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Tampa Bay’s sputtering offenses usually haven’t delivered


We have plenty of it.

No goals. No touchdowns. Not many hits. We are a wasteland. We are the desert. We have end zones that have never been trod upon.

Take Tuesday, for instance. In its biggest game of the year, in a game to try to keep a pulse in the NHL wild card race, the Lightning was shut out. It was 4-0, and really, it wasn’t close. Meanwhile, back in Tampa Bay, the Rays were playing their second game of the year after an impressive opener. They were beaten 5-0.

Think about it. The Bucs scored as many as anyone, and they are in the middle of their off-season. As the old line goes, Tampa Bay scored as many times as a dead man.

Hasn’t it always been that way?

In the very first NFL season by the Bucs, it was the third game before Tampa Bay even scored. The fourth game before it scored a touchdown. The Bucs’ history is littered with Josh Freeman and Trent Dilfer and Vinny Testaverde. It drafted Bo Jackson, who wouldn’t even come. It spent a second round draft pick on wide receiver Dexter Jackson, who never caught a pass.

The Lightning has had some great scorers. Steven Stamkos scored 60 in one year, and Marty St. Louis won the Hart as the league MVP. But the Bolts, too, have had their gaps. They had Petr Klima and Gerard Gallant. There have been too many nights when the ice seemed uphill. From the first season, when the Lightning scored the fewest goals in the league, the power play has been powerless.

This team was supposed to change all of that with Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn. Still, there were too many nights when the chemistry felt wrong. The Lightning started wrong but finished strong. It wasn’t enough.

Then there are the Rays, who have always struggled to circle the bases. This was the home of the Hit Show (which didn’t) and Pat Burrell and Vinny Castilla and B.J. Upton. It figures. The most expensive item in the free agent market is a great hitter, and darned if the Rays have been able to develop their own. Last year, the Rays had the second-lowest batting average of their history (2012 was worse).

To tell you the truth, it gets lonely sometimes being a Tampa Bay sports fan.

Is there hope? Sure. Next season, the Bolts should have Stamkos and Kucherov to lead the way. The Rays seem to have some pop. And the Bucs have quarterback Jameis Winston and a nice receiving corps.

Always, there is hope.

Lighting on verge of elimination from playoffs after loss to Bruins

The Tampa Bay Lightning hasn’t been eliminated yet.

But it may be time to dim the lights.

The Lighting were clobbered 4-0 by Boston Thursday night in a last-chance effort to stay in the NHL wild-card race, and as a result, they are hanging on by their fingernails. Both Ottawa and Toronto could clinch playoff spots with just a bit of success, leaving the Lightning on the outside.

Tampa Bay got only four shots in the first period, and the Bruins scored twice in the second period.

“We weren’t even a threat,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We got beat by a better team.”

“We’re not out of it yet,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It’s obviously a tough hill to climb, and we need a lot of things to go our way.”

Still, the situation looks dire for Tampa Bay, which plays at Toronto on Thursday.

Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia tames Rays bats, brings Tampa Bay to earth

Oh, yeah. There are the Tampa Bay Rays.

Two days after the euphoria of a huge win on Opening Day, the Rays fell back somewhat to last year’s performance, losing a 5-0 game to the New York Yankees. This time, no one was talking about parades. No one suggested anyone run for office.

The Rays had only five hits in the shutout, and four of those didn’t clear the infield.

“Yes,” Rays’ manager Kevin Cash said when asked if he believed the Rays would have a good offense. “We’re going to have some nights where it’s quiet. You look at what (C.C.) Sabbathia did. He was moving the ball. He really pitched. There wasn’t a sequence we could adjust to.”

“ This is a guy who we’ve had plenty of battles with and it seems like his efficiency and the way he has the ability to keep the ball off the barrrel and that’s what he did. It wasn’t any fault of the hitters. You just have to credit C.C. For his performance.”

Jake Odorizzi went seven innings for the Rays, giving up four runs and two home runs.

The two-run homer to Ronald Torreyes hurt Odorizzi.

