Notre Dame makes stunning switch to ACC

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Notre Dame makes stunning switch to ACC

From Comcast SportsNetSOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Notre Dame has picked its conference. Now it has to decide which football rivalry games to keep.The announcement Wednesday that Notre Dame is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football and hockey came with a provision that the Fighting Irish play five football games a year against league opponents. That's good news for fans who want to see the Irish play Miami more often, but may not be welcomed by some traditional rivals.The deal calls for the Irish to play each ACC team once every three years, which means traditional games against Pittsburgh and Boston College will end. Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Notre Dame will continue to play Navy, which bailed out the school in the 1940s when it was struggling financially by putting programs on the South Bend campus. The Irish also will keep playing Southern California and Stanford, to keep a presence on the West Coast.But what of Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue? Swarbrick wasn't ready to say immediately. He did say, however, the shift in scheduling wouldn't be as big as some people think."We're going to keep some traditional rivals and we're going to get around the country. We're still going to be in California every year and we're still going to find a way to get into the Southwest. And, of course, this gives us a great East Coast footprint and we want to make sure we keep a Midwest presence, too," he said. "We'll meet our mission and make sure Notre Dame is playing everywhere in the country."Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke expects the Boilermakers to continue playing the Irish."We have a long-time relationship with Notre Dame involving many of our programs, and we expect it to continue," he said.Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon hopes to keep the series against Notre Dame going after their contract expires in 2020, but said it will be Notre Dame's decision. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said the Spartans have a contract that runs through 2031 that calls for games against Notre Dame for four years and then two off years.But with five ACC games on the schedule, games against USC, Stanford and Navy, if the Irish played all three Big Ten opponents it would have just one other game on the schedule.Notre Dame will begin playing five ACC teams in 2014. It wasn't clear when it would join the league in other sports because the Big East has a 27-month notification period for any member that wants to leave, and a 5 million exit fee. The Big East has shown a willingness to negotiate, as it did with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who paid 7.5 million each to get out early. Swarbrick wouldn't say when Notre Dame would leave, but indicated he would try to work out a deal."My own philosophy is, it's in everybody's interests to do it sooner rather than later," Swarbrick said.One of the key reasons Notre Dame decided to move from the Big East, which it joined in 1995, was because the ACC's offer allowed the Irish to be part of its bowl rotation. For the next two seasons, if Notre Dame doesn't earn a BCS berth it must wait to see what conferences can't fill their bowl allotments to see where it can play. Notre Dame also could play an ACC team in the Orange Bowl in some years."We needed a soup-to-nuts solution for the postseason and we have achieved it," Swarbrick said.ACC Commissioner John Swofford said the deal helps the league as well because it will re-negotiate its recent ESPN contract worth 3.6 billion to account for Notre Dame's arrival. Notre Dame will keep its broadcast partnership with NBC and won't receive TV revenue for other ACC football games.Swarbrick said he thinks Notre Dame's move to the ACC might stabilize all the changes going on among conferences."I think this gives us a real chance that we are going to have a period ahead of us now in college athletics which is going to be pretty stable," he said. "That would be one of the nicest possible legacies if five years from now we look back on this deal and say, You know what, that ushered in a period of where we focused on what was going on on the field and not what was going on in the AD's office in college sports. I think it will."

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Braden Holtby, almost singlehandedly, gets the Caps a point on the road

Braden Holtby, almost singlehandedly, gets the Caps a point on the road

TAMPA—The Capitals didn’t earn the two points they came here seeking, but they got one—and they’ve got goalie Braden Holtby to thank for it.

Holtby was easily the Caps’ best player Saturday at Amalie Arena, where the Lightning eked out a 2-1 shootout victory. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced, including a handful of difficult saves at critical junctures.

”He made some really key stops in that game, at really key moments when the game was 0-0 and another when it was 1-0 for them,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought his effort was real solid. Without his performance maybe we don’t get a point here.”

RELATED: Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

One such save came six minutes into the second period. Tyler Johnson won a defensive zone draw, Ondrej Palat flipped a long pass to Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning’s leading goal scorer. Kucherov gathered the puck on the fly, broke in alone and attempted to beat Holtby on the blocker side. Holtby, though, turned him back, keeping it 0-0.

“It was high flip, so you never know if it’s going to dig in or not,” Holtby said of the play. “So I didn’t know if I had the time to go out and get it, which I might have. But I tried to just play it patient.”

In the 3-on-3 overtime, Holtby came up with another game-changing gem. Palat went end-to-end, knifing through Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson. The winger raced in at full speed and tried to beat Holtby through the five-hole. Holtby, however, slid over in the butterfly and slammed his pads shut just in time.

“Holts was great,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who tallied the Caps’ long goal. “He’s been great for us all season, as usual. He’s always giving us a chance to win. Now it’s just up to us to start scoring goals.”

Indeed, the Caps have now scored only 13 goals in the past seven games (3-3-1). And, for the most part, the offense struggled to get much going on Saturday, as well.

Holtby, however, chose to focus on the positives after the loss.

“Obviously, we got a big one from our power play,” Holtby said, asked how he digests a shootout defeat on the road. “But it shows character that we were able to come back from 1-0. They’re in the same situation as us; they were desperate, as well. A game like that can go either way, really.”

With the 32-save performance, Holtby’s save percentage improved to .922 and his goal against average dropped to 2.18.

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Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

Nicklas Backstrom forced overtime, but the Caps fell in to the Lightning 2-1 in a shootout.

How it happened: After a scoreless first period, Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring in the second period with a power play goal. The penalty killers were caught low as the puck went to the corner. A failed clear attempt went to Hedman who fed Kucherov at the blue line. With plenty of room to work with, Kucherov unleased a monster slap shot to beat Braden Holtby. Nicklas Backstrom pulled the Caps even in the third period when he called his own number on the power play, sending a wrister from the top of the circle past goalie Ben Bishop. With no winner in overtime, the game went to a shootout where the Caps lost in four rounds after Brian Boyle netted his first ever shootout goal.

What it means: Washington has now lost three straight games for the first time since Feb. 2015. The loss drops the Caps in a three-way tie with Tampa and the Philadelphia Flyers in the final two wild card spots. It was Washington's first loss to the Lightning since Nov. 1, 2014 after a stretch of five straight wins. The Caps have, however, earned at least one point in 12 of their last 13 games against Tampa.

Staying hot: Backstrom's goal was his seventh of the season and first on the power play. Six of those seven goals have come in the last nine games as the veteran center has really stepped up his game in recent weeks. He leads Washington in points this season with 21. Backstrom now has points in 11 of his 1ast 13 games against the Lightning.

Special again?: The power play struggles continued on Saturday as the Caps failed to convert on their first three opportunities of the game, bringing their streak up to 13 straight failed power plays. Then Backstrom finally, finally put the Caps on the board with his game-tying tally in the third period. It was the team's first power play goal since Nov. 25 against the Buffalo Sabres. For the night, Washington went 1-for-6 on the man advantage. Not a good night by any stretch, but the one goal the team did score proved crucial.

Trouble with the law: With two penalties on the night, Alex Ovechkin now leads the team in minor penalties with 10, one more than Lars Eller whose early season struggles were well documented. Ovechkin closed the gap quickly with four minors in the last two games. It's hard to blame him for either penalty on Saturday. In the first period, Ovechkin was tripped and then reached his stick out while on the ice after the puck. Victor Hedman tripped over it and Ovechkin received the only call. In the second period, Ovechkin slashed Hedman to try to break up a scoring opportunity. Even if you want to absolve him of both penalties in this game, however, the fact that he new leads the team is not what you want to see from the team's biggest offensive weapon.

Blanked: With Backstrom's third-period goal, the Caps avoided being shutout in consecutive games for the first time since March 2-4 of 2012. At that time, Dale Hunter was the head coach. To say that offense wasn't Hunter's top priority would be an understatement.

Look ahead: The Caps return home for a brief two-game homestand starting on Monday against the Buffalo Sabres. They host the Boston Bruins on Wednesday and then reacquaint themselves with the Sabres on Friday, this time in Buffalo.