Every point crucial for Blackhawks, Capitals

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Every point crucial for Blackhawks, Capitals

Friday, March 11, 2011
Posted: 1:02 p.m.
By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

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.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.