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Mularkey keeps Jaguars playing hard in tough year

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Mularkey keeps Jaguars playing hard in tough year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey has seen scores and highlights from around the league in recent weeks.

A blowout here, a lopsided loss there. In all, four games over the last three weeks decided by a combined 180 points.

The Jaguars (2-13) haven't been involved in any of them, and Mularkey believes it says something about how his players are handling the worst season in franchise history.

Jacksonville played arguably its best game all season in a 23-16 loss to playoff-bound New England on Sunday.

The Jaguars finished with 436 yards and 22 first downs, and had two decent chances to pull within a 2-point conversion of winning the game in the closing minutes.

``It kind of confirms what you've been saying all along that if you respond in this fashion, in a positive way, a win will come.'' Mularkey said Monday.

With nothing left to play for except pride, Mularkey's team has been mostly competitive over the last half of the season.

The Jaguars played Green Bay tough on the road in October, went to overtime at Houston in November, upset Tennessee and have been in tight games the last three weeks.

Sure, they lost by three touchdowns last week at Miami. But anyone who saw that one knows it would have been considerably closer had Jacksonville not failed to convert three fourth-down plays inside the Miami 15-yard line.

The Jaguars had even more trouble near the goal line against the Patriots.

Jacksonville had the ball inside the New England 25 seven times, but came away with a touchdown and three field goals. Josh Scobee missed a 43-yarder, and Chad Henne ended the final two drives with interceptions.

``Obviously you want to make more plays out there, but I thought the guys fought hard and showed what kind of team we really are,'' said Henne, who completed 29 of 51 passes for 348 yards, with a touchdown and three interceptions.

The Jaguars might seem close to turning things around, but the reality is they lack talent on both sides of the ball. Throw in several key injuries, and it's been a recipe for disaster.

Jacksonville has lost 11 of its last 12 games, including four in a row, heading into Sunday's season finale at Tennessee (5-10).

But somehow, someway, Mularkey has kept his team focused and playing hard.

``It certainly would be easier if you had some wins because your energy, anything that's positive is going to recharge you,'' Mularkey said. ``But fortunately I have an excellent staff that's had a lot of energy, especially at this time of the year. Even the teams that are heading to the playoffs are fatigued. Our guys, I have to give them credit. They have come to work. They have worked on game plans diligently to put our guys in position.''

Mularkey took a unique approach to Sunday's home finale.

When he spoke to the team Saturday night, he used the phrase ``lay the wood,'' and when players arrived the next morning for the game, Mularkey had wooden baseball bats in each locker with the words ``violent, physical, relentless'' etched into the barrel.

It nearly worked as the players sacked Tom Brady three times and pressured him much more often.

``We've been talking about physical, finish, relentless play all year long, and I just thought that might be good when they walk in and see this is what needs to be done,'' Mularkey said. ``I hope they know I am trying to constantly send messages to reconfirm what we talk about all week.''

Much of the talk lately in Jacksonville has been about the future of the franchise. Owner Shad Khan has to decide whether to keep general manager Gene Smith, the architect of the roster the last four years, and Mularkey. Mularkey's first season has been rough, with the offense and defense ranked 31st in the league.

Still, it would be feasible that Khan would consider the team's close-but-not-quite performances down the stretch when evaluating whether to clean house and start over.

``We have been fighting the whole year,'' defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. ``I hate to say I'm proud of the guys after a loss, but I am because we fought to the end. That was a good football team. They are a really good football team and they just did escape. If we come to play like that every week, the sky is the limit.

``I have a really good feeling this is the quiet before the storm. There is a lot to learn from, a lot to get better at and a lot of things to evaluate. I have a good feeling about this group of guys in this room.''

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3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

Nicklas Backstrom scored with less than seven seconds remaining to give the Capitals the 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday in a preseason preview of the regular-season opener. Radko Gudas and Richard Panik also scored.

Here are three players who impressed for the Caps.

1. Richard Panik

Panik got plenty of practice on the penalty kill with 4:16 of shorthanded ice time shorthanded. In that time he gave a glimpse of why he was so coveted by the Caps as a free agent.

In the first period, Panik pounced on a loose puck at the top of the faceoff circle in the defensive zone. Seeing he had room to work with, he did not just clear it down the ice and instead elected to skate up with it. He fought off the backcheck from Tyler Bozak through the neutral zone, drew an additional two Blues players to him, then drew a holding call from Bozak because he would not give up the puck.

