Capitals

Poulter, Donald look for strong finish in Dubai

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Poulter, Donald look for strong finish in Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) With the buzz around top-ranked Rory McIlroy, some of the other big names playing at the Dubai World Championship can be forgotten.

The two-time major winner, who has already wrapped up the European Tour money title, is the favorite to win the season-ending tournament that starts Thursday. But several other Ryder Cup stars, including Ian Poulter and second-ranked Luke Donald, would like to cap off their seasons with a victory.

There are others, including South African newcomer Branden Grace, who know a strong finish could help them move up the rankings and qualify for a major in 2013. A top-30 finish gets them into the British Open, top 15 into the U.S. Open and a top 10 on the money list gets them a share of the $3.75 million in bonus money.

The 13th-ranked Poulter, who struggled earlier in the year, has played some of his best golf since helping lead Europe to the Ryder Cup victory over the United States in September. After his putting fueled the come-from-behind victory, Poulter won the HSBC Champions for his second career World Golf Championships title. He also finished second last week at the Australian Masters.

``I'm looking forward to this week,'' said Poulter, whose penalty in a two-way playoff cost him a shot at the 2010 Dubai title. ``I guess I'm in some pretty good form, so feeling like we can end the year on a very high note and move further in the world rankings, which would be very pleasing.''

The challenge for Poulter is translating the success he's had at the Ryder Cup into more consistency on the PGA and European Tour. He had four wins in four matches at Medinah and his 12-3 career record is the highest winning percentage of any European golfer in history.

``I can produce and it is within me,'' Poulter said. ``It comes out in the Ryder Cup. So why shouldn't I be able to produce that week in, week out?

`` We just have to see how long we can keep doing it for. When you look at the best players in the world, they are doing it week in, week out. So there is no reason why I shouldn't sit among those guys.''

Donald arrived in Dubai last year on the cusp of making history as the first golfer to win the PGA and European Tour money titles. This time around, he is overshadowed by McIlroy, who has repeated the 35-year-old Brit's feat but at a much younger age (2x).

Still, the Chicago-based Donald has been playing better since contributing to the European Ryder Cup win. He beat Bubba Watson to launch Europe's comeback and arrives on the heels of winning the Dunlop Phoenix Open, his first victory in Japan.

It marked his third title of the season following wins on the PGA Tour and European Tour and allowed him to overtake Tiger Woods for the No. 2 ranking.

``What I did last year brings back a lot of great memories,'' said Donald, who finished third last year in Dubai to clinch the Order of Merit title. ``It's an event with the top (57) guys from the year and another chance to obviously play against some of the best players in the world and try to win a tournament.''

Several of the rising stars of the tour are looking to cap career seasons. The 38th-ranked Grace earned his first four victories this season on the European Tour and a good showing could result in cracking the top 30.

``It's been a great year. If I put into words, it would be a dream come true,'' Grace said. ``One thing led to another, once I got my first win everything led into the other, that's how it happens. The year's not over. The course is in great shape. I think this is a long hitters golf course so if you can get out there, you should be able to score around this place.''

Big-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts won a second victory on the European Tour in 2012, and he could move up one spot into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai with a strong finish.

``My season has been far better than my expectation already, so this would be the icing on the cake,'' Colsaerts told The Associated Press.

Looking ahead to next year, the 30-year-old Belgian said he would like to improve at the majors, especially those in America. He tied for seventh at the British Open but missed the cut at the PGA Championship and tied for 27th at the U.S. Open.

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that hit the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side but since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact, there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball, but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat, the whole offense will be harder to defend.

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

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

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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