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Weekend Sports in Brief

Weekend Sports in Brief

NEW ORLEANS (AP) With a team flag waving from an open window of their chartered plane, the San Francisco 49ers arrived at their first Super Bowl in 18 years on Sunday.

The players walked off the airplane in a businesslike manner - no video recorders or cameras, no waves to onlookers. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, wearing a red wool cap sporting ``49ers'' on it, mouthed the words to a song on his head phones as he calmly walked on the tarmac.

Most of the team's veteran players disembarked first, including center Jonathan Goodwin, who won a Super Bowl three years ago with the Saints.

HONOLULU (AP) - A handful of shenanigans and plenty of points - yet still another ho-hum Pro Bowl.

Whether the NFL's all-star game will return next season is a something the league will ponder the next few months after the NFC's 62-35 blowout of the AFC on Sunday.

Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson at least got the crowd pumped up in the second half with some nifty scrambles and three passing touchdowns. There was also Houston's sack-happy defensive end J.J. Watt going out for a couple of passes as a wide receiver, and retiring Green Bay center Jeff Saturday snapping to two Mannings on opposite teams.

Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph was voted the game's MVP with five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Now, the future of the game depends on how Commissioner Roger Goodell sees it. NFL officials said last week that the league wants to decide the future of the Pro Bowl by the time next season's schedule is released in April.

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is a big football fan with two daughters, but if he had a son, he says he'd ``have to think long and hard'' before letting him play because of the physical toll the game takes.

``I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence,'' Obama tells The New Republic.

``In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much.''

In an interview in the magazine's Feb. 11 issue, Obama said he worries more about college players than he does about those in the NFL.NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gregg Williams may be a step closer to returning to the NFL after being suspended indefinitely for his role in the Saints' bounty program.

Titans coach Mike Munchak has talked with Williams and is interested in adding him to his Tennessee staff, a person familiar with the situation said on Sunday. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the Titans do not discuss personnel moves until they are finalized.

PRO BASKETBALL

BOSTON (AP) - The Celtics' grip on the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference already was slipping. Now they'll have to hang on without Rajon Rondo.

Boston's star point guard will miss the rest of the season and undergo surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Celtics won without him on Sunday, beating the Miami Heat 100-98 in double overtime.

But what will the Celtics (21-23) do without him for the remaining 38 games with just a 2 1/2-game lead over the ninth-place Philadelphia 76ers?

``We'll see,'' coach Doc Rivers said. ``Obviously, that's a blow. It's a huge blow for us.''

TENNIS

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Novak Djokovic beat Andy Murray 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday's final to become the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian Open titles.

After two sets without a service break, top-ranked Djokovic broke Murray in the eighth game of the third set to seize momentum in the match.

It was Djokovic's sixth major title and his fourth at Melbourne Park, where he is unbeaten in 21 matches.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Victoria Azarenka won her second consecutive Australian Open title on Saturday, beating Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a dramatic final that contained a break for fireworks, two medical timeouts and a nasty fall to the court by Li.

The Chinese star first tumbled to the court after twisting her left ankle in the fifth game of the second set and had it taped.

On the first point after a 10-minute pause in the third set while fireworks boomed overhead from nearby Australia Day celebrations, Li fell over again and slammed the back of her head on the court. The 2011 French Open champion was treated immediately and had another timeout before being allowed to resume the match.

Azarenka, who broke down in tears and sobbed into her towel when the match ended, won five of the next six games to claim her second major title and retain the No. 1 ranking.

GOLF

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Due to the fog that wiped out an entire day of golf, the Farmers Insurance Open didn't have a chance of finishing on Sunday.

Tiger Woods just made it look as if it were over.

Hands thrust in the pockets of his rain pants, Woods walked off Torrey Pines in the chill of twilight with a six-shot lead and only 11 more holes standing in the way of winning on the public course along the Pacific Ocean for the eighth time in his pro career.

He drove the ball with superb control in the third round on his way to a 3-under 69 Sunday to build a four-shot lead after three rounds. He lost control with his driver in the fourth round Sunday afternoon and still managed three birdies in seven holes.

DOHA, Qatar (AP) - Chris Wood eagled the 18th hole to win the Qatar Masters for his first European Tour title on Sunday, overtaking Sergio Garcia and George Coetzee.

The 142nd-ranked Englishman hit a 6-iron from 200 yards to 12 feet to set up the winning putt. He closed with a 3-under 69 to finish at 18-under 270. Garcia and Coetzee tied for second, a stroke back. Garcia shot a 66, and Coetzee had a 65.

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The U.S. Open is returning to Winged Foot, the New York club with a history of clutch moments and one unforgettable collapse.

The U.S. Golf Association will announce Monday that the West Course at Winged Foot will host the 2020 U.S. Open. Only two other courses - Oakmont and Baltusrol - will have held the national championship more times.

SOCCER

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Lionel Messi scored four goals to become the youngest player to pass the 200-mark in the Spanish league and set a La Liga record with goals in 11 consecutive games, leading Barcelona to a 5-1 rout of Osasuna on Sunday night.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 20th career hat trick in an 11-minute span to lead defending champion Real Madrid over Getafe 4-0. Ronaldo has 302 goals over 499 club games in all competitions for Sporting Lisbon (2002-03), Manchester United (2003-09) and Real Madrid (since 2009).

