Capitals

Kelly receives a hero's welcome in Philly

Kelly receives a hero's welcome in Philly

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Torn between loyalty to his players and accepting a new challenge, Chip Kelly ultimately chose the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles.

He just needed more time to make the decision.

``The hardest thing for me to do was to leave Oregon,'' Kelly said Thursday at a news conference introducing him as the 21st coach in team history. ``I knew it was a great fit, but it was whether I could leave what I have. I love those guys and it had to be a special place for me to leave.''

The Eagles hired Kelly on Wednesday, giving him a five-year contract and ending an exhaustive search to replace Andy Reid. The offensive innovator was lured away from Oregon, where he went 46-7 in four seasons and turned the program into a national powerhouse.

From the start, Kelly appeared to be Philadelphia's top choice. But two days after a nine-hour meeting in Arizona with owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and president Don Smolenski, Kelly chose to stay at Oregon.

The Eagles continued interviewing other candidates, and were close to offering the job to Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley on Tuesday night. But Kelly changed his mind after thinking harder about making the move and talking to several people, including Reid who quickly moved on to become Kansas City's coach.

``I knew this was the best spot, but there's so much more to it,'' Kelly said. ``What happens when I leave? Who becomes the next head coach? What happens to those players? You're not making reservations for dinner. You are changing not only your life, but a lot of other people's lives.''

Kelly said he became emotional when he told players in a meeting that he was leaving, and added that he cried more than they did.

He went from a warm and fuzzy environment in Eugene, Ore. to a hero's welcome in the city of Brotherly Love.

Fans greeted him at the airport when his plane arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday night and a sign reading ``Our Chip's Come In'' was hung on two trees outside the team's practice facility on Thursday morning. A few fans drove down Pattison Avenue honking their horns to salute the hiring.

``It's a really exciting time for me. It was a difficult decision. There's not many opportunities to coach in the National Football League, and every one of them is special,'' Kelly said. ``But this is an iconic franchise with an outstanding owner. I knew what this place was all about, and this is where I wanted to be. It was just a matter of figuring out how to do it the right way.''

The Eagles interviewed 11 candidates in slightly more than two weeks. While fans became anxious waiting for a new coach, the team emphasized a patient approach.

Perhaps they were waiting for Kelly to reconsider.

``The key was to find the right leader, not make the fastest decision,'' Lurie said. ``We never took `No' as a full `No.' We knew he was torn. And we knew there was no competition for Chip. It was just, did he want to stay or did he want to come to us?''

Though Kelly has no previous NFL experience, the Eagles are banking on him to turn around a franchise that has just 12 wins in the last two years and zero playoff victories since 2008.

``Chip is a trendsetter,'' Roseman said. ``People are following him. He's not a disciple of anyone. When you are trying to find greatness, you have to find the people on top.''

Kelly built quite a reputation for being one of the sharpest football minds in college while leading Oregon to four straight BCS bowl games - including a bid for the national championship against Auburn two seasons ago - and three conference championships.

Some aspects of his hurry-up, spread offense are used by New England and Washington. Patriots coach Bill Belichick even brought Kelly in to get advice on his offensive philosophy.

But Kelly has a challenge in Philadelphia. His flash-and-dash offense needs a leader under center. Nick Foles, a third-round pick last year who replaced Michael Vick, is a dropback quarterback who said himself that he doesn't fit Kelly's zone-read style

Vick, who will be 33 when the season starts, isn't coming back for the $16 million he's scheduled to make next year. The Eagles have to make a decision on giving him a roster bonus of $3 million within three days after the Super Bowl.

``I haven't watched even film to make any decision on anybody,'' Kelly said, adding that he's a ``huge fan'' of Foles.

Kelly also talked about adapting his system to fit the players on the team, a quality that impressed Roseman in their first interview.

``When you meet with Chip, you realize very quickly that Chip is not about whether his offense is going to translate to the NFL,'' Roseman said. ``It's about his vision for a program, it's about how he sees the entire aspect of a football organization and Jeffrey outlined in that first press conference: I want a leader, I want a presence, and so if you had any doubt about Chip Kelly's offense, you left and said this isn't about Chip Kelly and the spread, this is about how Chip Kelly approaches football, and that was incredibly, incredibly impressive.''

The Eagles were 3-1 this season after a 19-17 win over the New York Giants on Sept. 30. They then lost 11 of their last 12 games to finish in last place in the NFC East. Reid was fired the day after the season ended, ending a 14-year tenure in which he won more games than any coach in franchise history and went to the playoffs nine times, including five conference championship games.

