Capitals

Irish seek 1st perfect home season since 1998

Irish seek 1st perfect home season since 1998

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Braxston Cave is named after the fullback from Notre Dame's 1988 national championship team. He's a lifelong fan of the school, growing up not far from campus, and signed with the team after it posted a school-worst 3-9 record in 2007, convinced his class would help bring the storied program back to glory.

``We knew with the group we had that we could do something special,'' Cave said. ``There's six of us left now and it's finally coming together.''

The fifth-year senior center has been through a lot during a mediocre first four seasons, a time in which the Irish went a combined 29-22 and saw coach Charlie Weis get fired.

But Cave heads into Saturday's game against Wake Forest (5-5) knowing the third-ranked Irish (10-0) are in the running for a national championship this late in a season for the first time in nearly two decades. Notre Dame hasn't won it all since Braxston Banks was part of the championship squad led by coach Lou Holtz 24 years ago.

``Every guy knows what's at stake,'' Cave said. ``We just have to come out and execute and do what we've been doing all year.''

The Irish have been dominant on the road this season, but have struggled at times at home. They needed overtime to beat Stanford, triple-overtime to beat Pittsburgh and have won their other three home games by a combined 13 points.

The problems are obvious: Notre Dame has committed 10 of its 13 turnovers and 33 of its 56 penalties at home, and averages 78 fewer rushing yards at home while allowing an average of 50 more yards on the ground. Throw in the emotions of senior day, and it could be a concern for the Irish.

Coach Brian Kelly is reminding his team not to get caught up in the moment.

``In other words, `Yes, it is your last home game, but we've got a lot in front of us. What you'll remember most is whether you win the game, not that it was your last home game. So make sure that you keep the distractions to a minimum. And if there is any emotion, let that be after the game. Let's have the emotion after the game celebrating a great victory,''' he said.

Kelly's focus has been on Notre Dame trying to go undefeated at home for the first time since 1998, avoiding all talk with his team about the BCS standings and national championship possibilities.

``The only thing we've talked about in terms of goals is they want to go undefeated at home. That's really important to this group. They don't talk about 11-0 or 12-0 or national championships or bowl games or any of those things. They want to win this last home game because they want to be that group that went undefeated at home. That's important.''

What's important for the Demon Deacons is winning another game so they can become bowl eligible. Wake Forest right tackle Colin Summers said seeing Pittsburgh and Boston College play the Irish tough the past two weeks give the Demon Deacons confidence.

``All teams start to wear down toward the end of the season, what with people being banged up and stuff like that. But there's no taking away from Notre Dame how great a team they are,'' he said.

Wake Forest free safety A.J. Marshall said the Deacons know the Irish can be beat.

``We know they're human, they make mistakes. They've had a lot of miscues, and we've had a lot of miscues as well. We just have to limit our miscues, limit our mistakes, make less mistakes than they do, whether they're penalties or things like that. We have to execute better than they do in all phases of the game,'' he said.

An Irish team caught up in emotions could help. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who said one of the main reasons he returned for his senior season instead of turning pro was so that he and his parents could share in the joy of senior day, said he knows it's going to be an emotional day.

``We've got to rise together and make sure we take care of business at the end of the day. I've experienced senior days where the team has lost, and it doesn't feel so special after that,'' he said.

Cave said the Irish need to finish the season strong.

``My goal coming here was to get things back to the glory days and the way things are supposed to be. I feel like we've done a good job of finally doing that,'' he said.

Quick Links

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

usatsi_10635504.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

Quick Links

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

usa-chez-usat.png
USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS