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Evaluating Capitals' first-round pick: Goalie Ilya Samsonov


Evaluating Capitals' first-round pick: Goalie Ilya Samsonov

If the price was right, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan was prepared to make a big splash at the NHL draft on Friday night at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

Instead, MacLellan and the Caps only made a ripple, selecting Russian goaltender Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd overall pick of the first round.

Samsonov, 18, becomes the first goaltender taken by the Capitals in the first round since Semyon Varlamov was taken 23rd overall in 2006.

He joins a crop of goaltenders that includes Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek, who was taken by the Caps with the 39th overall selection of last year’s draft. 

At 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, Samsonov was rated the No. 1 goalie out of Europe by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.

Playing under former NHL coach Mike Keenan with Mettalurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, Samsonov impressed scouts with an 11-4-1 record with a 2.66 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.


There was some speculation the Caps would draft a defenseman in the first round for the first time since taking John Carlson 27th overall in 2008. But MacLellan said the Caps would stand firm on their philosophy of taking the best player available and they were the first NHL team to select a goalie. 

MacLellan went into the draft hoping to land a top-line right wing, but cautioned he would not overpay for one. With four more picks on Saturday – one each in Rounds 3, 4, 5 and 6 – MacLellan may look to add a pick or two when the draft resumes at 10 a.m. 

Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins stole the show in Sunrise, unloading burly winger and Stanley Cup champion Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings and promising defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames.

In exchange the Bruins received Calgary’s 15th, 45th and 52nd picks and Los Angeles’ 15th pick.

“Those two calls today were very difficult to make,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said, referring to the trade calls to Lucic, who had one year and $6 million remaining on his contract, and Hamilton, a 22-year-old restricted free agent. “Both players are tremendous players and will have tremendous careers in Calgary and L.A. I think the world of them as people.”

The Capitals could have an interest in a handful of veteran right wings who could play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. That group could include Patrick Sharp, Radim Vrbata, T.J. Oshie or Justin Williams.

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3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

This one is going to go the distance.

The Washington Capitals staved off elimination on Monday with a 3-0 Game 6 win to force a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andrei Vasilevskiy looked unbeatable for much of the game, but T.J. Oshie finally got one past the Lightning netminder on the Caps' first power play since the second period of Game 4. Devante Smith-Pelly finished them off with a third-period tally.

Game 7 will be on Wednesday with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Here are the three stars of Game 6.

1.  T.J. Oshie: Oshie scored the goal that saved Washington's season.

The Caps were doing everything right, but they just could not get one past Vasilevskiy. Finally, Oshie struck with a one-timer from the high-slot that just managed to beat Vasilevskiy.

Oshie also added an empty-netter to ice the game away.

We will never know how close frustration came to really wearing down Washington, but it probably came closer than you think. Just seconds before Oshie's goal, John Carlson rang a blistering slap shot off the inside of the post. It was so close, the horn went off briefly, but play continued. Had Washington not been able to finish off the power play, would they have recovered or would Vasilevskiy officially have Halaked them?

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Don't let the score fool you, Vasilevskiy was absolutely brilliant. He really stood out in the first period when he denied great chances again and again to keep the score locked at 0-0. You knew he was on his game when he denied a great chance from Alex Ovechkin from the slot with the blocker. His best save, however, was saved for Evgeny Kuznetsov when he was on the ice and desperately extended the arm just in time to deny Kuznetsov.

Vasilevskity made a total of 32 saves in the losing effort.

3. Braden Holtby: Though he was not tested as much as his counterpart, Holtby was equally as brilliant in his 24 save performance for his fifth career playoff shutout.

The Lightning made a real push in the second and third period and some key saves by Holtby ensured the Caps did not give up the first goal or the game-tying one. The most critical save came on Anthony Cirelli in the second period with the game still tied at 0-0. A Lightning 2-on-1 resulted with Cirelli coming in all alone on Holtby, but the Caps' netminder just managed to extend the toe for the save.

Smith-Pelly had seven goals in the regular season. he has four in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly put the exclamation point on the game with his third period goal to extend the Caps' lead to 2-0.  He was set up by a phenomenal pass by Chandler Stephenson.

It was clear from the outset that the Caps wanted to be very physical in this game and Smith-Pelly really took that message to heart with 

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”