Capitals

No. 18 Louisville hoping to end slide against Pitt

No. 18 Louisville hoping to end slide against Pitt

PITTSBURGH (AP) It took Charlie Strong less than three years to put together an impressive turnaround at Louisville.

There's still one thing on his to-do list: Beat Pittsburgh.

The No. 18 Cardinals (5-0, 0-0 Big East) have just one shot left. And they'll have to get up early to do it on Saturday when they face the Panthers (2-3, 0-2) at 11 a.m.

``I like that,'' Strong said. ``I like getting up.''

Strong will likely give his players a 6 a.m. wake-up call. Considering the way his team played in lackluster road wins over Florida International and Southern Miss, that's probably not a bad idea.

The Cardinals struggled to put away both games, needing a late surge to beat Southern Miss in a monsoon and a clock-chewing drive in the fourth quarter to keep Florida International at bay.

Still, Louisville is 5-0 for the first time since 2006, the only year the Cardinals won the Big East. They had a chance to win it last fall, but a 21-14 home loss to Pitt - the fourth straight win by the Panthers' in the series - helped derail any shot Louisville had at an outright league title.

The Cardinals haven't forgotten.

``We're definitely aware of how we played last year,'' guard Jake Smith said. ``We came out a little flat. I think it was pretty obvious to everybody.''

Louisville stresses it's more mature this season and better capable of dealing with success. The Cardinals were the overwhelming favorite to grab the conference title but have watched while the rest of the Big East got underway and No. 20 Rutgers and No. 21 Cincinnati surged to hot starts.

If it's possible to be unbeaten and still an underdog, Strong believes the Cardinals are just that.

``Our theme right now is just to `stay hungry, stay humble,''' Strong said. ``If we just stick with that theme then we feel like that's personality we're trying to draw.''

The Cardinals are well down a road the Panthers hope to travel as they prepare to jump to the ACC next fall. First-year head coach Paul Chryst is in the process of overhauling the roster and reshaping a culture that's been rattled by upheaval.

Pitt remains very much a work in progress, and Chryst understands that progress isn't necessarily measured strictly by wins. In the span of a month, the Panthers' loss to Youngstown State, crushed then-No. 13 Virginia Tech and basically gave away a 14-13 defeat to Syracuse last week.

The Orange jumped to a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter, but the Panthers controlled the rest of the game. They just couldn't score enough points. Twice in the fourth quarter they moved into scoring range and twice they came up empty.

The first drive ended with two penalties and a sack that pushed Pitt out of field goal range. The second ended with two sacks and an incomplete pass to push the Panthers back from the Syracuse 17 to the 41.

Looking back, Chryst allows maybe he should have gone in a different direction.

``If you knew then what you know now, then yeah I think I'd quarterback sneak it three times,'' he said with a laugh. ``It was just bad execution, which goes on us as coaches.''

Despite the late-game meltdown, Chryst believes the Panthers are miles ahead of the team that was blown out by Cincinnati a month ago. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have backtracked just a bit.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hasn't looked nearly as sharp on the road as he did during three home wins to start the year and Louisville has allowed overmatched teams to hang around late into games.

Pitt marks perhaps Louisville's first true test, one the Cardinals haven't passed since 2007. No current Louisville player has walked off the field a winner against the Panthers during his collegiate career.

``Traditionally, we're not very good against them and that's one thing that we really have to be a wary of because they do have a good football team,'' Smith said. ``They're a good defensive team and they're a very smashmouth offense.''

One that should get a shot in the arm with the return of freshman running back Rushel Shell, who sat out the Syracuse game with back spasms. Shell helped propel the Panthers by Virginia Tech with 157 yards, most of them bruising runs up the middle.

Shell and Ray Graham will need to take some pressure off Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, who has put together stellar numbers but still struggles in the face of a blitz. Graham and Shell were able to do it against the Hokies, experience Chryst expects his team to draw on again.

``I don't think anyone will be intimidated by the fact that a ranked team is coming in,'' Chryst said.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

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