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Nebraska defense tightening up

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Nebraska defense tightening up

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Even after his defense gave up 653 yards to UCLA and 498 yards and 63 points to Ohio State, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini didn't waver in his belief that things would get better.

Over the last five games, that's exactly what has happened.

No. 17 Nebraska allowed Minnesota a season-low 177 yards on Saturday and held the Gophers to just 10 of 28 passing. Nebraska now ranks 19th nationally in total defense and 41st in scoring defense.

``Obviously, we had a couple games there early on that didn't go well,'' Pelini said Monday. ``But I think we've gotten steadily better as the season's gone on. That's what you try to do. We stayed the course. We didn't panic and our kids have gotten better. Offensively, I think we've been at a high level all year. Right now, we're kind of hitting stride and playing pretty good in all phases of the game.''

The Ohio State game was the low point for the defense, senior linebacker Will Compton said.

``Things started to hit the fan,'' he said. ``We always talk about doing your job and staying in the system. We kind of got out of that. We were trying to do other people's jobs. For whatever reason, things weren't clicking. We learned from that experience.''

That learning process, Compton said, was led by defensive coordinator John Papuchis, who, when he meets with the defense after a game, always finds some positives from his team's performance.

Even after Ohio State, Compton said, Papuchis praised the defense for its first-half play and emphasized that the Blackshirts weren't as bad as the score might have indicated. With Papuchis, Pelini and the defensive staff leading the way, the players have responded.

``It wasn't anything special,'' Compton said. ``Just prepare and do your job and don't worry about a mistake. Go on to the next play.''

Much of the improvement has come in pass defense, where Nebraska's secondary and linebackers are holding opponents to a nation's-best 45.4 completion percentage.

``You never think of something like pass completion percentage when you're out on the field,'' Compton said. ``It's pretty awesome to see.''

Asked for his completion percentage goal, Pelini quipped: ``Zero. I guess I'm joking to a certain extent. We want to challenge every route. We have pretty high expectations. We work pretty hard at how we play pass defense. It's a big part of how we play, what our philosophy is defensively.''

The defense was offered its coveted Blackshirts after Nebraska's 29-28 come-from-behind win at Northwestern. Led by Compton, they turned them down for a week, donning them in practice only after shutting down Michigan in a 23-9 win.

Now Compton said, the defense is playing well and improving each game. The Huskers play Iowa this Friday in the regular-season finale.

``As we're playing well, you kind of understand how good you can be,'' Compton said. ``We know what we have to do and how to do it and stick with it. When we're doing that, we're pretty damned good, When we click, we're pretty tough to beat.''

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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