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Romo: Cowboys 'playing for our playoff lives'

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Romo: Cowboys 'playing for our playoff lives'

IRVING, Texas (AP) The Dallas Cowboys barely beat two teams going nowhere and couldn't hang with Robert Griffin III in a loss during their three-game home stand.

Now the schedule features winning teams fighting for the playoffs, and the Cowboys need those games and probably some help in getting to the postseason.

Dallas visits Cincinnati on Sunday before returning home to play Pittsburgh. The Bengals and Steelers are tied for second in the AFC North at 7-5, and are probably in the wild-card hunt because they trail Baltimore by two games.

The Cowboys (6-6) spent the past few weeks figuring they needed to win the NFC East to get in, though they could be in the wild-card mix, too.

``Each game, obviously, we're playing for our playoff lives,'' said Tony Romo, who had three touchdown passes to break Troy Aikman's franchise record in Sunday's 38-33 victory against Philadelphia. ``We put ourselves here. We've got to figure out a way to play better ball. Some ways, we did that tonight and other ways, we've got to continue to get better.''

Start with Romo on the positive side of that equation. He completed all 10 of his second-half passes, which included two tying touchdowns and the go-ahead toss to Dez Bryant midway through the fourth quarter. An earlier touchdown to Bryant was the 166th of Romo's career and broke the record held by Aikman, a three-time Super Bowl winner.

Romo was 22 of 27 for 303 yards and has gone without an interception in four of the past five games. He has 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions after throwing 13 picks in the first seven games.

``I thought he did a really good job of playing within himself, playing within the system when things weren't there and he was able to make some plays,'' Dallas coach Jason Garrett said.

The Dallas defense didn't make many plays before rookie Morris Claiborne followed Romo's go-ahead score by picking up a fumble and returning it 50 yards for his first NFL touchdown.

Before that play, the Cowboys had no sacks or turnovers and had allowed the Eagles and rookie quarterback Nick Foles to score on four straight possessions, including a 58-yard drive to a field goal in the final 35 seconds of the first half and another march to a tiebreaking kick in the fourth quarter.

``We just have to stick it out,'' Claiborne said. ``We've been doing a good job fighting this whole year with our backs against the wall. Last night, the defense, it felt like our backs were against the wall.''

Brown had 169 yards rushing and almost matched the Eagles rookie record of 178 he set a week earlier against Carolina in his first start. He had several long runs and scored untouched twice, including up the middle from the 5.

``He's had a couple of good weeks running it, and we just didn't defend it well enough: the inside runs, the outside runs,'' Garrett said. ``Obviously we have to defend the run better.''

The Cowboys might have their own running game back for the playoff push after struggling without DeMarco Murray. He returned from a six-game absence due to a sprained right foot and rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown. His per-carry average still wasn't great - 3.6 yards, just a tick better than the team's season average - but part of that was an 11-yard loss late in the game.

The Dallas offensive line is getting healthy, too. Ryan Cook started at center after missing two games with a knee problem, which allowed Mackenzy Bernadeau to return to guard. Tyron Smith was back at right tackle after missing almost two full games with a sprained ankle.

``I think it's an encouraging sign compared to weeks past,'' Cook said. ``We had a couple of negative plays. Those definitely contributed to that a little bit, but we look forward for encouraging signs as far as getting that average up.''

Jerry Jones is always looking for encouraging signs, and the owner was slightly more upbeat 10 days after a demoralizing loss to the Redskins that had him questioning whether the Cowboys could make the playoffs.

``I am very hopeful, but I am realistic,'' Jones said. ``I know that we play teams that if we make some of the miscues that we made out there tonight ...''

He didn't have to finish the thought.

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Who will the Caps play in their first playoff series? The round robin, explained.

Who will the Caps play in their first playoff series? The round robin, explained.

Before the season pause, the Caps were in danger of falling down the standings. Now they could claim the top spot in the east.
 
When the NHL paused its season on March 12, the Capitals held just a one-point lead in the Metropolitan Division and trailed the conference-leading Boston Bruins by 10 points.

The Bruins held an almost insurmountable lead atop the conference and the Philadelphia Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the league. At that point, Washington looked more likely to drop in the standings than to climb. With the NHL’s new 24-team playoff format for the 2019-20 season, however, the Caps will have three games to possibly claim the top spot in the east.
 
