A deal is reached: The real referees are back!

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A deal is reached: The real referees are back!

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL and the referees' union reached a tentative contract agreement at midnight Thursday, ending an impasse that began in June when the league locked out the officials and used replacements instead."Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night" for the Cleveland-Baltimore game, Commissioner Roger Goodell said after a day of marathon negotiations.With Goodell at the table, the sides concluded two days of talks with the announcement of a tentative eight-year deal, which must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members. They plan to vote Friday."Welcome back REFS," Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller tweeted.The replacements worked the first three weeks of games, triggering a wave of frustration that threatened to disrupt the rest of the season. After a missed call cost the Green Bay Packers a win on a chaotic final play at Seattle on Monday night, the two sides really got serious."We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games," referees' union president Scott Green said.The union was seeking improved salaries, retirement benefits and other logistical issues for the part-time officials. The NFL has proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match, and it wants to hire 21 more officials to improve the quality of officiating. The union has fought that, fearing it could lead to a loss of jobs for some of the current officials, as well as a reduction in overall compensation.The NFL claimed its offers have included annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than 200,000 annually by 2018. The NFLRA has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it means an overall reduction in compensation.Replacement refs aren't new to the NFL. They worked the first week of games in 2001 before a deal was reached. But those officials came from the highest level of college football; the current replacements do not. Their ability to call fast-moving NFL games drew mounting criticism through Week 3, climaxing last weekend, when ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called their work "tragic and comical."Those comments came during "Monday Night Football," with Seattle beating Green Bay 14-12 on a desperation pass into the end zone on the final play. Packers safety M.D. Jennings had both hands on the ball in the end zone, and when he fell to the ground in a scrum, both Jennings and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had their arms on the ball.The closest official to the play, at the back of the end zone, signaled for the clock to stop, while another official at the sideline ran in and then signaled touchdown.The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that the touchdown pass should not have been overturned -- but acknowledged Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch. The league also said there was no indisputable evidence to reverse the call made on the field.That drew even louder howls of outrage. Some coaches, including Miami's Joe Philbin and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, tried to restore some calm by instructing players not to speak publicly on the issue.Fines against two coaches for incidents involving the replacements were handed out Wednesday.New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was docked 50,000 for trying to grab an official's arm Sunday to ask for an explanation of a call after his team lost at Baltimore. And Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was tagged for 25,000 for what the league called "abuse of officials" in the Redskins' loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Two other coaches, Denver's John Fox and assistant Jack Del Rio, were fined Monday for incidents involving the replacements the previous week."I accept the discipline and I apologize for the incident," Belichick said.Players were in no mood for apologies from anyone."I'll probably get in trouble for this, but you have to have competent people," Carolina receiver Steve Smith said. "And if you're incompetent, get them out of there."Added Rams quarterback Sam Bradford: "I just don't think it's fair to the fans, I don't think it's fair to us as players to go out there and have to deal with that week in and week out. I really hope that they're as close as they say they are."They were. Finally.

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VIDEO: Lakers' D'Angelo Russell consoles young fan after running into bench vs. Wizards

VIDEO: Lakers' D'Angelo Russell consoles young fan after running into bench vs. Wizards

D'Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers ran into the first row while chasing a loose ball against the Wizards on Tuesday night, which is something that happens from time to time in basketball. What he did after falling into a fan, however, was unusual.

Russell realized he had run into a small young girl who was sitting courtside with pom poms. So Russell stood there for several moments and patted her on the head as he tried to determine whether she was okay. 

Once he confirmed she was fine, he went about his way.

Watch the whole sequence right here:

What a nice move by Russell.

[RELATED: Wizards make uniform change for playoffs]

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Alex Ovechkin's hat trick leads Caps in overtime win over Wild

Alex Ovechkin's hat trick leads Caps in overtime win over Wild

Final score: Washington Capitals 5, Minnesota Wild 4 (OT)

How it happened: T.J. Oshie took sole possession of the team goal lead with his 31st of the season in the first period. Jason Pominville responded early in the second and then Alex Ovechkin took over. Ovechkin scored two power play goals in the second, one to tie Oshie at 31, the second to overtake him for the team lead. Martin Hanzal, however, scored before the end of the period to keep the came close heading into the third. Ovechkin finished off the hat trick goal, also on the power play, but a bizarre shot from Jared Spurgeon beat Braden Holtby on a deflection. Then the Caps' killer Eric Staal tied the game on a goal that stood after a controversial offsides review. It did not cost the Caps, however, as 

What it means: The Capitals have won five straight and extended their point streak to seven games. With the win, Washington maintained a three-point lead over Columbus who won their game earlier on Tuesday. Holtby also became just the third goalie in NHL history to record three consecutive 40-win seasons.

Goals

Caps goal: T.J. Oshie from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom at 11:36 in the 1st period. Some hard work in the offensive zone by Ovechkin generated the puck which he passed to Backstrom. Backston fired a one-timer on Devan Dubnyk and Oshie was on the doorstep for the rebound. He deftly stick-handled the puck around the pad and into the net. Caps 1, Wild 0

Wild goal: Jason Pominville from Nino Niederreiter and Martin Hanzal at 2:17 in the 2nd. Niederreiter took the puck on the wraparound and the Caps were late to cover the far-side of the net. Hanzal fed Pominville in the slot for the open shot. Caps 1, Wild 1

Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin (power play) from Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom at 7:31 in the 2nd. Shattenkirk didn’t get an assist, but his breakout pass set up the play. From the defensive zone, Shattenkirk fired a pass to Backstrom past the red line. Backstrom entered Minnesota’s zone, hit a trailing Johansson who sent a pass cross-ice to Ovechkin. The Great 8 took advantage, hitting the empty-net with the snap shot. Caps 2, Wild 1

Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin (power play) from Kevin Shattenkirk and Marcus Johansson at 12:28 in the 2nd. Johansson held the puck behind the net and found Shattenkirk at the point. Shattenkirk gave Ovechkin the puck in the office for the one-time that he sent into the back of the net. Caps 3, Wild 1

Wild goal: Martin Hanzal from Jared Spurgeon and Jason Pominville at 15:43 in the 2nd. Pominville fired a shot which Holtby kicked out for the save. The rebound, however, sat in the slot waiting for a charging Hanzal to chip it in.  Caps 3, Wild 2

Capitals goal: Alex Ovechkin (power play) from Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom at 12:29 in the 3rd. Backstrom fired the cross-ice pass to Ovechkin who was at the top of the circle. He had plenty of time to aim and release the blistering wrister. Caps 4, Wild 2

Wild goal: Jared Spurgeon at 15:03 in the 3rd. Spurgeon shot an innocent looking shot from the blue line that bounced its way toward the net and deflected off of Dmitry Orlov and in at the last second. Caps 4, Wild 3

Wild goal: Eric Staal from Jared Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu at 19:33 in the 3rd. Caps 4, Wild 4

Caps goal: T.J. Oshie from Marcus Johansson at 1:52 in overtime. Johansson gave Oshie a great back-door feed, but Oshie missed the shot. Johansson regained possession and fed Oshie again and this time, he beat Dubnyk in the top corne. Caps 5, Wild 4

3 stars

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin has responded to the challenge Oshie has given him for the team lead in goals. Once Oshie took it over in the second period, Ovechkin took over with two power play goals in the second. Everyone knows he's going to fire from the office and no one can seem to stop it.

2. Martin Hanzal: Hanzal assisted with the heads up wrap around opportunity. When he saw he was open, he passed to Pominville in the slot rather than try the open stuff attempt. The decision paid off. His hard work in the second period also netted him a goal as he was able to chip in the rebound off a Pominville shot that Shattenkirk lost at his feet.

3. Marcus Johansson: Johansson recorded four assists for the first time this season including a great play to set up Oshie for the game-winner.

Look ahead: The Capitals continue their five-game road trip with a quick turnaround on Wednesday as they face the Colorado Avalanche. They continue with a game in Arizona on Friday, Columbus on Sunday and Toronto on Tuesday.

Tell us what you think: Ovechkin and Oshie are going back and forth for the team's scoring lead. Who do you think will ultimately finish the season with the team lead?