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Lightning, Penguins look to avoid surprising sweeps
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Lightning, Penguins look to avoid surprising sweeps

Lightning, Penguins look to avoid surprising sweeps
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
Tampa Bay Lightning's Andrei Vasilevskiy, left, of Russia, gives up a goal as Columbus Blue Jackets' Pierre-Luc Dubois, center, and Josh Anderson watch the play during the second period of Game 3 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Lightning, Penguins look to avoid surprising sweeps

The Tampa Bay Lightning carved out their own slice of NHL history during a dominant regular season in which they tied the league record for most victories.

A fourth straight loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, and the Lightning will have a chapter of NHL lore all to themselves. And not the good kind.

No Presidents' Trophy winner has ever been swept in the opening round of the playoffs. Yet Tampa Bay finds itself three periods away from an unprecedented postseason exit heading into Game 4 (7 p.m. EDT, CNBC).

"It's a tough position that we're in right now," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "But we have to believe that with the group we have — whoever is in the lineup or not — that we can win a game and get back to Tampa."

Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins face a similarly bleak outlook.

Three games against the largely unknown and decidedly unheralded New York Islanders have come and gone. The Penguins don't have a win , Crosby doesn't have a point and if Pittsburgh can't find a way to solve New York's byzantine defensive structure and red-hot goaltender Robin Lehner (7:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN), a team that entered the playoffs in search of a third Stanley Cup in four years will head into an offseason of soul searching.

"We can't get those games back at once," Crosby said. "You've got to trust what's gotten to you to this point and what our strengths are and how we've gotten here."

Only four teams have ever climbed out of an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, the last by the Los Angeles Kings against the San Jose Sharks in the 2014 Western Conference quarterfinals.

The Lightning have been outscored 12-2 since taking an early 3-0 advantage in Game 1 and Pittsburgh has led for all of 3:17 through nine-plus periods against the Islanders. Though Tampa Bay will get star Nikita Kucherov back after serving a one-game suspension for an illegal hit on Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara in Game 2, the Lightning understand their issues run far deeper than Kucherov's absence.

"There are plays to be made out there that I think we left on the table," coach Jon Cooper said. "We've just got to execute better, and that goes for everybody."

It's much the same in Pittsburgh. The Penguins own the NHL's longest active playoff streak at 13 years and counting. Not once has their stay lasted just four games. Yet they have been unable to generate any sustained pressure against Lehner, a journeyman who is flourishing at the back end of coach Barry Trotz's defense-first system.

Still, Lehner blanches at the idea that the Islanders — who have just one postseason series win since 1993 — are close to pulling off some kind of upset.

"It can't be a surprise," said Lehner, who has stopped 103 of the 108 shots he's faced so far. "This team was no fluke this year. Everyone looks and compares players and all that stuff. I look at our roster and see a lot of really good players, and I see a really good organization and great coaching and great defensemen. I see a lot of heart. It shouldn't be a surprise."

Like New York, Columbus doesn't have any recent history to draw from. Or any for that matter. The Blue Jackets have never reached the second round in franchise history. In fact, their 3-1 triumph in Game 3 marked the first time they've won as many as three games in a playoff series.

They're well aware getting the fourth will be the hardest one of all.

"We're a team that's never gotten ahead of ourselves," Columbus forward Nick Foligno said. "We're excited about the opportunity we've given ourselves but we know it's going to be the hardest game of the series."

Maybe, but for both Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, the hard work is just beginning if they want to pull off the improbable.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan gave his team Monday off in attempt to give his players a chance to give their legs a rest. Sullivan, who has lost just once in 10 previous playoff series in Pittsburgh, planned to use the down time to catch up on "Game of Thrones."

He knows more than anyone that if the Penguins can't get it together, summer is coming earlier than anyone expected.

WINNIPEG at ST. LOUIS (9:30 p.m. EDT, CNBC)

The home team is still searching for its first victory in this topsy-turvy series. The Blues lead 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Tuesday but rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington allowed more than four goals for the first time in his young career in Game 3. The puck slipped past the 25-year-old six times over the final 35 minutes as the Jets regained some of their swagger.

"We're building every shift, every game throughout the series," said Jets forward Kyle Connor, who scored twice in Game 3. "We're getting close to our game and it's pretty dangerous."

St. Louis star Vladimir Tarasenko shrugged off the loss.

"There's no panic here. Nobody said it was going to be easy," he said. "We'll be ready for a war next game."

SAN JOSE at VEGAS (10:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN)

The Golden Knights took a step toward knocking the Sharks out of the playoffs for the second straight year by rolling to a 6-3 win in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead. Vegas forward Max Pacioretty stressed his team is wary regardless of how easy they've made it look by taking Games 2 and 3 by a combined 11-6 .

"You lose the first one and you play a bad game but having that confidence come back in Game 2 and 3 and play strong so we've got to remember that," Pacioretty said. "This is an opposite scenario where we can't get too high about ourselves. We know that they are going to show up better next game and we got to be ready for it."

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AP Sports Writer Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Ohio, and W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Local News

  • There is a chance of rain and thunderstorms for Athens and northeast Georgia. The threat of severe weather, apparently diminishing overnight, nonetheless leads several school districts in south Georgia—Albany among them—to cancel classes for the day.  From Channel 2 Action News… There are several metro Atlanta counties under a Tornado Watch early Friday morning as a line of storms and rain move into the area. Severe Weather Team 2 has been tracking the system all week as it moved through the country. The Tornado Watch has been issued for Troup, Meriwether, Pike and Upson counties.
  • The University of Georgia gymnastics team begins competition in the NCAA Finals: the Gym Dogs are taking part in the tournament set for this weekend in Fort Worth Texas.  “We’re peaking at the right time,” says Georgia coach Courtney Kupets Carter. Oklahoma is ranked first going into the tournament. UGA is eighth.
  • A Newton County fine arts teacher faces two felonies for allegedly sexually assaulting students last month, authorities said. Christopher Ehren Matyas, born in 1980, of Covington, was arrested Thursday and charged with two counts of sexual assault by persons with supervisory or disciplinary authority, according to a sheriff’s office arrest report. He was a teacher at Alcovy High School, and both school employees and students reported the alleged sexual assaults on March 22, according to the police report obtained by Channel 2 Action News. Newton County School District spokeswoman Sherri Davis sent the news station a statement that said, in part:  “School officials launched an investigation and immediately reported the allegations to local law enforcement. Mr. Matyas was removed from the classroom setting and placed on leave during the course of the investigation. He will not return to the classroom.” He’s out of jail on a $16,700 bond, records show.
  • A White County judge denies bond for Mitch Simpson. The former Cleveland car dealer closed his auto lot earlier this year; he was arrested in March on theft charges.From WSB TV…   A north Georgia car dealer was denied bond Thursday in what’s now being described as a more than $2 million fraud and theft case, prompted by a Channel 2 investigation. Mitch Simpson was arrested and charged with three counts of felony theft by conversion late last month. They were tied to unpaid state vehicle taxes in which nearly 60 buyers say they paid Mitch Simpson Motors for their purchases, but their TAVT taxes were left unpaid and their titles were never delivered. Those purchases spanned a time period between late 2018 and early 2019, right before the Cleveland dealership shut its doors, and the buyers came to Channel 2 after unsuccessful attempts to contact Simpson. Soon the Georgia Department of Revenue began working with the White County Sheriff’s Office and state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the case. On Thursday, the Georgia DOR filed two additional theft charges in the case and argued against bond in Simpson’s case. A prosecutor revealed a much larger, complex case while highlighting Simpson’s 2011 federal conviction in a car loan scam. He served probation in the case, while several other co-defendants went to federal prison. In addition to $385,000 in unpaid vehicle taxes that were collected, prosecutors say Simpson failed to pay multiple floor planning companies $780,000 for vehicles they financed. Those companies essentially act as a bank for car dealerships, lending them the money to provide inventory on car lots. In a third tier of the ongoing investigation, prosecutors allege Simpson double and sometimes triple-financed the same vehicle through the lenders, pocketing about $1.3 million. Simpson’s attorney hit back at those allegations after a state investigator told the court Simpson’s personal bank records had been subpoenaed but not yet analyzed. Search warrants netted titles and documents from Simpson’s Habersham County home, as investigators say evidence was taken out of the car dealership building. “He has a compelling story, and there are certainly issues with the state’s case,” defense attorney Jeff Wolff told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr. Wolff highlighted in court that Simpson simply managed the namesake lot and that it was owned by his former in-laws.  No one else has been charged in the case, and employees of McGregor Financial, the dealership’s in-house financing company, have cooperated with investigators. They’ve maintained their role was financing and Simpson had access to accounts and paid the bills, according to investigators’ testimony. “It was an underfunded business,” Wolff said. “And that’s a large gap between an underfunded business and criminal enterprise.” About a half-dozen friends and family members served as character witnesses for Simpson, arguing against a notion that he’d serve as a flight risk in this case. Perhaps his strongest supporter was his 86-year-old mother, Elsie Hogan, who said Simpson never had a desire to leave his north Georgia roots, even when he faced trouble in his earlier federal case. “He says he’ll never fly until he gets his wings and goes to heaven,” Hogan said. Hogan also revealed she’d used yard sale money to pay for Simpson’s heart medication while he was in jail. She pushed back against any suggestion that he’d profited from stolen car lot funds. “He has no money at all. He has nothing. He has nothing, sir,” Hogan said, answering Wolff’s questions. Nonetheless, Superior Court Judge Joy Parks ruled against bond in the case, citing the complexity and seriousness of the newly-revealed allegations. A grand jury is set to convene in June. The good news for Simpson’s car buyers is that they are receiving their titles. Fifty-three of the car buyers affected are from Georgia, and the state says it worked with those floor planning companies to get the missing titles. “We've been able to obtain 52 (titles) with the help of the Attorney General's Office. It's been a great win for us,” said Josh Waites, director of special investigations for the Georgia Department of Revenue. The department says it continues to receive complaints tied to purchases from Simpson. Outside of court, car buyers Paul Cleiman and Justin Mathis thanked Channel 2 for exposing the case. Both men have either received titles or expect them any day after four months of uncertainty. “It’s been a long battle,” said Mathis. “We appreciate you, Nicole. We wouldn’t be here today without you.” 'I don’t think it was getting any attention until you stepped in and got the Department of Revenue involved,” Cleiman said. “We need justice, and I think that’s been served today for now.”

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS — Georgia baseball stayed atop the SEC standings and completed a three-game sweep of Missouri on Saturday afternoon. The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (33-8, 13-5 SEC) had three pitchers combine on a one-hitter in 4-2 win over the No. 21-ranked Tigers (26-15-1, 7-10-1).   Brought our brooms to the park today! #DawgsOnTop | #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/FNkeNPzd1C — Georgia Baseball (@BaseballUGA) April 20, 2019   Tony Locey (7-0) got the start and the win, allowing two runs on one hit with five strikeouts and five walks before giving way to Ryan Webb (one inning) and Zack Kristofak (5 saves). “Tony Locey was big for us today, I think their hitters went 1-for-19 off him,” UGA baseball coach Scott Stricklin said. “He’s just so hard to hit — he’s throwing 96 miles an hour..” Georgia, which has won five straight, opened the scoring in the first inning when Riley King doubled, moved to second on Aaron Schunk’s infield single and scored on a wild pitch. LJ Talley hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the third inning to make it 3-0. Missouri closed the gap with two runs in the top of the fourth, but the Bulldogs added an insurance run in the fifth when Talley scored on a passed ball. Talley reached base on a walk, moved to second on a balk and was at third on a wild pitch. “The goal right now is that we want to win an SEC Championship,” Talley said. “Coach says, ‘Great teams sweep, good teams will be ok with winning the series.’   So, it was a good thing that we swept.” Georgia baseball returns to action on Tuesday night in Atlanta against Georgia Tech at SunTrust Park. UGA then plays at Mississippi State in a battle of Bulldogs for a weekend series. Georgia baseball stories Slap-happy Georgia outlasts Clemson in 20-inning marathon Miraculous recoveries spark Bulldogs baseball program Bulldogs sting Yellow Jackets in 12-2 blowout at Foley Field   The post WATCH: No. 5 Georgia baseball atop SEC standings, completes Missouri sweep appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Action and Football pictures from the 2019 G-Day game in Sanford Stadium 
  • ATHENS — Offense, defense and special teams, there was something for everyone who turned out at the Georgia football G-Day Game. DawgNation beat writers Mike Griffith and Chip Towers broke down the Bulldogs’ spring showcase. The Saturday night Sanford Stadium discussion debated the game MVPs, as well as areas where Georgia has improved the most, and areas the Bulldogs still need to get better. RELATED: Eric Stokes experiences good and bad at cornerback WATCH: Kirby Smart shares thoughts on G-Day Game Georgia football lands major commitment on G-Day Stock report from Georgia G-Day Game Instant analysis of Georgia football G-Day Game Georgia football DawgNation breakdown The post WATCH: Georgia G-Day Game breakdown with Mike Griffith and Chip Towers appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Eric Stokes made the play of the game, was probably the defensive player of the game and drew strong praise from his head coach not just because of what he did in the G-Day Game, but what he did all spring with the Bulldogs. Yet all the junior cornerback could think about Saturday as he got ready to leave Sanford Stadium was the one that got away. Well, that and what he was having for dinner. That’d be Beanie Weanies as he suited up with the Black Team that lost 22-17. The winners from the Red Team were to dine on steak and lobster Saturday night. “That’s going to be very tough, knowing that we had the lead most of the game and they came back in the end,” Stokes said of his Saturday night fare. “But I blame that all on me because I was the one that gave up the touchdown that put them up. So that’s on me. I should never allow those things.” Stokes got beat on what was indeed the decisive play of the game. Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman, a lifelong friend and fellow Newton County resident, got open on a post route, hauled in the pass from backup quarterback Stetson Bennett and turned it into a 43-yard touchdown that gave the Red Team a 19-17 lead with 8:09 to play. Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes wrestles away the ball from wideout J.J. Holloman and turned it into a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown on the third play of Saturday’s G-Day Game. (Curtis Compton/AJC) Such is the life of a cornerback. The touchdown allowed ruined what otherwise had been an incredibly productive day for Stokes. In fact, it could not have gotten off to a better start. The primary objective for the defense this spring and for the 2019 season is to create “havoc plays.” Interceptions, pass-breakups, sacks, tackles for loss and defensive touchdowns are something coach Kirby Smart believes the Bulldogs have not produced enough of the last couple of seasons. So there’s been a very pointed initiative to show marked improvement in that regard this season. “That’s all we wanted: havoc, havoc, havoc,” Stokes said. “Havoc can lead to a lot of things. We wanted to create some havoc and keep the score down. We talked about that all week and that’s exactly what we did.” Havoc is exactly what Stokes created right out of the chute on Saturday. On the day’s third play from scrimmage, with the Jake Fromm-led Red Team facing third-and-three from the 37, Stokes jumped Holloman’s slant route, snatched the ball at the same time Holloman did, wrestled it away, then returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. Two minutes into the game, Stokes’ Black Team led 7-0. “J.J. slipped and that enabled me to look at the quarterback,” Stokes said. “I really shouldn’t, but since he slipped, I felt like I could take a little gamble. Luckily the gamble paid off. So I was just glad I was the one who ended up with the ball.” Predictably, Stokes was absolutely mobbed by the Black Team coaches and players as he came to the sideline. “They absolutely loved it,” Stokes said. “A lot of hands on my helmet. It was amazing. I’m thinking, ‘this is a great way to start.’ But then a couple of plays humbled me real quick.” Holloman would have the last laugh with the late TD. “I really don’t know what happened,” Stokes said of the decisive play. “I’ve got to go back and look at film because that’s the play that’s eating me alive right now.” Holloman was more than happy to fill in the blanks for his buddy. “That was a double move, so it was just a win situation for me,” Holloman said with a grin. “I got him on a good move and I was open coming across the middle and Stetson saw me. He let the ball go and I made the play.” Nevertheless, Smart had nothing but praise for Stokes. Getting beat down the middle is the cost sometimes of being playing corner. It should never happen against a true opponent, but it doesn’t erase all the strides Smart has seen Stokes make. “He certainly made a good play to start us off today,” Smart said. “I thought that was a good fight for the ball and he scored with it when he got it. He’s a kid that has come a long way from a guy that wasn’t really a DB coming out of high school to an athlete that is very conscientious about doing things the right way. When you teach Stokes something, he listens and applies it. When you combine that ability with talent, you’ve got a pretty good player.” Stokes knows he good. He just wants to be great and he knows what that looks like. He’s following Deandre Baker at corner and Baker didn’t allow a TD the last two seasons. That’s not including G-Day, of course. “I remember all the bad plays. I barely remember the good plays,” Stokes said. “That’s more of what I’m looking at. I know I gave up a third-and-four, a third-and-five, where we could’ve been off the field. And then, of course, I gave up a touchdown. So that’s more how I’m looking at it. I’m thinking of all of the bad instead of all the good.” Fortunately, for him, there were more of the latter. The post Georgia’s Eric Stokes experiences the bad of good of playing cornerback during G-Day appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Kirby Smart’s initial thoughts on the G-Day Game indicate the fourth-year head coach felt it was a win for Georgia football. “I’m excited about the tight nature of the game and the back and forth battle,” Smart said on Saturday afternoon. “I like it when both quarterbacks get to compete and do two-minute (offenses) and the guys get to play, so that was really good from a competitive standpoint.” The Red Team — made up of the first-team offense and second-team defense —scored a 22-17 victory in the intrasquad scrimmage before an announced crowd of 52,630 at Sanford Stadium. RELATED: Instant analysis of Georgia football G-Day Game Georgia football coach Kirby Smart opening comments   It was an impressive display of support considering the 48-degree temperatures and intermittent rain before and during the game in Athens. Smart joked he wasn’t even sure if he would come to observe a game in such conditions and thanks the Bulldogs’ fans for their support. Some of the best news of the day, Smart said, was that none of the players sustained any major injuries. “I got to see the look in some guys’ eyes, that they were out there competing and playing hard, that part was good,” Smart said. “No major injuries, which is also good.” There were 115 plays in the scrimmage consisting of 83 passes and 32 run plays. Smart indicated part of the imbalance had to do with the two-minute style of offenses run at the end of both halves by both teams, which are passing oriented. Third-year starting quarterback Jake Fromm was 14-of-29 passing for 116 yards with a touchdown and an interception, UGA keeping most of its offense under wraps. Backup quarterbacks Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis both impressed. Bennett, the more seasoned of the two with a year at UGA and a year in junior college under his belt, was a combined 12-of-23 passing for 210 yards with a touchdown splitting his time between the first-team and second-team offense. Mathis, a freshman early enrollee, was 15-of-28 passing for 113 yards with an interception, but also, a 39-yard TD reception on a reverse pass. Tailback Brian Herrien was the total yardage leader, the senior carrying seven times for 25 yards and catching three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. RELATED: Hard-charging Herrien among biggest gainers in UGA stock report D’Andre Swift flashed his explosive open-field skills with three carries for 39 yards and three catches for 17 yards. Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner and receiver Trey Blount split team honors with five catches, Woerner with 44 yards and Blount with 69 yards. J.J. Holloman, the team’s leading returning receiver, had three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Georgia football coach Kirby Smart takes questions The post WATCH: Kirby Smart’s initial thoughts on Georgia football G-Day Game appeared first on DawgNation.