Chara looking forward to Operation Shutdown Ovechkin

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Chara looking forward to Operation Shutdown Ovechkin

WILMINGTON, Mass. Zdeno Chara enjoys the challenge of shutting down Alex Ovechkin. Hell say it loudly and proudly for everybody to hear as opening night for their playoff series awaits on Thursday.

It's something that motivates me, said Chara. It's something that . . . I enjoy competing against the best players. Obviously they have a few great players on their team. Sometimes the matchups are hard to get, especially on the road. But when you do get them, you want to make the best of them. Overall, I love to compete, I love to work hard against whoever I'm playing against.

That work hard mentality can swerve a lot closer to obsession when it comes time for the Slovakian strong man to neutralize his Russian counterpart.

There is little doubt the 6-foot-9 captain will get the call again when the bell rings for the first round playoff series against the Capitals, but theres a unique challenge opening up with Washington. The Caps have divided up their elite offensive talent with Ovechkin on one line with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, and placed playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom on a second line with enigmatic skilled winger Alex Semin and hard-nosed Jason Chimera.

That means the shutdown pairing of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will draw duty on one of those two lines most likely Ovechkin given his power game and explosiveness but the expected second D pairing of Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk will have their hands full as well with the second forward line.

One thing you see: Julien breaking up the Chara-Seidenberg pairing and the Patrice BergeronBrad MarchandTyler Seguin line, so their shutdown D pairing and shutdown forwards draw different assignments on the top two Washington forward lines.

The possibilities are endless, theyre part of the ongoing chess match that will play out on the ice over the two weeks between Washington and Boston.

Thats the good thing about having the last change at home. You can control the matchups to a certain extent. We say all of the time, though, if you want to hard-match then you might be taking away part of our game, said Julien. Thats what we have to decide as we go along here. But at least with last change on the home face-offs if they try to change on the fly.

With the last change advantage at TD Garden Claude Julien is ready to play mix-and-match line chess with Washington coach Dale Hunter, and knows that will be a considerable factor in the outcome of the series.

I think its pretty hard to deny that Chara is going to play against their best players. But at the same time I really feel there is a lot more than Ovechkin on that team. Its about more than one player, said Claude Julien. Backstrom is back. Semin can score. Theyve got some decent players. Brooks Laich has been a good player for them as well. Their back end is very good at moving the puck up the ice and moving on the attack.

There is a lot of strength on that hockey club and their team is playing very well. So were playing a team with a lot of confidence.

Ovechkin, of course, has won his share of battles against Chara over the years as his six goals and 16 points in 15 games over the last four seasons would attest. But the Norris Trophy candidate has also always enjoyed the challenge of shutting down the best offensive players in the NHL.

Ovechkin is still one of the best when he really wants to be, and that would stand to be the case in the playoffs. Perhaps the Bruins have a window into what awaits them as theyve noted Ovechkin striking for 11 goals in the final 13 games of the season, and greatly assisting Washington into the postseason with his sizzling offensive run.

Theres no doubting the Caps star is banking on the same kind of dominant stance when the playoffs begin against the Bruins, but most intimidating defensive force in the game might have a thing or two to say about that in the end.

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

The Patriots and Raiders and neck-and-neck as the race for home field in the AFC turns for home. And, with four games left, the Raiders are ahead by a nose. The tiebreakers between the 10-2 teams in play currently? Common games followed by strength of victory. 

The first tiebreaker – conference record – is a deadlock as both teams are 7-1 in the AFC (the Brady-less Patriots lost to the Bills back in Week 4.

After conference record, it's the teams record in common games. 

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So far in common games with the Texans and Bills, the Patriots have gone 2-1 and the Raiders have gone 2-0. The Patriots play the Ravens next week. Oakland beat them. The Patriots play Denver after that. Oakland beat them as well but have one more game against Denver in Week 17.

So if it comes down to common games the Patriots really need to win these next two games.

Or hope the Raiders stub their toe a time or two in their final four games which are at the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos with a home game against Indy in Week 16.

As for strength of victory, that too goes to Oakland at this point. The Raiders’ strength of victory is at .471. The Patriots’ is at .370.

But the tiebreaker that kicks in after conference record and before strength of victory – common games – is very much unresolved.The remaining picture as it stands right now? The Ravens are the No. 3 seed with a 7-5 record that leads the AFC North. The Texans’ 6-6 record is good enough to lead the AFC South. The 9-3 Chiefs are the top Wild Card. The 8-4 Broncos are the No. 6 seed.

The Patriots play the Ravens and Broncos over the next two weeks. Currently, the Dolphins (7-5) and Steelers (7-5) are on the outside looking in.

The Titans (6-6) will have a chance to get even with the Texans in Week 17 in head-to-head matchups but they host Denver and play at Kansas City the next two weeks so they have obstacles to clear before they get there.