John Erskine and Snooki

John and Kari Erskine pose with Snooki (via @johnerskine04′s Twitter feed).

Saturday night, Richmond International Raceway hosted NASCAR’s 26th race of the year, the final contest before the 2011 Chase field or “playoff” is set. Naturally with such a big race on hand, there needed to be some A-List talent to wave the green flag. So NASCAR trudged out the Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi to be the Honorary Starter of the Wonderful Pistachios 400. Really? You can’t make this stuff up.

However, Snooki, the daughter of a New York City firefighter, decided to pass the duties on to Frank Siller, founder of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity committed to “doing good” in memory of Frank’s brother Stephen, a member of the FDNY killed on 9/11.

The Capitals’ John Erskine, both a huge NASCAR and Jersey Shore fan, made the two-hour drive down to Richmond with his beautiful wife Kari to root on five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, whom he met a few months ago in Pocono. After getting a tour of the raceway and the chance to pose with the Wonderful Pistachios trophy, Ersk went on a mission to find the Jersey Shore star. And succeed he did. Above, you can check out the photo.

Incredibly, Snooki now becomes the third Jersey Shore reality-star that a Caps player has either met or been photographed with. Let’s do the recap thing.

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Capitals celebrate Mike Knuble's OTGWG

GROUP HUG! (Photo credit: Rob Carr)

Jason Chimera brings the intensity in a second period fight with Brent Seabrook. (Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin)

Jason Chimera brings the intensity in a second period fight with Brent Seabrook. (Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin)

In dramatic fashion, in front of a national television audience  and a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Cardiac Caps were once again back at work as Washington pushed their winning streak to eight. Less than one month ago it would have been hard to imagine any of this happening. Nevertheless, the Caps are now just a single point out of first-place in the Eastern Conference.

“Guys have a bit of a swagger right now, back to the way things were,” said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Blackhawks opened the scoring less than five minutes into the contest. After receiving a feed from Marian Hossa, Nick Leddy put the puck past Holtby. Just under two and a half minutes later, however, Boyd Gordon would knot the game at one. After picking up an errant pass by the ‘Hawks power play, Gordon raced down the wing before firing a slapper past Chicago netminder Corey Crawford for the shortie. Late in the first frame, after John Erskine drew a holding penalty, Washington headed to their recently anemic power play. This time, however, it would be different. New Cap Jason Arnott fired a bullet from the point that found twine, giving Washington their first lead of the game.

Three minutes into the second period, Chicago would tie the game at two when Holtby gave Tomas Kopecky a little too much daylight. Kopecky seized the opportunity, banking the puck off ‘keeper’s back from behind the goal-line. In the waining moments of the stanza, things got physical when Chicago’s Brent Seabrook delivered a hard check behind the net to Jason Chimera. Everyone favorite fire-footed, stone-handed forward took exception to Seabrook, challenging him to a duel. Seabrook appeared to come out with the win in the bout but it was Chimera got the take-down.

“Chimmer, I thought, he was a factor. He did not get a star or anything, but I thought he was a real big factor in the game,” said Chimera’s teammate Brooks Laich. “He was the one that sort of instigated that little rhubarb there. I think he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off. So I think he had a very good night.”

Six and half in to the final frame, the aforementioned Laich put home Matt Hendricks’ (or more accurately Eric Fehr’s) feed from the corner to put the Caps on top. Washington appeared to be in control until Marcus Johansson was called for hooking at 18:10. “I thought it was a pretty chintzy call,” said Boudreau. On the ensuing Blackhawks power play, Jonathan Toews converted on a mad scrum in front of the net, as the puck bounced in off Holtby’s skate.

In overtime, the Capitals missed numerous chances until, finally, Mike Knuble — with a little help from Johansson — came to the rescue. Ballgame over. Caps top ‘Hawks, 4-3.

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