Capitals

Column: 'This microphone is powerful right now.'

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Column: 'This microphone is powerful right now.'

The game was over, and the postgame interview appeared to be, too, when Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey suddenly decided otherwise.

By then, the sting of his team's 65-55 loss to Ohio State was already an afterthought. Instead, like a lot of us, he was still heartbroken about the school shootings in Newtown, determined to say something about them.

``The last thing I want to say,'' Kelsey began, as reporters scrambled to turn their tape recorders back on Tuesday night, ``is I'm really, really lucky, because I'm going to get on an eight-hour bus ride, and I'm going to arrive in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and I'm going to walk into my house, and I'm going to walk upstairs, and I'm going to walk into two pink rooms with a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old laying in that pink room, with a bunch of teddy bears laying in that room.

``And I'm going to give them the biggest hug and the biggest kiss I've ever given them. And there's 20 families in Newtown, Conn., that are walking into a pink room with a bunch of teddy bears with nobody laying in those beds,'' he said. ``And it's tragic.''

No one in the room knew that was coming, nor the call to action that came next. The only thing that was certain was that Kelsey's voice grew stronger the longer he went on.

``I know this microphone is powerful right now because we're playing the (seventh)-best team in the country. I'm not going to have a microphone like this the rest of the year, maybe the rest of my life. And I'm going to be an agent of change with the 13 young men I get to coach every day and the two little girls that I get to raise. ...

``But,'' he said, ``we've got to change.''

Kelsey is one of dozens of mid-major coaches hoping for a job at a big school like Ohio State someday, but he's a parent first. When he played basketball at Cincinnati, Kelsey was a captain and twice voted the team's most inspirational player. So maybe the most surprising thing about the past few days is that he wasn't the only coach or player to step forward and say what was on his mind.

At Syracuse the other night, coach Jim Boeheim also used the last moments of his postgame interview to make certain the next day's stories weren't focused solely on his career milestone 900th win.

``If we cannot get the people who represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society,'' Boeheim said Monday. ``If one person in this world, the NRA president, anybody, can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots - this is our fault if we don't go out there and do something about this. If we can't get this thing done, I don't know what kind of country we have.''

There were plenty of other worthy remarks and measured gestures from the world of sports in the aftermath of Newtown - almost too many to list. A few weeks ago, NBC announcer Bob Costas caught plenty of criticism by calling for saner gun-control laws during a brief halftime essay the night after the tragedy in Kansas City. Chiefs linebacker Javon Belcher shot his live-in girlfriend to death after an argument, then drove to the team's facility and, in view of his coach and general manager, turned the gun on himself.

People are still debating whether Costas overstepped. Never mix sports and politics. But those were the old rules.

For years, many athletes and coaches went out of their way to avoid taking a stand on anything that happened outside the white lines. It was like stepping on the third rail of sports and almost a guarantee that endorsements would dwindle or disappear altogether. It might even cost them a job.

Times have changed, and if the events of the past few weeks are any indication, that corner of the sports world is about to change, too. Athletes and coaches have always had the platform, and now a few of the braver souls have shown them how to use it in a responsible way for something more important than selling tickets.

Here's hoping there's no turning back.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

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USA TODAY Sports

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Bruins, Sharks force Game 7

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Bruins, Sharks force Game 7

With the first round starting to come to a close, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights had a chance to advance to the second round Sunday, while the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks needed a win to hang on. It was both teams facing elimination that were able to come out on top.

Here's how Sunday's Game 6 matchups stacked up.

Bruins stave off elimination with 4-2 win

After Friday's Game 5 victory, it looked like the Toronto Maple Leafs may possibly overcome their previous woes against Boston. However, with their backs against the wall, the Bruins were able to come back and force yet another Game 7 between these rivals.

Morgan Reilly was able to put a one-timer past Tuukka Rask to put the Maple Leafs up 1-0 early, but two minutes later, Brad Marchand struck on the power play to even the score. Soonafter, Torey Krug fired home a rebound on another power-play opportunity to put Boston up 2-1 heading into the second, where Jake DeBrusk extended the lead by two.

Auston Matthews scored his fifth of the playoffs to cut the lead to one, and he now has points in four straight games through this series. The Maple Leafs continued their comeback bid as the final frame died down, but Brad Marchand was able to fight past defenders and secure the win with an empty netter.

Rask finished with 22 saves, and Frederik Anderson stopped 38 of 41 shots. The Bruins and Maple Leafs will meet in yet another Game 7 Tuesday, as has been the case between the two teams in the playoffs over the years.

Sharks stun Golden Knights in 2-1 OT win

As if the intensity of the playoffs alone wasn't enough, Sunday's thriller between the Sharks and Golden Knights put fans all over the NHL at the edge of their seats. The score was deadlocked for five periods before the Sharks finally trimphed to see another tilt with Vegas.

The game was scoreless until the final nine seconds of the first period, where Logan Couture beat Fleury with a quick shot to make it 1-0. Jonathan Marchessault struck in the second period to tie things up at one. Both Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury were having strong performances that kept the game even, and the score would last to force double overtime.

Despite 59 shots on goal and a power-play chance in double overtime, Marc-Edouard Vlasic would find Tomas Hertl open on the PK, and he was able to carry the puck up ice and score shorthanded to win the game for San Jose.

Jones was easily the first star of the night with 58 saves, while Fleury finished with 27 saves on 29 shots. As Hertl promised, the Sharks will head to Vegas for a decisive Game 7 Tuesday.