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No. 24 Northwestern puts 5-0 start on line at PSU

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No. 24 Northwestern puts 5-0 start on line at PSU

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Quentin Williams tunes out the whispers he hears from Northwestern skeptics.

Beat Penn State on the road Saturday and the No. 24 Wildcats might take another step toward quieting the doubters and proving their 5-0 record is no fluke. Buoyed by its strong start, Northwestern (1-0 Big Ten) is supremely confident it can roll into Beaver Stadium and go toe-to-toe with surging Penn State (3-2, 1-0).

``I wasn't a big believer in wanting to do what people think you can't do,'' said Williams, a senior defensive end and Pittsburgh native returning to his home state Saturday.

Back in the Top 25 for the first time since 2008, the Wildcats are off to their third 5-0 start in the last five years. If coach Pat Fitzgerald's crew could get just one more win, they'll reach an even more impressive milestone for the program - the first 6-0 start in five decades.

Even linebacker David Nwabuisi wasn't sure initially how this year's start rated in the Northwestern record books.

``This is the first time we've been 5-0 ... Maybe it's the first time,'' he said this week, trailing off a couple times as looked over at school officials for help.

``So, you know, the `hay is not in the barn,' coach Fitz always says,'' Nwabuisi added. ``We're going to get the best out of every team, week in and week out, especially now that we're ranked. We have a big target on our backs.''

Nice save, David.

Among the Wildcats, junior Kain Colter might be drawing the most attention from Linebacker U., so long as they figure out where he's lined up.

He's a quarterback. He's a receiver. He can create big plays with his feet dashing out of the backfield. You name it.

Colter and Northwestern's exhausting spread offense might be the toughest challenge yet for Penn State, an opportunistic defense that has 11 forced turnovers. The jack-of-all-trades had nearly 300 all-purpose yards and rushed for four scores in last week's 44-29 win over Indiana.

``What we've had to do this week is identify where he is (on the field) and what they've done,'' Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. ``And at the same time, as his role has expanded, trying to figure out the next step. There is going to be a next step ... it's just a matter of figuring out what it is.''

Penn State has momentum in the series, having won the last five matchups - though technically, those wins have been vacated due to NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Penalties aside, the Nittany Lions haven't had trouble getting on the board against Northwestern after having scored at least 33 points in each of the last five wins. The last two victories have come following second-half surges.

This year, Penn State enters the Northwestern game coming off an emotional 35-7 win over Illinois, but coach Bill O'Brien's players have said there won't be a letdown for a homecoming weekend contest against a ranked opponent.

``We'll be ready. We'll motivate ourselves,'' said quarterback Matt McGloin, the Big Ten's leading passer (243 yards per game). ``Nothing would be better than to give them their first loss.''

Playing mistake-free football and dictating tempo on offense might be especially critical this week for Penn State to keep the ball out of Colter's hands. That would allow Roof's troops to stay fresher to try and contain a Wildcats attack averaging 466 yards per game - including a 704-yard outburst against the Hoosiers.

Red zone defense is another area to watch. Penn State's defense is the stingiest inside the 20 in the Big Ten (61 percent conversion rate, six touchdowns), while Northwestern is the making the most out of its red-zone opportunities (92 percent, 13 touchdowns).

After two straight losses to open the season, Penn State has reeled off three straight victories in part because of the defense's incremental improvement adjusting to a tweaked playbook. Roof spiced up the Nittany Lions' 4-3 schemes to make it more aggressive.

Just like Northwestern, there are still questions about the quality of the Nittany Lions' wins. While providing a nice morale boost, the three wins have come against Navy, Temple and Illinois, a crop that is a combined 4-8.

Opponents' records aren't that much better for the undefeated Wildcats, whose five wins have come against teams who are a combined 6-14.

``I think everybody knows how important this game is,'' said Penn State junior linebacker Glenn Carson, a two-year starter. ``I've been here two years, and I know a big-game feel.

``This is a must-win.''

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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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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