But the Eagles are still seeking their first Vince Lombardi Trophy and first NFL title since 1960.

``We have one goal, and that's to get to the Super Bowl,'' Kelly said. ``It's not an `I' deal, it's a `we' deal. Our players will understand that.''

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Backstrom the catalyst behind Capitals' trip to the edge of advancement

Backstrom the catalyst behind Capitals' trip to the edge of advancement

WASHINGTON — It had been nine years since Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom last had a four-point game in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That was a different time, an era when Backstrom and his teammates too often faltered under the weight of enormous expectations.  That’s all gone now. There is a Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters at Capital One Arena to prove it. Now they can all just play. 

With teammate T.J. Oshie hurt and likely out for the season, Backstrom continued to raise his own game in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He had two goals and two assists in a 6-0 thrashing as Washington took a 3-2 series lead and pushed the Hurricanes to the brink of elimination. Alex Ovechkin added a goal and two assists.  

Backstrom’s last four-point playoff games was April 17, 2010. He had a hat trick that night and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. 

“That was probably Montreal, right?” Backstrom said before confessing. “Yeah, Ovi told me. He remembers everything.”

Those were darker days. The Capitals blew a 3-1 series lead against Montreal that year and maybe the best team of the Ovechkin era went out in the first round despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy. No wonder Backstrom needed help remembering. 

There is no such issue this season. The 31-year-old Swede is carrying the Capitals, who are one game away from advancing. It was his second two-goal game of the series. He has five total, which matches his career high for one playoff series set in 2010 against the Canadiens. He and Ovechkin, who has seven points in the series (three goals, four assists) set a tone and their teammates followed. 

"In all areas, too,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “Obviously they got on the point sheet, but their play away from the puck, on the forecheck, supporting each other, they're real tough to play against when they play like that and I thought they've been doing a great job all playoffs, too.”

Backstrom’s five goals matched what he had all last postseason when the Caps won the Cup. He missed games because of a broken finger, but still played in 20 and had five goals and 18 assists. He matched his total output of eight points in 2009 against Pittsburgh and 2018 against Columbus. His career best is again that Montreal series when he had nine points. Not that he cares about that now. None of the Caps do. If the production leads to wins and advancing to the second round, that’s all that matters.  

“It’s good for the confidence I think. But it’s going to be a different game in Carolina,” Backstrom said. “We’ve just got to regroup here and move forward. That was just a 3-2 lead. Toughest one is the last one. We haven’t been happy with the way we’ve played in Carolina so far. Let’s change that.”

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Braden Holtby’s new franchise record overshadowed by blowout win and he’s just fine with that

Braden Holtby’s new franchise record overshadowed by blowout win and he’s just fine with that

WASHINGTON – On a night in which the Capitals erupted for six goals against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, goalie Braden Holtby’s contributions were largely overshadowed. Nicklas Backstrom scored his fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs in a four-point night while Alex Ovechkin added a goal and three points of his own. Even Nic Dowd got into the mix as he scored Washington’s first penalty shot goal in playoff history.

When a team wins a game 6-0, it is easy to discount the contribution of the goalie and assume the offense carried the team. That was not the case on Saturday as Holtby played a pivotal role in Washington taking back control of its first-round series.

And he set a franchise record doing it.

With 30 saves, Holtby recorded his seventh career playoff shutout passing Olie Kolzig’s previous franchise record of six. Holtby now stands alone with the most postseason shutouts in team history.

But you won’t see him celebrating too hard.

“It means I’m getting old,” Holtby said.

Holtby may be the only goalie in the world who does not seem to care about shutouts. He has been consistent on this point throughout his career, always saying that shutouts only matter because it means he helped put the team in a position to win.

When it comes to individual accolades, however, Holtby is just not interested.

When asked what holding Carolina scoreless on Saturday did for his confidence, Holtby was blunt.

"Nothing,” he said. “It's a win. We regroup, we know they're going to come harder next game and we'll focus on that."

As focused as Holtby seemed to be after the game, was just as focused in it on Saturday as he turned in his best performance of the series. Despite the final score, the game was close halfway through with Washington clinging to a one-goal lead. Holtby was brilliant between the pipes, however, especially in the second period as Washington faced three straight power plays. He turned aside 15 shots in the middle frame alone to help the Caps keep their lead and eventually run away with the win.

“Our goaltender was tremendous,” Todd Reirden said. “Those things, if you can have the special teams and your goaltender at that type of a level then you're going to give yourself a real good chance to have success.”

The offense stole the headlines after Saturday’s win, but that’s a result the Caps do not get without Holtby’s record-setting performance in net.

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