“I rushed it and my arm dragged behind,” Odorizzi said. “It went about a plate difference. You can’t make mistakes like that in a game and it came back to bite us.”

The Rays are home again tonight against the Yankees in the rubber match of the series.

FSU quarterback Deondre Francois hopes to play well in spring game

A year ago, he was the new kid in the huddle. This year, he’s the leader of it.

FSU quarterback Deondre Francois is the proven commodity to the Seminoles’ offense after a year in which he threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns. But three of his receivers have graduated, and Dalvin Cook is no longer in the backfield. That means Francois will need help.

“The year he had, this guy is a big-time player,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel. “He can play, he can lead, he’s tough, he’s accurate, he can throw the ball. He will make a lot of money in this game one day. He’s getting better and better. That’s the thing at quarterback. You get all the glory, all the blame.”

Fisher said it is imperative for the other Seminoles to progress.

“It doesn’t matter who you play at quarterback if those guys don’t do their job,” Fisher said. “I don’t care if you have Joe Montana or Tom Brady back there, he’s not going to do it. There’s a standard they have to hold onto.”

Francois has a chance to show off his progress Saturday at 3 p.m. In the team’s spring game.

“That guy took you on five game-winning drives as a freshman,” Fisher said. “In big-time games, he competes and plays. You can go to another level, but it’s not always about the numbers. It’s about making smart plays and big plays.”

Quarterbacks will star in Florida’s spring game on Friday night

The Florida Gators are getting close to a decision on their quarterback, but coach Jim McElwain isn’t ready to tip hand quite yet.

The Gators, who play their spring game Friday night, are still deciding between redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.

“I think it’s starting to sort itself out,” McElwain told reporters. “The natural question is “what is soring itself out. You’ll find out.”

Franks has handled first-team snaps this spring. But Trask isn’t far behind. McElwain said there was “a half-inch” between the two entering spring practice. This week, when the teams kick off at 7:30 p.m., will be a new measurement.

McElwain has taken care to point out that this week isn’t the final rankings. There is still summer practice to go.

“Is it the end all? Absolutely not,” McElwain said. “We have a body of work, plus what we do over the summer and into fall camp. It’s another opportunity. That’s the way it has to be approached.”

Hall of Fame coach vs. future Hall of Famer for NCAA title

Roy Williams has been here before. Just last year, in fact. And five times altogether, playing for the NCAA championship. Twice he got to celebrate winning the final game of the season with the Tar Heels, pushing their total to five tournament titles.

For Mark Few and Gonzaga, this is all new. Just getting to the Final Four was a first, and now they are one victory from lifting the trophy.

If it came down to history, tradition and experience, North Carolina would run away with Monday’s NCAA championship game. If only it were that easy for the Tar Heels.

“You know, on game night, kids got to play. That’s the bottom line,” Williams said Saturday night after the Tar Heels beat Oregon 77-76. “I’ve never won a game from the bench. I may have lost some, but I know I’ve never won one.”

The 66-year-old Williams called Few one of his best friends in coaching and said he was stressed out hoping that his poker buddy would finally break through and reach the Final Four this year.

The last time they played each other in the NCAA Tournament was 2009, when the Tar Heels eliminated the Bulldogs in the Sweet 16. Since the Zags graduated from upstart to national power, there have been lots of early exits in the tournament.

Few has been the coach of Gonzaga for 18 seasons and never once have the Zags missed the NCAA Tournament. He is 503-112 at Gonzaga, but there were always questions about whether the program was good enough to really be considered among the best in the country.

Those should be gone now and if there are any lingering doubters, the Bulldogs can take care of that on Monday by beating one of the bluest of college basketball’s blue bloods. This is North Carolina’s record 20th Final Four.

“I know Gonzaga, they don’t have the history that we do. But they’ve only lost one game this year. They’re a pretty good team,” North Carolina guard Joel Berry II said. “While the history matters to show how great your program is, at the same time it doesn’t because you got to play that game on Monday.”

For years Williams was the coach who couldn’t win the big one. During his time at Kansas, Williams made it to the Final Four four times but never won one. He left for North Carolina, his alma mater where he played and worked as an assistant for Dean Smith.

