Capitals

Carville, Matalin enjoy role as Big Easy boosters

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Carville, Matalin enjoy role as Big Easy boosters

NEW ORLEANS (AP) When Mary Matalin heard a baby cry during a Super Bowl news conference this week, she paused midsentence, peered in the direction of the fussing child and asked: ``Is that my husband?''

Matalin, the noted Republican political pundit, isn't shy about making jokes at the expense of Democratic strategist James Carville, who went from being her professional counterpart to her partner in life when they were married - in New Orleans - two decades ago.

This week, though, and for much of the past few years, the famous political odd couple have been working in lockstep for a bipartisan cause - the resurgence of their adopted hometown.

Their passion for the Big Easy and its recovery from Hurricane Katrina was why Carville and Matalin were appointed co-chairs of New Orleans' Super Bowl host committee, positions that made them the face of the city's effort to prove it's ready to be back in the regular rotation for the NFL's biggest game.

``Their commitment to New Orleans and their rise to prominence here locally as citizens made them a natural choice,'' said Jay Cicero, president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, which handles the city's Super Bowl bids. ``It's about promoting New Orleans, and their being in love with this city, they're the perfect co-chairs.''

Carville, a Louisiana native, and Matalin moved from Washington, D.C., to historic ``Uptown'' New Orleans in the summer of 2008, a little less than three years after Katrina had laid waste to vast swaths of the city. There was not only heavy wind damage but flooding that surged through crumbling levees and at one point submerged about 80 percent of the city.

The couple had long loved New Orleans, and felt even more of a pull to set down roots here, with their two school-age daughters, at a time when the community was in need.

``The storm just weighed heavy,'' Carville said. ``We were thinking about it. We'd been in Washington for a long time. The more that we thought about it, the more sense that it made. We just came down here (to look for a house) in late 2007 and said we're just going to do this and never looked back.''

Matalin said she and Carville also wanted to raise their daughters in a place where people were willing to struggle to preserve a vibrant and unique culture.

``It's authentically creative, organically eccentric, bounded by beauty of all kinds,'' she said. ``People pull for each other, people pull together. ... Seven years ago we were 15 feet under water. ... This is unparalleled what the people here did and that's what you want your kids to grow up with: Hope and a sense of place, resolve and perseverance.''

Carville has been an avid sports fan all his life, and Matalin jokes that he now schedules his life around Saints and LSU football.

An LSU graduate, Carville has been a regular sight in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, often wearing a purple and gold rugby-style shirt.

In New Orleans, he and Matalin have lent their names not just to the Super Bowl host committee, but to efforts to prevent the NBA's Hornets from leaving when the ownership situation was in flux.

``I was scared to death they would leave the city,'' said Carville of the Hornets, who were purchased by the NBA in December of 2010 when club founder George Shinn wanted to sell and struggled to find a local buyer. ``We were starting to do better (as a community). It would have been a terrible story to lose an NBA franchise at that time.''

Saints owner Tom Benson has since bought the NBA club and signed a long-term lease at New Orleans Arena, ending speculation about a possible move.

Carville and Matalin also have taken part in a range of environmental, educational, economic and cultural projects in the area. Matalin is on the board of the Water Institute of the Gulf, which aims to preserve fragile coastal wetlands that have been eroding, leaving south Louisiana ecosystems and communities increasingly vulnerable to destruction. They have supported the Institute of Politics at Loyola University and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

Carville teaches a current events class at Tulane University and he looks forward to getting involved in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans in 2015 and New Orleans' tercentennial celebrations in 2018, when the city also hopes to host its next Super Bowl, if the NFL sees fit.

Leading a Super Bowl host committee, the couple said, has similarities to running a major national political campaign, but takes even more work.

``This has been going on for three years and it's huge,'' Matalin said. ``It's bigger, it's harder, it's more complex - even though it's cheaper.''

The host committee spent about $13 million in private and public funds to put on this Super Bowl, and the payoff could be enormous in terms of providing a momentum boost to the metro area's growth, Carville said.

``For us - New Orleans - I think this is going to be much more than a football game Sunday,'' Carville said of the championship matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. ``We'll know how we feel about it on Monday. It's a big event, it helps a lot of people, but I think we have a chance if it goes the way we hope it does, it'll go beyond economic impact. It'll go beyond who won the game. I think there's something significant that's coming to a point here in the city.''

So there's a bit of anxiety involved, to go along with the long hours. But Carville and Matalin say they've loved having a role in what they see as New Orleans' renaissance.

``I always say I'm so humbled by everyone's gratitude,'' Matalin said. ``We get up every day and say, `Thank you, God. Thank you, God.' It's a blessing for us to be able to be here, to live here.''

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Backstrom the catalyst behind Capitals' trip to the edge of advancement

Backstrom the catalyst behind Capitals' trip to the edge of advancement

WASHINGTON — It had been nine years since Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom last had a four-point game in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That was a different time, an era when Backstrom and his teammates too often faltered under the weight of enormous expectations.  That’s all gone now. There is a Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters at Capital One Arena to prove it. Now they can all just play. 

With teammate T.J. Oshie hurt and likely out for the season, Backstrom continued to raise his own game in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He had two goals and two assists in a 6-0 thrashing as Washington took a 3-2 series lead and pushed the Hurricanes to the brink of elimination. Alex Ovechkin added a goal and two assists.  

Backstrom’s last four-point playoff games was April 17, 2010. He had a hat trick that night and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. 

“That was probably Montreal, right?” Backstrom said before confessing. “Yeah, Ovi told me. He remembers everything.”

Those were darker days. The Capitals blew a 3-1 series lead against Montreal that year and maybe the best team of the Ovechkin era went out in the first round despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy. No wonder Backstrom needed help remembering. 

There is no such issue this season. The 31-year-old Swede is carrying the Capitals, who are one game away from advancing. It was his second two-goal game of the series. He has five total, which matches his career high for one playoff series set in 2010 against the Canadiens. He and Ovechkin, who has seven points in the series (three goals, four assists) set a tone and their teammates followed. 

"In all areas, too,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “Obviously they got on the point sheet, but their play away from the puck, on the forecheck, supporting each other, they're real tough to play against when they play like that and I thought they've been doing a great job all playoffs, too.”

Backstrom’s five goals matched what he had all last postseason when the Caps won the Cup. He missed games because of a broken finger, but still played in 20 and had five goals and 18 assists. He matched his total output of eight points in 2009 against Pittsburgh and 2018 against Columbus. His career best is again that Montreal series when he had nine points. Not that he cares about that now. None of the Caps do. If the production leads to wins and advancing to the second round, that’s all that matters.  

“It’s good for the confidence I think. But it’s going to be a different game in Carolina,” Backstrom said. “We’ve just got to regroup here and move forward. That was just a 3-2 lead. Toughest one is the last one. We haven’t been happy with the way we’ve played in Carolina so far. Let’s change that.”

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Braden Holtby’s new franchise record overshadowed by blowout win and he’s just fine with that

Braden Holtby’s new franchise record overshadowed by blowout win and he’s just fine with that

WASHINGTON – On a night in which the Capitals erupted for six goals against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, goalie Braden Holtby’s contributions were largely overshadowed. Nicklas Backstrom scored his fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs in a four-point night while Alex Ovechkin added a goal and three points of his own. Even Nic Dowd got into the mix as he scored Washington’s first penalty shot goal in playoff history.

When a team wins a game 6-0, it is easy to discount the contribution of the goalie and assume the offense carried the team. That was not the case on Saturday as Holtby played a pivotal role in Washington taking back control of its first-round series.

And he set a franchise record doing it.

With 30 saves, Holtby recorded his seventh career playoff shutout passing Olie Kolzig’s previous franchise record of six. Holtby now stands alone with the most postseason shutouts in team history.

But you won’t see him celebrating too hard.

“It means I’m getting old,” Holtby said.

Holtby may be the only goalie in the world who does not seem to care about shutouts. He has been consistent on this point throughout his career, always saying that shutouts only matter because it means he helped put the team in a position to win.

When it comes to individual accolades, however, Holtby is just not interested.

When asked what holding Carolina scoreless on Saturday did for his confidence, Holtby was blunt.

"Nothing,” he said. “It's a win. We regroup, we know they're going to come harder next game and we'll focus on that."

As focused as Holtby seemed to be after the game, was just as focused in it on Saturday as he turned in his best performance of the series. Despite the final score, the game was close halfway through with Washington clinging to a one-goal lead. Holtby was brilliant between the pipes, however, especially in the second period as Washington faced three straight power plays. He turned aside 15 shots in the middle frame alone to help the Caps keep their lead and eventually run away with the win.

“Our goaltender was tremendous,” Todd Reirden said. “Those things, if you can have the special teams and your goaltender at that type of a level then you're going to give yourself a real good chance to have success.”

The offense stole the headlines after Saturday’s win, but that’s a result the Caps do not get without Holtby’s record-setting performance in net.

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