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Irish end longest No. 1 drought in school history

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Irish end longest No. 1 drought in school history

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Coach Brian Kelly was doing the same thing Notre Dame fans around the country were doing Saturday night, flipping back and forth between the Kansas State and Oregon games and cheering loudly for one of the top two teams in the BCS standings to lose so the Fighting Irish could have a shot at the title game.

When both went down, though, he says he felt neither a sense of elation nor satisfaction. It was more a feeling of control. The Fighting Irish (11-0) were now in control of their own destiny, knowing a win over rival Southern California (7-4) puts the Irish in the BCS title game.

``We get a chance to play for the national championship provided we win this week,'' he said.

It's been 19 years since the Irish were last able to think like that. Actually, 18 years, 11 months and 29 days. But who's counting?

That's how many days it had been since Notre Dame was last ranked No. 1. That's a span that began after Boston College shocked the Fighting Irish with a 41-39 victory in 1993 a week after second-ranked Notre Dame upset top-ranked Florida State to claim that No. 1 ranking.

That's the same ranking the Irish held in 1990, 1989, 1988 and for 77 games over the years until ending the longest streak ever without a No. 1 ranking in Notre Dame history with a 38-0 win over Wake Forest on Saturday.

The Irish aren't just No. 1, they are a unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press poll after improving to 11-0 for the first time since 1989. A week earlier some scoffed at Kelly for ranking the Irish No. 1 in the coaches' poll. This week 55 of his 59 colleagues agreed with him. Kelly said he didn't feel any sense of vindication.

``I was just being consistent with my rankings. I told our team that I felt like they were the best team in the country because I knew more about our team than the other two,'' he said.

The longest Notre Dame had ever gone previously without being ranked No. 1 was 10 years and 30 days, which was the gap between the time No. 19 Purdue beat a top-ranked Notre Dame squad coached by Terry Brennan in 1954 and the Irish coached by Ara Parseghian reclaimed the top-ranking after a 40-0 win over Navy in 1964.

That team's hopes for a national title fell just short when the top-ranked Irish were upset by a Southern California 20-17 when Craig Fertig completed a 15-yard TD pass to Rod Sherman with 1:33 left and the Irish finished the season ranked No. 3.

USC will be trying to end Notre Dame's title hopes again this week and have the manpower to do it. After all, the Trojans were the preseason No. 1, while the Irish started the year unranked. But the Irish are undefeated, while the Trojans have lost three of their last four and could be without quarterback Matt Barkley, who was knocked out of the game in a 38-28 loss to UCLA on Saturday.

But the Trojans have dominated the rivalry in recent years, posting a 12-5-1 record over Notre Dame since the Irish were last ranked No. 1.

That includes a 38-0 loss by Notre Dame in 2007, a 38-3 loss in 2008, 31-point losses in 2002, '03 and '04 and the 34-31 loss in 2005 that became known as the ``Bush Push'' because USC tailback Reggie Bush nudged quarterback Matt Leinart into the end zone with 3 seconds left. During that time the Trojans have won national championships in 2003 and 2004, finished No. 2 in 2005 and No. 3 in 2007 and 2008 and fourth in 2002 and 2006. Notre Dame finished No. 2 in 1993 and No. 9 in 2005. That's it for top 10 finishes.

So there's no arguing USC has been the better team in recent years. The Trojans have won nine of the last 10 games in the rivalry, the only win for the Irish was a 20-16 victory in Los Angeles two years ago. Despite that, Kelly said the current Irish squad doesn't feel dominated by the Trojans.

``I don't think they look at USC and think of dominance. They felt like last year they let a game slip through their hands with sloppy play. Beat them at their place. So, no, our guys are excited about playing a rival in USC. But there's no trepidation. There's a great deal of respect for USC and what they've done. But our guys are very confident in themselves as well,'' Kelly said.

Kelly said the important thing for the Irish is to show that their not just No. 1 for a week, a place some college football plans wondered whether the Irish would ever get back to because of Notre Dame's academic standards. Kelly said he had no doubt when he took the job in 2009.

``I have not seen anything here in my time that will not allow us to continue to have the highest graduation rate and compete for a national championship, and I've been doing it 22 years. So I think I know what it looks like if you couldn't do it,'' he said.

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.