Stanley Cup Final presents an unlikely matchup


Stanley Cup Final presents an unlikely matchup

From Comcast SportsNet
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Roughly two years ago, the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils were the finalists in the free-agent market battle for Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils won the right to keep the high-scoring Russian with a bid of 102 million. Wednesday night, the teams will start fighting for a much bigger prize, the Stanley Cup. In this contest, skill, heart and desire will decide the outcome. Nothing else. And it doesn't matter that the Devils and Kings aren't the two teams most experts expected to be left standing after three rounds of the playoffs. "You hear it every year, but it doesn't get old: Once you make it in, you have a chance to get here," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I think that's one thing that the prognosticators don't consider. I always put it this way, when the playoffs start, the clocks should be reset. Because everyone's starting over, and all 16 teams have a shot to win it all. "I think both teams would agree with that this year." Led by Kovalchuk and a 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, the Devils are just the second No. 6 seed to reach the finals. The 2004 Calgary Flames, coached by Sutter, were the other. Riding the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, the Kings overcame even bigger obstacles. They are only the second No. 8 seed to make it since the conference-based NHL playoff format was introduced in 1993-94. The Edmonton Oilers were the first in 2006. "It's all about winning here, and eliminating distractions and doing what it takes to be successful," said Brodeur, who led the Devils to Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003. "That's worked for us this year, and really my entire career. For me, to be a part of that is great. To come to the rink every day during my career, knowing we had a chance to win every night is something special. "I've had that my whole career here, and that's been a great ride." While this isn't a glamour series that boasts the likes of a Sidney Crosby, a Steven Stamkos or even a Henrik Lundqvist, it has elements that should help the NHL, and prove entertaining on the ice. To start, this is an East-West series featuring two of the nation's biggest media markets: Los Angeles and the New York metropolitan area. The Kings and Devils also present great story lines. Los Angeles, which heavily courted Kovalchuk in free agency, is making only its second appearance in the Cup finals, having lost in 1993 to Montreal. The Kings are back after a midseason shake-up that saw Sutter replace Terry Murray just before Christmas and a late trade that added skilled scorer Jeff Carter to the lineup. Still, they didn't clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season. The Kings have been virtually unstoppable since then. They have posted a 12-2 record in the playoffs and knocked off the three top seeds in the Western Conference -- Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix. They have never trailed in a series, winning the first three games in each round. "Everybody's just clicking," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "People are used to playing with their linemates now. The lines have been the same from the last part of the season. D pairings are the same. It's just getting used to them. Everyone is playing with confidence. Once you start clicking like that, pucks start going in the net for you." The Devils' story is just as good. They missed the playoffs last season despite retaining Kovalchuk with a 102 million contract that the league said violated its letter of the law. Few expected them to recover this quickly, especially with Brodeur seemingly on his last legs after a sub-par season, and captain Zach Parise returning from a major knee injury. When top center Travis Zajac blew out an Achilles tendon before training camp, the chances of Devils making the finals seemed slim. Guess again. New Jersey won its final six games in the regular season, rallied from 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the playoffs with two overtime wins against Florida, and then eliminated the Flyers and Rangers, their two biggest rivals, in five and six games, respectively. "Last year was tough," said Kovalchuk, who said there was never a doubt in his mind that he would stay in New Jersey. "But we made sure it paid off. We have a great coaching staff, great players here, great group of guys, very close to each other. I think that makes a big difference." The other thing that should be great is the goaltending. The 26-year-old Quick leads playoff netminders in goals-against average (1.54) and save percentage (.946). He has eight road wins in as many starts, posting a 1.55 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in those games. Brodeur is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner. He has played in 24 career Stanley Cup finals games, posting a 15-9 record with a 1.91 goals-against, losing only a series to Colorado in seven games in 2001. The Montreal native is set to become the fifth goaltender in NHL history and first since Jacques Plante in 1970 to appear in the Stanley Cup finals after his 40th birthday: "Well, everyone knows what he's meant to the league and this team, and where he stands in history," Quick said of the NHL's winningest goaltender. "For me, it's not about me against him. It's about the Kings and the Devils." The Devils and Kings are very similar in their approaches. Both want to establish the forecheck, create pressure and have it lead to offense. The Kings, who posted a 25-13-11 regular-season record after Sutter took over, are definitely a little bigger than the Rangers, and they certainly have more depth. Devils defenseman Peter Harrold played five seasons with the Kings before signing with New Jersey this year. He spent the majority of this season at Albany of the AHL, before being inserted into the Devils' postseason rotation. He said both organizations stress team first. "Everything is about the collective, not the individuals," said Harrold, who says this series will be good for hockey. "It's two really big stages. "That's what you want to grow the game."

