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Navy out to avenge heartbreaker against Air Force

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Navy out to avenge heartbreaker against Air Force

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) If there are two teams that shouldn't mind a 9:30 a.m. kickoff, it's Navy and Air Force. The Midshipmen and Falcons are used to getting up at the crack of dawn.

``I really don't think it's a factor, at least for the players. During basic training you are up at 4:15,'' Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said.

Accommodating CBS television, the rooster-rising kickoff time is the earliest in the history of Falcon Stadium, which should be selling coffee and hot chocolate by the gallons for what's expected to be a bitterly cold and snowy morning in the mountains.

With these two option offenses, though, the game could be over by lunchtime.

While the timing won't mean anything to these two teams, the trophy means everything.

The Falcons (2-2) have won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy the last two years after Navy (1-3) held the prize from 2003-09. Last year's game ended in controversy and a 35-34 Air Force overtime win in Annapolis, Md.

The trophy goes to the military academy with the best record in round-robin competition between Air Force, Navy and Army.

``It's in a glass case in the Clune Arena,'' Falcons running back Cody Goetz said. ``We want to keep it here.''

``You have to understand that there's a trophy case in our locker room that's been empty the past couple years,'' Navy running back Bo Snelson said. ``The only ones who have ever seen that trophy are the (Class of) 2013 guys. It hurts that we haven't been able to bring it back.''

Either Air Force or Navy has taken the trophy in the last 15 years, shutting out Army since 1996. The only time Calhoun has lost a home nonconference game was in 2008, when Navy won 33-27 at Falcon Stadium.

``There is a little hatred between the two teams,'' said Goetz, whose Falcons lead the nation with a nearly 400-yard rushing average. ``We know in time we will be serving together, but at the same time, we really don't like each other.

``You want to make sure everyone knows you are the best service academy. We could be playing poker and still want to beat them just as bad.''

In a game that featured nine touchdowns, a stunning comeback and a much-debated penalty, the duel between Air Force and Navy last year was decided by one of football's most mundane plays: the extra point attempt.

Tim Jefferson ran for a 1-yard touchdown in overtime and Parker Herrington added the conversion to give Air Force a wild 35-34 victory. After the Falcons blew an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, Navy's Kriss Proctor ran for a 1-yard touchdown to begin the overtime. But he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for getting up in a defender's face, and Jon Teague's long conversion attempt from 35 yards out was blocked by Alex Means.

That heartbreaker took its toll as the Midshipmen never really righted their ship.

``I think it was a turning point in our season,'' Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ``That was a devastating game for us. We had a hard time bouncing back from that one. To lose the way we did made it even harder. It's hard enough to lose to our rival, much less the way we did.''

It wasn't just the ending that bothered Niumatalolo.

``Last year, I thought we were a little too amped up, too emotional,'' Niumatalolo said. ``I take blame for that. I think our whole offseason stuff was about getting the trophy back. Our guys were probably too tight at the beginning. We just have to relax and play. Football is an emotional game, but you still have to be able to control yourself.''

Navy senior linebacker Brye French said the Midshipmen were so determined to get the Commander-in-Chief's trophy back that they didn't keep an even keel last year.

``I think maybe we built the game up too big. There might have been too much pressure,'' French said. ``Of course it's a big game, everybody knows that, but last year we worried more about the outside factors instead of just worrying about the team. That's something we've been working on this week.''

Last year's loss still drives him.

``Seeing guys crying and upset in the locker room was rough,'' French said. ``Something clicked in my mind. I want to be part of getting this thing back. I want to provide some leadership for the guys so we can get the trophy back. Our freshman year, we had that ring. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.

``You look at the older guys before us, they have four (rings). It's tough only having one. It's even harder that some of the younger guys don't know what that's like, the success of Navy football in the past.''

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AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg contributed from Annapolis, Md.

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Follow AP Sports Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby has been largely overshadowed in the headlines of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

After two games, Vasilevskiy was one of the bigger storylines for how poorly he played in giving up 10 goals in just five periods. The next three games after that, the storyline changed to how well he was suddenly playing and how he had helped the Lightning steal two wins in Washington and take a 3-2 series lead after Game 5.

Holtby was not mentioned much. His play was not the reason the Caps went up 2-0 or the reason they went down 3-2.

But if the Caps hoped to force a Game 7, they needed him to at least be a reason why they won Game 6.

Holtby responded in a big way. With his team facing elimination, Holtby registered his first shutout of both the regular season and the playoffs.

"It's a perfect time," Devante Smith-Pelly said after the game. "He's been great all year. Obviously an up-and-down year for him personally, but the way he's bounced back, he's been amazing all throughout the playoffs."

