NBC Game of the Week: Blackhawks vs. Capitals

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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 –
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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.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

blackhawks
Harry How/Getty Images
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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

tampa bay lightning
Scott Audette/Getty Images
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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
Julian Avram/Getty Images
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.