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Cowboys rely on 'D' in 19-14 win over Carolina

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Cowboys rely on 'D' in 19-14 win over Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) It's been awhile since the Dallas Cowboys relied this heavily on their defense.

But that's exactly what coach Jason Garrett did in Dallas' 19-14 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

Faced with a third-and-4 at the Carolina 18 and the Cowboys leading by two points, Garrett elected to run the ball and kick a field goal rather than try to deliver a knockout punch with his offense. In so doing, he put his defense on the field with 53 seconds left to close out the game.

They answered the call, stopping the Panthers at midfield.

Garrett said he made the decision to run the ball because he was confident his defense, ranked second in the league, could hold the Panthers.

``We trust our defense immensely,'' Garrett said. ``Our defense is outstanding and they've played great all year long.''

``Defensively, when were out there it's all about closing the game,'' defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. ``(Garrett) having the confidence in the defense and saying OK we're going to kick a field goal and leave you guys out there, I know you guys are ready for this challenge.''

While Tony Romo would have loved a chance to throw the ball at that point, he said he agreed with the call.

``You weigh what coverages they've been playing throughout the day,'' Romo said. ``You also look at how well your defense has played throughout the day. ... It's very hard to be in their position, 53 seconds left, and you need a touchdown.''

Romo knows how to win a close game, something Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers still haven't figured out.

Romo led the Cowboys into field-goal range and Dan Bailey converted a 28-yarder with 3:25 remaining to lift the Dallas Cowboys to a 19-14 win on Sunday.

Bailey had four field goals and Romo threw for 227 yards and a touchdown as the Cowboys defeated the Panthers for the ninth straight time in the regular season. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Cowboys (3-3) and helped ease some pressure from their highly criticized 31-29 loss to Baltimore last week in a game marred by poor clock management.

``When you think about some of the adversity we've encountered this season, our focus remains on just getting better,'' Ware said. ``We have been doing that, and this week being able to go out and close a game let us know that hey, we can do it.''

Romo said the Cowboys never bought into the idea that the sky was falling after last week's loss.

``You know that every week you're either great or terrible - or at least semi-terrible or semi-great,'' Romo said. ``What you find in this league is all you need to do is figure out how to get better and play your best football when it counts.''

Just in case everyone wasn't buying in, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett invited former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs - yes, their old rival - to speak to players at the team's chapel service Saturday night.

Gibbs' message was that everyone makes mistakes, but what's important is how you handle adversity.

The Cowboys seemed to listen.

``We did a good job of bouncing back and finding a way to win a game today,'' Garrett said.

For the Panthers (1-5) it was a case of another game in which they were close enough to win in the fourth quarter but couldn't finish. Carolina had similar chances in their two previous games against Atlanta and Seattle.

Newton, who finished 21 of 37 for 233 yards with one touchdown and an early interception in the red zone, said he doesn't know why the Panthers can't win close games.

``Whether it's me, I don't know. Whether it's the coordinator, I don't know. Whether it's the players overall, I don't know,'' Newton said. ``(But) we got to change that man.''

The Panthers finished fifth in points last season, averaging 25.3 points per game, but have scored more than 14 points in only two of their six games this year.

``Instead of keeping the game close, I'm looking forward to a game where I ... we put up 35 points. Everybody does,'' Newton said.

This game had its share of drama - and controversy.

On a fourth-and-1 at their 39 with 2:11 remaining and trailing by two, the Panthers caught Dallas' defense trying to change personnel, and Newton rushed to the line. He quickly took the snap and completed a pass to Greg Olsen for an apparent first down, but officials ruled the Cowboys called timeout before the snap.

On the next play, cornerback Morris Claiborne collided with Panthers receiver Louis Murphy before the ball arrived, but no flag was thrown and the Cowboys took over on downs.

``I felt like I got pushed early,'' Murphy said. ``He kind of hooked me and pushed me in the back before the ball got there.''

Claiborne saw it differently.

``I felt I had good coverage,'' he said.

NOTES: Cowboys WR Dez Bryant started despite a groin injury. On Bryant's first play he was penalized for unnecessary roughness after shoving Panthers players following a punt return. ... Cowboys C Phil Costa was carted off the field in the second quarter with his right leg in an air cast.

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Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, expected to be named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, expected to be named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz did not remain unemployed for very long.

Trotz, who led the Capitals to the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup title, resigned from his post less than a week after the team's championship parade in Washington, D.C.

But the former bench boss appears to be headed to New York to become the Islanders new head coach, according to Darren Dreger of TSN.

Trotz's contract was expected to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, but upon winning the Stanley Cup, an automatic two-year extension was triggered, raising his $1.5 million yearly salary by $300,000. But Trotz wanted to be compensated as one of the top five coaches in the NHL.

While the terms of his deal have yet to be finalized, according to Elliotte Friedman, Trotz's deal could be in the 5-year, $20 million range.

With the Islanders, Trotz inherits a team that finished 35-37-10 last season under head coach Doug Weight, despite having John Tavares, one of the best centers in the NHL, and several young studs like Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Josh Ho-Sang. But Tavares enters the offseason as a free agent, and many teams will be looking to pay top-dollar for his services. 

Trotz will report to Lou Lamoriello, who was named the Islanders' president and general manager in May after spending three seasons in the same role with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

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