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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Hurricanes

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Hurricanes

The Capitals (24-6-2, 50 points) just continue to find ways to win. Will Monday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes (13-15-5, 31 points) be a bit less dramatic than the Caps' last two games? Catch all the action on CSN Plus starting at 6:30 p.m.

Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

A rising star: Carolina may not look all that intimidating when it comes to the standings, where they sit ahead of only Columbus in the Metropolitan Division, but the team knows they will face a hard-working team on Monday night and one of the league's top defensemen.

"They play really quick,' head coach Barry Trotz said. "They’ll pressure you all over the ice. They come at you hard. They have a very active dee. Justin Faulk is turning into one of the premier defensemen in the league. They’re hard to play against. Every night they bring a full-out effort."

Faulk actually leads the team in points with 27. He's someone the Caps need to account for on the power play as all 12 of his goals this season have come with his team a man up.

An ouchie for Oshie: T.J. Oshie will be a game-time decision with a lower-body injury. The Caps winger left for the locker room midway through the second period of Sunday's game. He did return for the start of the third, but had only 14:49 of ice time for the game, his second lowest for the season. Oshie has been on a tear of late with eight points in his last four games which earned him Second Star NHL honors for the week.

Vacation starts early: Philipp Grubauer will get the start in net on Monday, giving Braden Holtby the night off after playing Sunday in New York. Trotz hinted on Sunday that he may play Holtby in the second leg of the back-to-back after pulling him early on Friday against Tampa Bay. Grubauer has compiled a respectable 3-2-1 record in relief, but Holtby showed he can handle a heavy workload after playing in 73 games last season. Monday's game marks the sixth back-to-back set of the season for the Caps who are 9-1-1 in back-to-back games outscoring their opponents 40-24. After tonight, the Caps will have another seven back-to-backs over the course of the season.

Brothers in arms: When Eric Staal and Jordan Staal united in Carolina, it was thought the Hurricanes would have one of the strongest lineups down the center in the NHL. Things haven't exactly gone that way for the Hurricanes. This season, the Staal brothers have managed only 32 points combined. Eric Staal, 31, has long been the subject of trade rumors as his contract will expire at the end of the season. With the Hurricanes not likely headed for the playoffs, it's not inconceivable that Carolina could attempt to move their long-time captain at some point this season.

Struggles in net: The Hurricanes added goaltending depth in the offseason with the acquisition of Eddie Lack, but the move has not paid off as both he and Cam Ward have struggled this season. Lack has registered only a .876 save percentage while giving up 3.34 goals per game. Ward has not been much better with a .899 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA. Ward will start tonight for Carolina, but given those numbers, it would not be surprising if the Caps end up seeing both netminders over the course of the game.

Fond memories: Justin Williams returns to Carolina where he registered 201 points in five seasons and won a Stanley Cup in 2006. Mr. Game 7 scored an empty-netter in Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers to ice the series. Williams scored two goals and added an assist in Sunday's win over the Rangers. For the season, he has 10 goals and 13 assists.

Road-ice advantage? The Caps are 9-3-0 in their last 12 games on the road against Carolina and have won five of their last six. Washington has found plenty of success against the Hurricanes in recent years as they have gone 18-6-3 overall against the divisional foe since the start of the 2010-11 season and 6-1-1 in their last eight meetings.

Lasting success: In addition to the team success, several Caps players also seem to enjoy a matchup with the 'Canes. Nicklas Backstrom has more tallied more points against Carolina than any other NHL team with 49 in 42 games. Alex Ovechkin also has a whopping 74 points, the third-most he has against any NHL team. It's not just the offense. In 12 games, Braden Holtby has enjoyed an 8-4-0 record with one shutout, a 1.99 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage.

Here we go again: The Caps' win on Sunday was the second consecutive game the team has rallied from a multi-goal deficit to win in regulation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the fifth time in franchise history that the Capitals have won consecutive games by overcoming a deficit of at least two goals in each game, but it's only the second time they've done so with two regulation wins. The only other time the Caps managed this feat was in February of 1986

Projected Lines

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Michael Latta - Andre Burakovsky

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Philipp Grubauer

Braden Holtby

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratched Stanislav GalievConnor Carrick

HURRICANES

Kris Versteeg - Eric Staal - Elias Lindholm

Jeff Skinner - Victor Rask - Phillip Di Giuseppe

Joakim Nordstrom - Jordan Staal - Andrej Nestrasil

Brad Malone - Jay McClement - Chris Terry

John-Michael Liles - Justin Faulk

Jaccob Slavin - Ron Hainsey

Noah Hanifin - Brett Pesce

Cam Ward

Eddie Lack

Injured: James Wisniewski (knee), Nathan Gerbe (lower body)

Scratched: Riley Nash

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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.