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The Washington Capitals have captured three President’s Trophies (best record at the end of the season) in their nearly 46-year history, all coming within the previous decade. While the team dominated regular season play in all three, the first President’s Trophy-winning season, 2009-10, was arguably the most memorable. That season’s team was characterized by a fantastic regular season in which a high-powered offense carried the team to 54 wins. One of those wins came on the heels of adversity against the Chicago Blackhawks 10 years ago today.
Heading into the month of March, then-Head Coach Bruce Boudreau’s club was coming off a month which had seen the Capitals set a franchise-record 14-game win streak and continue to blow away the competition at the top of the Eastern Conference and the (now-defunct) Southeast Division. Heading into their contest at the United Center against the Blackhawks (a nationally-televised Sunday afternoon game on NBC), the Capitals held a record of 45-14-9, while Chicago stood with an almost equal 44-18-5 record. The game was expected to be a close one between two clubs that many projected to have potential future meeting in the Stanley Cup Final, and thus the stage was set, with veteran starter Jose Theodore in for Washington, and Antti Niemi donning the gear for Chicago.
The first period was a rather eventful one, though only one of the clubs benefited positively in this regard. Just 5:11 into the opening frame, Capitals right wing Alexander Semin was called for hooking, putting the home team on the power play. The Blackhawks’ Andrew Ladd would negate this penalty a minute and 21 seconds later, being sent off for cross-checking. ‘Hawks captain Jonathan Toews would put the hosts ahead by one on fhe subsequent 4-on-4, scoring his 21st goal of the campaign at the 7:00 mark of the first, on assists fro Niklas Hjalmarsson and Patrick Kane. The next several minutes of the period were rather uneventful until the Caps’ rough start got even worse. At the 12:16 mark of the first, Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell skated towards his defensive zone to retrieve the puck, followed closely by Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. As the two began to slow their stride, Ovechkin pushed Campbell forward, sending the blueliner crashing awkwardly into the endboards, and resulting in a stoppage in play as trainers attended to Campbell. Ovechkin was initially sent to the penalty box with a five-minute boarding major on the scoresheet. However, he was then retrieved by the officials and sent to the showers early with a game misconduct, subtracting the Capitals’ best player in an already-tough game.
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As if things couldn’t get worse for the visitors, Semin was given a goaltender interference penalty after colliding into Niemi on the extended power play, putting the home team up by two men. Toews would extend the Blackhawks’ lead to 2-0 with his 22nd of the season and second of the afternoon from Kane and Patrick Sharp. While Toews’ second tally may have been the final goal of the period, the officials’ jobs for the the first 20 minutes was not complete. As the final buzzer sounded to mark the end of the first, a scrum in the corner to the left of Theodore saw the Capitals’ Eric Belanger, and Chicago’s Adam Burish and Colin Fraser all dealt matching roughing minors, giving the Capitals their first power play to start the second frame.
The visitors would begin the second period with a chance to draw within one after a less-than stellar opening 20 minutes. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill, aided by Niemi, successfully killed a Washington man-advantage that was operating without its best weapon in Ovechkin. Unlike the opening frame, which featured eight individual penalties totaling 27 minutes, the second period was infraction-free, with the officials letting the two teams play close, contested hockey. The Caps would see their deficit grow to three, however, as forward John Madden scored his 10th of the 2009-10 season at the 6:54 mark on an assist from Duncan Keith, to put the hosts ahead by a commanding three goals. The period would end with the Caps trailing by three, and struggling to find the offensive firepower without their best offensive player.
The third period would be the bright day to the first two periods of darkness for Washington. Just 3:51 into the last 20 minutes, Chicago’s Jordan Hendry was given a double–minor for high-sticking Semin. Capitals forward Brooks Laich scored with 2:22 left on the extend man-advantage to pull the visitors within two, on assists from defenseman Mike Green and center Nicklas Backstrom. Fraser would be sent to the box on a two-minute high-sticking minor, but the Caps would fail to convert on the subsequent 5-on-3. However, they would not have to wait long to show why they were the best offensive team in the league, as Backstrom scored his 27th goal of the season at the 7:32 mark on assists from Joe Corvo and Green, to pull the Capitals within one in a game that had seemed dire just several minutes before. 13 seconds after Backstrom tallied, right wing Eric Fehr potted home his 18th of the 2009-10 season to knot the game at 3-3, on assists from center David Steckel and defenseman John Carlson. The tally left the United Center crowd silent and the Blackhawks shaking their heads. Neither team would be able to solve the other’s netminder for the remainder of regulation, and what once seemed like a slim possibility, the two clubs headed to overtime.
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The two teams started off the extra frame as one might expect after the home team saw a three-goal lead vanish within a matter of minutes. Both teams exchanged chances to start the frame. However, already with a two-point night and having stepped up in the absence of Ovechkin, it was Backstrom who would prove to be the hero for the Caps. The Blackhawks’ Troy Brouwer (a future Capital) stole the puck away from Backstrom at the Capitals’ blueline with just over two minutes left in the sudden-death period. Backstrom, not to be outdone, skated back to break up the play and retrieve the puck from the stick of Brouwer. Skating all the way into the offensive zone, he drove to the Blackhawks’ net and made a move around a defender, before putting home the game-winning goal to seal an unbelievable come-from-behind win for the eventual President’s Trophy winners. The Capitals left the United Center crowd and Blackhawks stunned as the white sweaters surrounded their top center in celebratory fashion.
The Capitals would leave the Windy City with their 46th victory of the season and a night that saw Backstrom take the reins in order to lead the Caps from a three-goal deficit. Backstrom led all skaters in scoring with three points (one goal, two assists), while Green finished with two assists on the night. Campbell would suffer a broken collarbone and ribs from the hit by Ovechkin, who would be suspended from play for two games. The Capitals would capture eight more victories during the regular season, although the predictions of a Capitals-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final proved to be only half-true, as the Blackhawks advanced to the 2010 Final, where they eventually defeated the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup. The Caps, however, would suffer a heartbreaking seven-game, first round series upset at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens.
By Michael Fleetwood