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Capitals-Blackhawks Preview

AP - Sports

Until their most recent game, the Washington Capitals were making strides toward a fifth consecutive playoff berth.

To rebound with a win Sunday night, the Capitals will have to get past a Chicago Blackhawks team that's had considerable success lately despite the absence of captain Jonathan Toews.

Washington (36-29-6) had won four in a row and a season-high three straight on the road before a 3-2 defeat to Winnipeg on Friday. The Capitals gave up the go-ahead goal with 10:39 remaining while failing to earn at least one point for the first time in six games.

"This one stings," former Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer said. "We really needed the points in the standings. We were trying to get some separation."

Washington heads into Chicago with a slim lead for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, and will face a team that's 6-1-1 in its last eight.

After trailing in each of its previous four games, the Blackhawks (39-25-8) scored 10 seconds into a 4-1 victory at Dallas on Friday and had a two-goal lead after the first 1:42. Patrick Sharp finished with two goals and Corey Crawford made 21 saves while nearly earning the team's first shutout of the season.

"Everyone was dialed in. The last couple games, we've been getting down early," Crawford said. "It was a solid win. We can feed off that."

Chicago is 7-4-1 during the 12-game absence from Toews, who is out with what's believed to be a concussion. The Blackhawks are also 3-0-1 in their last four home games without their leading goal scorer.

They've haven't experienced the same success over the past 11 visits from Washington, going 3-6-1 with one tie. Chicago lost 4-3 in overtime in the most recent meeting at the United Center on March 14, 2010, during its Stanley Cup-winning season.

The Blackhawks suffered another OT defeat by an identical score in Washington last March 13, their third consecutive defeat in the series.

Mike Knuble scored the winner in that contest while Nicklas Backstrom finished the most recent meeting in Chicago with two goals and one assist. Backstrom, however, is expected to miss this matchup because of ongoing problems from a concussion suffered Jan. 3.

Like Toews, the Capitals center has resumed skating but has not been cleared for contact.

Having stopped 39 of the past 40 shots he's faced, Crawford seems likely to take on Washington's other scorers Sunday. Backup Ray Emery has been dealing with an illness recently but is expected to serve as the backup after sitting out Friday.

Crawford made his only start against the Capitals in last season's trip to Washington, stopping a season-high 38 shots.

Washington, which will be playing the first of back-to-back games, doesn't have a clear-cut choice between Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth for this one. Vokoun is 2-3-0 with a 3.15 goals-against average in his last five against Chicago, while Neuvirth has never faced the Blackhawks.

Caps center Brooks Laich has four goals in the last six games and has scored in each of his last three matchups with Chicago.

The Blackhawks' Marian Hossa is three points shy of 900 for his career, while Sharp has four goals and six assists over his last seven games.

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