West meets East: Chicago Blackhawks will be Capitals’ Winter Classic opponents

The Washington Capitals will host the Chicago Blackhawks for the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, an individual with knowledge of the situation said Friday, though the location of the annual outdoor game has yet to be announced.

The first intra-conference Winter Classic will be Washington’s second appearance in the event; the Caps defeated the Penguins in Pittsburgh in 2011. Chicago, which reached the Western Conference finals this past season before losing in seven games to eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles, has played in two outdoor games, including hosting the 2009 event at Wrigley Field.

The matchup also marks a departure from the standard rivalries the Winter Classic has featured. The Capitals and Blackhawks have split eight meetings over the past four seasons, including a 6-4 Chicago win on Oct. 1, 2013, and a 4-0 Washington shutout at Verizon Center on April 11.

Although a site has not been named, Nationals Park is the front-runner, according to individuals with knowledge of the situation. Though the announcement delay has hinged on simply finalizing discussions and signing paperwork, all signs still point to the Navy Yard ballpark.

FedEx Field in Landover seems logistically impossible as an alternative, given that the Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 28. Baltimore — either Camden Yards or M&T Bank Stadium — would have made sense as a neutral site for a matchup between Washington and the Philadelphia Flyers, but with the Blackhawks as the opponent, it seems more likely that the game will take place in Washington.

The Nationals directed questions about the venue to the NHL, whose spokesmen could not be reached for comment The Capitals declined to comment, saying that stadium negotiations have traditionally taken place between the venue and the NHL. Nats Park is owned by the Washington Convention and Sports Authority and leased by the baseball team, though Nats owner Mark Lerner is a minority partner in Capitals owner Ted Leonsis’s company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment.

A delay in naming a venue is not uncommon. Though the scheduled but later canceled 2013 Winter Classic (Detroit vs. Toronto at Michigan Stadium) was announced in early February 2012, the NHL did not formally release the matchups and location for the 2012 Winter Classic until Sept. 26, 2011. Both the 2009 and 2010 Winter Classics were announced by the league in mid-July of the previous years.

The NHL is expected to release its regular season schedule Sunday, with home openers released on Saturday. The NHL is expected to have, per reports, only one other outdoor game, which will take place in the San Francisco Bay area.

Welcoming the Blackhawks will also offer President Obama, a former Chicago resident, an opportunity to attend his first NHL game while in office.

“I wonder if @BarackObama will come watch his two home town teams?” Capitals winger Eric Fehr tweeted.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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