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NHL: Bolts Mark New Franchise Territory with 11th Straight Win

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Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (#86) and goalie Curtis McKelhinney (#35) celebrate a goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado on Monday, February 17, 2020. Photo: NHL.

DENVER, Col. (FNN SPORTS) – The Tampa Bay Lightning made franchise history last night with their 11th straight win with an overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche and what a game it was to watch! Both the Lightning and the Avalanche are known for having very skilled players. Nathan MacKinnon is among some of the most skilled and fastest skaters in the league, making it no surprise that he got Colorado on the board first, thanks to a pass from Mikko Rantanen.

The remainder of the first period went without goals due to solid efforts from both goalies. The Bolts controlled most of the second period. Under five minutes in, Alex Killorn wrapped the puck around the glass in the Avalanche’s offensive zone to Ondrej Palat and Palat fed it back to Killorn for his 23rd goal of the season, tying up the game. This set the momentum train in motion, because less than two minutes after Killorn’s goal, Cameron Gaunce ripped a shot off in traffic to put the Bolts in the lead 2-1. Gaunce said after the game, “it’s been something I’ve been working on a lot, when the puck comes off the board, getting that shot, and seeing it go in has a nice feel.”

As the period began winding down, Brayden Point made a fast effort up the ice in attempts to score, but his shot came off the goalie’s pad, creating another scoring opportunity that Steven Stamkos maximized on. Diving onto the ice to get the puck in the net, sending the Lightning up 3-1. 1:34 before the second period ended; MacKinnon danced through the Lightning o-zone to hit a top shelf goal and his second goal of the game minimizing the Bolts lead.

The third period opened up with Tampa Bay still in the lead 3-2 and continued scoring attempts up and down the ice. With 7:17 left in the third period, Colorado, with some quick puck movement, caused enough confusion for Cale Makar to come down the center and score a wrist shot, tying the game 3-3. The Bolts and the Avs held each other off from scoring, taking the game into overtime.

Strong defensive plays continued and one in particular was the game changer: As MacKinnon skated to set up an opportunity to pass or score, there was just enough room for Kucherov to steal the puck for a breakaway and score in the goalie’s five hole, sealing the Lightning’s 11th straight win with a final score of 4-3, the most consecutive wins in franchise history.

Although an entertaining game nonetheless, Kucherov had a closer perspective and diagnosis of the game, saying, “it wasn’t a good game for us. We need to have the puck on our sticks more, and more puck possession in their o-zone.” But it’s that kind of “we can do better” mentality that separates good teams from great teams and the Lightning have all the potential to be a great team.

The Lightning head off to Las Vegas to face the Golden Knights, and the newest addition to Tampa Bay’s defense will officially join them. Blake Coleman, the Bolts recent trade acquire as of Sunday, February 16, 2020, will make his Lightning debut. In his initial trade statement, Coleman expressed his excitement for this new chapter and how he feels he’ll fit in with this team. Coleman said, he’s familiar with Coach Cooper’s coaching and playbook style after facing him in the USHL. Coleman said, “They’re bringing me in because I have a playoff-type game, a will to compete and a will to win.” We’ll see how this new chapter unfolds and if Tampa Bay can make it 12 wins on Thursday.

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Kasey Hudson is the Associate Sports Editor for Florida National News. | sports@floridanationalnews.com

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LeBron, Giannis chosen as captains for NBA All-Star Game

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LeBron James is closing in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA career scoring record. And now, he has caught Abdul-Jabbar on another page of the All-Star record book.

James was announced Thursday as an NBA All-Star for the 19th time, the Los Angeles Lakers’ star tying Abdul-Jabbar for the most selections in league history. James — the leading overall vote-getter — will be the captain of one of the teams for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, while Eastern Conference voting leader Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks will captain the other side.

This is the sixth year the NBA has used the captain format for the All-Star Game; James has been a captain every time and has never lost, taking a 5-0 record into this year. Antetokounmpo is a captain for the third time, after also earning that right in 2019 and 2020.

James and Antetokounmpo will pick their teams shortly before the game in Salt Lake City, a newly announced twist and a departure from past years in which the captains picked a week or two in advance of All-Star weekend.

The other eight starters they’ll be choosing from, barring any changes because of injury beforehand, are: Denver’s two-time reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, NBA scoring leader Luka Doncic of Dallas, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Brooklyn teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson.

“I’m definitely blessed and humbled to be a part of this,” Mitchell said during the televised starters’ announcement on TNT. “To be a part of my fourth All-Star and now to be a starter, I couldn’t be happier.”

The big intrigue was the third East frontcourt spot, where Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid — No. 2 in the NBA’s scoring race entering Thursday at 33.4 points per game — was the odd man out after Antetokounmpo, Durant and Tatum were the top three in the balloting.

