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In winning Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday night, the Capitals not only proved their status as true contenders, but also forced a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday. One of the key moments of their 3-0 victory was a goal by right wing Devante Smith-Pelly in the third period. The goal was made possible by the hustle of fellow forward Chandler Stephenson, who beat out a Tampa defenseman to wash out the possibility of icing. The moment not only served as a booster in the eventual win, but highlighted Stephenson’s hard work ethic and role in this series and playoffs as a whole.
Stephenson was credited with the primary assist on the goal, after making a beautiful behind the back pass to get the puck to Smith-Pelly, who put the puck past Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to pad the Caps’ lead to 2-0. Stephenson’s speed is one of his best weapons and serves him well in a fourth-line role. During the regular season, Stephenson averaged a career-high 11:52 of ice time a night for Head Coach Barry Trotz, recording a career-high 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 67 games played. Stephenson also established himself as a valuable penalty killer for the Caps, averaging 1:18 of ice time on the penalty kill, which ranked 10th on the team.
In the playoffs, Stephenson has continued to play a key role on the penalty kill and at even-strength, averaging 16:01 minutes a night in 18 games and played a total of 37:57 minutes on the penalty kill, all while adding seven points (two goals, five assists). Stephenson has blocked one shot and has two takeaways and has been on the ice for only one goal against while playing on the penalty kill. Stephenson has also won 52.4% of his shorthanded faceoffs.
While he may not garner much attention as the equally defensive-minded Beagle, Stephenson has played a key role in the Caps’ long and successful run in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and at just 24-years old, should play a key role for the team for the foreseeable future, especially if Beagle departs as a free agent this summer. With the Capitals facing a huge obstacle in what will likely be a motivated Lightning team on Wednesday, Stephenson’s defensive prowess and speed will be highly beneficial in securing a victory and subsequent trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
By Michael Fleetwood