Capitals

Dependable Barth has made 25 straight FGs for Bucs

Dependable Barth has made 25 straight FGs for Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Connor Barth is proving his worth to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The fifth-year kicker arguably has been the team's most dependable performer during a 1-3 start, converting all nine of his field goal attempts to extend the longest current streak in the NFL to a franchise-record 25 straight dating to October of last season.

Barth is also 7 for 7 on extra points through four games, keeping him perfect in 102 career tries - consistency that shows why the Bucs used their franchise tag to avoid losing the 26-year-old to free agency last winter, then subsequently rewarded him with a four-year, $13.2 million contract.

Coaches and teammates are astounded by his accuracy, including three kicks of 50-plus yards already this season.

``I've never been around a guy like him. We're blessed as an organization to have him,'' said Schiano, who watched Barth kick field goals of 50, 57 and 47 yards during a 24-22 loss to Washington two weeks ago.

The 57-yarder was the longest of his career. The 47-yarder gave the Bucs a late lead that the defense couldn't hold in the final two minutes against Robert Griffin III.

``I've always said I don't have the strongest leg, but I've always prided myself on my leg swing and my consistency. From 50-55 and in, I usually feel confident I can make it every time,'' said Barth, a former North Carolina star whose younger brother, Casey, recently broke the Tar Heels' career record for field goals made.

Barth's last miss for the Bucs came on a 55-yard attempt against New Orleans last Oct. 16. The NFL record is held by Mike Vanderjagt, who made 42 in a row for Indianapolis from 2002-04.

The Bucs kicker, second in the NFL with a 92.9 field goal percentage (26-28) a year ago, said Vanderjagt's mark is the farthest thing from his mind.

``That's a long way away. My goal is to take it one kick at a time,'' said Barth, who's in his fourth season with Tampa Bay after beginning his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. ``If I keep doing what I'm doing, you never know what might happen.''

And while some kickers might be reluctant to talk about their success for fear of jinxing themselves, Barth welcomes conversation about the streak.

For the first time in his career, he's working with the same snapper (Andrew Economos) and holder (Michael Koenen) two straight years and Barth also gives Tampa Bay's offensive line its due, too, for providing excellent protection.

``I've never been superstitious. ... You might think about it during the week, but when you go out there to line up you don't think about making another one to extend the streak, you try to go out there - and like coach always says - do your job,'' said Barth, who has taken up yoga in the offseason and also attributes part of his success to that.

``If you can extend your range of motion with the same kind of leg speed, it's going to go that much farther,'' the kicker added. `` It's pretty simple physics.''

Three years ago against Miami, Barth became only the fourth kicker in NFL history to make three field goals or more in a single game. Last December, he joined Morten Andersen and Rob Bironas as the only kickers to make four of 40-plus yards in a single half when he converted kicks of 50,47,46 and 44 yards against Carolina.

It hasn't taken Schiano long to develop a deep appreciation for Barth's range.

In addition to his two long field goals against Washington, Barth booted a 52-yarder against the New York Giants last month.

``It's a weapon, make no mistake about it,'' Schiano said. ``Certainly we want to score by sixes, not threes. But when you don't score by sixes, it's nice to get a three.''

Barth said the first-year coach often talks to him in an effort to rattle the kicker during practice, however Schiano knows better to suggest any changes.

``I'm not an expert on kicking. I know enough to be dangerous,'' Schiano said. ``But I know enough to stay away from him and let him do it the way he's doing it.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

Just four more wins. It hardly seems possible.

For only the second time ever and for the first time in 20 years, the Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. And they could actually win it.

They’re not there yet. The Vegas Golden Knights have cruised through the playoffs thus far and continue to shock the hockey community with their postseason run. Washington’s players need to think about how to beat Vegas, not what happens after.

But while the players cannot and should not look ahead, for fans, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to dream about that moment when Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup over to Alex Ovechkin.

Winning the conference is always a huge achievement that should be celebrated, but this year is different than 1998’s run. Back in 1998, the Caps played against a Detroit Red Wings team that is one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They were the defending champions after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers the year before. Washington suffered the same fate as the Flyers, losing in just four games.

This year is a battle between two more evenly matched teams. Picking the Caps to win this series is not outlandish or crazy at all. This year, they could actually do it.

So before the puck drops for Game 1 and all dreams are pushed aside for the realities of what may happen, allow a fan a chance to think about what seeing the Washington Capitals actually hoist the Stanley Cup would actually mean.

