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Prospect Report: A big week for Vanecek

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Prospect Report: A big week for Vanecek

Hershey update: 10-6-0-4, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 0-1-0-1

Defense was optional on Friday night as the Hershey Bears fell to Lehigh Valley 6-5 in a shootout. Recalled from the ECHL, Tyler Lewington scored a goal in his very first game in the AHL as a floater from the blue line somehow weaved its way into the top shelf. He also showed the same willingness to drop the gloves as he has showed in South Carolina with a fight against Lehigh's Tyrell Goulbourne. Travis Boyd and Nathan Walker also each contributed a goal and an assist in the loss.

See the highlights here:

Walker added another assist on Saturday giving him three points in two games. Prior to that, he had managed only four points in his first 17 games of the season.

RELATED: Handful of Caps challenging for spots in World Cup

Other prospect notes:

How about that Vitek Vanecek? First, he was named the ECHL Rookie of the Month for November. On Thursday, he was named to the Czech Republic roster for WJC camp. He was one of four goalies named.

Plus, he's got a shiny new mask!

With the Caps trading prospect Pheonix Copley over the summer and Vanecek coming off of a tough performance in the IIHF World Junior Championships (.803 save percentage, 6.00 GAA), there was some worry that the Caps were suddenly thin in goalie depth. Vanecek is proving those fears to be unfounded with his play in South Carolina. In 12 games this season, Vanecek has a 2.00 GAA and a .919 save percentage.

Another goalie prospect is impressing as well all the way from Russia. Ilya Samsonov recorded a 26-save shutout for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL on Monday. He has played in 14 games this season recording a 5-2-1 record with a .929 save percentage and 1.87 GAA. Considering he is only 18 years old, his numbers put him in pretty elite company.

As noted by the blog Stars & Sticks, Samsonov is having one of the best season's ever for an 18-year-old in the KHL.

The Caps seem to have no trouble finding offensively skilled defensemen and it looks like they may have another in Connor Hobbs. Hobbs recorded four assists in three games for the Regina Pats last week. He leads Regina defensemen in points and is fourth on the team with 14.

An article in the Regina Leader-Post took a deeper look at how Hobbs has developed into an offensive weapon.

In the college ranks, defending national champion Providence is rolling and, as Mac Cerullo of the Eagle-Tribune writes, Brian Pinho is a major reason why. In his sophomore season, he has three goals and four assists in 12 games for the Friars.

Thomas DiPauli continues to light the lamp for Notre Dame. His goal against Western Michigan on Saturday was his team-high sixth of the season. You can see it in the highlights here:

DiPauli shows good hands and patience as he avoids the diving defenseman to net the game-clinching goal. In addition to leading the team in goals, he is also tied for the team lead in points (13).

MORE CAPITALS: Jagr asks fans not to vote him into All-Star game

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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.