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Tuesday the league’s return to play plan including the 24-team playoff format.

Washington, as one of the top four teams in the conference, will get a bye to the first round of the playoffs and not have to play in the play-in round. Instead, the Caps will play a round-robin tournament against the other top seeds in the conference: Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. The winner of that round robin will determine the seeds for the playoffs.
 
The inclusion of a round-robin has some fans a bit confused as it is not something seen in a normal season so let’s break it down.
 
First off, you can throw out the current seeding for the top four teams. The regular season records determined who the top four teams are, but that is it. They no longer matter. The round robin is a clean slate for those four teams. Washington will play each of the other teams once and regular season rules will apply. That means there will not be continuous overtime in a tie game, but instead it will go to five minutes of three-on-three followed by a shootout.

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What this means is that Boston, despite being the presumptive Presidents’ Trophy winner, could fall all the way down to the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Caps, meanwhile, could claim the top spot in the conference with a strong showing in the round robin.
 
Why did the NHL do this? Bettman went into this in a video conference with the media after the initial announcement. Basically, this is an acknowledgment that the top teams need to play competitive games before playing against a team that had to win a playoff series just to get there.
 
What will be the reward for earning the top seed? It is not yet clear.
 
It has not yet been determined if the teams will be reseeded after the play-in round or if the playoff will be a bracket throughout. This could be significant depending on the upsets we see in the play-in round. For example, a bracket would set up for the No. 4 team to play the winner of the series between the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins and the No. 12 Montreal Canadiens. If Montreal pulls off the upset as the lowest seed, that would give the No. 4 seed the best matchup on paper in the next round while the No. 1 seed would be playing either the No. 8 or 9 seed.
 
As one of the top seeds, the Caps will finish no lower than No. 4 in the conference but could potentially finish No. 1.

But we are still a long way off from determining who Washington will play in their first playoff series.
 

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Alex Ovechkin shares ninth Rocket Richard Trophy, but Capitals miss some other milestones

Alex Ovechkin shares ninth Rocket Richard Trophy, but Capitals miss some other milestones

The Capitals will hopefully be back on the ice this summer for the Stanley Cup playoffs after Tuesday’s return-to-play announcement by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. 

Remember where we left off on March 12 before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic halted play? 

Alex Ovechkin had 48 goals and with 13 games to go he seemed a lock to reach 50 for the ninth time in his career. That would have tied him with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history.

That won’t happen now. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declared the regular season over on Tuesday as he laid out his plans for what the league hopes to do if it can get players safely back on the ice.  

But if Ovechkin will fall just shy of 50 goals, he can console himself with yet another Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer. He will share that honor this year with Boston’s David Pastrnak, who also finishes with 48 goals.

It is the first time players have shared a Rocket since 2009-10 when Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos each had 51 goals. Three players tied for it in 2003-04. That trio was Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and now-Capitals forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who was then with the Atlanta Thrashers, who now play in Winnipeg. In other words, it was a long time ago.

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Ovechkin remains two goals away from tying longtime Capitals forward Mike Gartner for No. 7 on the all-time goals list. Gartner has 708. Ovechkin sits at 706. That will have to wait until next year. Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731) and even Brett Hull (741) could all be within reach.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin was far from the only Caps’ player pushing for a milestone only to come up short with the regular season ended prematurely. John Carlson won’t reach the hallowed 90-point mark for a defenseman. Carlson hit the break with 75 points, which was 10 more than anyone at the position. He still had a decent shot to get there with 13 games left.

Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque was the last NHL defenseman to hit 90 points in a season 26 years ago with the Boston Bruins in 1993-94. Carlson remains a favorite for the Norris Trophy. Wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

The Capitals had other players posting career years, too. Tom Wilson has 44 points to set a new personal best and his 21 goals were just one short of his single-season high.

Jakub Vrana, in his age 23-24 season, hit his career-best mark with 25 goals. Lars Eller had 16 goals, which was two shy of his career best (18). He also needed just one more point to reach 40 for the first time.

Maybe the most intriguing number out there? Braden Holtby is currently tied with Olie Kolzig at 35, but he might never get another chance to make that record his own. His contract expires at the end of the season. 

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