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Mark, Northwestern hold on to beat Minnesota 21-13

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Mark, Northwestern hold on to beat Minnesota 21-13

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Venric Mark rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns to carry Northwestern to a 21-13 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.

Mark wasn't touched on scoring runs of 26 and 48 yards and the Wildcats (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) overcame 11 penalties to become bowl eligible and spoil Minnesota's homecoming celebration.

MarQueis Gray rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown after missing the previous two games with knee and ankle injuries. But he also threw an interception and was injured again late in the third quarter for the Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-2).

The Gophers had a chance for a tying touchdown late, but Northwestern's defense stiffened at the 6-yard line to keep them out of the end zone. Cornerback Nick VanHoose made the key play on the stand, batting a pass away from A.J. Barker in the end zone to save a touchdown.

Less than 10 seconds into the game, Northwestern was already up 7-0. Gophers linebacker Lamonte Edwards, a converted running back, botched the opening kickoff and C.J. Bryant pounced on it to give the Wildcats the ball at Minnesota's 26-yard line.

Mark took the handoff, burst through the line and saw nothing but daylight, racing 26 yards untouched for the score.

That would be a common theme throughout the first half. Mark added a 48-yard scoring run in the second quarter, a burst through the middle where nary a finger was laid on him. He also had runs of 47 and 25 yards in the first half to help the Wildcats take a 21-10 lead.

Mark's big day on the ground eliminated any need for Northwestern's passing game, and that was a good thing for the Wildcats. Kain Colter was 10 for 10, but for just 63 yards. And Trevor Siemian, the passing specialist in the Wildcats' two-quarterback system, was 1 for 7 for 4 yards.

Mark's big 48-yard TD helped neutralize a brief bit of momentum for the Gophers.

When Max Shortell went out with an injured left hand late in the first quarter, Gray ripped off a 25-yard touchdown run at the start of the second to pull Minnesota to 14-10.

But David Nwabuisi made an acrobatic, one-handed interception off of a pass tipped by Quentin Williams to stall the Gophers. Mark was off to the races two plays later, and the Wildcats were on their way to a rebound victory after losing at Penn State last week.

It was another disappointing effort for the Gophers, who were starting to create some optimism on campus with a 4-0 start to the season. But a 31-13 thumping at Iowa two weeks ago brought them back down to earth, and they followed that up with a sloppy, mistake-prone performance coming out of their bye.

They fumbled the ball seven times, losing two, and committed nine penalties.

The turnovers were compounded by three bad snaps from center Zac Epping and some curious play-calling that stunted several drives. After calling time out and pulling their offense off the field on fourth-and-11 from Northwestern's 36, they ran kicker Jordan Wettstein out for a 53-yard field-goal try. The Wildcats weren't buying it from the start, and a fake run was thwarted easily to turn the ball over.

On third-and-13 from the Northwestern 46, they called a draw to Donnell Kirkwood that gained just 5 yards. And with no timeouts and the ball at their own 49 with just over a minute to play in the first half, the Gophers called a draw to Gray that went nowhere and took any chance of a late score out of the equation.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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