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Blackhawks, Lightning battle for Lord Stanley's Cup

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Blackhawks, Lightning battle for Lord Stanley's Cup

The Chicago Blackhawks sit just four wins away from winning their third Stanley Cup in six years, the closets thing to a dynasty we will likely see in the cap era. Only one thing stands in their way, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning are the only team to face four original six teams in the playoffs. They dispatched Detroit in the Conference Quarterfinals, Montreal in the semis, New York in the finals and now have their sites set on Chicago.

This matchup will be strength vs. strength as Tampa Bay boasts the NHL's best offense--3.16 goals per game in the regular season--against the second best defense in Chicago--2.27 goals allowed per game. Both teams have also shown themselves to be versatile as well. Tampa was able to shutout the Rangers twice and Chicago scored 24 goals in seven games against Anaheim.

This is familiar territory for Chicago center Brad Richards who won a Conn Smythe...with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Richards was the pivotal piece of Tampa Bay's championship team in 2004. He is not going to win a Conn Smythe this year, but he will certainly play a role for the Blackhawks this series.

There are only four to seven games of hockey left this season, you better savor each one. The puck drops tonight at 8:00 p.m. in Tampa Bay. Watch it on NBC.

You can follow along each game of this series here with our playoff gallery and see how each team got to this point.

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

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USA TODAY Sports Images

In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

Injuries and a suspension to Tom Wilson have kept things interesting for Todd Reirden in his first season as head coach of the Capitals.

At first, that meant figuring out an optimal lineup out of the players who were still available. But now there will be another challenge Reirden faces as the team continues to get healthy and that’s figuring out who to take out of the lineup.

On Tuesday, that player was Burakovsky.

“I just felt like going into [Tuesday’s] game that the other players had taken more advantage of the opportunity than he had recently,” Reirden said before Tuesday’s game. “For me, it's a rewards/earned ice time situation where there's a lot of competition. What happens is when players get opportunities and they play well, then it creates competition. Some have to win, some have to lose in that competition. Right now, that's what we've chosen to go with.”

Burakovsky’s career has been plagued by up-and-down play and scoring slumps. For the season, he has managed only eight points in 29 games. He did manage to score the game-winner against Arizona on Dec. 6, but that goal came after two very lackluster period of play by him.

“It's part of sports, I guess,” Burakovsky said Wednesday. “It is a tough sport. You're competing against the best players in the world. That's just how it is right now and I've just got to battle through it.”

Burakovsky has been cycled throughout the lineup this season, but has not gained any traction with any line or with any particular linemates so far. Thus, a player with top-six skill finds himself on the outside looking in at the lineup.

“I think guys on the team has been playing really well and deserve to play and have done a little bit more than maybe I have in the past now,” Burakovsky said. “We've been winning so that's most important thing and when I get the chance, I'm just going to go in and do my thing, play my game.”

Reirden said he was impressed by how Burakovsky has responded in practice. Given Reirden’s “rewards” system of coaching that should mean Burakovsky gets back into the lineup sooner rather than later. But if he continues to struggle to keep his production up, he will have a hard time staying in.

With both Oshie and Wilson now back from injury, the Caps have 14 forwards on the roster meaning two forwards will have to be scratched each game. There’s no one currently in the top six you would take out for Burakovsky and considering how well players like Brett Connolly are playing plus the chemistry the fourth line has found, there is not much room to plug in a struggling winger who still cannot find any consistent production.

This also calls into question what Burakovsky’s future on the team may be. Burakovsky is on the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It will take a qualifying offer of $3.25 million from the Caps just to retain his rights as an RFA meaning general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to determine if he is worth that much.

As dire as his contract situation may appear from the outside looking in – especially for a player who has had confidence issues in the past – he says his next contract is not something he is thinking too much about.

“I'm not worried about my future,” Burakovsky said. “I know what I can do out there. I think I've proved what I can do and sometimes you just have to battle a little bit harder than you wanted to and it's going to happen. Right now, I think it's kind of what I'm doing.”