Holtby is now just the seventh goalie in NHL history to record his first shutout of the season in a game in which his team faced elimination.

Holtby, however, was not concerned with the stats or the shutout.

"The only reason it’s good is we won," Holtby said of his shutout performance. "Aside from that, it’s just good for [the media], I guess you can write about it. But for us it’s just that W."

Vasilevskiy made a number of jaw-dropping saves, especially in the first period, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled for the first goal. With the score knotted at zero, Holtby made a toe save on Anthony Cirelli on a 2-on-1 opportunity to keep the Lightning off the board. He really upped his game in the third period as Tampa Bay made a late push to tie it. He turned aside 10 shots that frame including a nifty snag on Nikita Kucherov and a glorious glove save on Ondrej Palat.

Holtby's performance ensured the Caps would live to fight another day...for now.

As the series shifts back to Tampa Bay, Washington will again be facing elimination. This time, however, so will their opponents.

Anything can happen in a Game 7. In a winner-take-all game, it may come down to who has the better goalie on Wednesday and Holtby seems to be picking a good time to up his game.

"Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club," Barry Trotz said. "You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. ... Braden is a true pro, he works on his game, he finds ways to make a difference and he does."

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, May 22, 66 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins player one-liners, defense

A few weeks ago, I did an early projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster on offense and defense. As the team gets ready for OTAs here is a comment on each player expected to make the team on defense; the offense was up yesterday

Defensive line

—Even though he played just 159 snaps last year before getting injured, the experience that Jonathan Allen gained in the offseason and training camp last year will help him get off to a strong start this season. 

—​Daron Payne will improve as the season goes on but he should be of some help stopping the run, the team’s most glaring weakness, right off the bat. 

—​Matt Ioannidis could play his way into an early contract extension a year from now, something nobody saw coming a year ago. 

—Last year Anthony Lanier played a little over half a season’s worth of snaps and got 5.0 sacks so I’ll put his over/under for this year at 7.5. 

—I think many fans see “Redskins veteran free agent D-lineman” and associate “bust” but Stacy McGee played pretty well last year. 

—Will Tim Settle be in at nose tackle for the first snap in Week 1?

—The coaches would like to be able to keep Ziggy Hood on the roster, but injuries and other issues could make him a victim of the roster numbers game. 

Inside linebackers

—​Zach Brown struggled a bit before injuries forced him out of the last three games, but he still finished in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles. 

—The team re-signing Mason Foster in late January was a low-key but potentially very impactful move. 

—After getting cut and then returning in November last year, Zach Vigil probably will be employed with the Redskins for all of the 2018 season. 

—It will be interesting to see how much the Redskins try to get out of converted safety Josh Harvey-Clemons as a nickel linebacker this year. 

—The Redskins moved up in the sixth round to draft Shaun Dion Hamilton, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a regular role on defense before the season is out. 

Outside linebackers

—All Preston Smith needs to do to hit it big in free agency is add a few sacks to his 2017 total and get a few more takeaways. 

—​Ryan Kerrigan already got paid, he’s a few more good years away from making the Redskins Ring of Fame. 

—I predict that Ryan Anderson gets his first NFL sack in Week 2 against the Colts. 

—You usually think of outside linebackers rotating in when it’s the nickel defense, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pernell McPhee be a regular in short-yardage situations. 

Cornerbacks

—I think Josh Norman will the dancing in the end zone at some point this season; he is long overdue to get a pick six (or a pick of any sort for that matter).

—The first time I noticed Quinton Dunbar playing cornerback was when he lined up against Odell Beckham in 2015. 

—The success of the Redskins’ decisions to trade Kendall Fuller and to let Bashaud Breeland leave as a free agent will hinge mostly on how well Fabian Moreau plays in his second year in the NFL.

—Realistically, the Redskins can hope to get 10 or 12 good games out of Orlando Scandrick

—And because Scandrick is unlikely to be healthy for 16 games, the ability of Josh Holsey to step in when needed will be critical. 

—If the Redskins can get a few good punt returns and 75 snaps at nickel corner from Greg Stroman he will be worth the seventh-round pick they used to draft him. 

Safeties

—With a year in the defense under his belt, D.J. Swearinger is a candidate to make his first Pro Bowl. 

—After Jay Gruden compared him to Jordan Reed, there is a lot of pressure on Montae Nicholson to stay on the field and perform well when he is out there. 

—Even though he started eight games last year I think the coaches view Deshazor Everett as more of a special teams guy and situational defender than a safety they want playing 70 snaps a game. 

—​Troy Apke has a lot to learn and it remains to be seen if he can go from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL football player.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 21
—Training camp starts (7/26) 66
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 80

The Redskins last played a game 142 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 110 days. 

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