Capitals

Missouri skidding toward end of first SEC season

Missouri skidding toward end of first SEC season

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) With 1:52 remaining in last week's home finale, Missouri redshirt freshman Andrew Baggett jogged back to the sideline, greeted by high-fives from teammates after kicking a 46-yard field goal.

The Tigers had just taken a 27-24 lead over Syracuse and looked as if they were going to extend their school-record bowl streak to eight. For a program entering the year with 48 wins in its past five seasons, reaching the postseason has been a baseline.

But this year, Missouri's first in the Southeastern Conference, injuries and off-field issues have hampered the team's success. The Tigers (5-6, 2-5 SEC) haven't won consecutive games for the first time since 2001, coach Gary Pinkel's first season with the team.

So when Syracuse drove 81 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left, it was another punch in the gut for the home team.

``It's amazing, you're 20 seconds away from winning the game, and when you win it, everything's so much better,'' Pinkel said. ``And when you lose it, everything's so much worse.''

The loss was the team's sixth game decided by seven points or less.

``I don't know if you guys understand how hard we fight, how much we want to win,'' senior left tackle Elvis Fisher said. ``I know that sometimes, a lot of people may say, `It doesn't look like they're even playing that well.' We're fighting our butts off out there. We want to win.''

The Tigers now must win at fellow SEC newcomer Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2) to keep their season alive. Despite having won in College Station the past two years, Missouri hasn't faced redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, who's guided the ninth-ranked Aggies to the upper tier of their new conference.

Missouri will benefit from the return of junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who didn't play against Syracuse while suspended for violating team rules. Richardson's 70 tackles are second-most on the team and rank first among interior defensive linemen in the SEC. Without him, the team registered only two tackles for loss and failed to record a sack against the Orange.

Richardson's teammates are eager to move on.

``It's easy for an outsider looking in to criticize the mistakes,'' junior right guard Max Copeland said. ``But criticism's real easy, man. And forgiveness isn't. And that's what we do. That's the nature of our brotherhood. We forgive each other, we love each other.''

The team hasn't said who will be starting at quarterback. Junior James Franklin suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter against Syracuse and is questionable this week. Franklin threw for 279 yards - his best performance of the season - and two touchdowns before leaving the game. After starting all 13 games in 2011, he's missed three starts this year because of shoulder and knee injuries.

Redshirt freshmen Corbin Berkstresser, who threw for 85 yards and led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter Saturday, will start if Franklin can't play. If there were a silver lining to the team's injury woes this season, it would be the experience gained by some of the Tigers' younger players.

``He's progressed as a quarterback at a pretty good rate,'' offensive coordinator Dave Yost said of Berkstresser. ``And really, it's not like he's a backup anymore because he's played so much.''

Missouri has no plans to give up on its season with one sure game remaining.

``Doesn't matter what happens,'' Copeland said. ``You can have big wins, big losses. The fire's still there to compete. That's why we do what we do.''

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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 3-0 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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