Williams shook that label in his second season at North Carolina, winning it all in 2004-05 and then came back with another title in 2008-09. A gut-wrenching loss to Villanova in a championship game classic last year denied Williams a third career title. Now he will get another chance to pass his mentor, Smith (who won two) and become just the sixth coach with at least three NCAA championships on his resume.

“I’m coaching a new group of kids,” Williams said. “And making it back to the national championship game is amazing. Oh, you did that last year? Well, that still makes it even more amazing kind of thing.”

Few joked earlier in the tournament about not worrying about having a monkey on his back. He has, like Williams, always gone out of his way to make it about his players – and this season he has some really great players such as Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski.

“I’ve had some really, really tough teams. I’ve had some really close teams. I’ve had some teams that have been crazy efficient on the offensive end and ones that have been pretty darned good on the defensive end that probably didn’t get credit for it,” Few said. “These guys are all of that. All of it.”

The matchup is set: The Hall of Fame coach with a chance to move into company that includes the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and John Wooden against the future Hall of Famer looking to add the only thing missing on his resume.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Former Bucs’ running back Charlie Garner struggles in post-career

Charlie Garner, a former NFL running back who finished his career with the Tampa Bay Bucs, is strugging with brain trauma, he says.

Garner says he suffered at least 12 concussions a year while playing, and doctors believe he is dealing with the early stages of the Cronric Traumatic Encephalopathy.

“I don’t have all of my faculties anymore,” Garner told the Sporting News. “I can’t remember things. When I go to the mall or grocery store, I have to take one of my kids with me to remember where the car is parked. I have trouble remembering converations I had five minutes ago. Bright lights bother me. I just don’e feel right all of the time.”

Garner, 45, gained 7,097 yards in the NFL. He spent 2004 with the Bucs, playing in three games and gaining 111 yards before he was hurt.

“Footbakk gave me a good lifestyle for me and my family, Garner said. “But I might end up paying a big price for it.”

Lightning come back again, defeat the Dallas Stars in crucial game

The “Who Are These Guys?” tour continued for the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night, although playoff positioning continued to elude them.

The Lightning came from behind to beat the Dallas Stars, 6-3, scoring four times in the third period. However, the Bolts remained three points behind Ottawa for the final wild-card berth and three behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

The Bolts need to make a move quickly. They have four games left, three of them on the road.

“It just comes down to our season and that was it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That was the discussion in the room was, ‘Do you want to give yourself a chance to play past next Sunday?’ So, if you don’t, then play the way we did in the second. If you do, play the way we did in the third. Get a couple good breaks.

“We really pushed. I think the end of our second period, that last five minutes, we really pushed. Obviously caught a big break on the offside call. If we go down two, it’s a little higher climb back. I thought we really carried some momentum there. We scored and it kind of pushed us into the third period. I thought we had a really good first 13 or 14 minutes in the third. Then we took the penalty and they scored and then we were a little bit on our heels after that. But that response in the third, the guys showed their will and it paid off.”

Tampa Bay came from behind for the seventh time in their last eight wins.

Adam Erne scored twice for Tampa Bay. Braydon Coburn, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Anton Stralman all scored for the Lightning.

“Well, we’ve needed them, in just different ways,” Cooper said. “You’ve got to be really happy for Adam Erne who’s been chipping away, chipping away, chipping away and doesn’t really have any points to show for it. He makes a really strong move to the net for the first goal and just threw a puck at the net for the second and it went in for him. He deserved his breaks tonight. The Yanni Gourde’s, you go down the list of the guys that have really helped us out, but you look at that secondary scoring that you need.

“We needed that. Then in the end when we needed that third period, the big line was huge, especially led by Palat. I thought he was a man child out there in the third.”

Palat had a goal and two assists. Goaltender Peter Budaj won his first game in net for the Bolts, stopping 23 shots.

The Lightning opens its last road trip of the season, a three-gamer, in Boston on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay Rays clobber Yankees to win impressive opener

Well, look who is on top of baseball? Why, it’s the Tampa Bay Rays.

And who would have thought to look for them there?

