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Rutgers looks to cap season with bowl victory

Rutgers looks to cap season with bowl victory

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers accomplished one major goal this season, earning a share of the Big East title for the first time in school history.

Though a 20-17 loss to Louisville in the finale dashed the Scarlet Knights' hopes for the program's first BCS berth, the consolation prize of the Russell Athletic Bowl presents coach Kyle Flood and his players with an opportunity to add another accomplishment.

A victory over Virginia Tech on Friday would clinch a 10-win season, just the third since the program was credited with playing the first college football game against Princeton in 1869. It would also mark Rutgers' sixth straight bowl win dating to 2006.

``You got to move forward in life,'' Flood said. ``That (Louisville) game happened and we're not happy about it, but it happened. And now that's in the past. That game is a part of history and it is what it is. Now we move forward and we try to make more history. We have tremendous goals left for us to accomplish, and that's really where our focus is.''

The Scarlet Knights (9-3) lost their last two games, but they're still playing in the most prestigious postseason game in school history.

``The game on Friday, for me, is going to mean everything,'' said Khaseem Greene, a fifth-year senior linebacker who earlier this month earned AP All-America third-team honors. ``It is going to be a legacy, another chapter for me being closed and another chapter for this program, this family, being closed. It will definitely set us apart from everybody. It's going to determine if we're a good team or a great team.''

For Flood, it marks his first bowl game as head coach. He served as an assistant in Rutgers' six bowl games under his predecessor, Greg Schiano. Flood took over after Schiano left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late January.

With a win over the Hokies, Flood would become the only first-year coach to win 10 games in Rutgers history. Virginia Tech (6-6) is playing in its 20th straight bowl game.

There's a chance the Russell Athletic Bowl will be Rutgers' final game as a member of the Big East. The Scarlet Knights announced their plans to defect from the conference - of which they have been a member since 1991 - to join the Big Ten on Nov. 20. And while school officials are targeting 2014 as the arrival date, other developments could expedite Rutgers' departure.

If the Knights do remain in the Big East for the 2013 season, they should be one of top contenders to win the league's BCS bid in its final season as an automatic-qualifying conference. Rutgers graduates several defensive mainstays - including Greene, the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year - but could welcome back as many as 14 starters, including sophomore quarterback Gary Nova, leading rusher Jawan Jamison and leading receiver Brandon Coleman.

A victory this week in Orlando could set the tone for an important offseason.

``That will send the seniors off the right way and get the younger guys and guys in recruiting, just send a good vibe for next year,'' said Nova, who has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 2,566 yards, 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. ``We've got a lot of talent coming back.''

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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