Starters — three frontcourt players and two guards from each conference — were selected by a combination of three different votes: fan balloting counted for 50%, media balloting was worth 25% and voting by the NBA’s players made up the final 25%.

The reserves, which are chosen by votes from the league’s coaches, will be announced Feb. 2. Among the players certain to merit strong consideration: Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Miami’s Bam Adebayo.

James is 157 points away from Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring total of 38,387 points. At his current average of 29.9 points per game, James will need just over five games to break the record – and, if he doesn’t miss any games in the interim, would be on pace to pass Abdul-Jabbar in a Feb. 7 home game against Oklahoma City.

And that means the All-Star weekend, if James passes the record beforehand, could be a celebration of his breaking a record that Abdul-Jabbar has held for nearly 40 years.

“Calculating out when it might happen, it seems at this point it’s likely to happen before our All-Star break,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last week in Paris. “If it were to happen before our All-Star break, it seems like the All-Star Game this year, which is in Salt Lake City, may be the perfect opportunity to honor him.”

James is now tied with Abdul-Jabbar for most All-Star selections, and if James plays in Salt Lake City he will become the first player in NBA history to actually appear in 19 All-Star games. Abdul-Jabbar was selected to the 1973 game but did not play.

That’ll be just another entry on a long list of All-Star records for James. He’s the first player to be selected to 19 consecutive All-Star games — until Thursday, he shared that record with 18-time-selection Kobe Bryant, the Lakers legend who died Jan. 26, 2020, exactly three years to the date from Thursday.

If he actually starts, it’ll be James’ 19th time doing so, four more anyone else in league history; Bryant made 15 starts. The 19 starts in a row extends another All-Star record; Bob Cousy has the second-longest such streak, having started 13 straight.

James also is the career All-Star leader in minutes, points, field goals made and field goals attempted.

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Quinn returning to lead defense as Cowboys shuffle coaches

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FRISCO, Texas (AP) — A shuffling of the coaching staff for the Dallas Cowboys won’t include defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who is returning after another year of receiving interest from teams seeking head coaches.

Coach Mike McCarthy said the club’s decision not to renew the contracts of six members of his staff, including one with deep ties to him in Green Bay, hasn’t affected his relationship with owner/general manager Jerry Jones or the rest of the Dallas front office.

The Cowboys, who finished 13-6, reached the playoffs for a second consecutive season and won a road game in the postseason for the first time in 30 years.

Still, Dallas’ divisional-round losing streak reached seven games, the longest since the 1970 merger, with a 19-12 loss at San Francisco. The Cowboys haven’t advanced to an NFC championship game since the last of the franchise’s five Super Bowl titles to cap the 1995 season.

“As far as my relationship with Jerry, just using his words, we’re in an excellent spot,” McCarthy said Thursday, a few hours after the club’s announcement on the coaches who aren’t returning.

“The partnership that we have, he’s excited about. He told me a number of times this week that he wants me to coach here as long as coach (Tom) Landry did. And I said, ‘OK, that’s a long time.’”

Jones’ first act as owner in 1989 was firing Landry, coach of the Cowboys for the franchise’s first 29 seasons. There’s been chatter about McCarthy’s job security since a losing debut in the pandemic-altered 2020 season.

Jones said the loss to the 49ers didn’t change his outlook with McCarthy, who has always shrugged off talk to the contrary.

“I get to talk to Jerry a lot,” McCarthy said. “So I’ve never, I’ve never felt that. The narrative was externally generated.”

Quinn, who interviewed with Denver, Arizona and Indianapolis, told McCarthy on Thursday he would be back for a third season with the Cowboys. Quinn, who led Atlanta to a Super Bowl as coach, made the same decision after interviewing for jobs last year.

Dallas was the first team since the “Steel Curtain” era of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1972-74 to lead the NFL in takeaways in consecutive years.

“This is big for us,” McCarthy said. “Gives us continuity with what we accomplished the last two years and build off of that. And just frankly on a personal note, I can’t tell you how thankful I am.”

The future of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore seems less certain. Moore interviewed for the head coaching job with the Panthers, who hired Frank Reich on Thursday.

McCarthy wouldn’t answer a question about whether Moore would be the play-caller in 2023 if he weren’t hired as a head coach elsewhere.

The mostly productive Dallas offense sputtered in each of the playoff losses the past two seasons.

“I really don’t want to play this game today,” McCarthy said. “Kellen Moore, just like the rest of the coaches, will be evaluated. The evaluation, it takes more than one day.”

The coaches who won’t be back include assistant head coach Rob Davis, who spent 10 seasons on McCarthy’s Green Bay staff after finishing his career as the Packers’ long snapper, and senior defensive assistant George Edwards.