The Rays opened the 2017 season with a 7-3 victory over the New York Yankees Sunday. And while it’s early, it was an impressive way to start the season for the Rays. The Rays, 16 games behind the Yankees a year ago, jumped New York early and never slowed in the win.

Tampa Bay scored three times in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Evan Longoria and a two-run single by Logan Morrison. Both Longoria and Morrison– Longo and Lo-Mo – later homered. Longoria’s homer was the first one of the major league season, the first time a Ray can claim that honor.

For the Rays, Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Miller and Evan Longoria had two hits. Only Steven Souza was hitless of the Rays’ batters, and he had a walk.

Chris Archer, a 19-game loser last season, pitched well for the Rays. He went seven innings and gave up only two earned runs in winning on Opening Day for the first time.

Archer’s big moment came in the seventh, when he got Gary Sanchez to ground out with the bases loaded on a 2-2 pitch.

“I think the tone was set just by the way Archer came out and really was under control of himself, of the game,” said Cash. “Even the first two runs that they scored, he had some awkward plays behind him – but that’s part of the game. He didn’t let it snowball, he just kept it right there. The offense obviously (did a) tremendous job, but I think it all starts with Archer.”

The Rays beat up New York’s Masahiro Tanaka, who had been 6-0 vs. the Rays. In 2 2/3 innings, they touched Tanaka for seven runs, eight hits and two walks.

“(Longoria’s homer had a) pretty big (impact),” Cash said. “I mean that’s Evan Longoria – that’s why he’s been such a staple here for the Tampa Bay Rays for so long. I know he broke a record today with his Opening Day…. I mean, we get three runs, they come back and score to make it 3-2, and he separates the game. You don’t like to say that the dagger is in the third inning or whatever it was – but that was pretty big bolt for us and tough to overcome.”

Archer pitched seven innings in five of his last six starts last year. Against the Yankees, however, he seemed calmer, more in control.

Archer said his big inning in the seventh was a matter of simplifying.

“I said ‘I was thinking one pitch at a time.’ I said ‘I’m going to execute this. Now this next pitch, I’m going to execute this. And this next pitch I’m going to execute this.’ It wasn’t really complex. I knew the way I was throwing the ball and the type of contact that I was getting.

The Rays are off today, then host the Yankees again on Tuesday.

Stu Sternberg says search for stadium sight is ‘progressing steadily’

The scoreboard above him was blank. The standings, too. Soon, both would change.

The new season was three hours in front of Stu Sternberg, the principal owner of the Tampa Bay Rays. Sternberg stood beside the first base dugout, looking at the new grass of his old facility in the moments before his team played the New York Yankees. He talked about the Opening Days of his youth, about the Rays, about the season to come. Yes, he talked about the search for a new facility.

Stu, off the top of his head.

On the search for a stadium site: “We’re progressing. We have not taken any steps backward. We haven’t gone in reverse. The process, I think everyone would like to move along quicker, but it’s moving along steadily. The slope is up. I’m very optimistic we’re going to come up with a solution. It’s something that’ll be a generational type facility.”

On whether his focus is still on Tampa Bay: “My only focus and will remain my focus through this process and any process going forward.”

On the prospects of the new season: “I really don’t know. I’m probably a bit less optimistic on the final record than most. I do feel confident if the bullpen performs average, somewhat admirably, we will be in the hunt well into September. That’s the margin of error. Our defense, especially in the outfield, will be unprecedented. The new catchers will be helpful. We’ll ride on the arms and shoulders of the bullpen.”

On the pace of the game: “I’d like baseball to widen the strike zone and cut downs on the walks and strikeouts. I’d like fewer home runs. I wouldn’t like the batter to leave the box.”

On the new turf: “I love it. It’s a million-dollar investment. By the end, the new turf was nothing short of a disaster. The pitchers tell me they like running on it in the outfield better.”

On Kevin Kiermaier: “A team that will remain nameless asked for him in a trade back in 2012. We said ‘we’re not trading him and don’t think about it. I really put a bias on people who blossom. When someone’s slop is looking like his does … I ‘m a big fan.”

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