Women's soccer advances in stunning fashion

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Women's soccer advances in stunning fashion

From Comcast SportsNet
MANCHESTER, England (AP) -- The U.S. women's soccer team has another come-from-behind, last-minute thriller to add to its legacy. The Americans won't have much time to celebrate it: It's time to focus on winning it all. This is the moment the U.S. players have been eyeing for more than a year, a rematch with Japan on Thursday at Wembley Stadium with gold on the line. The top-ranked Americans lost to Japan on penalty kicks in the World Cup final last summer, a stunning blow that became a source of motivation as the players prepared for the Olympics. "This is redemption for us," midfielder Carli Lloyd said. "We know how hard it was for us after that game. It hurt us for a really long time." The U.S. team was ten minutes away from another devastating loss in the Olympic semifinals Monday night when it caught a break. Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod was whistled for holding the ball too long, a violation often committed but rarely enforced. The dominoes fell in quick succession: an indirect kick, a hand ball, a penalty kick. Score tied. "We feel like it was taken away from us," Canada forward Christine Sinclair said. "It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started." The Americans then put together a final winning surge. In the third and final minute of injury time that had been added on to extra time -- with goalkeeper Hope Solo mentally preparing for a penalty kick shootout -- Alex Morgan looped in a 6-yard header on a long cross from Heather O'Reilly, giving the U.S. a 4-3 win in the Olympic semifinals at Old Trafford. "I don't have much to say because I need to wrap my head around what just happened," Solo said. "And that's the truth of the matter. We tend to keep things interesting." Canada, seeking the country's first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport since 1936, will play France for the bronze on Thursday at Coventry, but it will take a while to get over this one. Canada's coach felt cheated, and lashed out with criticism of Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen. "The ref, she will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays," said Canada coach John Herdman, who also felt that Pedersen missed a hand ball in front of the U.S. goal. "She's gonna have to live with that. We will move on from this. I wonder if she will be able to." Pedersen cited McLeod was for holding the ball more than six seconds. McLeod said she did not receive the customary warning from the referee beforehand, although she did say the linesman had told her at the start of the second half not to slow down play. The violation gave the Americans an indirect free kick inside the area. Rapinoe took the kick and rammed it into the Canadian wall, the ball glancing off the arm of Marie-Eve Nault. Pedersen then awarded the U.S. a penalty kick, which co-captain Abby Wambach converted off the left post. "I think the referee was very one-sided," McLeod said. "It was an interesting sequence of events. I think we outplayed the Americans the entire game. I think it's unfortunate the calls went the way that they did. Of course, the Americans are a great soccer team, and today we were better, and the luck went their way." The Americans had little sympathy for McLeod's complaints. "There were a few other times throughout the game that she held it for 18 seconds, for 10 seconds," Wambach said. "You can't blame something on the referee." The Americans overcame three one-goal deficits, all due to goals from Sinclair in the 22nd, 67th and 73rd minutes. Megan Rapinoe scored in the 54th and 70th minutes, and Wambach converted the penalty kick in the 80th for the U.S. Sinclair and Wambach are now tied for second all-time with 143 international goals apiece, both chasing Mia Hamm's world record of 158. In many ways this match was reminiscent of the comeback against Brazil in last year's World Cup, when Wambach scored in the waning seconds of extra time in a shootout win in the quarterfinals. The result maintains the Americans' dominance of their neighbor to the north, extending their unbeaten streak against Canada to 27 games (23-0-4). The U.S. leads the series 44-3-5, the last loss coming at the Algarve Cup in 2001. Herdman said before the game that the run of futility against the Americans was on the minds of his players, and he addressed it with them in the run-up to the match. He also injected some pregame intrigue by accusing the Americans of using "highly illegal," overly physical tactics on free kicks and corner kicks. "Their coach prepared them very well," Wambach said. "He had a very good tactic yesterday, by making it a media (event) to say that we do illegal stuff. I give him credit for that because it's something that he was trying to do to rally his team around him." But the Americans had the final word, with Morgan's goal avoiding the penalty kick shootout no one wanted to see. "The team refuses to lose," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "There is something where they have an extra gear."

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After brief slump, Capitals power play showing signs of life

After brief slump, Capitals power play showing signs of life

Arlington, Va. — When trying to explain the Caps’ recent struggles, many point their finger at the power play. Against the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders, Washington failed to score on ten opportunities with the extra man. The result was two losses.

On Friday, the Capitals only scored once on six chances, but it was a critical goal as it tied the game in the third period and forced overtime. Then on Monday, the power play came through again with a third-period goal on the team’s third chance to force overtime.

Two games with no power play goals and the team lost both. Now, however, the Caps have scored critical goals in their past two games and the result is three points.

“I think they're getting their confidence back,” Trotz said. “They've been difference makers. I know for quite awhile the power play's been a focus of a lot of articles, but they've come through big for us in the last couple games and that's what you want is the power play to come through big.”

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Overall, the numbers still aren’t great. Washington ranks 23rd in the NHL with only a 15.2-percent power play. Considering the offensive talent this team boasts, it’s hard to believe they sit among the bottom ten in the NHL and that may actually be part of the problem.

“If you look at it, for the last couple years we've been so successful in power play, we haven't had any really downs with it,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I don't know, sometimes it's going to happen, they get into the slump in power play and that's now. So you just have to get out of it. You have to work hard and get out of it and make sure we do something about it.”

The Caps have boasted one of the top power plays in the NHL for four years, never finishing the season outside of the top five since the 2011-12 season. When facing the first prolonged power play slump in recent memory, the Caps lost that killer instinct and have been working to restore that mentality ever since.

“For a while there, we were pass around, we were getting chances, but we weren't really getting goals,” Trotz said. “We're getting chances, let's get some goals. And I think that mindset’s changing. We can be a difference in a game and you need to have some success to have that mindset sort of take root, take hold.”

Now with two goals in their past nine opportunities, the power play is showing signs of life again. It also appears like it’s going to get a big boost in the form of T.J. Oshie who practiced fully on Tuesday and will likely be back in the lineup Wednesday against the Boston Bruins.

“He's a great player and a big key in the middle there for us,” Backstrom said. “It's huge.”

“Without a doubt, I think [Oshie] in that diamond spot is as good as anybody in the National Hockey League,” Trotz said. “I think he's tenacious, I think he understands that position, especially on our power play. I think his retrievals of keeping pucks alive for sustained pressure is exceptional and then his hand skills to make something out of nothing to keep that power play alive is one of the best.”

That’s good news for a power play unit that may finally be turning things around.

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Oshie practices fully Tuesday, considered 'possible' against Bruins

Oshie practices fully Tuesday, considered 'possible' against Bruins

T.J. Oshie’s return to the Capitals’ lineup appears imminent.

For the first time since suffering a shoulder injury on Nov. 18, Oshie was assigned to a forward line during Tuesday’s practice. Oshie also worked with the first team power play unit.

Coach Barry Trotz wouldn’t commit to playing Oshie on Wednesday night against the Bruins. But he wouldn’t rule it out, either.  

“We’ll make that decision tomorrow,” Trotz said. “We’ll see where he is tomorrow. He’s possible.”

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Oshie sounded a little more confident that he’ll play.

“I don’t think it’s official [and] I still have to talk to Trotz,” Oshie said. “But yeah, I got into a real practice for a change here, and felt pretty good out there. We’ll see where we go.”

Oshie said there were no limitations put on him by the medical staff prior to practice, during which he did some corner battle drills with Nate Schmidt and Brett Connolly. It marked the second straight day that Oshie participated in contact drills.

“I told Schmitty not to let up on me; I hope he didn’t,” Oshie said. “And it felt good. It’s still day-by-day and we’ll see where we get to tomorrow morning. But right now it feels great.”

Oshie practiced on the second line with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. Assuming he feels good in the morning, that’s probably where he’d line against the surging Bruins, who are 4-0-1 in the last five games.

The Caps are 3-3-1 in Oshie’s absence, with 15 goals in that span. Oshie still ranks third on the team in goals with eight, despite missing the past seven-plus games.

“It’s been a pretty good progression,” Oshie said. “Getting better, getting better. Pushing it [and] if it was sore, we would back off. Everything has been positive so far.”

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