The others are offensive line coach and former Miami head coach Joe Philbin, running backs coach Skip Peete, assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett and quality control analyst Kyle Valero.

Edwards was a senior defensive assistant who took a leading role with the linebackers and was praised on Twitter by two-time All-Pro pass rusher Micah Parsons.

Edwards joined the Cowboys when McCarthy was hired in 2020, as did Philbin and Peete. It was Peete’s second stint as Dallas’ running backs coach.

Lett, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman who played on all three Super Bowl-winning Dallas teams in the 1990s, just finished his 12th season on the staff. Valero had been with the Cowboys since 2014.

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Final 4 NFL teams all feature offensive-minded head coaches

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Chris Foerster had spent nearly two decades as an assistant in the NFL when he first crossed paths with Kyle Shanahan long before he became one of the NFL’s most-accomplished play-callers.

Shanahan was in his third year as an offensive coordinator in the NFL when Foerster joined head coach Mike Shanahan’s staff in Washington as offensive line coach in 2010 and immediately was impressed by the knowledge, creativity and teaching ability of the precocious Shanahan.

That only grew during their four years together in Washington and the past four in San Francisco where Foerster has been an assistant on Shanahan’s staff.

“I’ve been amazed since I’ve worked with him and I don’t stop doing that,” Foerster said. “It’s just how he does it and it’s just his grasp on what he’s doing.”

Shanahan’s success in San Francisco overseeing productive offenses without elite quarterback play is a reason why so many teams each January are seeking the next trendy, play-calling offensive coach to take over their teams.

All four head coaches in the conference championship games come from an offensive background with Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor also calling plays like Shanahan, while Philadelphia’s Nick Sirianni delegated that duty during his first season.

“Plays are just plays,” Shanahan said. “It’s how you tie them together, how you hide them, how you do things off of them and it’s how you coach them.”

Few do it better than Shanahan and Reid, whose influence on modern offenses runs deep with nearly half the teams in the NFL running offenses inspired by those two coaching philosophies.

Shanahan’s offense is based on the running game, with his commitment to sticking with the ground game leading to opportunities with play-action passes downfield.

“He’s not just copying plays from other people,” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “He has that very creative mind and he’s always putting his players in position to make plays. That’s what sets him apart from all the other coordinators in the league.”

The Niners use frequent motion and different formations to disguise their intentions and Shanahan has created a nearly position-less offense that allows him to move playmakers such as Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk all over the field to create mismatches.

“He pays attention to detail on every little thing,” 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy said. “He’s the one that’s installing the plays every single day, which is pretty cool to have your head ball coach be the one that teaches you what you’re running.”

Shanahan built on the offense his father ran during two Super Bowl runs in Denver in the 1990s and has evolved it to the modern game.

He has built an encyclopedic knowledge of his system that allows him to pull plays from his past and tailor them to his current team.

Foerster also said Shanahan has the uncanny ability during a game to see how a defense is playing the Niners and will pull out a play they didn’t even practice that week.

That has led to several big plays already this season.

“He’s just looking, where’s that dagger,” Foerster said. “Where’s that play that I think will really get them on this one?”

Reid’s approach is a little different, relying much more on the passing game over his career with an offense that has hit a peak ever since Patrick Mahomes took over as QB in Kansas City.

Reid also likes to pull out some gadget plays — whether it was a play from the 1949 Rose Bowl he used against San Francisco in the Super Bowl three years ago or the “ ring-around-the-rosie” Snow Globe play against the Raiders in Week 18.

“You do (want to make it fun), but you want to score, too,” Reid said. “It’s not fun when you’re not doing that.”

The Chiefs have done plenty of that since Mahomes took over in 2018, averaging a league-best 30.1 points per game in that span — 3.6 more points per game than No. 2 Tampa Bay in a gap that’s bigger than the one between the Buccaneers and the 16th-place team.

“When you got Coach Reid, he can get anyone (open),” tight end Travis Kelce said. “He can get my dad open, if he was out there. So, I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to be under his guidance, programmed the way he is, because I do genuinely believe he does it the right way.”

Not all the head coaches still alive in the playoffs call the plays, with Sirianni having made the decision during his first year in Philadelphia in 2021 to delegate those duties to coordinator Shane Steichen.

Sirianni said that has allowed him to better manage the game and deal with defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and special teams coordinator Michael Clay instead of always looking at his play sheet for the next play to call.

“That’s my job as the head coach is to manage the game. Everybody does it a little bit differently, I get it, and what works best for us is that I do it this way,” he said. “We like our processes of how we’re going. We’re always trying to tweak it and make it better, but I’ve got great coaches that I’m able to lean on there, and Shane is doing a great job of calling it.”

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