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While Kings celebrate, Bernier languishes


While Kings celebrate, Bernier languishes

Remember how awful Joel Ward felt when his double minor for high-sticking in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals led to the Rangers game-tying and game-winning goals and ultimately altered the course of the Capitals magical playoff run?

Now you know how Devils forward Steve Bernier feels this morning.

Bernier was assessed a major for boarding and a game misconduct early in Monday nights 6-1 loss to the Kings after slamming defenseman Rob Scuderi from behind midway through the first period.

Scuderi suffered cuts to his nose and mouth and Bernier was escorted off the ice and into an empty visitors dressing room, where he heard three loud roars from the Staples Center crowd, a sobering indication that the Kings had scored three power-play goals on their road to their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Its extremely hard, Bernier told reporters after the game. It's been a long playoff run for us and we had a lot of good things going for us. To finish on that note, its not fun, for sure. But at the same time, there's nothing I can do now.

Bernier still thinks a major penalty was not warranted for his hit on Scuderi, who returned for the start of the second period.

From my point of view, I dont, Bernier said. I know he stayed down. After that, I didn't see anything. It's a fast game. There were hard hits all over the ice. You want to help your team, you don't want to get five minutes and help them lose.

I'm going to finish my hit. I thought he was going to keep going forward and he put on the brakes. At the time, I was already committed to the hit. It's tough to stop when you get there that fast. I feel bad, for sure. I wish I could take that play back.

The Devils bench was infuriated at the call, especially since it came seconds after the Kings Jarret Stoll ran Devils forward Stephen Gionta into the boards from behind without a call. As NBC analyst Keith Jones pointed out between periods, if a call on Stoll is made, the hit on Scuderi never happens.

To their credit, the Devils controlled their anger after the game, which turned into a rout.

You know, tonight is about L.A. and letting them celebrate, Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. If you want to ask me about that in about a week, I'll give you my honest opinion on it.

Devils captain Zach Parise was equally controlled.

Trust me, he said, I'd love to sound off on that right now.

Much like the Capitals rallied around Ward after their Game 5 loss, the Devils showed support for Bernier.

I told him not to worry about it,Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. It's not his fault. I'm sure he's blaming himself. That's the nature to do that. That was a big effect on the game. But again, he plays the game and we got success from him because of the way he played. I think it's just an unfortunate call. I didn't see it, so I can't judge if it was a bad call or a good call. It took us out of our chance to win a Stanley Cup.

It was just an unfortunate situation for a player who plays the game really hard," Brodeur said. "He's going to have to live with that and I don't think it's a fair thing. That's what happens when one person has the fate of a hockey game in their hands.

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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?



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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.