Capitals

Vikes need strong pass rush in tough next 2 games

Vikes need strong pass rush in tough next 2 games

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings must play perhaps their best yet this season to emerge from the last six games with a playoff spot, let alone a winning record.

The defensive line will have a big part in it.

Minnesota visits Chicago on Sunday and Green Bay the week after, facing the NFC North co-leaders with 7-3 records. The Vikings are right behind at 6-4, and to catch them they're probably going to have to chase down their quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage at least a few times.

The Vikings have mostly been voicing the one-game-at-a-time line like a typical football team, but it's difficult to ignore the magnitude of this closing stretch.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who missed the last game because of a concussion but has been cleared for practice, has taken the second-most sacks in the league with 28. Aaron Rodgers of the Packers is first with 32.

As strong as both of these long-time rivals are in other areas, pass protection is one weakness the Vikings are equipped to exploit.

``That's a big deal for us, to be able to rush the passer. You want to be able to do it every week. It's something we target,'' coach Leslie Frazier said.

After tying for the NFL lead with 50 sacks last year, the Vikings have slipped a bit. They're tied for 11th in the league with 26. Jared Allen, who nearly broke the all-time single-season record in 2011 with 22 sacks, has seven, tied for 13th in the NFL. Brian Robison has 5 1/2.

With Jason Campbell subbing for Cutler at San Francisco on Monday, the Bears were blown out and gave up six sacks. But defensive coordinator Alan Williams downplayed any new holes the 49ers might have opened for them.

``I think that ballgame was kind of an anomaly in terms of what happened the other night. If you look at that and think that's what Chicago is, that's a huge mistake. It'll be a completely different team this Sunday,'' Williams said.

Allen has been bothered by minor groin and shoulder injuries, but he said the bye week helped him freshen up. That's what it's for.

``You just work through it. Nobody is 100 percent this time of year,'' Allen said.

In eight games against the Bears since he was traded to the Vikings in 2008, Allen has 13 sacks. But he has only enjoyed two victories, none of them at Soldier Field. Minnesota's win there in 2007 is the only one since 2000.

``There has to be a sense of urgency, and this game is as big as it gets this week,'' Allen said. ``Might as well be the Super Bowl for this week. Then we'll move on to next week.''

For Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota, four of their final six games are intra-division. So as difficult as the remaining schedule is, also including a trip to AFC-leading Houston, at least staying in the race won't require any extra help. The Vikings simply need to win most of these last contests, and they'll give themselves a chance to extend their season into January.

``Who do we want to be? Do we want to be a playoff team or not? You've got to go out there and win on the road and win tough games. We hold our own destiny. We create our own opportunities. And this is where we're at,'' linebacker Chad Greenway said.

NOTES: WR Percy Harvin didn't practice again Wednesday, and Frazier said he'd prefer that Harvin be on the field with the team at least once before being cleared to play the Bears. Harvin said he's still a little stiff in certain areas of his sprained left ankle, though his condition improved during the team's bye week. ``We ran through pretty much every machine I think they have in there,'' he said. ... LG Charlie Johnson didn't practice Wednesday, either, because of a toe injury that hadn't previously been revealed. ... Owner Zygi Wilf's son, Jonathan, was promoted to vice president of strategic planning and business initiatives. He'll work a lot with the new stadium development team. ... Jamarca Sanford will continue to rotate with Mistral Raymond at the FS position. ``He's playing well. He's playing physical. What people I don't think realize is how good of a leader Jamarca is, how well he communicates across the defense and how much the guys respect him as a player,'' Williams said.

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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?

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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.