, but it will help them build momentum ahead of their first round series against St. Louis or Colorado.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.

After advancing to Cup final, DeBoer had Sharks fans coming up to him with ‘tears in their eyes’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.

Now he knows.

“First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”

The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.

More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.

It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”

Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.

“The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”

Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

Kopitar will play for Slovenia in Olympic qualifiers

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Anze Kopitar #11 of Slovenia skates against Russia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.

RTV Slovenia has the story here.

The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.

The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.

Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.

Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win

Zubrus in, Nieto likely out for Sharks in Stanley Cup Final opener

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Dainius Zubrus #9 of the San Jose Sharks skates against Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Matt Nieto is healthy, and ready to go.

But it doesn’t look like he’ll go tonight.

The San Jose Sharks are unlikely to make any lineup changes for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh — at Monday’s optional morning skate, Nieto stayed out late with the extras while the guy he’d (presumably) replace in the lineup, Dainius Zubrus, told NHL.com he was in.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wouldn’t reveal any lineup decisions during his morning media availability, instead talking up both Nieto (for his speed) and Zubrus (for his “heavy” game), adding he liked the versatility the two give the club on a night-by-night basis.

Nieto suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of the Nashville series, and missed all of the Western Conference Final.

Prior to getting hurt, he had three points in 11 games — this after a regular season in which he scored eight goals and 17 points in 67 games.