Breaking news: Washington is not Canada and the Capitals are not an original six team. Hockey is not ingrained in the culture of D.C. the way it is in Canadian cities or in places like Boston and Detroit. Unlike in Vegas where the success of the team in its inaugural season has caught the city by storm, the Capitals won only eight games in their first year. Eight wins doesn’t exactly help a team grow roots in the community.

If you’ve been a fan of the Capitals long enough, chances are you’ve seen some pretty tough times. There have been plenty of playoff disappointments in this team’s history even before the current era. There was also the rebuild that began before the lockout that saw a very bad team play in front of a half empty stadium for several years. And they would not have even gotten to that point without the “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982.

But through it all, that small group of hardcore fans kept coming back. Some may have wavered from time to time, but they came back because being a hockey fan is different than other sports.

It’s hard to be a sports fan in any city with an NFL team and not follow football. Football may not even be your sport, but there is almost on obligation to following it because coverage and interest in football is so prevalent. It’s hard to avoid.

You have to seek out hockey

Hockey at times has been viewed as more of a niche sport than mainstream. Before the age of Alex Ovechkin, if you were from Washington and you were following the Caps, it was because you loved both.

So why did those Caps fans keep coming back after so much heartbreak? Because despite all of the disappointing seasons we always walked away telling ourselves, this will just make it that much sweeter when they do win.

One day, it will all be worth it.

That’s why we watch sports, isn’t it? We watch with the knowledge that sometimes, our hearts will be broken but it’s OK because the good will always outweigh the bad. And the worse the bad times are, the better the good times will feel afterward.

We kept telling ourselves that for a long time, but admittedly some years were tougher to get past than others. It’s hard to keep believing when you’ve seen your rival beat you nine times out of 10 in the playoffs heading into this year’s postseason. It’s hard when a team cannot seem to overcome its playoff history despite having one of the best players of all-time on its roster.

When Ovechkin was drafted, the question we all asked ourselves was not whether he would bring a Cup to Washington, but how many? He brought new fans with him, he brought excitement with him, he brought validation with him…at least initially.

But with every passing year, doubt began to creep into our minds. The upset loss to Montreal in 2010 stung, but Ovechkin was still 24. There was still hope that one day, he would still win the Cup.

Now at 32 years old, many did not know what to expect from the Great 8 this year. When would decline start to show in his game?

Ovechkin is part of why we want the Cup so badly. We want to see the best player in this franchise’s history honored. We want to see the player who transformed hockey in Washington from niche sport to mainstream take his proper place in the sport’s history. No one wants to hear him described as one of the best players to never win a Cup because he should be remembered as one of the best players, period.

But that’s not all of it.

This is about all those times we told ourselves this would all be worth it someday. This is about how we used to cope with the sting of another postseason heartbreak by thinking about what it would feel like when it was finally our year. This is about how we stuck with the team when the stadium was half empty. This is about the blue jersey in our closet with the eagle on the front and the black one hanging next to it with the capitol building on the front. This is about all the 5, 12, 32 and 37 jerseys. This is about replacing Esa Tikkanen as our lasting Stanley Cup memory.

When the Washington Redskins have a rough year, those fans who can remember them think about those three Super Bowl wins. When the Washington Wizards fall short, those fans who can remember it think about the championship in 1978. Even if you’re too young to remember the Super Bowls or NBA championship, those banners still give your team a sense of validation. They have their little piece of history to be proud of.

That’s what this would mean. A Stanley Cup would be not just for the players, it would be for the fans who stuck it out through thick and thin, those fans who despite everything still supported their team. This win would be about the Capitals forever earning their spot in the heart of Washington sports alongside the Redskins and Wizards.

This would be about never having to tell ourselves again that someday all the love we pour into this team will pay off.

A Stanley Cup would mean finally getting to experience a championship and realizing, yeah, it was all worth it.

Let’s go Caps!

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

Quick Links

Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One is repping the district in a big way: by changing their logo to incorporate the Capitals' font and name. 

The new Capital One logo appears on the bank's websites and social media ahead of the Caps' Stanley Cup Final games, which begin on Memorial Day Monday in Vegas.

The McLean, Virginia, based bank recently purchased the naming rights to the Capitals' home arena, formerly known as "Verizon Center." And in the first year of its renaming, the Capitals have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. Coincidence? 

We've seen a small, Northern Virginia town change its name to "Capitalsville," and now Capital One Bank is all-in for the Caps.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS: