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Prospect Report: A bizarre finish for Ilya Samsonov

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Prospect Report: A bizarre finish for Ilya Samsonov

Hershey update: 18-11-1-5, 4th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 2-0-0-0

The Hershey Bears snapped a three-game losing skid in dramatic fashion on Saturday as they battled back from a 5-1 deficit to beat Binghamton 6-5 in overtime.

Madison Bowey had three assists, Christian Djoos had two, but the player who really impressed was Nathan Walker who scored two goals and one assist.

With Zach Sill up with the Caps and Chandler Stephenson day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Walker was moved from wing to center for both of Hershey's games last week. It's a move Walker and head coach Troy Mann have discussed before, but was never tried until now.

Walker added an assist in Sunday's win over Bridgeport Sound for four points in his first two games at center. Not a bad debut. Whether he continues playing center or if this is strictly temporary is definitely something to keep an eye on.

While everyone was paying attention to the NHL All-Star rosters, the AHL announced their teams as well and two Bears made the cut. Connor Carrick will join Chris Bourque as an Atlantic Division All-Star for the AHL All-Star Classic. In 28 games this season, Carrick has eight goals and seven assists.

Jakub Vrana appears to be inching closer to a return. According to Pat Welter of ABC 27, Vrana visited a doctor Wednesday and "is close to being cleared for full contact."

RELATED: Capitals showing a real killer instinct under Trotz

Other prospect notes:

Ilya Samsonov earned silver in this year's IIHF World Junior Championship as Russia fell to Finland in the finals. Though he was expected to start heading into the tournament, Alexander Georgiev took the bulk of the starts and Samsonov only played in one game in the round robin.

Georgiev was shaky in the quarterfinals, allowing three goals on 21 shots, and head coach Valeri Braglin decided to start Samsonov in the semifinals against the United States. Samsonov stopped 26 of 27 shots in a 2-1 Russia win, but Bragin surprisingly went back to Georgiev in the finals. The move did not pay off as Russia lost in overtime.

In two games, Samsonov posted a .956 save percentage with a 1.00 GAA. As a comparison, Georgiev had a .898 save percentage and 2.52 GAA.

Samsonov was also wearing a pretty awesome Assassins Creed goalie mask.

Goalie Vitek Vanecek started in all five of the Czech Republic's games, but was pulled in the quarterfinals after the U.S. jumped out to a 2-0 lead. This article offers a pretty thorough breakdown of what went wrong in the quarterfinal loss and whether Vanecek was really to blame.

For the tournament, Vanecek went 2-3 with a .881 save percentage, 2.73 GAA and one shutout.

Despite entering the tournament with high hopes, Jonas Siegenthaler's Swiss team only narrowly avoided relegation thanks to two wins over Belarus. The young defenseman had only one assist for the entire tournament, but he led all Swiss defensemen in shots (11).

Some troubling news out of Regina where defenseman Colby Williams will undergo wrist surgery. Williams suffered an arm injury over the summer which, according to Greg Hrader of the Regina Leader-Post, "caused significant nerve damage." He missed the first 16 games of the season, only returning on Nov. 13. As he is still missing strength in his hand and wrist, it was decided that he needed a followup procedure.

Williams is expected to return before the end of the season.

Tim McGauley continues his remarkable resurgence for the Brandon Wheat Kings with another goal this week. After missing much of the start of the season due to injury, McGauley now has 19 points in 19 games.

In the college ranks, Steven Spinner recorded three assist in Nebrakas-Omaha's 6-0 win over Trinity Western. As the game was an exhibition, however, none of those points will count towards his stats for the season.

Thomas DiPauli scored the shootout winner for Notre Dame over Denver on New Year's Day. You can watch it here. He also tallied another goal in the rematch the next day.

The top team in the nation was dethroned this week as Brown upset Providence 4-3 despite Brian Pinho's effort. Pinho showed very good hands in this game with a goal and an assist for the Friars.

Check out the highlights. Pinho assisted on Providence's first goal and he scored their third:

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals, Islanders react to Johansson's hit on Hickey

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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.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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