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More heartbreak for Caps as Hershey Bears fall in AHL playoffs

More heartbreak for Caps as Hershey Bears fall in AHL playoffs

Caps fans hoping for an escape from the misery of another early playoff exit won't find one in Hershey. The Capitals' AHL affiliate Hershey Bears saw their season end in similar fashion to their NHL counterparts on Wednesday as they fell 4-2 in Game 7 of their second round series to the Providence Bruins on Wednesday.

The Bears returned to Hershey for Game 6 and 7 with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to return to the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight season but were unable to close out the series losing both games. Riley Barber and Chandler Stephenson both scored in the Game 7 loss.

You can see the highlights of the game here:

Much like the Capitals, the Bears now face some tough questions heading into the offseason. Tom Gilbert, Garrett Mitchell, Christian Thomas, Paul Carey, Chris Bourque, Stanislav Galiev and Pheonix Copley are all unrestricted free agents while Chandler Stephenson, Christina Djoos, Travis Boyd, Nathan Walker and Liam O'Brien are unrestricted free agents.

Plus, there are several players who could be ready for a jump to the NHL. For a Capitals team facing cap constraints, a cheap way to bolster the roster would be to promote prominent prospects to the NHL lineup. One such prospect is forward Jakub Vrana who struggled at points in Hershey this year.

In addition to Vrana, Copley, Djoos, Boyd, Stephenson, Riley Barber and Madison Bowey all are players who could get serious looks with the Capitals next season.

As tumultuous as this summer may prove to be for the Caps, the Bears may face even more turnover to their roster. Questions as to how good this team may be next season make this year's Game 7 loss to Providence sting all the more.

It also leaves Washington sports fans bemoaning yet another Game 7 loss.

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Prospect report: Playoff time in the WHL

Prospect report: Playoff time in the WHL

Hershey update: 38-19-8-3, 4th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-0-0

The Hershey Bears split their two games over the weekend with St. John’s with a 4-3 loss on Saturday and a 2-1 win on Sunday.

Saturday’s loss came in heartbreaking fashion as the Bears gave up the game-winner with just 16 seconds remaining in regulation.

Chandler Stephenson recorded an assist in the game, but gave up an absolutely dreadful turnover for the game-tying goal. From behind his own net, he attempted a no-look back pass that went directly to a St. John’s player who passed it to the slot for the goal.

Jakub Vrana recorded two points in Sunday’s win, including the game-winning goal.

Jonas Siegenthaler made his season debut for the Bears in Sunday’s game. He was a plus-one on the day.

The real star of the weekend for Hershey was goalie Pheonix Copley who started in both games. The young netminder was particularly strong in Sunday’s win, stopping 35 of the 36 shots he faced in the win. Since returning to Hershey, Copley is now 7-2-0 with a 1.94 goals against average and a .942 save percentage.

Travis Boyd and Riley Barber each had a goal and an assist over the weekend for the Bears.

RELATED: Caps show off scoring depth in Colorado

Other prospect notes:

The WHL Playoffs are underway. Lucas Johansen’s Kelowna Rockets jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and are one win away from eliminating Garrett Pilon and the Kamloops Blazers. Johansen and Pilon both have one assist in four games.

The news wasn’t all bad for Pilon, however, as the Caps signed him to a three-year, entry-level deal on Thursday. He will report to Hershey at the end of the WHL season which may come as early as Friday.

Connor Hobbs and the Regina Pats are on the verge of sweeping Beck Malenstyn and the Calgary Hitmen. Regina has outscored Calgary 15-5 in three games. Hobbs has recorded two assists in each game while Malenstyn has yet to record a point.

Dmitriy Zaitsev is locked in a tight battle as his Moose Jaw Warriors are currently locked in a 2-2 series tie with the Swift Current Broncos. He has one assist.

Both Shane Gersich and Brian Pinho saw their seasons come to an end in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

North Dakota loss to Boston University 4-3 in double overtime on Friday. Gersich registered eight shots on goal, but could not get onto the scoresheet. Providence also lost in the first round to Harvard 3-0 on Friday.

