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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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How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

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How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

The 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship is coming to a close this Memorial Day weekend.

After two weeks, the sixteen team field has been narrowed down to four with the world championship now on the line in Slovakia. 

The two group winners, Canada, the top-ranked team in the world and 26-time IIHF Champions, and Russia, who rolled through the group stage with a 7-0 record and a +29 goal differential, are the favorites. Russia overwhelmingly has played like the best team in Slovakia, outscoring its opponents 40-10 behind Nikita Kucherov's 16 points in eight games.

The Russian/ Soviet Union team is the only team with more titles than the Canadians with 27 (five as Russia, 22 as the Soviet Union). 

Canada will face off against the Czech Republic, whose only loss came against the Russians in group play, with a spot to the Finals on the line. Russia will play Finland for the last spot in the gold medal match.

Three of the four teams remaining (Russia, Canda, and the Czech Republic) are the winningest teams in the IIHF's history. The four semifinalists have combined to win 67 of the 82 IIHF World Championships.

When is the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will take place at 8:15 p.m. local time (2:15 p.m. ET) on Sunday, May 26. The bronze medal match will precede the gold medal match at 3:45 p.m. local time (9:15 a.m. ET). 

2019 IIHF World Championship Schedule:

There are only four matches left in the 2019 IIHF World Championship. The two semifinals, the bronze medal match, and the gold medal match.

SEMIFINALS:
No. 3 Russia vs. No. 5 Finland, 9:15 a.m. ET, May 25
No. 1 Canada vs. No. 6 Czech Republic, 1:15 p.m. ET, May 25

BRONZE MEDAL MATCH:
Loser of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Loser of Semifinal No. 2, 9:45 a.m. ET, May 26

GOLD MEDAL MATCH:
Winner of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Winner of Semifinal No. 2, 2:15 p.m. ET, May 26

How to watch or stream the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

All games at the IIHF World Championships will be broadcast on NHL Network.

Who is playing in the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will be played between the winner of Russia (8-0-0)/ Finland (7-0-1) and Canada (7-1-0)/ Czech Republic (7-0-1).

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF Championship Finals will be announced on the morning of May 26. 

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The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

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USA Today Sports images

The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

When the St. Louis Blues woke up on Jan. 3, they were in dead last in the NHL. A 15-18-4 record gave them 34 points, less than teams like the Los Angeles Kings and the Ottawa Senators who would go on to finish the season as the two worst teams. Yes, St. Louis had played in only 37 games to that point, the fewest in the league, but finding a way to climb back into the playoff hunt seemed daunting and unlikely.

Now the Blues are the Western Conference champions and stand just four wins away from the Stanley Cup.

The Blues have been one of the best stories of the NHL season climbing from last place to the Stanley Cup Final. When looking back at St. Louis’ season, there are several moments one can point to as key moments in the turnaround. Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as head coach on Nov. 20 and goalie Jordan Binnington got his first start with the Blues on Jan. 7 and never gave back the crease.

But the turnaround really started on Jan. 3. On that morning, the Blues were in last place. That would be the last day they would find themselves there.

And it all started with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals.

On Jan. 3, St. Louis and Washington looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. While the Blues were in last place, the Caps were rolling with a 24-11-3 record, first in the Metropolitan Division. Washington came into St. Louis on a five-game road winning streak. As if that wasn’t enough, the Blues were also without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

And yet, what looked like an easy win for the Caps turned into anything but. Robert Thomas scored a deflection just four minutes into the game. Washington managed to take a 2-1 lead early in the second, but St. Louis rattled off four straight goals for the 5-2 win. With Washington down only 3-2 heading into the third period, the Blues but on a possession clinic outshooting Washington 14-2 in the final frame.

"We stayed aggressive," Alex Pietrangelo told reporters. "When we're playing in the O zone, the best way to play defense is to play in their end. We kept the puck, we moved the puck, we worked. Forwards were great tonight, protecting the center of the ice. It kind of took their playmakers out of the game."

The Caps’ first shot came 13 minutes into the third. By then, the Blues already had 12 shots and two goals.

Over the course of an 82-game season, teams will lose games against teams they shouldn’t. This felt different. Watching this game, you did not come away thinking the Caps played down to an inferior team. The Blues dominated that game and the Caps knew it.

“They were skating, competing harder, won races, more determined than we were,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “If we’re being honest about it, we didn’t have a very good game, and they played a pretty darn good game.”
More importantly, St. Louis realized it as well. They knew following the game that this was a win and a performance they could build on.

“I think we out-chanced them, so we're building here at even strength,” Pietrangelo said. “It's just a matter of keeping it at even strength and scoring goals. Tonight the goals weren't necessarily pretty but we created a lot of chances."
That night proved to be the first night of the turnaround. From Jan. 3 on, no team in the NHL earned more points than St. Louis’ 65, not even the Tampa Bay Lightning who won the Presidents’ Trophy with an incredible 128 points.

St. Louis was not expected to be bad this season. The team made a number of offseason moves to bolster the roster and many thought they could be real contenders, but they sure did not play like it through the first half of the season. It took a big win over the defending Stanley Cup champs to show them and everyone else just how good they really were. From that point on, they never looked back.

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