Friday, March 11, 2011
Posted: 1:02 p.m.
By Tracey Myers
WASHINGTON, D.C. The Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals can relate to each other quite a bit right now.
Both teams are playing some of their best hockey during this stretch run. Both are young, fast, exciting teams to watch. And both are involved in tight conference races where every point, every game is incredibly critical.
The Blackhawks have gotten points in nine of their last 10 games, with their season-long eight-game winning streak ending Tuesday night in Florida. While they spent Friday afternoon at the White House, basking in one last moment of Stanley Cup-championship celebration, their thoughts were nonetheless on Sundays formidable opponent.
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 its tight in the East, too. Every teams 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.
The Blackhawks entered Friday fourth in the Western Conference with 81 points, one of three teams with that point total. The Capitals, meanwhile, entered Fridays tilt against Carolina riding a six-game winning streak that puts them second in the East (86 points). Like the Blackhawks, the Capitals struggled early but have reversed that trend.
They have a lot of skilled players and they didnt start off that great, kind of like we did, turning the corner as of late, Patrick Kane said. We dont want to get into a run and gun match with them. It seems the teams that do end up in trouble.
Why have both thrived lately? It doesnt hurt that right now, each teams best players are playing accordingly. Patrick Sharp has been consistent throughout this season, but several other Blackhawks have gone on noticeable scoring spurts recently. Toews has points in 10 of his last 11 games (9 goals, 9 assists) and Marian Hossa enjoyed an eight-game point streak prior to Wednesdays tilt in Tampa Bay (7 goals, 5 assists).
Alex Ovechkin, who had a sizeable goal drought earlier this season, now has points in 10 of his last 11 games (6 goals, 10 assists). The Capitals have also been tight defensively during this six-game win streak, allowing two or fewer goals in each victory.
It doesnt matter that the Blackhawks and Capitals arent jockeying for position in the same conference. Theyve both been down this playoff road before, both know what it takes to get back and are executing at a high level right now.
That wont change on Sunday. Or beyond it.
Theyve really improved on their team game, their defensive play, and that makes them even tougher to play against, Sharp said of the Capitals. Theyve been a good team for a couple seasons now. They know they feel they can win a Cup. We know its going to be a tough game.
Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.