Capitals

Montgomery, Cal hope to continue program momentum

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Montgomery, Cal hope to continue program momentum

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Mike Montgomery and his California players consider last season an opportunity missed. The Golden Bears believe they should have won the inaugural Pac-12 regular-season title - and instead wound up in a tie for second.

With first-team all-conference guard Allen Crabbe leading a deep roster featuring three returning starters, Cal is determined to chase the championship this time around.

It will take playing more as a team to accomplish that, something Crabbe believes the Bears struggled with down the stretch.

Cal went 24-10 last season to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, losing in the first round 65-54 to South Florida in a most frustrating fashion.

``Unfortunately, we didn't win it the way we were supposed to,'' Crabbe said of the Pac-12. ``One of our main goals was to win the conference. It was a really good feeling almost doubling our wins from my freshman season. I just feel like we all expected that, we knew how good we were as a team. It wasn't good team play toward the end of the season. That cost us winning the Pac-12 like we should have.''

Montgomery, who begins his fifth season at Cal having taken his team to the NCAA tournament three times, would agree. The way he put it to his players: They didn't always trust each other to do the right thing. That, he said, kept the Bears from making the extra pass when needed, from staying on the same page with the game on the line.

``There was a little bit of, guys not confident in one another, not trusting one another toward the end,'' Montgomery said. ``As a result of that I think there came some fatigue, physically and mentally. We in some ways really overachieved until the end, and then underachieved. You could just see that it wasn't the same team it was earlier in the year when we were fighting for everything.''

Now, they're starting fresh - building this season around the catch phrase ``Berkeley Represent.''

No explanation necessary: win that conference championship.

It will be up to Crabbe, fellow junior guard Justin Cobbs and Co. to make that happen. Big man David Kravish also returns for a versatile and deep front court that allows Montgomery to mix and match. The coach is happy with the offseason strides made by forwards Bak Bak and Robert Thurman, while the guards are short-handed in practice with Ricky Kreklow working his way back from foot surgery that likely will keep him out until late November or early December. He sat out last season after transferring from Missouri.

Everybody is eager for the full roster to be together. Cobbs figures Cal might have more talent now.

``We've got to keep pushing and not focus on what happened last year,'' Cobbs said. ``We have a great opportunity this year to maybe win it. That always fuels you, being that close, and now we know what it takes to get there.''

Gone is Pac-12 player of the year Jorge Gutierrez, along with Harper Kamp.

Crabbe knows he will have to pick up even more of the load now. He led the Bears in scoring with 15.2 points per game last season, and also was Cal's leading rebounder with a 5.7 average and blocked 20 shots.

Montgomery is counting on Crabbe accepting a greater leadership role, and speaking up when necessary even though it's not in his nature to do so. Coming from Crabbe, Montgomery knows his team will listen.

``Team dynamics are really important, and it's hard to get kids to understand the intangibles,'' Montgomery said. ``There's a lot to be said for people who want to play for one another. You always talk about it, you always emphasize it, and you hope to get a group of kids who feel that way. That's something we've got to work on. But it takes leadership, and Allen, for one, has to be in the middle of that leadership.''

This summer, Montgomery agreed to a two-year contract extension through the 2015-16 season. The reward came after Montgomery revealed before last season that he had bladder cancer and surgery that left him cancer-free. He insists he is healthy and ready to go again.

He hopes to keep Cal a contender atop the conference. The Bears captured their first championship in 50 years when they won the Pac-10 in 2010.

Second-seeded Cal fell 70-59 to eventual champion Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals last season but still earned the program's third NCAA tournament berth of Montgomery's four-year tenure.

``I think we're projected third or fourth,'' Crabbe said. ``It just makes you hungry. It just makes you want to come out there and prove people wrong. We have enough talent. The only thing we really need to do is learn how to play together.''

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

The wait is finally over. 

After two decades, the Capitals are back in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After a convincing 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. They'll be facing off against a handful of familiar names, with former Caps GM George McPhee, fan favorite Nate Schmidt, and ex-Penguins goalie Marc Andre-Fluery are just a few of the names that'll be suiting up for Vegas. 

What will the X-factors in the series be? Who will be the unexpected heroes of Game 1? The action is almost underway, and here are all the details you need to know.

Game 1 Capitals at Golden Knights
Date: Monday, May 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES?

Game 1 of the Capitals-Golden Knights 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final takes place on Monday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

5:00 p.m. — Caps Cup Preview
6:00 p.m. — Caps GameDay Live
6:30 p.m. — Caps Face Off
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 1 Capitals vs. Golden Knights
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1?

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Golden Knights is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.