Windy City

The Capitals’ happy traveling crew pulled into our Chicago hotel around 1 a.m. this morning. The Caps haven’t been in the Windy City in more than four years, and their stay this time will last less than 24 hours. As soon as tonight’s game with the Blackhawks is over, we’re off to the airport and Atlanta-bound. I’ll get to see my family while I’m here, but this trip is a tease. Hopefully the new NHL schedule gets us back here soon and for longer.

Determined to sample as much local flavor as possible, I wandered into one of my old haunts and listened to some live jazz in the wee hours after our arrival. It was interesting to think that I had gone from Western swing in Nashville to jazz in Chicago in just over 24 hours. Who knows what cultural delights Atlanta holds?

I feel like the Caps didn’t play their best last night in Nashville, but they’ve managed to win two straight while not playing their best hockey. (They don’t ask how, they ask how many.) Add those to the two straight they won before that while playing pretty close to their best hockey and the Caps are on the verge of their first five-game winning streak in more than seven years.

They couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.

Among the teams in the Eastern Conference who are as hot as the Capitals are right now: Carolina, Florida and the New York Rangers. The Canes are in Atlanta tonight and in Florida tomorrow, the first of three back-to-backs remaining on their schedule. Carolina also has this Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday off in preparation for the Caps’ visit to Raleigh on Tuesday.

The Thrashers haven’t helped anyone by playing spoiler, so the Caps’ eyes will be on tomorrow night’s Hurricanes/Panthers game.

Winners of seven straight to tie a franchise record, the Panthers have inserted themselves into the playoff picture. How funny would it be to see three teams from the Southeast Division sneak into the playoffs? It could happen if both Philly (4-3-3 in its last 10) and Boston (3-4-3) keep tumbling down the stretch.

Only eight points separate the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference, and three more teams are within four points of eighth. We may not know any of the first-round playoff match-ups until the season’s final weekend. It’s making for some thrilling hockey along the way, as we saw last night in Nashville.

I’d expect more of the same tonight in Chicago. The Hawks are gasping and wheezing in their bid for the playoffs, but they’ve had a great season any way you slice it. They’ve had a few days to rest up while the Caps are coming in after last night’s hard-fought win in Nashville. The Blackhawks realize that they’ll need to run the table to get it, but they’re young and they’ve got plenty of fight in them. They won’t be playing the doormat the rest of the way.

This morning’s skate at United Center was an optional one, but several players made the trek. I had to stay back at the hotel, because we’ve got a podcast to produce in about an hour. After that, some of us will dine on some Chicago-style pizza for lunch and then head out to the barn.

The Hawks are honoring the great Tony Esposito tonight, and I feel fortunate to be in the house when it happens. He was a rock between the pipes in this city for a long time. Fifteen shutouts as a rookie (tied for second-most ever in a season) and three Vezina Trophies, 423 career wins, eight 30-win seasons (fourth all-time) and enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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11 Comments on “Windy City”

  1. Marks4Java Says:

    Yeah, Vogs, I also realized this morning (based on one scenario) that the SE division could realistically send 3 teams to the dance. Pretty funny after just a couple short weeks ago, the “experts” were calling the SE the dog of the league, and would only be sending one team to the playoffs. I’d love to prove them wrong… and have one of the 3 be your nation’s Capitals!

  2. sean Says:

    Vogs, any word on Clarkie for tonight?

  3. strungout Says:

    Don Waddell for President!

  4. MD Says:

    I agree that the Caps did not play very well last night after the first period; they were lucky to get the win. Hopefully tonight they will pull themselves together and play a solid game throughout. Still miss seeing Laing play, though.

  5. notfadeaway Says:

    To say the Caps “did not play very well” in the second and third is literally true, but I wouldn’t say that they played poorly, either. The refs didn’t call a single thing on Nashville after the 12 minute mark of the FIRST period. And they had plenty of opportunities.

    How is it that neither official caught Bradley’s stick being knocked out of his hands? And how many times have you seen a Caps defender (Lepisto 2 games ago being the last one I recall) being called for interference for stepping up on a player who has just dumped the puck into our zone? Even if the contact is very negligible, if the opponent is slowed down, the Caps have gotten the whistle. I counted four plays like that versus Nashville, and twice the Cap was actually taken down. None were deemed penalties.

    Other than the last game vs Boston, the Caps have gotten the short end of the stick penalty-wise in every game since the Toronto no-power-play-until-sixteen-seconds-left game.

    I’ve always seen that as the difference between the real winners and the rest – if you’re a good enough team, you can overcome poor officiating, bad bounces, etc.

    Right now, the Cappies are doing just that.

  6. KV Says:

    Well that’s it… They gave it all they had but came up short 5-0. Looks like we have mountains to climb now. I just don’t understand why on back to back games we keep the same tired guys on the lines from the previous night yet we change our goaltender who played absolutely amazing against Nashville. You don’t see any other teams doing that. Huet can handle it. I just dont get it.

  7. Janet Says:

    That was a disappointing result. Olie did not look his best, but he did not exactly get stellar assistance from the guys in front. Lets say if Huet being a little sharper would have only let in two…any way you look at it we still would have lost to the “struggling” Blackhawks!

    Don’t you just love those coaching snippets on the NHL Network? Maybe Boudreau needs to put on a trilby hat and find some of that deep wisdom to share with his team. Joking… I have no clue what would help! They looked tired!

  8. Anthony Says:

    On the plus side, of all the games they have coming up, I’d rather them lose that one than most others.

  9. Dan, Jr. Says:

    It’s better that they lost this game against a team in the West than one of the last seven games, which are all against their own Southeast Division. Best thing to do is to just “fo’ged aboud it”.

  10. Sean from Bristow Says:

    All but last-place Tampa has games in hand on the rest of the conference save Montreal, and Florida’s big run has them in just 11th, with two SE teams among the three behind. Division leader Carolina, most games played of all in the East as of this writing, is sixth overall as far as points go, and that’s with a more-wins tie break.

    Maybe the SE isn’t dog of the league, but it’s certainly in the running for best-of-breed among the division pooches.

    That said, the future looks bright….maybe not three-teams-in-the-tourney bright (barring a slew of 3-pt games, the head-to-heads down the stretch will surely kill that chance), but bright nonetheless.

  11. dumpnchase Says:

    Clark obviously didn’t play in Chicago and he won’t play here tonight, either. Maybe the weekend off will be useful and next week will be a different story. Or not. It’s been the most frustrating part of the season, and even more so for him.

    Spot on with your comments, and we mused about several of these as they happened from the press box. The officiating around the league these days leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion, and I’ve talked to a few former players and other higher level observers than myself who believe the same thing. The problem is mainly one of consistency, as I see it. Sometimes that stick whack results in a call, sometimes it only does if the victim or the perp’s stick breaks. And sometimes one pair of refs will call picks and will call D-men for interference if they impede an onrushing forechecker, and the next night it gets let go.

    And on the worst nights there is inconsistency within the game. Anyway, it’s frustrating, but I try not to mention it much in the Postgame Notebooks or the blog, because that’s never going to help matters any.

    Bruce said he thought Huet needed a rest. Huet has played 45 and started 44 games this year, both career highs.

    Anthony, Dan and Sean,
    Absolutely right.

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