Capitals

Earthquakes' Chris Wondolowski voted MLS MVP

Earthquakes' Chris Wondolowski voted MLS MVP

CARSON, Calif. (AP) Chris Wondolowski won Major League Soccer's MVP award Thursday by an appropriately huge margin for the San Jose Earthquakes forward who dominated the league's goal-scoring race.

Wondolowski capped his remarkable season by lifting the MVP trophy at Home Depot Center during the week of festivities leading up to the MLS Cup on Saturday.

``It's an individual award, but I like to think of it as a team award, because I wouldn't be here without those guys,'' Wondolowski said. ``There's not many one-man goals scored by our team, and that shows you what kind of a team we have.''

The Bay Area native scored 27 goals, tying the MLS season record set by Tampa Bay's Roy Lassiter in 1996, and won the Golden Boot as the league's top scorer while leading San Jose to the Supporters' Shield with the best regular-season record. He is the first Earthquakes player to win the MVP award, and the first MLS player to lead the league in goals for three straight years.

The 29-year-old former Earthquakes reserve team player received 91 percent of MLS club management votes, 97 percent of media votes and 71 percent of player votes for a combined 259 percent. Thierry Henry of New York Red Bulls was runner-up with a combined 14 percent, and Graham Zusi of Sporting Kansas City was third with 7 percent.

``There's a terrific story that Chris brings to our league, one that I think serves as an inspiration for all those tens of millions of people that play this game,'' MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. ``To be able to go and get signed by an MLS club, play as a reserve player and then become one of the great players in Major League Soccer is something that speaks to his tremendous prowess.''

Wondolowski wasn't recruited to play Division I soccer out of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., but was drafted by MLS' first version of the Earthquakes in 2005 after starring at Chico State. He moved to Houston with that Earthquakes franchise in 2006, but scored just four MLS goals in parts of four seasons with the Dynamo before the expansion Earthquakes acquired him in a trade in June 2009.

Wondolowski immediately capitalized on his first consistent playing time under San Jose coach Frank Yallop, leading MLS with 18 goals in 2010 before tying for the league lead with 16 last season.

``There's not a more deserving person to win this,'' Yallop said. ``He's such a team fella. He just wants to win. He's not selfish. He'd do anything for his teammates, all the things you'd want in a player. To have 27 goals is an amazing feat in this very tough league.''

Wondolowski arrived in Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., where he had spoken with several U.S. senators in recent days to raise awareness for Native American health issues. Wondolowski's mother is a member of the Kiowa tribe.

``It's part of my heritage, part of who I am,'' Wondolowski said. ``I still have a lot of family there, and it means a lot to me to shine light onto their conditions.''

In awards announced Wednesday, Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen was voted Goalkeeper of the Year, receiving a combined 146 percent. Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy was second with 30 percent followed by Seattle's Michael Gspurning with 28 percent.

Columbus forward Federico Higuain - the brother of Real Madrid's Gonzolo Higuain - was voted Newcomer of the Year. He received 59 percent, followed by San Jose defender Victor Bernardez (51) and Gspurning (32).

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In a surprise twist, Barry Trotz takes The Hot Lap ahead of Game 7

In a surprise twist, Barry Trotz takes The Hot Lap ahead of Game 7

TAMPA—Head Coach Barry Trotz skated the hot lap prior to Wednesday’s Game 7 at Amalie Arena, taking over the superstitious tradition from captain Alex Ovechkin.

Why the change?

The Caps lost Game 5 here on Saturday. And when the Caps lose on the road—the only place where the morning-skate-starting hot lap takes place—a new skater is selected.

The weird tradition began in the first round at Nationwide Arena in Columbus when Jay Beagle grew tired of waiting for the ice to freeze over following a fresh Zamboni cut. Beagle's teammates implored him to wait a little longer for the ice to cure, but he grew impatient and took it upon himself to kick off the skate by racing around the rink, a la the fastest skater competition at the All Star Skills competition.

Ovechkin took it over prior to Game 6 in Pittsburgh because the Caps had lost Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena.

Ovechkin proudly carried on the tradition as Washington won three in a row—Game 6 in Pittsburgh and Games 1 and 2 of this series vs. Tampa Bay.

Following the Caps’ 3-2 defeat in Game 5 here, though, it was expected that a change would be made.

And on Wednesday morning the baton changed hands, with the least obvious of all the Caps busting his 55-year-old hump around the rink much to the delight of his players and assistants.

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Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”

“Chokers.”

And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.

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