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Kentucky fires football coach Joker Phillips

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Kentucky fires football coach Joker Phillips

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips knew after Saturday's embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt that keeping his job would be tough. The end came a day later.

Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips' firing Sunday in an open letter on the Wildcats' web site. The letter stated Phillips would be let go, effective at the end of the season, but athletic department spokesman DeWayne Peevy later said the coach's status for the final two games was still to being determined.

``We, as coaches, are measured on results,'' Phillips said in a statement. ``We didn't get the results we had worked and hoped for, therefore change is needed. In my current 10-year stay at Kentucky, we've had some memorable moments as an assistant, coordinator and head coach. We've had the opportunity to coach some fine young men and I am grateful to have had the privilege of watching them grow as players, as students and as people.''

The Wildcats lost their eighth straight game on Saturday, a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt. It was their worst loss to the Commodores in 96 years. Kentucky (1-9, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) is on the verge of going winless in the conference for the first time in school history.

Kentucky plays Samford on Nov. 17 before closing the season against SEC rival Tennessee.

``I have determined that it is in the best interest of our athletics program to make a change in our football coaching staff at the conclusion of the season,'' Barnhart said. ``I do so with a heavy heart for a man who has served his alma mater for almost 22 years as a player and a coach. Joker Phillips has carried the banner for the Blue and White with honor and pride. I have enjoyed working alongside him and am thankful for his friendship for the last decade.''

Barnhart said the school will immediately begin a search for a new coach.

Phillips had two years left on a contract that pays him $1.7 million per season. Peevy said the school would honor the contract.

Phillips' firing comes as no surprise.

The 49-year-old coach is 12-23 overall in three seasons at Kentucky. He led the Wildcats to a bowl game in his first season but they have gotten worse each season since.

Other than a victory over Kent State, Kentucky has rarely been competitive this season. The Wildcats lost for the first time at home to instate rival Western Kentucky, and were blown out at Florida, Arkansas and Missouri - the Tigers' first-ever SEC win.

Wildcats fans have bombarded sports radio talk shows with calls for Phillips' firing. The intensity picked up after the Western Kentucky loss and has remained steady since.

Attendance at Commonwealth Stadium has also dropped sharply from last season. The Wildcats entered the game against the Commodores averaging 51,255 - down from 60,007 in 2011.

Saturday's attendance was a season-low 44,902.

Barnhart has been asked repeatedly about his coach as well but responded by saying he would evaluate the program after the season as he does with all programs. In his letter, he said the circumstances of this season led him to make a decision now.

``In the end there are realities we must face and overcome,'' Barnhart said. ``Right or wrong, we must respond to those realities to protect the 22 programs and 500-plus student-athletes for whom we provide. Obviously our football program is not where we want it to be and we are all disappointed; coaches, players, administration and our fans.''

The loss to Vanderbilt marked a low for Kentucky. The Wildcats gained just 260 yards and trailed 27-0 at halftime.

Phillips seemed resigned to his fate after the game.

``If there was a decision either way,'' Phillips said, ``I would think it would be important for me or Mitch to come out and make a decision, either way. ... Help get another guy or help us in recruiting.''

Before his comments Saturday, Phillips handled the scrutiny by referring to his close relationship with Barnhart or cracking a joke. Last week he said, ``I was coming over here (to his weekly media session), and I got in the car, and my seat was hot.

``And I looked up, and I had hit the seat warmer.''

Injuries have forced Kentucky to play 26 freshmen against one of the nation's toughest schedules, but in the SEC patience tends to be short - even at Kentucky where basketball is king.

When Phillips took over the football program, it was enjoying its best run ever.

Under former coach Rich Brooks, the Wildcats had established a level of respectability in football with four straight bowl appearances from 2006-2009 - a first for the program.

Phillips was Brooks' hand-picked successor and he made it five straight bowl trips for the Wildcats in 2010. But that turned out to be the high point of his tenure.

``I am very appreciative of Mitch Barnhart and Rich Brooks for providing the opportunity to have been the head coach here,'' Phillips said.

``I appreciate the Big Blue Nation and encourage the fans to stay behind their team going forward.''

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3 stars of the game: Burakovsky's big night propels Caps to the Stanley Cup Final

3 stars of the game: Burakovsky's big night propels Caps to the Stanley Cup Final

For just the second time in franchise history, the Capitals are Eastern Conference Champions. They will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup FInal after a dominant 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Alex Ovechkin gave the Capitals the lead just 62 seconds into the game. It was a lead they would never relinquish as Braden Holtby recorded his second consecutive shutout.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will be Monday in Las Vegas.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Andre Burakovsky: It's been a rough year for Burakovsky, but all that was erased on Wednesday with his brilliant two-goal performance to lead the Caps.

The Caps were clinging to a 1-0 lead in the second period, but the Lightning were buzzing, outshooting the Caps 8-1. They had all the momentum until Burakovsky stole a bouncing puck from Dan Girardi and fired a quick shot far-side for the beautiful goal.

Burakovsky added a second goal later in the second as John Carlson banked a pass off the boards to launch him on a breakaway. Burakovsky coolly shot it through the open five-hole of Vasilevskiy to make it 3-0.

It's incredible to think that Burakovsky had not recorded a point yet this postseason prior to Game 7, was a healthy scratch for Game 5 and was talking about seeing a sports psychologist over the summer after the morning skate for Game 6.

2. Braden Holtby: The goaltending for much of the series was Andrei Vasilevskiy who led Tampa Bay's comeback in the series with his phenomenal netminding. He was outplayed in the most important games by Holtby, however, who recorded shutouts in both Game 6 and Game 7. The last goal the Lightning scored in the series came 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5. That's 139:27 of continuous play and 60 straight saves for Holtby.

Holtby was phenomenal in Game 7 with big save after big save as the Lightning pushed to tie. His biggest save came in the second period when he denied Alex Killorn on the breakaway. The score was just 2-0 at that point.

This marks just the fifth time a goalie has recorded a shutout in Game 6 and Game 7 in a playoff series.

3. Alex Ovechkin: It took Ovechkin just 62 seconds to put the Capitals ahead and it turned out to be the goal that sent Washington to the Stanley Cup Final. How fitting for it to be Ovechkin to score the game-winner?

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Referees miss blatant boarding by Paquette on Orpik

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Referees miss blatant boarding by Paquette on Orpik

A rough hit to the back of Brooks Orpik left him down on the ice and slow to get up. Cedric Paquette skated back to his bench and waited for the trainer to attend to Orpik and (probably) for the referees to call his number and send him to the box.

The penalty, however, never came.

You always hear in hockey that if you can see a player's numbers, you should pull up on the hit.

What that refers to is the numbers on the back of a player's jersey. You are not allowed to hit a player directly in the back into the boards.

The official definition of boarding according to the NHL rule book is, "any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously." Hitting a player "in the numbers" is a defenseless position.

Apparently Cedric Paquette didn't know that and, unfortunately for the Capitals, neither did the referees.

Someone explain to me how this is not a boarding penalty:

Sometimes referees are put in a tough position because a player turns his back right before they take the hit, thus putting themselves in a vulnerable position to draw a penalty. That was not the case here. Orpik never turned.

When Tom Wilson hit Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the second period, the hockey world spent the next day debating whether it was an illegal hit. There is no debate here, no grey area. Just a clear board.

And no call.

You can understand referees wanting to put away the whistles for a Game 7, but you have to call the blatant dangerous plays like this. This was a bad miss by the referees, plain and simple.

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