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Michigan State beats Minnesota 26-10 for bowl bid

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Michigan State beats Minnesota 26-10 for bowl bid

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Le'Veon Bell rumbled for a career-high 266 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to put the game away, leading Michigan State to a 26-10 victory over Minnesota on Saturday to secure a spot in a bowl game.

Bell carried 35 times on a cold afternoon and Dan Conroy made four of his five field-goal attempts, three of them from 43 yards or longer, to help the Spartans (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) wear down the Gophers (6-6, 2-6).

Minnesota played the second half without coach Jerry Kill on the sideline. The team didn't immediately give a reason.

Aaron Hill's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown gave Minnesota a lead it kept for more than 18 minutes in the first half, but Jordan Wettstein's season-long 48-yard field goal was the only offensive score for the Gophers, who had a season-low 96 total yards -- and just 4 yards rushing. Philip Nelson threw three interceptions, two by Johnny Adams, and was replaced in the fourth quarter by Max Shortell, who was picked off too.

Despite the single-digit margin that lasted until 7:25 was left, when Bell patiently waited for an opening around left end and jogged across the goal line, this was downright domination for the Spartans considering how close all their games were this season. They lost five times in conference play by a total of 13 points, and their other two Big Ten wins were by seven points combined.

Adams moved into 10th on Michigan State's all-time list with 11 interceptions. The first one set up Conroy's first field goal, but the Spartans advanced only 3 yards after it. The second one led to a punt.

For all the work the defense did to keep the Gophers competitive, there were two costly lapses. In the second quarter, Andrew Maxwell went 5 for 7 for 74 yards to lead an 82-yard touchdown drive capped by a 40-yard catch and run for the score by Bennie Fowler off a tipped pass. Fowler finished with seven receptions and 101 yards.

Then there was the clinching march, when Bell ran eight straight times to close from 8 yards out and stretch the lead to 16 points. Bell was the conference's second-leading rusher behind Wisconsin's Montee Bell entering the week, and is ninth in the nation. The junior became the seventh rusher in Spartans history to pass the 3,000-yard mark for his career.

Maxwell was intercepted twice in the first half, including one by Brock Vereen in the end zone. Hill's slick grab in the flat was the third pick returned for a touchdown against Maxwell this season. He has 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. He went 13 for 29 for 143 yards.

Nelson finished 10 for 23 for 61 yards.

Minnesota's trouble moving the ball was predictable. The Gophers, except for their 34-point first half that fueled a 44-28 win over Purdue on Oct. 28, haven't scored more than 17 points in a game since a mid-September win over Western Michigan. The Gophers finally have their offensive line close to full strength after a slew of injuries, but wide receiver Marcus Jones and tight end Drew Goodger were both out this game with maladies of their own. And, of course, their best wide receiver, A.J. Barker, is gone after angrily quitting the team earlier this week in a dispute with Kill.

Then there's that Spartans defense, as stingy as ever despite this disappointing follow-up to those consecutive 11-win seasons. Seventh in the nation and tops in the Big Ten in yards allowed per game, this group hasn't been to blame for the slip.

The Gophers had won their final home game in each of their first three seasons at TCF Bank Stadium and were 11-4 on senior day over the previous 15 years.

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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