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Olympic break over, Mystics face Fever

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Olympic break over, Mystics face Fever

After a month-long hiatus for the summer Olympics, the Washington Mystics and the rest of the WNBA returns to action this week with the locals playing at Indiana on Thursday. Depending on one's point of view, the break for the Mystics (4-14) was either: Much needed so the players and coaches could analyze and ponder how best to fix the woes of the first half, one that included three losing streaks of at least four games. Or...Poorly timed seeing as the Mystics closed the first half with a rousing 70-53 win at New York, their largest margin of victory on the season.Sure, you can point to the latter position with some legitimacy, but the overall ills during those initial 18 games cannot be denied. Slow starts were a repeat offender; Washington did not own a lead at the end of the first quarter until the 13th game of the season. Spotty point guard play certainly did not help generate consistent early offense.The one constant on offense and on the boardsremains forward Crystal Langhorne, who topped the team in points (16.6) and matched Michelle Snow with a team-high 6.7 rebounds. The former University of Maryland star combined with DC native Monique Currie for 40 points in the victory over New York and tallied 22 points and 13 rebounds in the Mystics stunning 67-66 win over the Fever (10-7) on June 15.Overall the Mystics offense has been stagnant and simply lacking, averaging a league-low 69 points per game. Currie (10.6) is the only other playing averaging double figures, Matee Ajavon (9.2) is averaging nearly five points a game fewer than she did last season, sinking only 32 percent of her shots. The real issue for coach Trudi Lacey's squad offensively comes with those directing traffic. Free agent signee Dominque Canty went from starting point guardto waived after only five games. Second-year guard and former first-round pick Jasmine Thomas is still transitioning into a floor leader role and the growing pains are evident at times.In-season pick-up Shannon Bobbitt became a 5-foot-3 sparkplug for a while, but she failed to tally a single point in four of her last five games. Natasha Lacy also received time, but nothing stuck. Even if the losses continue to mount, letting Thomas and 2012 first-rounder Natalie Novosel take control of the backcourt at some point could be Lacey's best path.Indiana, led by Olympic Gold medalist and small forward Tamika Catchings, ended the first half in second place behindEastern Conference leading Connecticut. Catchings paces the Fever in points (18.2), rebounds (7.4) and steals (2.0), though the do-everything star missed 10 of 14 shots in the June loss to the Mystics. The two sides square off three times over the final five-plus weeks of the regular season including twice in Indiana where the Fever are 6-3.Meanwhile the Mystics lost seven of eight road games with the win at New York representing the only triumph away from the Verizon Center. Seeing as they open the second half playing six of eight on the road, the Mystics better hope they remembered that winning formula.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.