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Once a fan favorite in Washington, Nate Schmidt will play a leading role for Vegas in Stanley Cup Final

Once a fan favorite in Washington, Nate Schmidt will play a leading role for Vegas in Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS—Nate Schmidt has faced his former teammates before. Twice, in fact, with the Golden Knights downing the Caps in each of the teams’ regular season meetings.

This week, though, it’s going to be different.

This week, the stakes will be significantly higher as Schmidt lines up opposite the Caps, the organization that signed him as a free agent out of Minnesota, the one that patiently developed him, the club that liked where his game was headed…but not quite enough to protect him in the expansion draft.

“It was a little bit bittersweet,” Schmidt said of being left exposed. “You thought that you had done enough to put yourself in position to still be in Washington. At the same time, it was sad to leave a good group but [I’m] happy to have had an opportunity [here]. We could all start over [as Golden Knights]. The perception of your game could be remodeled and redone. That’s the coolest part about what we’ve been able to do in Vegas.”

It's safe to say that things worked out well for both Schmidt and the team he was forced to depart. 

Schmidt is the Golden Knights’ ice time leader, skating almost 25 minutes per game, or 2-1/2 minutes more than any other Golden Knight. The 26-year-old also ranks second among Vegas defensemen in points with six (two goals, four assists) in 15 games.

Alex Ovechkin and the Caps, meanwhile, are in the championship round for the first time since 1998. Overcoming the loss of Schmidt wasn’t instantaneous. Actually, Washington’s group of blue liners didn’t find their collective game until GM Brian MacLellan acquired Michal Kempny near the trade deadline.

Schmidt, a fan favorite in Washington who was also among the most popular players in the dressing room, said he’s exchanged text messages with several of his former teammates since the Caps eliminated the Lightning. But he was also quick to point out that it’ll be “all business” once the series begins Monday night at T-Mobile Arena.     

“When you face them in the regular season, you get the emotions out,” Schmidt said of getting used to playing the Caps. “I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. I hope that they’re ready for me to be me on the ice. It should be a great series.”  

Schmidt also joked that he’ll have his head on a swivel when Tom Wilson steps onto the ice.

In addition to attempting to avoid oncoming forecheckers, Schmidt also figures to see his share of Ovechkin. Asked how he plans to play the Caps' captain, Schmidt said he hopes all of his years practicing against No. 8 will serve him well in this series.

It’s going to be weird for Schmidt and his former teammates alike. And, at times, things could get a bit awkward. All that said, Schmidt says he can’t wait for the Final to begin, in part, because he knows so well what it means to both teams—and cities—to be here.

“I love it,” he said with his trademark smile. “It’s going to be great. At the end of the day, you want to so say it’s another game. But it means a lot to this city for us to be here. Who could have scripted this at the expansion draft last year? I don’t think anybody could have. It’s pretty special for both teams. For the proposed window to be back open again in Washington and for us to be here as an expansion [team].”

“This,” he added, “is what you play for.”

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Penguins at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Penguins at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Capitals take their five-game winning streak into Wednesday night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With 43 points, the Caps currently have a four-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Metropolitian Division. This season, the Caps are 1-0-1 against the Pens. Winning their last game, 2-1, back on Nov. 8.

Alex Ovechkin enters riding a career-high 14 game point streak. Ovi has also scored a goal in six straight games. He currently leads the NHL with 29 goals on the season.

Pittsburgh, who lost to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, are tied for third in the Metropolitian Division with 36 points.

Here is everything you need to know about Wednesday's game.

Penguins at Capitals How to Watch

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals, Game 33 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C. 
When: 8:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals host the Sabres on the new MyTeams by NBC Sports App.
Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM 

Penguins at Capitals TV Schedule

7:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)
7:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)
8:00 PM: Penguins at Caps (NBC Sports Network)
10:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)
11:00 PM: Caps Overtime Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)

Penguins at Capitals Injury Report

Capitals: Defenseman Christian Djoos (thigh) OUT

Penguins: RW Patric Hornqvist (upper body) OUT

Penguins at Capitals Players to Watch

Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals (29G, 14A): Named the NHL's first star of the week, Ovi continues to roll. He has scored seven goals over the last three games. His career-best scoring streak is at 14 games.

Nicklas Backstrom, C, Capitals (10G, 30A): Like Ovechkin, Backstrom has been on a roll over the last three games. He has six assists over that stretch included four assists against the Detroit.

Evgeni Malkin, C, Penguins (11G, 25A): Malkin snapped a six-game goalless streak with a first period tally against the Ducks on Monday. 

Penguins at Capitals Series History

Number of all-time Meetings: 291 (68 postseason)
All-Time Series Record: Penguins lead 149-126-16
Regular Season Record: Penguins lead 109-98-16
Playoff Record: Penguins lead 40-28
Last Meeting: Caps win 2-1 (Nov. 7, 2018)
Last 10: Caps lead 6-4

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Even after last year’s Stanley Cup run, there’s still ‘something extra’ in the Capitals-Penguins rivalry

Even after last year’s Stanley Cup run, there’s still ‘something extra’ in the Capitals-Penguins rivalry

The Capitals finally changed their playoff narrative last season with the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship and they went through their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to win it. Washington’s run last season changed the nature of the Caps-Penguins rivalry, but if you think it made it any less meaningful, you are very much mistaken.

“No, I don't think they process it as a normal game,” Caps head coach Todd Reirden said of his player’s preparation for Wednesday’s game against the Penguins. “I think there's always a little something extra there.”

For many years, Pittsburgh was the major obstacle that stood in the way of Washington’s Stanley Cup dreams. Prior to last season, Alex Ovechkin had never defeated the Penguins in the playoffs despite facing them three times.

It is also not out of the realm of possibility to suggest the Caps could have hoisted another Cup before last season if not for Sidney Crosby and company, as Pittsburgh beat Washington in the playoffs in all five of the team’s Cup runs.

Things changed in 2018, however, as the Caps finally did the unthinkable. For just the second time in 11 postseason meetings, Washington defeated Pittsburgh.

“Being able to finally get through them last year was a huge part of us being able to win the Cup in the end,” Reirden said. “That's one of those watermarks in terms of your team growing and finally getting past something that's been in your way and that's a little bit of the same relief we talk about with winning a Stanley Cup, the relief you feel. It's also a little bit of a relief when we beat them.”

With that obstacle no longer hanging over their heads, it changes the narrative surrounding the rivalry this season. But it doesn't make it any less intense.

This time, the shoe is on the other foot. This time, Washington is the defending champ, and Pittsburgh is the team that’s chasing. The Caps are in first place in the Metropolitan Division, and Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down as the league’s most dominant scorer.

This year, the Caps have set the standard for the Penguins to try to match.

“It's taken on a different look to it now because we're the defending champs now so we know how that feels to be in their shoes and how much you're trying to gauge where your team's at,” Reirden said.

Wednesday’s game no doubt will feel very much like a rivalry in the stands. Amidst the sea of red, there will be pockets of black and gold clad fans with their terrible towels. There will be dueling “Let’s go Penguins” and “Let’s go Caps” chants, and plenty of boos for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

But that intensity won’t just be limited to the people off the ice. The players will feel it too.

“It’s 32 games into the year so I wouldn't expect it to be a playoff game,” Reirden said, “But I always think there's a little something extra in those games.”

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