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Can Caps 'overbake' prospects in Hershey?

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Can Caps 'overbake' prospects in Hershey?

When Brian MacLellan was hired to replace George McPhee as the Capitals general manager last summer one of his many directives was to restore a strong working relationship with the AHL Hershey Bears.

With new head coaches in Washington (Barry Trotz) and Hershey (Troy Mann), MacLellan wanted the privately owned Bears to keep their autonomy while also aiding the development of the Capitals’ top prospects in a winning environment.

“There’s a synchronicity that goes on between both organizations on a personal level and on a team level,” MacLellan said, noting the growing relationship between Trotz and Mann.

Last season, the Bears and Capitals had strong regular seasons, returned to the playoffs and were knocked out of the post-season in the second round. This season, with the veteran departures of Tim Kennedy, Casey Wellman, Chris Conner and Steve Oleksy, the Bears could have as many as five AHL rookies in their lineup -- forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber and defensemen Madison Bowey, Tyler Lewington and Christian Djoos -- and that will pose a challenge to Mann and his staff.

“It could be the youngest team since the affiliation (with the Capitals) began 10 years ago,” Mann said. “…There aren’t too many American League teams that make the playoffs with three rookie defensemen.”

Tucked in the picturesque setting of Chocolatetown, U.S.A., the Bears are one of the most successful minor-league hockey teams in the country, routinely selling out the 10,500-seat Giant Center. During their 10-year affiliation with the Caps, which was recently renewed for just one season, the Bears won the Calder Cup in 2006, 2009 and 2010, adding to the eight previous Calder Cups in their 76-year history.

“They’re the best fans in the AHL and they deserve a good product,” Mann said. “You get spoiled when you’ve won 11 Calder Cups.”

But, as Mann noted, it’s difficult to make the playoffs with a defense core that boasts just one player, 30-year-old Mike Moore, over 25.

“It’s going to be a little bit different and a lot of responsibility for the veteran guys,” Mann said. “It’s certainly going to be a learning curve and we’re anticipating that. With a couple veteran goalies in there (Justin Peters, 28, and Dan Ellis, 35) it’s going to be crucial for them to be on their ‘A’ game for us early because there’s going to be a lot of teaching of these young kids.”

Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney likened the Hershey integration of Bowey, Lewington and Djoos to the ripening of John Carlson and Karl Alzner as a defense pairing in 2009-10, the last year the Bears won the Calder Cup. He said the Caps would prefer to "overbake" their prospects than to rush them into the NHL the way Connor Carrick and Alexander Urbom were in 2013-14.

Mann said he would like to surround his rookies with a few more AHL veterans to help steer the ship. MacLellan agreed.

“I think winning and developing, they both coincide,” MacLellan said. “You want your young guys in a positive, winning environment and we’ve had that with Hershey in the past. There’s always the balance between playing a veteran player and playing a developing player. Players learn to play from other players.

“You can’t throw a bunch of young guys into Hershey and say, ‘Go at it’ in the American League. The American League is a good league. You need guys that have been around and know the league and know how to win in that league and they need to complement your young guys. You need a good balance between the two and for the most part I think we’ve accomplished that over the years.”

Hershey pieces: Mann said he sees Carrick, 21, being first in line to be a Capitals’ call-up next season. Lewington, 20, a seventh-round pick of the Caps in 2013, sat out development camp with a shoulder injury but is expected to be cleared to participate in rookie training camp in early September. Mann said forward Miles Koules, who recorded 26 goals and 32 assists in 67 games for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, could be in line to sign his first pro contract with the Caps, saying he could begin his pro career in Hershey or South Carolina in the ECHL.   

MORE CAPITALS: Caps' MacLellan juggling invisible dollars

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Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, Time, How to Watch, live stream

Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, Time, How to Watch, live stream

When the Capitals take the ice in Game 6, they will be playing for their playoff lives. After losing Game 5 on Saturday to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps must win on Monday or their season will be over.

In order to do that, the Caps will have to change some things. First, they have to figure out how to win at home, something they have yet to do in this series. Second, they will have to find a way to get to Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been dominant the past three games. Alex Ovechkin also needs to win the matchup against the fourth line since he has only two five-on-five points through five games. Finally, the defense will have to be better. Matt Niskanen took the blame for Game 5, but really it was a tough night all around.

Also, a few penalty calls against Tampa Bay would be nice too.

Where: Capital One Arena

When: 8:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning, Game 6 will be broadcast on NBCSN

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Lightning Game 6 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS GAME 6 OF THE CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING PLAYOFF SERIES?

Game 6 of the Capitals vs. Lightning 2018 NHL Playoff series takes place on Monday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. at Capital One Arnea.

WHAT CHANNEL IS GAME 6 OF CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning is on NBCSN. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 on NBCSN
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM GAME 6 OF THE CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING SERIES?

Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning is available to stream online on Monday, May 21 live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR GAME 6 OF CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING?

Capitals projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson -  Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Lightning projected lines:

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Andrei Vasilevskiy starts with Louis Domingue as backup.

CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING GAME 6 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 correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues -- when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West -- to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.

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