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Capitals prospect report: Alex Alexeyev reportedly taken to hospital after dangerous hit

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Capitals prospect report: Alex Alexeyev reportedly taken to hospital after dangerous hit

Scary news out of the WHL as Capitals prospect Alex Alexeyev had to be helped off the ice and was reportedly taken to the hospital after taking a dangerous hit during Tuesday’s game.

Kamloops forward Zane Franklin checked Alexeyev who fell face-first into the boards.

Luckily for Alexeyev, Red Deer and the Caps, it appears he avoided any major injury. He underwent an x-ray and a CAT scan, both of which were negative and the team considers him day-to-day. A team spokesman said he could play in the team’s game Friday, but that has not yet been determined.

Alexeyev was selected in the first round of the 2018 draft by Washington and has had a phenomenal season to this point with seven goals and 24 assists in 29 games for Red Deer. His 31 points ranks second on the team and tied for fourth among defensemen in the WHL.

Other prospect notes:

·        Sergei Shumakov’s time with the Capitals organization is over. The Russian forward was placed on unconditional waivers Friday and his contract was terminated by the team after he refused to practice Thursday and notified the Hershey Bears he intended to leave the team. According to a team official, the entire incident took the team by surprise. Shumakov was getting top-six minutes and power play time, but that evidently was not enough. A hand injury limited him to just 10 games this season, but he scored three goals and four points. Granted, Shumakov did not leave the KHL – where he scored 17 goals and 40 points in 47 games last season – for an AHL career, but from what he showed in training camp, he was not close to being ready for the NHL. There is also a crowded offensive roster ahead of him on Washington’s depth chart so a call up this season was becoming less and less likely. It was a low risk move for the Caps to sign him and this time, it didn’t pan out.

·        It was expected that Shumakov would return to the KHL, but he instead signed with another AHL team, the Springfield Thunderbirds. Springfield is the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers who, reportedly, were among the teams interested in acquiring Shumakov’s services when he first indicated he was coming to the NHL. In three games with his new team, Shumakov has one point, a goal.

·        Ilya Samsonov earned his first win in nearly a month as he saved 28 shots in Saturday’s 6-3 win over Hartford. It is his fourth win of the season and snapped a personal four-game losing streak.

·        How’s this for a weekend? Riley Barber was recalled by the Caps Friday as insurance with the team on the road and T.J. Oshie not quite ready to come back yet. He was a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game in Columbus, was then reassigned to Hershey and scored a goal against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday. The goal was Barber’s ninth power play goal of the season. He has 19 points in 21 games.

·        Tobias Geisser joins the list of Caps prospects who will be representing their countries at the IIHF World Juniors. Geisser will play for Switzerland. Also participating in world juniors will be Alexeyev (Russia) (hopefully) and Martin Fehervary (Slovakia). Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen will be representing Norway in the Division I tournament playing for a spot in next year’s world juniors championship.

·        Shane Gersich has missed the last two games for the Bears due to an upper body injury. It is believed Gersich suffered the injury after a check to the head from David Kase of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Friday. Gersich would finish that game, but has missed both of Hershey’s games since. Kase was suspended two games for the hit. Here’s a look:

·        There were a lot of firsts this past week. Prospects Garrett Pilon and Maximilian Kammerer both scored their first AHL goals in Sunday’s game. Geisser also registered his first AHL point with an assist on Pilon’s goal. Here’s a look at the goal by Kammerer:

·        Colby Williams registered three assists in Saturday’s win over Hartford. It was the first three-assist night of Williams’ AHL career.

·        The AHL issued a two-game suspension to Beck Malenstyn on Tuesday for an illegal check to the head of Hartford forward Ryan Lindgren. He was out Sunday’s game and will not play Saturday in Providence.

·        Tyler Lewington played in his 200th AHL game Saturday and registered two assists for just the second time in his career. He also scored his second goal of the season on Sunday. Through 201 games in Hershey, he has registered a total of 447 penalty minutes.

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