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Behind the glory: Stanley Cup stories of valor


Behind the glory: Stanley Cup stories of valor

It happens every year. The Stanley Cup gets raised and the stories of uncommon valor follow. This NHL season ended no differently.

While Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks were celebrating the Hawks’ third championship in six years, stories of heroism and self-sacrifice were all around them.

Like the fact 40-year-old defenseman Kimmo Timonen was lying in a hospital bed in Finland this time last year with blood clots in his leg and lungs. I’ve had the pleasure of covering Timonen as a player and admit to having chills when Toews handed him the Cup and he let out a primal scream.

“It’s unbelievable,” Timonen told NBC’s Pierre McGuire. “I’ve been dreaming for this the last 17 years. This game gave me a lot, but I gave everything to this game. I’m happy, I’m ready and I’m leaving this game as a Stanley Cup champion.

Asked what he was thinking as the game clock melted to zero, Timonen said, “All the hours, all the battles, all the games I played. It’s just a great journey. It’s been a long one. With what happened last summer I’m happy to be here, first of all, and it’s been a long process, but I’m a Stanley Cup champion!”

And then there were the post-game admissions from Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who played through a torn right groin, and forward Tyler Johnson, who played with a fractured wrist.

Bishop was injured in Game 2, was forced to leave Game 3 and sat out Game 4 before returning for Games 5 and 6.

"It was one of those things where you don't want to put your team in a tough situation," Bishop said. "You want to play the game, no matter what. I barely got through Game 3 [a 3-2 win], and I didn't want to go out there [in Game 4] and then be gone for the rest of the series. I thought [backup Andrei Vasilevskiy] at 100 percent was a little bit of a better option."

Johnson, who was leading all playoff scorers with 21 points through the first three rounds, managed just two points in the Final.


The pass: There were dozens of spectacular plays throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the passing combinations that led to Kane’s clinching goal with 5:14 remaining in the final period of Game 6 was a thing of beauty.

Brandon Saad started the rush and deftly dropped a pass to Brad Richards, taking one defenseman with him. Richards sold shot to Bishop, lifting his right leg as if to shoot before sliding a pass to Kane for an empty-netter that sent the crowd at UnitedCenter into delirium.

Next year’s odds: Less than 12 hours after the Blackhawks took turns kissing the Cup, the odds for next season were already released, with the Hawks 7/1 favorites to repeat and the Rangers 8/1 favorites to represent the East in the Final. The Caps ranked 12th among NHL teams with 18/1 odds.

Here’s the complete list. What’s yours?

Chicago Blackhawks                             7/1

New York Rangers                                 8/1

Anaheim Ducks                                     10/1

St. Louis Blues                                      12/1

TampaBay Lightning                             12/1

Los Angeles Kings                                14/1

Minnesota Wild                                     14/1

Montreal Canadiens                               14/1

Pittsburgh Penguins                              14/1

Boston Bruins                                       16/1

Nashville Predators                               16/1

Washington Capitals                              18/1

New York Islanders                                22/1

Winnipeg Jets                                       25/1

Columbus Blue Jackets                         33/1

Detroit Red Wings                                 33/1

Edmonton Oilers                                   33/1

Calgary Flames                                     40/1      

San Jose Sharks                                   40/1

Vancouver Canucks                               40/1

Ottawa Senators                                    50/1

Colorado Avalanche                              66/1

Dallas Stars                                         66/1

New Jersey Devils                                 66/1

Philadelphia Flyers                                66/1

Toronto Maple Leafs                             66/1

Florida Panthers                                    75/1

Buffalo Sabres                                      100/1

Carolina Hurricanes                                100/1

Arizona Coyotes                                    100/1

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?


Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

Very few teams have the luxury of having a backup goalie they can rely on for an extended period of time while the starter goes through a massive slump. The Capitals had that luxury in 2017-2018 thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Not every team in the NHL has a dependable starter, let alone backup, so when a backup goalie goes 15-10-3 in a season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, that is likely to catch the attention of general managers around the league.

The 2018-19 season will likely be a season of transition for the Capitals behind Braden Holtby. General manager Brian MacLellan expressed his willingness Wednesday to possibly trade backup goalie Philipp Grubauer this offseason. With the season he just had, he could potentially yield the Caps a solid return.

But, if Grubauer is indeed moved, that leaves the question of who will play backup for the Capitals this season?

The initial plan appears to be to promote Pheonix Copley from the AHL.

“Yeah, I think he's capable of it,” MacLellan said when asked if he saw Copley as an NHL backup. “Obviously, he's unproven. I think he's done what he could do at the American League level. Got through probably a little bit of a tough patch this year recovering from an injury, but I think he has potential to be that guy, yes.”

Copley, 26, played last season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He had a tough season with a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage in 41 games.

As MacLellan alluded, Copley suffered a serious injury at the end of the previous season and it clearly affected his season. The year prior, Copley managed a 2.15 GAA and .931 with Hershey in 16 games. He was considered Washington’s No. 3 goalie this season and was recalled for the playoffs as an emergency backup behind Grubauer.

Copley’s career includes only two NHL games.

There is another internal candidate who some fans may be hoping to see next season. That of course, is 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, 21, signed an entry-level contract with Washington in May and will make the jump from the KHL to North America next season.

But don’t expect to see Samsonov backing up Holtby to start the NHL season.

Samsonov will be adjusting to the North American game and the smaller North American rink. Because of that, MacLellan believes he will benefit from time in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I think he needs time in Hershey,” MacLellan said. “We'll start him in Hershey I would anticipate and see how he grows, see how he gets accustomed to the small rink and hopefully get some good coaching, get our guys in that work with him. It'll be up to him. I think he'll adapt fairly quickly given his skill set.”


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Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

“I didn't think I'd be here a year ago,” Devante Smith-Pelly told the media Wednesday. “That's for sure.”

In 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was a member of the New Jersey Devils and thought that’s where he would play the 2017-18 season. Instead, Smith-Pelly was bought out of the final year of his contract, something that he was not prepared for as he only received word of the team’s decision on the same day they made the move.

New Jersey’s loss turned out to be Washington’s gain as the Caps signed Smith-Pelly for one year and he proceeded to score seven goals during the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, at the start of the year, not knowing exactly where I would be to at the parade on Constitution, it's crazy," Smith-Pelly said. "I haven't really sat down and taken it all in, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had an amazing time this year. Obviously, it's the best year of my life.”

Now as a restricted free agent, Smith-Pelly is hoping he has found a home in Washington.

Despite being only 26-years-old, Smith-Pelly has already had somewhat of a journeyman’s career. The Caps are the fifth team in which he has played for.

The issue for much of Smith-Pelly's career has been consistency.

The 2018 playoffs was not his first breakout performance. He scored five goals in just 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, but he failed to live up to that level of production again until this year’s postseason with Washington.

“I don't think I needed to prove anything,” Smith-Pelly said. “I knew what I could do, it's just me getting a chance to do it and that's it. I got a chance here and I guess it worked out.”

Expecting him to score seven goals every 24 games in the regular season is likely unrealistic, but the Caps don’t need him to do that. Smith-Pelly developed a role with the Caps being a bottom-six player, a role that he thrived in throughout the season.

“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”

Given when Smith-Pelly was able to do in the postseason, it is no surprise that the Caps would be interested in keeping him around. But at what cost?

Smith-Pelly was a bargain for Washington last season with a cap hit of only $650,000. He will be due a raise, but with John Carlson expected to get a monster contract, how much will general manager Brian MacLellan be willing to spend on a bottom-six winger like Smith-Pelly?

Despite the phenomenal postseason, Smith-Pelly had only seven goals and 16 points in the entire regular season. When it comes to a new contract, MacLellan will likely want to pay for that player while Smith-Pelly will no doubt look to be paid like the player who scored seven times in 24 playoff games.

As of Wednesday when he spoke with reporters, Smith-Pelly said he had not yet had any talks with the team about a new contract, but also noted that, as a restricted free agent, “there’s no real rush.”

The Caps own Smith-Pelly’s rights which helps their bargaining position. Smith-Pelly, however, is arbitration eligible and his postseason stats will undoubtedly bump his value when viewed by a neutral arbitrator.

But there's a good chance it may not get anywhere close to that point.

“On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I've been in,” Smith-Pelly said. “Obviously, never know what's going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.”