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Michigan State's season of frustration

Michigan State's season of frustration

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had never experienced four straight games that were decided in the closing seconds. And if he never again has to go through the frustrations of the past month, he won't miss it.

A 28-24 loss to Nebraska was the latest dagger for the Spartans (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten), who have dropped four league games by a total of 10 points.

Michigan State, heading into its off week, is 3-4 in games decided by four points or less this season.

``With a little this or a little that at the end, a different call or a different decision by a coach, maybe by me . . . `` Dantonio said Tuesday. ``If I go fourth-and-2 (vs. Nebraska), and we get that one or I go fourth-and-1 on Michigan, maybe we win. Maybe we don't. I don't know.''

There are no easy answers when a team is picked No. 13 in the preseason and seen as one of the favorites to return to the Big Ten championship game, then has to revise its goals before Election Day.

Still, Dantonio wouldn't say his team is struggling. He pointed to being a couple of plays away from title contention for the third straight year, instead of battling to be bowl-eligible a sixth straight time.

``To me, struggling is cashing it in,'' Dantonio said. ``You lose a close game, to me, that's not struggling. That's the game. That's people making plays. That's inches away. We're inches away from being 9-1, 8-2 - inches, seconds. We've rallied back every week and played and played hard. So I wouldn't say that we're struggling.''

The Spartans watched the video of another agonizing fourth quarter in a team meeting Monday morning, then put the Nebraska game away and began the business of making the most of whatever opportunities remain in Legends Division games against Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) and Minnesota (5-4, 1-4).

With six conferences games decided by a total of 17 points, less than a field goal per week, Michigan State knows it can play with anyone.

``Life's not fair. It's just not,'' Dantonio said of a string of injuries and tough officials calls. ``So why worry about it? Just keep on going, doing what you're doing, and things will even out. Eventually, things will even out. Things come in cycles. Things come in bunches.''

That included some penalties the kept that Cornhuskers close and eventually helped them to win. Big plays by quarterback Taylor Martinez, that last one with 6 seconds left, were the difference, as the Spartans held the league's top offense to minus-4 yards in the third quarter, then broke down for the fourth time this year.

Dantonio spoke with Big Ten Supervisor of Football Officials Bill Carollo about a couple of calls from Saturday's game but couldn't divulge what was said. He did say a church sermon Sunday reminded him of the values of suffering and the dangers of self-pity.

``All I can tell you is we come to play,'' Dantonio said. ``We compete. Our chemistry is very good. We have good young people. Because you lose doesn't make you a bad person. We're going to be ready to play, get back focused and focus on our next deal which is Northwestern. I also know that we need to get past this.''

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

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NBC Sports Washington

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.