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Giants frustrated but hopeful after 9-7 mark

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Giants frustrated but hopeful after 9-7 mark

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) There is an obvious reason why the New York Giants went from a Super Bowl champion to a frustrated team that missed the playoffs.

It's consistency. Tom Coughlin's team lacked it in 2012 despite finishing with the same 9-7 record as a year ago when a late rush took them to their second title in five seasons.

This year there was no late rush. Just two bad games against Atlanta and Baltimore that cost the Giants control of their playoff destiny and ultimately left them cleaning out their lockers on Monday despite a season-ending 42-7 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was a far cry from a year ago when the Giants cleaned out their lockers and then boarded buses for a trip down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City.

``Emotionally it's not an easy day under any circumstances,'' said the 66-year-old Coughlin, who clearly is looking forward to returning next season. ``To not be in the playoffs is not what we expected when the season began.''

It certainly wasn't what the Giants expected after opening the first half of the year with a 6-2 record.

However, the second half was much different. New York started it by blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead against Pittsburgh. They were embarrassed by Cincinnati the following week and later threw in consecutive no-show efforts in a 34-0 loss to Atlanta and a 33-14 debacle in Baltimore.

The team had two very different personalities.

When they played like a Super Bowl contender, the Giants were awesome. They beat San Francisco 26-3 and had wins over Green Bay 38-10, New Orleans 52-27 and Philadelphia 42-7 in the second half, too.

``The bar is set very high here,'' general manager Jerry Reese said. ``We didn't get the job done. I wish I had something clever to give you guys but that's the soup and nuts. We didn't get the job done.''

The Giants have some work to do in the offseason. They have almost two dozen restricted or unrestricted free agents, including several starters on both sides of the ball - tackle Will Beatty, guard Kevin Boothe, tight end Martellus Bennett, receiver Victor Cruz (restricted), linebacker Chase Blackburn, safety Stevie Brown (restricted), safety Kenny Phillips and kicker Lawrence Tynes.

Players said the front office doesn't need to tweak too much, especially with quarterback Eli Manning coming back. He is the lynchpin of an offense that scored 429 points, the second most in franchise history. The offensive line kept Manning clean much of the year and paved the way for Ahmad Bradshaw to have his second 1,000-yard rushing season. Cruz had another big year with 86 catches for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns

The defense seemingly needs more help after finishing near the bottom of the league in the regular season. The pass rush that carried New York last season wasn't there all the time and the run defense was pathetic at times, allowing an average of 129.1 yards.

There are several players who could be on the bubble. Offensive tackle David Diehl could become a salary cap casualty and there is no guarantee that Bradshaw will be back after rookie David Wilson played so well late. New York also has to hope that receiver Hakeem Nicks finally gets over the foot and knee problems that limited him all season, taking away one of Manning's favorite targets.

``Anytime we don't win the Super Bowl it's a disappointing year, so this is a disappointing year,'' defensive captain Justin Tuck said. ``So was the year before the Super Bowl. The thing I understand about the game is you play to win Super Bowls. You don't play the game to get playoffs berths. Yes, we would love to be in the playoffs, don't get me wrong but that's not the end goal. I would rather not make the playoffs than make the Super Bowl final and lose it.''

Tuck, who said he had a bad year, insists the Giants aren't in the same boat as teams that won two games this past season.

``We still have a quality football team, a team that I feel very confident that if we would have gotten in the playoffs, we would have made a run,'' he said. ``It's funny. We got on a run late year and played well those last six games. It seems to me, playing well against a division foe (the Eagles) yesterday, we started a little too late. Hopefully that will be something we can build on in this offseason.''

Manning looked upon the season as a wasted opportunity.

``We had a three-game lead at one point in the division, and down the stretch, we couldn't hold onto it,'' he said. ``It was up to us. We had to win. We had to play our best football, and we couldn't do it. There's no one to blame, or no one to look at except ourselves. That's disappointing.''

And that sums up the season.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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