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Oshie is out, Smith-Pelly is in for Game 5: What that means for the Caps’ offense

Oshie is out, Smith-Pelly is in for Game 5: What that means for the Caps’ offense

ARLINGTON – The Capitals forward lines will look very different when they take the ice for Game 5 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. T.J. Oshie will be out after suffering an upper-body injury late in Game 4 while Devante Smith-Pelly, who was called up from the Hershey Bears on Friday, will be in.

“I do expect him to go right into the lineup,” head coach Todd Reirden said.

Smith-Pelly was one of the team’s playoff heroes in its 2018 Stanley Cup run, scoring seven goals in 24 games. After a rocky regular season, he was sent down to Hershey prior to the NHL trade deadline where he has scored six goals and eight assists in 20 games.

“To get his game back to where it was last year around this time, it was important for him to play a lot of minutes,” Reirden said. “He went down to Hershey, and he played a lot of minutes, helped them have success, helped them get into the playoffs. When an injury and a chance for him to step into our lineup was available, then we were going to recall him. That's been our plan all along. Now he'll get that opportunity."

Whether the Caps are getting playoff Smith-Pelly or the player who struggled this season remains to be seen, but his pending return seems to have provided a boost to the locker room.

“He was with us all the way last year, so that’s huge,” Chandler Stephenson said. “He knows playoff hockey.”

“He can step up in the important moments,” Jakub Vrana said. “He showed it last year and we’re happy to have him back.”

Getting that boost from Smith-Pelly is important for the team after losing one of its leaders and locker room personalities in Oshie.

Reirden said Oshie was still meeting with doctors and could not give a definitive timeline yet. He did say, however, that Oshie was out indefinitely and would not be playing Saturday.

"He's certainly, I feel, one of the top leaders in the entire league,” Reirden said. “Not just with how he plays, who he is as a human being on the ice, off the ice, role model. You can go on a lot of different ways with the type of person that T.J. Oshie is and not having him around your players is not great. That loss will be felt.”

The Hurricanes certainly will not be crying over the loss of Oshie, however, and it falls now on Reirden to adjust. That will be no easy task.

The Caps have been held to one goal in the past two games, have gotten virtually no secondary scoring in the first four games of the series and now will be without the team’s second-leading goal scorer from the regular season.

“It has been top heavy,” Reirden said of the offense. “Just even 5-on-5 scoring is not where we need it to be and particularly, obviously, the last two games. We've got to find ways to generate offense. It's always tougher to create in the playoffs. You know, teams don't give up quite as much on the rush. They're a lot more committed to not giving up odd-man rushes to the opposition. We've got to find a way to get in on the forecheck more and impose a little bit more of a physical style of play on their defense and that comes with our puck management and putting pucks in behind them. Then when we have space, we've got to use it.”

Friday’s practice was an optional skate meaning we did not get to see any lines or how Reirden may be planning to shift the offense. With Oshie out, this could give Reirden an opportunity to reunite the Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson line that was so effective in last year’s postseason. Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin, meanwhile, seem like the most likely candidates to move into a top-six role in Oshie’s absence.

Washington struggled immensely trying to replace a top-six right wing early in the season when Tom Wilson missed 16 games due to a suspension. Reirden tried to plug in Connolly, Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin, among others. Nothing seemed to work until Wilson returned.

The addition of Hagelin at the trade deadline means Washington is dealing with more offensive depth now than when Wilson was out. Plus, past experiences both from this season’s multiple injuries and last postseason give the team confidence that it can overcome any loss to the roster.

“We've been in situations where we've lost one of our leaders,” Vrana said. “We have a pretty good group of players here and anybody can fill-in and bring their A-games to the game."

“I think just a handful of games where we actually had our actual opening day roster that we wanted to have in front of us,” Reirden said. “It's something we've gone through a lot this year. We've done a good job, our team has of stepping up in those situations and taking advantage of the opportunity.”

Smith-Pelly will likely slot into the bottom-six upon his return to the lineup. Reirden acknowledged it had been a while since Smith-Pelly had played in the NHL and said he would ease him back in. But he is still expecting him to make a big impact, regardless of what line he plays on.

Reirden hopes that Smith-Pelly’s playing style can help improve the team in some of the areas it has struggled in the past two games.

"I don't think we've been as physical on our forecheck as we could have hoped after four games of evaluating,” Reirden said. “Some of it is that we're not getting in enough to forecheck and when we are, we haven't been as physical as maybe we have been in past series in a prior time. This is an impact that [Smith-Pelly] can have. They're a high shot-volume team as we talk about, so in D-zone coverage he's an excellent shot-blocker, pays the price that way. And when things get more difficult, he seems to relish in that and step up to the plate and obviously delivered some big goals for us. Those are some things we're looking for.”

But Washington’s success will not be dependent solely on the addition of Smith-Pelly. The rest of the forwards know they have to step up as well.

“I haven’t found the net lately, I know that,” Vrana said who has yet to score this series. “I’ve been working on it in today’s practice and tomorrow is a new game. Come with a positive mind and go period by period and focus on winning the game.”

“I think there's another level from everybody,” Reirden said. “Some guys have played better than others, but I don't think we're at our peak by any means yet.”

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

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USA TODAY Sports Images

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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