Capitals

Ex-Saint Nicks relishes new opportunity in Tampa

Ex-Saint Nicks relishes new opportunity in Tampa

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Carl Nicks figured he was on his way out of New Orleans before last season even ended, which only added to the All-Pro left guard's motivation.

``I figured if you didn't want to talk to me then, in my fourth and final year, it wasn't going to happen in the offseason,'' Nicks said, referring to a lack of contract talks with New Orleans during the 2011 season, his last before free agency. ``So, I figured I better ball out, because I have to put my resume out there.''

Nicks said he misses his former Saints teammates, who he'll face on Sunday in Tampa Bay. Still, he is happier with the Buccaneers, even joking in his typically goofy, free-speaking manner that his new workplace is all ``lollipops and rainbows.''

One big reason is because the Buccaneers gave him a five-year, $47 million free-agent contract, he acknowledged this week.

``Honestly I've always grown up and been in the college and NFL and know the good players get paid accordingly,'' he said. ``I felt like I was a good player and it happened accordingly.''

But there was more to it than that, he insisted.

``Everybody thinks it was the money,'' Nicks said Wednesday. ``But it really wasn't. The challenge here is to be something that the Saints didn't look at me as - a premier player that could be a leader.''

Nicks did not necessarily see it as a sign of disrespect that the Saints did not see him in such a role. New Orleans already had players like fellow All-Pro Jahri Evans on the offensive line, and quarterback Drew Brees' contract holdout only complicated matters

``I knew Drew had to get his money first and that's how it should have been,'' Nicks said. ``He's a franchise quarterback and he's much more in the community. He needed to get dealt with first and I totally understand that.''

Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer, also the offensive line coach, said in losing the 6-foot-5, 349-pound Nicks, the Saints lost a blocker is simply ``overpowering.''

``He is a matchup win on almost everyone,'' Kromer said. ``That's what makes him different.''

Kromer said the Saints did as well as they could filling the void with Ben Grubbs, a former Pro Bowl guard at Baltimore. Kromer said Grubbs continues to be an elite NFL guard, and yet something has been amiss in the Saints' running game early this season. New Orleans is averaging 75.2 yards on the ground, which ranks 30th.

The Saints made Nicks their fifth-round draft choice in 2008, taking a calculated risk on a player whose draft status dropped because of off-the-field disciplinary problems. The move paid huge dividends as Nicks became a starter during his rookie season and held the spot full-time going into 2009, when New Orleans won its only Super Bowl.

Nicks also was part of last season's Saints offense that broke a slew of records, and memorable lifted Brees on his shoulder when the Saints quarterback broke Dan Marino's 1984 single-season record of 5,084 yards passing in a season.

``He picked me up pretty easily, I'll say that, too,'' Brees said.

Nicks said the Saints finally made him a competitive offer during free agency. He did not remember it precisely but said the annual average pay was more than Evans' seven-year, $56.7 million deal. By then, however, it was too late, Nicks said.

``Who knows what would have happened if they had offered me that deal ... before free agency started?'' Nicks said.

Instead, he's protecting Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman this season, and run-blocking for LaGarrette Blount and Doug Martin.

``Carl has been a great addition. He is a physically dominating player,'' first-year Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano said. ``He has been a great guy to have in the organization. He has been a leader on the offensive line. He has really been a positive addition.''

Notes: Saints TE Jimmy Graham (right ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. ``You always want to have your best players so we hope we're going to have him,'' Kromer said. ``If we don't, then we just have to adjust accordingly. ... ``Jimmy is mentally ready and he is a very tough guy. Pain doesn't affect him.'' ... LB David Hawthorne (right hamstring) and LB Scott Shanle (illness) did not practice.

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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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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