South Carolina holds off UMass, 34-28


South Carolina holds off UMass, 34-28

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Freshman Jake Bentley threw for two touchdowns and 201 yards in his first college game and South Carolina matched its victory total from last year with a 34-28 victory over Massachusetts on Saturday.

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was expecting to redshirt Bentley this season before the team's mounting offensive problems - they entered dead last in points per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision - left the first-year coach open to any solution.

Bentley proved the right answer against the Minutemen (1-7). He led the Gamecocks (3-4) to touchdowns on their first two series, and then threw a pair of pretty fade passes for TD, the first from 16 yards out to K.C. Crosby and later a 24-yarder to Bryan Edwards to lead 27-7.

When UMass cut things to 34-28 with less than 5 minutes left, Bentley accounted for 30 yards to help the Gamecocks run out the clock.

It was the first time South Carolina had scored more than 20 points in a game this season.

UMass did its share to help with three turnovers in the opening half, two which led to two South Carolina scores.

Tight end Adam Breneman had two TD catches for UMass, which fell to 0-3 against Southeastern Conference teams this fall.


UMASS: The Minutemen have been outscored 131-77 in its four games this season against teams from the Power 5 conferences.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Its future - and offensive recovery - may have started with Bentley behind center. The freshman, who'll turn 19 next month, is sure to have some bumps ahead, maybe as soon as next week's home game against No. 18 Tennessee. But there was little benefit keeping the strong-armed Bentley on the bench if he could spark up the offense this season.


UMASS: The Minutemen return home to play Football Championship Subdivision opponent Wagner. The game ends the UMass home season as it finishes with games at Troy, BYU and Hawaii.

SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks go back to the Southeastern Conference grinder against No. 18 Tennessee. The Gamecocks have only won two SEC games the past two seasons and will face a difficult challenge against the Vols, who are in the thick of the Eastern Division chase.

© 2016 by STATS & The Associated Press


UConn falls to Central Florida, 24-16


UConn falls to Central Florida, 24-16

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -McKenzie Milton threw for a season-high 317 yards and three touchdowns to lead Central Florida to a 24-16 win over UConn.

The freshman completed 29 of 45 passes and the Knights (4-3, 2-1 American) moved over the .500 mark by scoring 17 unanswered points and holding the Huskies (3-5, 1-4) scoreless in the second half.

Arkeel Newsome ran 21 times for 101 yards and Noel Thomas had his fifth straight 100-yard receiving game for UConn, catching nine passes for 165 yards.

But Thomas dropped a pass in the end zone on a third down with just over 3 minutes remaining, and quarterback Bryant Shirreffs came up short on a fourth-down scramble.

The Huskies got the ball back near midfield with just over 2 minutes left and drove to the 21, but failed to convert a fourth-down pass.

The Knights took the lead on the first drive of the second half, when Milton hit running back Adrian Killins over the middle for a 39-yard touchdown. It was the third consecutive drive of more than 70 yards for UCF.

A career-long 50-yard field goal by Matthew Wright early in the fourth quarter pushed the lead to eight points.

UConn scored the game's first 13 points, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from Newsome.

The Huskies final points came on a 35-yard Puyol field goal, one of three he kicked in the first half.

The lead was the first at halftime this season for the Huskies.


UCF: The Knights have apparently found their quarterback in the freshman Milton, who started again over senior Justin Holman. It was Milton's fourth start this season. His 317 yards passing were the most since Holman threw for 336 yards against Temple in 2014.

UConn: The Huskies have two offensive weapons in Newsome and Thomas and need to find a third. Shirreffs was again the team's second leading rusher with 49 yards. Alec Bloom was the team's second-leading receiver. He had two catches for 20 yards.


UCF: The Knights visit No. 11 Houston next Saturday

UConn: The Huskies travel south to face East Carolina.

© 2016 by STATS & The Associated Press