Panthers O-line faces challenge in Dallas LB Ware

Panthers O-line faces challenge in Dallas LB Ware

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Panthers offensive line has major concerns this week, not the least of which is trying to keep Dallas outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware away from quarterback Cam Newton.

With three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil out for the season due to a foot injury, the Panthers have been forced to reshuffle their line. Geoff Hangartner is moving from right guard to center, Byron Bell goes from right tackle to right guard and Garry Williams starts at right tackle.

The Panthers (1-4) have allowed 13 sacks this season.

This Sunday will be the first time they've faced a true 3-4 defense in the regular season, and Ware has given them problems in the past.

Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross knows what kind of an impact Ware can have on a game.

Ware has five sacks in four games against the Panthers - all Dallas victories.

``He's a great, great player,'' Gross said. ``There are lots of great players in this league, but it's always an exciting challenge when you're going against somebody you feel is probably going to be a Hall-of-Famer.''

Ware has finished with double digits in sacks in each of the last six seasons and he's well on his way to a seventh.

He has six sacks through five games.

Last year might have his been his best yet, finishing with 19 sacks.

Gross has had his personal duels with Ware, but said it wouldn't surprise him to see the Cowboys use him other side of the line and test a lesser experienced Williams at right tackle.

Gross will tie a team record Sunday with his 141st career start.

Williams has started just 11 games, all of those coming in 2010. He spent last season on injured reserve after tearing an ACL in his knee last summer.

This will be his first time facing Ware.

``It's going to be a challenge,'' Williams said. ``He's a great player who works hard and hustles. He's quick and he plays extremely smart.''

Panthers coach Ron Rivera called Ware a ``perfect fit'' for Dallas' 3-4 defensive scheme and Gross agrees.

``I think his effort is consistently great,'' Gross said. ``Some guys you just have to ride out the storm when it happens and sometimes you get to take play off. But not him. He's a great athletic who is strong and plays hard all game every play. He's a guy who has maximized his talent.''

The Cowboys come into the game ranked second overall in defense and first against the pass.

Yet their biggest concern might be containing Carolina's running game.

The Panthers have struggled to find their identity on offense and Rivera said the team will make a concerted effort - more so than in recent weeks - to establish the power rushing attack with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

The Panthers are averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 114.0 yards per game.

``That's one of the things that we need to do,'' Rivera said. ``We need to make sure that we're working hard at. It helps the quarterback.''

And, Rivera hopes, keep Ware at bay.

``We want to be able to take some of that pressure off Cam, obviously,'' Rivera said. ``And again, he puts it on himself too, but I think we can take some of (the pressure) off. Getting our running game going early would be a very good thing.''

So Ware will be asked to do a lot more than just rush the passer.

But when Newton drops back, you can expect to see Ware coming with a full head of steam.

It's a challenge Gross is looking forward to.

``There'd be nothing better than to have a great game against a great player,'' he said.

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”


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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.