Saturday I wrote about how the Blackhawks have remained successful despite a lot of change. Capitals players and coach Bruce Boudreau credited Chicago for keeping its core of stars intact – a group that includes Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith, among others.
“They didn’t lose their best players,” Boudreau pointed out, even though Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg are gone.
So what about the players they still have? Toews has 68 points, Sharp 63 and Kane 60. Ho hum. And the Blackhawks have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 heading into this afternoon’s matchup with the Caps at Verizon Center.
The place should be rocking (whether President Obama makes an improbable appearance or not), and Boudreau would love to see the same kind of game the teams played last year, which featured a big Caps comeback and overtime win. The Caps coach said it was the “best game” of the 2009-10 season for him.
“I hope that same kind of game gets played [Sunday], so people that are watching it will just say, this is hockey, what a sport, this is great,” he said.
Last year, the March 14 game between the Caps and Blackhawks was billed as a potential Cup Finals preview – “It was for one team,” Boudreau said. Both teams are cruising into this one but not so fast…
“I don’t wanna put the cart before the horse,” Boudreau said. “There’s two good teams going at it, that’s for sure.”
Said Alex Ovechkin: “Last year was kind of a great game to watch hockey. There was fights, a great comeback and I think we know that they have an unbelievable team and we have to prove right now that we’re a better team than them.”
From a purely hockey perspective, that strong core the Blackhawks still have is the focus for the Caps. So how do you stop them? Maybe, to borrow an old “SportsCenter” cliché, you can only hope to contain them.
“They’re gonna get chances, but you gotta limit their chances to maybe outside the perimeter a little bit,” Caps forward Matt Bradley said. “You just can’t give them much room, because if you give them much room they’re gonna make plays.”
It helps the Caps that their penalty kill has been going well lately. But at the end of the day, that and more rests on the young shoulders of Braden Holtby, who’s making his third consecutive start. He’s stopped 83 of 84 shots in this call-up.
“I came up with a better mindset these last couple times and got a little fortunate with some breaks that the games have been fairly low,” Holtby said. “I think they could’ve easily been two or three goals against, but at the same time I’ve felt more confident in my game.”