There is no word yet on their future plans or if the Capitals have tried to sign either to an entry-level deal. Gersich’s teammate, Brock Boeser, was signed Saturday by the Vancouver Canucks and scored his first goal NHL that afternoon. For any who may have dreams of Gersich or Pinho following suite for the Caps, that’s unlikely to happen.

The Capitals seem pretty set with their lines right now and, if they were to recall anyone as a backup, it would likely be Jakub Vrana or they would stick with Paul Carey. Neither Gersich nor Pinho would likely be the top choice for a Washington team hoping to win the Stanley Cup.

That doesn’t mean the team won’t be interested in signing them and sending them to Hershey, however.

Gersich will be a rising junior at North Dakota, Pinho a rising senior for Providence if they both choose to return to college.

Ilya Samsonov’s KHL team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, completed a four-game sweep of Ak Bars to advance to the Gagarin Cup Finals for the second consecutive season. They will face SKA starting April 8.

While Siegenthaler returned to Hershey, there will be no such return trip for forward Kevin Elgestal. Elgestal’s season in Sweden was limited to only 25 games after he suffered a broken thumb in January. NOVA Caps caught up with Elgestal to get an update on his progress and it sounds like he will need to continue rehabbing over the summer.

Check out the full update here.

Forward Damien Riat has been selected to Switzerland’s initial team roster for the World Championships. The team will have a two-day training camp starting on April 5. This year’s tournament will be held in Germany and France from May 5 to 21.

For more Capitals coverage, check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast!

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Prospect report: Hershey is suddenly stacked on defense

Prospect report: Hershey is suddenly stacked on defense

Hershey update: 37-18-8-3, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 4-0-0-0

Madison Bowey made an early return to the lineup on Friday in his first game since Dec. 28. Bowey suffered a lacerated tendon against Syracuse that day that was expected to keep him out of the lineup until April. On Friday, however, Bowey was back in for the Bears. He played in three of Hershey’s four games over the week and tallied one assist.

Fellow defensive prospect Christian Djoos remained red-hot with another outstanding performance. Djoos scored two goals and two assists in Friday’s win over Hartford including the game-winner in overtime.

Djoos recorded at least one point in each of Hershey’s four games over the week and now has three goals and 11 assists for the month of March.

On a team that already boasts Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler within the organization, Djoos is often overlooked, but his recent play cannot be ignored. He has been absolutely fantastic. There is no question he has the skill to be an NHL player. If he bulks up, Djoos is someone who should see some time in the NHL next season.

Hampus Gustafsson, who was signed by the Caps on March 7 as a college free agent out of Merrimack College, made his professional debut on Friday as he suited up for the Bears. On Wednesday, in his third game, he recorded his first professional assist.

Speaking of defensive prospects, the Bears have added another to their roster. On Monday, the Capitals re-assigned Siegenthaler to Hershey. Siegenthaler’s season in the National League A in the Switzerland came to an end as his ZSC Lions were eliminated in the playoffs. The young blue liner recorded one goal and six assists in 34 games.

Hershey head coach Troy Mann said after Saturday’s game that Siegenthaler would practice with the team, but would not play in his first week.

Siegenthaler is a highly regarded prospect, but the one question mark he has is how he will adjust to the North American game. He played in six games for Hershey last season and his performance was underwhelming and a family issue over the summer also affected his play in Caps’ training camp. But, he was fantastic in the 2017 World Junior Championship so it’s hard to know just what to expect from him. The talent is there, but how will it translate to the AHL/NHL? I think the Caps are hoping to see a lot more improvement from him from last season’s performance. I also believe this summer’s development and training camp will be critical for his future within the organization.

Pheonix Copley continued to show why he has taken over as Hershey’s top netminder with three wins over the week, turning aside 88 of the 93 shots he faced.

With Philipp Grubauer a potential target for Vegas in the expansion draft and prospect Ilya Samsonov under contract in the KHL until 2018, Copley may compete to backup Braden Holtby next season. Isabelle Khurshudyan goes into more detail in her article in the Washington Post. You can read it here.

If Copley does play for the Caps next season, he will at least look the part with his sweet new mask.

https://twitter.com/search?f=images&vertical=default&q=pheonix%20copley&src=typd

Though he may not be getting nearly as much playing time as he was before the Copley trade, Vitek Vanecek put together a solid month. In his four March appearances, Vanecek registered a 3-0-0 record, 2.18 GAA and .907 save percentage.

Other big performers from the week include Travis Boyd (one goal, six assists), Riley Barber (two goals, two assists), Stanislav Galiev (three assists) and Garrett Mitchell who scored two goals including his 100th career point.

Finally, while I focus the prospect report on younger players, I would be remiss if I did not note the outstanding performance of forward Paul Carey. Carey scored six goals and two assists in Hershey's four games over the week, including a four-goal performance on Saturday in the Bears' 6-4 win over Hartford.

With his monster performance, Carey is now tied with Christian Thomas for the team lead in goals with 24. Yes, he scored a full quarter of his goals for the season in just one week.

RELATED: Playoff opponent watch: Toronto jumps into wild card

Other prospect notes:

It’s March so it’s time for the real madness to begin. Shane Gersich’s North Dakota and Brian Pinho’s Providence both made the cut for the NCAA hockey tournament. North Dakota is a 3-seed in the West Region and will play No. 2 Boston University on Friday. Providence is a 4-seed in the East Region and will play No. 1 Harvard also on Friday.

Gersich saw his team fall in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff final to Minnesota Duluth on Saturday after upsetting Denver in the semifinal. North Dakota gave up the game-winning goal with less than a minute to go in a devastating 4-3 loss.

In some happier news, Gersich made the cut as one of the Top 100 NHL Prospects in the NCAA as ranked by SB Nation’s College Hockey blog.

Gersich came in at No. 43.

Gersich has always been a very smooth skater. This year, he’s added a little more muscle to his frame, making him much better at winning battles along the boards. He’s more of a shooter than a playmaker, and the extra bulk has made his shot more effective as well.

Gersich likely projects to play a scoring role at the pro level, so the big increase in scoring is a positive sign for his development.

You can see the full profile on Gersich and the rankings so far here.

Chase Priskie’s season is over after Quinnipiac fell 4-1 to Harvard in the ECAC Hockey Tournament Semifinals. He was named to the ECAC Hockey Third Team on Friday. Last season, he was named to the conference’s all-rookie team.

It’s also postseason time for the WHL. Each of Washington’s five WHL prospects will play in the playoffs.

Lucas Johansen and the Kelowna Rockets will face Garrett Pilon and the Kamloops Blazers in the first round starting on Friday. Kelowna and Kamloops finished 2nd and 3rd in the B.C. Division, respectively.

Dmitri Zaitsev will also be in the postseason as Moose Jaw finished 2nd in the East Division. They will play Swift Current in the first round.

The only Caps’ prospect whose playoff hopes had not yet been determined was Beck Malenstyn. The Calgary Hitmen were fighting for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the weekend. Malenstyn came up big to lead the Hitmen into the postseason with a hat trick performance in his team’s 6-1 win over Kootenay on Friday. He was named the second star of the game, second to Kootenay’s goalie who allowed the six goals so go ahead and figure that one out.

For the season, Malenstyn scored 32 goals and 24 assists.

Calgary’s reward for making the playoffs is a first-round matchup with the Regina Pats. Regina finished with the top record in the WHL thanks in large part to the performance of defenseman Connor Hobbs.

On Saturday, Hobbs set a franchise record for goals scored by a defenseman with his 31st of the season.

Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post spoke to Hobbs about his impressive season.

Hobbs led all WHL defensemen with 31 goals and 85 points in 67 games. He was named the top defenseman in the Eastern Conference and named a first-team all-star.

“It’s an honour and it’s really cool to be talked about in those conversations,” said Hobbs. “I’m really proud and I’m so thankful I had the teammates I did this regular season to help me get to that point.”

Defenseman Cody Corbett, who was acquired by the Caps in the trade that sent Joe Cannata to the Colorado Avalanche, recorded an assist in each of his first two games with South Carolina in the ECHL.

Like Siegenthaler, Damien Riat saw his NLA team, Geneve-Servette, eliminated from the playoffs in a four-game sweep at the hands of EV Zug. For the season, he had seven goals and seven assists.

MORE CAPITALS: Shattenkirk still looking for first goal as a Cap after scoring change