AUTO RACING

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Scott Pruett tied Hurley Haywood's record of five Rolex 24 at Daytona victories Sunday, helping Chip Ganassi Racing return to Victory Lane in the prestigious sports car race.

A slight lineup change and a dominating performance in the twice-around-the-clock race earned the No. 01 team another celebratory Rolex watch.

Three-time defending Grand-Am champions Pruett and Memo Rojas, along with NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya and IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball teamed to beat the VelocityWW team by almost 22 seconds.

WINTER SPORTS

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Max Aaron jumped from fourth to first at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Sunday.

It was the first title for the 20-year-old, who has done very little of note since winning the U.S. junior title two years ago. Aaron finished with 255 points, almost four better than Ross Miner. Jeremy Abbott, who had won three of the last four U.S. titles, dropped to third with a flawed free skate.

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) - Shaun White cruised to his sixth straight snowboard superpipe crown at Winter X on Sunday night.

His top rival, Iouri Podladtchikov, dropped out because of an illness. Instead, White's biggest challenger was 14-year-old Ayumu Hirano, who became the youngest athlete ever to medal at Winter X when he took silver. Hirano, of Japan, just might be the future of snowboarding - once White relinquishes control, of course. Markus Malin of Finland was third.

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland (AP) - The United States team, including Olympic 100-meter hurdler Lolo Jones, won gold Sunday in the combined bobsled-skeleton team event at the world championships.

Jones was brakewoman for Elana Meyers in the women's bobsled portion of an event that also added times in two-man bobsled plus men's and women's skeleton.

The U.S. edged Germany by 0.24 seconds even though the Germans won three of four disciplines on the Olympia track.

MARIBOR, Slovenia (AP) - Overall World Cup leader Tina Maze rebounded from a close loss with an emphatic slalom victory before her home fans Sunday. The Slovenian has now won in four disciplines this season.

Maze, who lost Saturday's giant slalom by 0.08 seconds to Lindsey Vonn, led after the opening run and finished her two runs in 1 minute, 33.68 seconds down the Radvanje course.

KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) - Marcel Hirscher won a World Cup slalom for the 10th time in his career Sunday, drawing roars from a home crowd that included Austria-born Arnold Schwarzenegger.

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

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USA TODAY Sports

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

Rick Horrow The Sports Professor sits down for an exclusive interview with Joe Leccese -- and more from the $1 trillion-dollar business of sports in this week's 'Beyond The Scoreboard with Rick Horrow'

About the Guest: Joe Leccese is the Chairman of Proskauer. He is responsible for leading the Firm’s global operations across its 13 offices and co-heads of Proskauer’s renowned Sports Law Group.

By Rick Horrow

Podcast producer: Tanner Simkins

LISTEN HERE

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The Caps' penalty kill has been a major factor in the series turnaround

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' penalty kill has been a major factor in the series turnaround

For the Capitals to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the keys to the series was going to be the penalty kill. 

For the season, Columbus ranked only 25th in the league on the power play at 17.2-percent, but that number did not reflect the massive improvement the Blue Jackets made with their trade deadline acquisitions.

Since the trade deadline on Feb. 26, Columbus ranked seventh on the power play. The Caps were sixth with both teams converting 25.0-percent of the time.

Where Washington did have an edge, seemingly, was on the penalty kill. Unlike the power play, Columbus' penalty kill was consistently poor all season, finishing 27th in the NHL with a kill rate of only 76.2-percent. While not a strength by any means, the Caps were certainly better on the PK with a kill rate of 80.3-percent, good for 15th in the league.

With two power plays converting at the same rate, Washington had to be able to kill off more of the Blue Jackets' opportunities. They struggled to do that in Game 1 and Game 2.

The Caps were called for four penalties and gave up two power play goals in each of the first two games. Washington scored five power play goals in those games, but their advantage on special teams was mitigated by their inability to keep Columbus from converting. 

There are many reasons why the Caps were able to overcome the 0-2 series deficit and now sit just one win away from advancing to the second round. Chief among those reasons is the improved penalty kill. Since Game 2, Washington has not allowed a single power play goal. The PK has successfully killed off 13 straight penalties including five in Game 5.

"I think as a group, they've all stepped up," Barry Trotz said on a conference call with the media on Sunday. "I don't think I can single out anybody. They've all stepped up. The penalty kill is as good as the five guys that you have, your four and your goaltender. They've been very committed there."

In a series that has seen four out of five games go to overtime, it's not hard to recognize the impact even one goal can have on a game and, by extension, the series. Should the Caps go on to win the series, their ability to adjust their penalty kill to stop the Blue Jackets' suddenly potent power play will be one of the main reasons why.

Trotz would not go into specifics as to the adjustments the team made after Game 2, but did acknowledge the penalty kill has been a "major factor" in the Caps' turnaround this series.

But to finish the job, the penalty kill will have to continue adjusting.

"This is the time when we're still trying to tweak things," Trotz said. "They changed some things on their power play a little bit yesterday, so we'll look to maybe tweak a little bit with our PK."