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Clemson seeking strong finish unlike last year

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Clemson seeking strong finish unlike last year

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thinks the 10th-ranked Tigers have grown since their late-season collapse of last fall and have the experience to avoid a similar slide this season.

``Consistency is something this program has lacked,'' Swinney said Tuesday. ``That's the next thing we've got to do.''

The quest starts Saturday when the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) travel to Duke (6-3, 2-2). Clemson appeared ready to break through a year ago when it stood 8-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country. The Tigers were in the thick of BCS title talk because of a record-setting offense that looked unstoppable.

Then things fell apart.

Clemson lost three of its final four games in the regular season. While the team rebounded to win the ACC crown, Clemson was demolished in prime time in an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

Clemson's already handled several obstacles it hasn't in the past since its lone loss, a 49-37 defeat at No. 9 Florida State, to get itself back in the top 10. Swinney said the players have learned from last year's problems and look forward to continuing their strong play.

``I just think the experience they've had is going to pay off for them,'' Swinney said. ``That's usually the case.''

Tigers center Dalton Freeman said Clemson went nine games without a break last year and bumps and bruises began to take a toll. There were also several underclassmen at key positions, he said, like quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins whose production tailed off and mistakes increased as the season wore on.

``They hadn't been through it before and I don't know if they were mentally ready'' for the stretch run, Freeman said.

Freeman says those players haven't forgotten what they went through and are focused on building on their four-game win streak.

For Boyd, this is a chance to prove he won't have a drop off in production the way he did last fall. Boyd had passed for 24 touchdowns and three interceptions in Clemson's perfect start. He had four touchdowns and seven interceptions the final four games.

Boyd said he's a much more mature player this season and doesn't spend much time thinking about what went wrong for him last fall.

``It's a growth in the leadership role and having these guys look up to me in any situation whether we're down or up,'' he said. ``So my job is to stay calm, stay poised and let the game come to me.''

Boyd's done that this season. He leads the league with more than 326 yards of total offense per game. He also tops the ACC with 20 TD passes against six interceptions.

Boyd threw for a record 428 yards in Clemson's 42-13 victory over Wake Forest on Oct. 25. He tied his own school record with five touchdown passes to five different receivers - a fact Boyd's especially proud of.

``I think that's when we're at our best,'' he says, ``when everyone touches the ball.''

Clemson got a major boost against Wake Forest from Watkins, an All-American who had struggled to match his freshman production as a sophomore. Watkins had eight catches for a school record 202 yards and his first receiving touchdown of the year.

Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris believes Watkins is rounding into form at exactly the right time to keep the Tigers rolling.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils will have their hands full trying to slow down the Tigers.

``Clemson is an ACC championship team,'' he said. ``They've got players that have performed at that level and continue to perform at that level.''

Duke is Clemson's last road game and the Tigers finish ACC play at Death Valley against Maryland and North Carolina, who are combined 2-3 in conference play so far.

Clemson closes the season at home against rival South Carolina, which lost star rusher Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee injury last week. The Tigers still need help in another Florida State loss to win the Atlantic Division and defend their ACC title. A perfect November might also bring Clemson a second straight BCS bowl, Swinney said.

``We are pretty high (in the rankings) right now with a loss,'' Swinney said. ``We are about where we should be. If we can finish strong, we'll have every opportunity that's out there.''

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AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report from Durham, N.C.

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 5

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 5

The Columbus Blue Jackets were the better team for large stretches of Game 5, but they ultimately weren't good enough. The Washington Capitals defended home ice for the first time this series and escaped with a 4-3 overtime win to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Blue Jackets to the brink.

Here's how Washington won Game 5.

A fluke bounce off of Sergei Bobrovsky’s back

Much was made coming into Game 5 of the fact that the road team had won every game to this point in the series. After winning two straight, it was imperative that for the Caps to come in and take advantage of the home crowd. But Columbus was the better team to start and scored a shorthanded tally for the game’s first goal. There was not much to like about the start…until a fluke bounce tied the game at one. Nicklas Backstrom had the puck behind the goal line and tried to feed it in front. Bobrovsky stuck his stick out to block the pass, but the puck had so much spin on it, it bounced up and off the netminder’s back into the net. A bad start ended up not costing Washington as the score was tied at 1 after the first.

The penalty kill

In the first two games of the series, the Caps gave up four power play goals on eight opportunities. Since then, Washington's PK has been lights out. The Caps gave up five power plays to Columbus in a penalty-filled contest, but killed off all five of them. Washington has not allowed a power play goal since Game 2, killing off 13 straight opportunities in the process.

A critical save by Braden Holtby

The Caps looked like they were out of gas in the third period. They held a 3-2 lead at the start, but yielded the game-tying goal to Oliver Bjorkstrand just 2:30 in and had to survive just to reach overtime. They were outshot 16-1 during that period. Luckily for them, Holtby was on point. All 15 saves Holtby made that period were critical, but none was better than highway robbery he committed on Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Considering how gassed the Caps looked that period, that goal would have been tough to come back from.

Nicklas Backstrom

There was no question who the player of the game was in this one. Backstrom scored the Caps' first goal off the back of Bobrovsky, then deflected in the overtime winner for his second goal of the game. But it goes beyond what he did on the ice. After the game, Barry Trotz said some of the team leaders stepped up in the locker room in between the third period and overtime. He would not name names, but did confirm Backstrom was one of those who spoke out.

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