Panik's 4:16 of penalty kill time was more than top penalty killer Carl Hagelin's 2:26, though the fact that Hagelin took two minors on the night probably had something to do with it.

Late in the game, Panik was also added to the power play as a sixth attacker with the goalie pulled. He would score the game-tying goal with just 1:09 left in regulation.

2. The goalies

Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov both played about a half of the game. It is really hard to evaluate a goalie on just 30 minutes of work, so I will give a shoutout to both as both played very well.

Vanecek got the start. He looked a little awkward at first, but settled in as the game went along for a solid performance. He stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced with the only goal he allowed a weird deflection off of Brett Leason’s skate.

Samsonov took over about halfway through the second period and within minutes found himself defending the net on a 5-on-3 penalty kill. The penalty killers helped out their young netminder allowing only one shot on goal, but it was a good one. Colton Parayko one-timed a slap shot, but Samsonov was there to stop with no rebound. Soon after the penalty was over, Vladimir Tarasenko was all alone in front of the net, but was denied by Samsonov’s who stretched the blocker to deny the high shot.

Sanford scores on the PP. Samsonov wasn't tight against the post. Showed him too much daylight and Sanford made him pay.

Samsonov finished with 11 saves on 12 shots.

3. Connor McMichael

Boy, somebody got a confidence boost from Monday’s game. 

McMichael was given a second preseason game as a reward for his solid performance on Monday and he definitely showed off the confidence that comes along with being a first-round draft pick.

In the first period, McMichael found himself all alone with the puck on a mini-breakaway on Jordan Binnington. Just a reminder, this is the Binnington who was the starting goalie for the Stanley Cup champions.

So what did McMichael do? He skated to the front and tried the stick between the legs shot. It may not have worked, but you have to respect the confidence this kid had just to try, though no doubt the coaches probably had a few words for him in the locker room about it.

There was one area in which McMichael struggled, however, and that was on the faceoff where he lost all five draws he took on the night.

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WNBA Semifinals: Aces at Mystics - Game 2: Date, time, TV channel, live stream how to watch

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WNBA Semifinals: Aces at Mystics - Game 2: Date, time, TV channel, live stream how to watch

After a thrilling back-and-forth contest to start the WNBA Semifinals, the Washington Mystics and Elena Delle Donne are back in action to host the Las Vegas Aces for Game 2.

Washington took Game 1 97-95 over Las Vegas in their first game in nine days to start the series. Rusty and stuttering out of the gate, the Mystics were able to gut out a win after an explosive run in the third and early fourth quarter. 

Emma Meesseman (27 points) led the charge for Washington. In the third quarter, she took over the game totaling 13 of the team's 26 points and got the Mystics back in control of the contest. Elena Delle Donne finished with 24 points and hit the game-clinching basket in the final minute of regulation.

A'ja Wilson had 23 points in a losing effort, despite playing all but three minutes. Off the bench, Kelsey Plum emerged with 16 points to give the Aces an additional spark. 

Game 2 is on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. The best-of-five series features the high-powered and No. 1 seeded Mystics against the most defensively sound squad in the No. 4 seeded Aces.

The Aces entered the series with a ton of momentum, fresh off one of the craziest wins in WNBA history. They gut-punched the top seed in the opening half and nearly stole it in the closing seconds. Nevertheless, it appears the Mystics with the third-best offense in the WNBA's existence found their footing and will be better prepared for Game 2. 

ACES VS. MYSTICS GAME 2:

Who: Las Vegas Aces at Washington Mystics

What: WNBA Semifinals Game 2

When: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington D.C.

TV Channel: ESPN2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

MYSTICS vs. ACES WNBA SEMIFINALS SCHEDULE:

Game 1: Mystics 97, Aces 95 (Mystics lead 1-0)

Game 2: Thurs, Sept. 19: Aces at Mystics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 3: Sun, Sept. 22: Mystics at Aces, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 4: Tue, Sept 24: Mystics at Aces, Time TBD, ESPN2 (if necessary)

Game 5: Thurs, Sept. 26: Aces at Mystics, Time TBD, ESPN2 (if necessary)

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