Capitals

After rocky start, Zeigler blossoming for Panthers

201301222043746085392-p2.jpeg

After rocky start, Zeigler blossoming for Panthers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Trey Zeigler thought he had it all figured out. On paper, it looked so obvious.

When the former Central Michigan guard transferred to Pitt over the summer and was granted a waiver by the NCAA that allowed him to play for the Panthers right away, Zeigler just assumed he'd be inserted right into the starting lineup alongside point guard Tray Woodall.

``That's how I had it in my head,'' Zeigler said.

Jamie Dixon's head, however, had other plans.

A couple days before the team's first exhibition game, Dixon sat Zeigler down and told him freshman James Robinson would start at the point and Woodall would be the shooting guard, leaving the player who averaged 16.0 points a game in two years at Central Michigan somewhat stunned.

Asked if his initial reaction was something along the lines of ``for real?'' and Zeigler laughed.

``Once I figured out I was going to be coming off the bench, it was just growing up,'' he said. ``I had to grow up and deal with the new role and that's just part of life.''

The adjustment period proved rockier than expected.

Though Zeigler was productive when given playing time early in the season, things changed when the 21-year-old was charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence in late November. Dixon suspended Zeigler two games. It gave Zeigler time to re-evaluate his outlook.

Did he wonder if he'd made a mistake by coming ``home'' to Pittsburgh - where his father Ernie, served as an assistant coach under Ben Howland from 2001-03 - instead of accepting transfer offers from Duke and UCLA? Did he think maybe he should have sat out a year to get acclimated instead of trying to immerse himself in an entirely new system in a few short months?

``All kinds of thoughts went through my head when I was going through it,'' Zeigler said. ``The biggest thing was having my family here, that really helped. Having my mom and dad here, talking me through it. If I was here by myself, it might have been even worse.''

Ernie and Seantelle Zeigler moved to Pittsburgh to be with the oldest of their two children when Central Michigan fired Ernie as head coach following six uneven seasons. Though he's out of coaching for the moment, Ernie is still getting his fix by breaking down tape with Trey into the wee hours of the morning.

Lately, dad's been a little busier than usual thanks to a decided uptick in play - and in playing time - for his son.

Zeigler is averaging 9.0 points over his last three games for Pitt (16-4, 4-3 Big East), which hosts DePaul (10-8, 1-4) on Saturday. It helps that he's playing about 22 minutes a game since Dixon made him the first guard off the bench before a loss to Marquette two weeks ago.

``I'm playing a lot more so I feel more comfortable on the court and doing what coach wants me to do, rebounding and defense,'' he said. ``I'm just trying to bring positive energy out there.''

The most direct route to getting into the lineup when playing for Dixon is crashing the boards, a point of emphasis since the beginning of the season.

The 6-foot-5 Zeigler is unlike most shooting guards in that he's not big on chucking 3-pointers - he's taken just three all year - and instead relies on slashing to the rim or pulling up for a midrange jumper. That means he's around the basket quite a bit, making him an effective rebounder. Nearly half (14) of his 34 boards have come off the offensive glass and he's shown a knack for tipping a ball to a teammate for an easy putback.

``It's just about reading the ball, reading it coming off the rim,'' he said. ``I'm not as big as other guys but I can sneak in there and try and get one or two a game.''

Zeigler's increased role has coincided with a three-game winning streak that has Pitt in the thick of a muddled middle in the Big East. A win on Saturday would clear the way for the most pivotal week of the season. Pitt plays at No. 5 Louisville on Monday and hosts No. 3 Syracuse next weekend.

At some point, Zeigler knows the Panthers will have to knock off a team they're not supposed to if they want to bolster their NCAA tournament credentials.

``We know we're good enough to beat anybody, but we need to do it,'' he said. ``We've got some opportunities coming up, hopefully we take advantage of it.''

It's something Zeigler believes he's done following a rough start. While Dixon said there are plans to put Cameron Wright - who Zeigler replaced as the top player off the bench - back into the mix, the coach is also well aware that Zeigler needs to be on the floor.

``I think he's making better decisions with the basketball,'' Dixon said. ``He's now been with us for half a year and I think that's only natural. It's something that we expected and hoped for and we're seeing it. So it's not surprising.''

Quick Links

3 stars of the game: Burakovsky's big night propels Caps to the Stanley Cup Final

3 stars of the game: Burakovsky's big night propels Caps to the Stanley Cup Final

For just the second time in franchise history, the Capitals are Eastern Conference Champions. They will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup FInal after a dominant 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Alex Ovechkin gave the Capitals the lead just 62 seconds into the game. It was a lead they would never relinquish as Braden Holtby recorded his second consecutive shutout.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will be Monday in Las Vegas.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Andre Burakovsky: It's been a rough year for Burakovsky, but all that was erased on Wednesday with his brilliant two-goal performance to lead the Caps.

The Caps were clinging to a 1-0 lead in the second period, but the Lightning were buzzing, outshooting the Caps 8-1. They had all the momentum until Burakovsky stole a bouncing puck from Dan Girardi and fired a quick shot far-side for the beautiful goal.

Burakovsky added a second goal later in the second as John Carlson banked a pass off the boards to launch him on a breakaway. Burakovsky coolly shot it through the open five-hole of Vasilevskiy to make it 3-0.

It's incredible to think that Burakovsky had not recorded a point yet this postseason prior to Game 7, was a healthy scratch for Game 5 and was talking about seeing a sports psychologist over the summer after the morning skate for Game 6.

2. Braden Holtby: The goaltending for much of the series was Andrei Vasilevskiy who led Tampa Bay's comeback in the series with his phenomenal netminding. He was outplayed in the most important games by Holtby, however, who recorded shutouts in both Game 6 and Game 7. The last goal the Lightning scored in the series came 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5. That's 139:27 of continuous play and 60 straight saves for Holtby.

Holtby was phenomenal in Game 7 with big save after big save as the Lightning pushed to tie. His biggest save came in the second period when he denied Alex Killorn on the breakaway. The score was just 2-0 at that point.

This marks just the fifth time a goalie has recorded a shutout in Game 6 and Game 7 in a playoff series.

3. Alex Ovechkin: It took Ovechkin just 62 seconds to put the Capitals ahead and it turned out to be the goal that sent Washington to the Stanley Cup Final. How fitting for it to be Ovechkin to score the game-winner?

Quick Links

Referees miss blatant boarding by Paquette on Orpik

usatsi_10849897.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Referees miss blatant boarding by Paquette on Orpik

A rough hit to the back of Brooks Orpik left him down on the ice and slow to get up. Cedric Paquette skated back to his bench and waited for the trainer to attend to Orpik and (probably) for the referees to call his number and send him to the box.

The penalty, however, never came.

You always hear in hockey that if you can see a player's numbers, you should pull up on the hit.

What that refers to is the numbers on the back of a player's jersey. You are not allowed to hit a player directly in the back into the boards.

The official definition of boarding according to the NHL rule book is, "any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously." Hitting a player "in the numbers" is a defenseless position.

Apparently Cedric Paquette didn't know that and, unfortunately for the Capitals, neither did the referees.

Someone explain to me how this is not a boarding penalty:

Sometimes referees are put in a tough position because a player turns his back right before they take the hit, thus putting themselves in a vulnerable position to draw a penalty. That was not the case here. Orpik never turned.

When Tom Wilson hit Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the second period, the hockey world spent the next day debating whether it was an illegal hit. There is no debate here, no grey area. Just a clear board.

And no call.

You can understand referees wanting to put away the whistles for a Game 7, but you have to call the blatant dangerous plays like this. This was a bad miss by the referees, plain and simple.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES