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Tampa Bay Lightning embarrassed by a bad Phoenix Coyotes team

What does it say about a team when it is blasted by the next-to-worsts team in the league?

No, the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t the worst team. But it’s far from good, too. No one would argue it after a 5-3 blasting at the hands at the point-at-and-laugh Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix was near the bottom of the league in most statistics, including 25th on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill.

Against the Lightning, however, Phoenix was an explosive team, taking a 2-0 lead and adding three goals in the second period. Tampa Bay scored the last two goals of the game to make it close.

“It’s a low point,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “Not because we lost, but

We didn’t play to our capabilities in the first two periodd. You can say what you want about the third, but they had a 5-1 lead. I’m sure they sat back a little bit.”

Ben Bishop started for the Lightning, but he was pulled after the second in favor of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Particularly disappointing was the Bolts failing to convert on a four-minute power play in the first period.

“That was a big moment for us, no doubt. Our power play’s been pretty good all year,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “But it wasn’t that one, it was the one we got a minute and a half into the game, and we weren’t working. And it kind of set the tone for the way that first period was going. It kind of sucked a little momentum out of us, and then all of a sudden it’s 2-0 and now we’re chasing the game. Give them a little credit: The boys battle back and make it 2-1 and then we have a big moment there, we come out and have a great start to the second and we do nothing with the power play. They did something with there’s, and that was it.”

 The Bolts now travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks.

“That’s what’s tough because your margin for error is ,,, there is none,” Cooper said. “We can sit here and say we deserved points out of those games, the bottom line is we didn’t get them. So now you’ve got to get the points the next night, and we didn’t deserve points tonight. We’re not in a position where we’re playing games and we’re stealing points. We have to work for everything we’re getting. Sometimes we’re working and not getting them, but it can’t work the way we did tonight in the first couple periods.”

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Despite end of six-game grind, FSU still faces daunting schedule

The six-game grinder in the Florida State men’s basketball schedule is now complete. No ACC team in 24 years faced the challenge of so many consecutive games against top 25 teams.

It says a great deal that FSU was able to win five of those games.

With Saturday’s wire-to-wire 73-68 win over No. 12 Louisville, the level of competition diminishes somewhat. At least on paper.

While the next three games are against teams outside the top 25, all three are on the road. And that’s where trouble could come.

Playing on the road brings its own challenges, no matter the opponent. The chance to knock off a top 10 team brings sufficient motivation. Florida State had better be prepared for that.

None of their last six opponents were taken lightly. It was not difficult to be emotionally ready to face top 25 teams Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Louisville.

Upsets often come when the emotional gas tank is depleted or an inferior opponent is taken lightly.

The Seminoles (18-2, 6-1 ACC) will be a solid top 10 team when they show up in Atlanta on Wednesday night to face Georgia Tech. They will go into the game as heavy favorites.

North Carolina was also a big favorite against the Yellowjackets on New Year’s Eve, but went back to Chapel Hill with an 85-73 loss. Georgia Tech is 9-3 at home, but they will be ready to ambush the Seminoles.

It is always difficult to play in Syracuse, but Florida State will go there next Saturday. The Orange are only 10-10, with four of those losses coming at the Carrier Dome.

The Seminoles will be in Miami on February 1 to face the Hurricanes. Miami is 12-5 this year (with three home losses) heading into Sunday’s game at Duke.

No one should doubt they will give FSU their best effort.

While none of these three games will define their season, they will go a long way into determining FSU’s seeding in the NCAA tournament. Coach Leonard Hamilton knows why his team is successful and why they should finish strong.

“This team communicates with each other well. They hold each other accountable,” he said after the Louisville victory. “There’s really no drama with them. They believe in each other.”

He believes his team understands that a game against Louisville will be a different game against Georgia Tech. His team understands that “each game takes on a different personality.”

In addition to the next three games, four other road games remain on the schedule, including trips to Notre Dame and Duke.

It is difficult to forget this is a young team unaccustomed to being in big-time games coming down the stretch. Their go-to guys are a freshman (Jonathan Isaac) and a sophomore (Dwayne Bacon). Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes is an old man within this group.

While a tough stretch of the schedule is over, life in the ACC means there are no nights off. The remainder of the schedule will reveal the true personality of this talented team.

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Latest Lightning loss makes you wonder about their goaltender

Here’s something for the Tampa Bay Lightning to consider as they go nowhere.

What if Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t the future?

Vasilevskiy lost his sixth consecutive start Thursday night as the Bolts fell 2-1 to the San Jose Sharks. With the loss, the Lightning fell to 21-21-5 on the season. Vasilevskiy fell to 10-11-2. He has now given up 24 goals in his last six starts.

Tampa Bay has now lost 12 of its last 14 road games.

For the Bolts, the plan all along was that Vasilevskiy would be the future, and that the team would barter starting goaltender Ben Bishop somewhere along the way. But Vasilevskiy’s recent skid has called all of that into question.

The Sharks got goals from Ryan Carpenter and Logan Couture in the win. The Bolts’ goal came on a highlight-reel power play from Jonathan Drouin.

Still, it was not enough to pull out the win for Tampa Bay, which plays at Arizona Saturday night.

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Florida left with young quarterbacks after Luke Del Rio’s surgery

The University of Florida’s search for a quarterback just got more interesting.

The school announced that incumbent quarterback Luke Del Rio will miss spring training due to a (non-throwing) shoulder injury, leaving the brunt of the competition to Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, a pair of well regarded freshmen.

Del Rio, who came to Florida via Alabama and Oregon State, was 5-1 for the Gators last season before being injured. He threw for 1,358 yards and eight touchdowns.

Franks ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart, but the Gators never played him, which kept his redshirt status.

“You’re talking about a guy (Franks), ultra-talented, who came in and we threw a lot at him early and he’s really, really learned how to prepare and how to take the offense and take the tools we’re giving him and now apply them to the field,” Nussmeier said.

The 6-foot-4, 228-pound Trask arrived from Houston having been a high school backup and lightly recruited, but is a quick study and might be the Gators’ best pure passer.

“Kyle is a guy that when you tell him it one time, he gets it right now,” Nussmeier said. “He can process information very, very well, his accuracy is unbelievable and he’s just done a really, really good job for a guy that doesn’t have a ton of snaps.

“When you put him in situations, he reacts very, very well.”

The Gators have been solid on defense for the past two seasons, winning the SEC East both times. But the team has sputtered on offense and has never found a good quarterback.

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Florida State star Jonathan Isaac has the talent to overcome rare mistake

Jonathan Isaac is a unique talent in the world of college basketball. Unfortunately, those talents are likely to be on display in Tallahassee for only two more months, or however far Florida State goes in the NCAA Tournament.

Isaac is destined for the NBA, where he will likely excel. The 6’10” 5-star forward from Naples and the IMG Academy would be there now if the league did not require at least one year of college (that’s another story).

His talent is easy to see just by watching a few minutes of an FSU game. Isaac and his teammates play just as hard at both ends of the court, but he has the talent to make plays his teammates cannot.

The late Al Maguire, who coached Marquette to the 1977 NCAA title before serving as an NBC commentator, wasn’t much into freshmen. One of his most famous quotes was “the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.”

Not in today’s world. Now, the most talented freshmen (Diaper Dandies if you’re into Dick Vitale), become NBA draft choices.

That means they either blow the scouts away in high school, or they develop rapidly. Isaac fits both descriptions.

Wednesday night’s 83-80 victory over No. 15 Notre Dame is a case in point. With FSU’s other future NBA player, Sophomore Dwayne Bacon, having an off night, Isaac, with a big assist from Xavier Rathan-Mayes, put the team on their shoulders.

Both made huge shots down the stretch to keep the fighting Irish at bay, but Isaac was also swatting shots away at the other end. His 23 points and 10 rebounds were huge, but all seven of his blocked shots were necessary to keep Notre Dame from stealing the win.

The Fighting Irish made an astonishing 15 of 21 three-point attempts.

“That’s ridiculous,” Isaac said. “That’s crazy.”

FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton, who has been around a lot longer than Isaac, added to that.

“I’ve never seen a team shoot 15 of 21 from 3, period,” Hamilton said. “I’ve never witnessed that.”

The last two blocks came in the final five seconds, but there is a story behind that, too. After Rex Pflueger’s miracle 3-pointer went in, narrowing the gap to 83-80, Isaac prepared to inbound the ball.

The freshman coughed it up to Pflueger, setting the stage for a highly deflating ending. Instead, Isaac recovered to block two shots in those five seconds without fouling, thereby sealing the win.

Yes, he made a huge mistake, but that was after a game of highlights that included making four clutch free throws in the final 26 seconds. He then recovered from that mistake in a big way.

None of the accounts in the Tallahassee media pointed out Isaac made the potentially critical turnover. Perhaps it might get in the way of the story on how well he played overall.

In fact, it is just the opposite. He is gifted, but not perfect. One bad play was followed by two great plays. Isn’t that what great players do?

That is not the mindset of a freshman. Maguire would agree it would be an unexpected pleasure if Isaac became a sophomore.

The next test for the freshman and his teammates comes Saturday when No. 12 Louisville travels to Tallahassee.

 

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Rays announce start times, single-admission doubleheader

Now, here’s a concept for you.

How about twice the Rays for the price?

On Saturday, June 10, the Tampa Bay Rays will play the Oakland A’s in a single-admission doubleheader. It will be Major League Baseball’s first scheduled doubleheader since July 16, 2011, when the A’s hosted the Los Angeles Angels, and only the second scheduled doubleheader in the last two decades.

The Rays also announced their game times for the upcoming season, which opens on Sunday, April 2, when the team plays host to the New York Yankees.

Monday through Friday home games begin at 7:10 p.m. With select matinee games throughout the season. Saturday games are scheduled for either 6:10 p.m. or 4:10 p.m., with Sunday games scheduled for 1:10 p.m.

This will be the team’s third season under manager Kevin Cash.

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Is defense as important as ever in winning NFL playoff football

In a quarterback-driven world, does defense still win championships?

The cliché says yes, of course. No coach is going to come out in favor of a soft defense. But is defense still as important as it was in the days of the Doomsday Defense and the No-Name Defense and the Steel Curtain? Is hounding the opposing quarterback as important today as it used to be?

Often these days, it seems that winning a football game is a matter of holding on and waiting for a turnover.

Consider Atlanta, which is on a nice little run as it enters the NFC Conference game against Green Bay. It ranks only 27th in scoring defense in a 32-team league. The Packers are only 23rd. Both teams are in the 20s in yards allowed. (To be, fair, New England is first in both scoring defense and total defense.)

Frankly, it isn’t that rare.In 2013, the New England Patriots reached the AFC title game with the league’s 26th-best defense. In 2012, the Falcons (24th) and the Patriots (25th) were near the bottom in yards allowed.

Now, consider the original selections of this year’s Pro Bowl team. The Patriots had two defensive players picked. The Falcons had one and the Packers had one. The Steelers didn’t have anyone.

Then there is reputation. With coach Bill Belichick, it is still possible to think of the Patriots as a big-game defense. The Steelers (although they were a bit better than average at 12th), maybe. But both Green Bay and Atlanta are built on offense.

Of course, in the big game, defense still has a part. Last year, Denver’s defense harassed Cam Newton endlessly. The year before, the Patriots won on a goal line interception late in the game. The year before that, the Seahawks were all over Peyton Manning

You wonder what Chuck Noll would think watching today. Or Don Shula. Or Vince Lombardi.

Of course, those guys had pretty good quarterbacks, too.

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Rowdies sign midfielder Leo Fernandes as roster rounds into shape

The roster of the Tampa Bay Rowdies continues to take shape.

On Wednesday, the team added midfielder Leo Fernandes, 25. Fernades spent last season with the Philadelphia Union of the MLS, but has been on load several times, including stays with the New York Cosmos.

While with the Cosmos that season, Fernandes was selected as the North American Soccer League’s Young Player of the Year. That season, he played in 28 matches for the Cosmos, scoring eight goals and tallying three assists while helping New York to the NASL Championship.

“Leo is a player that we’ve been watching for a while because he was so impressive for the Cosmos in 2015,” Rowdies’ coach Stuart Campbell said. “We’re excited to see what he can do for the Rowdies given his experience. He’s a quick player that gives us width and he can pop up and score a few goals, too, which is always nice.”

Born in São Paulo, Brazil, but raised in New York, Fernandes played his college career at Stony Brook University from 2009 to 2012, where he earned the title of the Seawolves’ all-time leading points scorer.

The Union selected Fernandes 62nd overall in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft and he split his time between the Union and the USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders that season.

Fernandes made his mark on Philadelphia’s first team in 2014, scoring twice in 13 appearances, but again spent part of the season on loan with the Islanders.

After his impressive 2015 showing with the Cosmos, Fernandes rejoined Philadelphia for 2016, splitting his time between the first team in MLS and the Union’s USL team, the Bethlehem Steel. Fernandes made 12 appearances for the Union last year and 14 (all starts) for the Steel. He scored one goal for Bethlehem.

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Struggling Lightning loses quickly to Ducks in overtime

Overtime hockey can be cruel. Quick, too.

The Anaheim Ducks, who have struggled in overtime for most of the season, took only 54 seconds to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in overtime Tuesday night. The Ducks’ winning goal came only four seconds after Tyler Johnson was called for hooking.

The Bolts had hoped to win again behind goaltender Ben Bishop, who had been excellent in his two wins since coming off an injury. Bishop stopped 19 of 21 shots.

The Lightning scored first on a goal by Valtteri Filppula. Twenty-one seconds later, however, the Ducks tied the score on a shot by Ryan Getzlaf.

The winner was scored for Rickard Rakell.

The Lightning has won two games in a row only once since Nov. 19.

Tampa Bay plays against San Jose Thursday.

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Bucs’ Vernon Hargreaves III makes NFL All-Rookie team

The charmed life of Vernon Hargreaves III added another chapter Tuesday.

Hargreaves, a graduate of Wharton High School in Tampa and the University of Florida, was named ot the NFL all-rookie team. He was the 11th overall pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Hargreaves had only one interception, but he started most of the year in a secondary that got better as the season went along.

Hargreaves started all 16 games, recording 76 tackles, three for loss, nine passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble. He is only the fifth Buccaneers rookie defensive back to start all 16 games, joining Johnthan Banks, Mark Barron, Tanard Jackson and Rod Jones. His nine passes defensed are the most by a Buccaneers rookie defensive back since Barron had 10 in 2012 and the most for a Buccaneers rookie cornerback since E.J. Biggers had 11 in 2010. This season, Hargreaves tied for the seventh-most passes defensed among NFL rookies.

Hargreaves is the first Buccaneers defensive back to be selected to the PFWA All-Rookie team since 2012 (Barron) and the first cornerback to earn the distinction since Donnie Abraham in 1996.

Hargreaves was familiar with other members of the secondary on the all-rookie team. Former Florida teammate Keanu Neal (Falcons) and former FSU rival Jalen Ramsey (Jaguars) both made it.

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