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Notre Dame, Alabama not exactly Miami favorites

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Notre Dame, Alabama not exactly Miami favorites

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) For a fan in the greater Miami area, this national championship game might be a nightmare come true.

On one side, there's Notre Dame - maybe the Miami Hurricanes' most hated rival.

On the other side, there's Alabama - coached by former Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, whose departure is still the source of great scorn in South Florida.

So what's a Miamian to do?

Apparently, in many cases, root for no one is the answer.

``This stinks for me right now,'' said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, a Miami native, Dolphins fan and Hurricanes fan, even though he's a former Florida Gator. ``This really stinks. I always go back to the `Catholics vs. Convicts' days and then obviously Nick Saban kind of threw the Dolphins to the wolves. I'm not very happy about this national championship game.

``I can't even pick one,'' Haslem added. ``I have a deep distaste for both teams. I can't even pick one. I usually can slide with somebody. Not this one.''

The Miami-Notre Dame history is storied, and the teams met in a regular-season game in October, the first such meeting in nearly a quarter-century (they played in the 2010 Sun Bowl, as well). Notre Dame won in a blowout, one of the 12 victories that got the Fighting Irish to the national title game that will be played Monday night on the Hurricanes' home field.

Simply put, the Irish and Hurricanes don't like each other.

There were accusations suggesting Miami ran up the score on the way to a 58-7 win in Gerry Faust's final game on the Notre Dame sideline, to some Irish fans getting former Miami coach Jimmy Johnson's telephone number in the week before a game, and the infamous brouhaha where police had to break up a pushing and shoving match as the teams were exiting the field after pregame warmups in 1988.

And don't forget those ``Catholics vs. Convicts'' T-shirts. They haven't forgotten them in Miami.

``I think at the end of the day, you still want to see a great game,'' said longtime Miami resident Desmond Howard, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner for Michigan and now a television analyst. ``I think if you're a football fan, this is what you want to see. I don't think people are tied into, `OK, I don't want to see Nick Saban win.' But then again, that brings the drama. This is a drama-loving country, you know? And Miami loves drama.''

Saban has long been the source of debate in South Florida, simply because he decided to leave the Dolphins after saying he would not accept the chance to coach Alabama.

It's been six years, yet all those wounds that came with Saban saying he wasn't going to take the job have not healed. When the Crimson Tide arrived in Miami this week, Saban said he was thrilled to be back in South Florida.

Echoing those sentiments was Kirby Smart, his defensive coordinator who also worked with Saban during his Dolphins tenure.

``I want to say this: My stay down here was really great,'' Smart said. ``I have a son, I've got twins at home, one named Weston, who I named after where I lived in South Florida. He went yesterday to the city limits and got his picture taken right there, and he was really happy about that. He's now 5 years old or fixing to be 5 years old.''

One of the Heat assistant coaches is former Alabama player Keith Askins, and he and Haslem have forged a particularly close bond over their 10 years together with the two-time NBA championship franchise.

Even that doesn't matter to Haslem, who said he backs all Miami teams. And that's why, in this title matchup, he roots for no one.

``Can't change now,'' Haslem said. ``This is our town.''

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Blues eliminate Jets, Stars and Capitals pull ahead 3-2

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Blues eliminate Jets, Stars and Capitals pull ahead 3-2

Friday saw the Toronto Maple Leafs pull ahead 3-2 and the Colorado Avalanche eliminate the favored Calgary Flames. Saturday provided another elimination game and two teams pulled ahead 3-2 in their series.

Here are the results from Saturday.

St. Louis Blues eliminate Winnipeg Jets with 3-2 win

The Blues return to the second round of the playoffs after they were eliminated in the first round last season.

The Blues rally started 23 seconds into the game, when Jaden Schwartz put home a Brayden Schenn rebound.

Schwartz followed with two more goals, completing the hat trick. It's the second natural hat trick in a playoff series clinching game since Geoff Courtnall in 1992.

The Blues await the winner of the Nashville-Dallas series.

Dallas Stars pull ahead of Nashville Predators in 5-3 victory

The Stars were able to steal one from the Predators at Bridgestone Arena thanks to Jason Dickinson and Alexander Radulov's two goal performances.

Tyler Seguin added a goal of his own to pull the Stars ahead 4-2 at the end of the second period, and Ben Bishop recorded 30 saves.

The Stars have a chance to close the series at home Monday night.

Washington Capitals take upperhand on Carolina Hurricanes with 6-0 shutout

After dropping Game 4 in Carolina 2-1, the Caps exploded for six goals against the Hurricanes in a 6-0 win.

Nicklas Backstrom scored the opening two goals. He leads the Capitals in playoff goals with five and had a four point night.

The Caps also got production from their bottom six with Brett Connolly's goal and Nic Dowd's converted penalty shot. It's the first penalty shot a Caps player has successfully made in the playoffs.

Braden Holtby's shutout gave him seven in the playoffs, surpassing Olaf Kolzig's six for the franchise lead. The Caps have a chance to win the series in Carolina Monday night.

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

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USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield grass...in the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.

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