Saturday, November 30, 2013

Auburn Stuns Alabama On Miracle Play

With one second remaining in the game, Auburn went from defending a tie to winning the game with one play. Chris Davis returned a missed field goal for 100 yards with no time remaining to win the game for the Auburn Tigers against the Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 34-28. Auburn did a lot of things right to win the game, but it seems like the story of this game may be more about what Alabama failed to do.

Alabama's kickers made no field goals in 4 chances. To make matters worse, it was backup kicker Adam Griffith, not starter Cade Foster, attempting the field goal with one second left in the game. The result was a 100 yard return by Auburn's Chris Davis and a win for Auburn. This rivalry, one of the more prominent ones in college football, took an unanticipated turn. Alabama, ranked number 1 going into the season will not be playing in the SEC championship game next Saturday in Georgia. Instead, it will be Auburn heading to the conference championship game. Auburn was a team that was 3-9 last year. But at 11-1 this season, the Tigers have surprised many.

Auburn opened the scoring in the first quarter when Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall ran for 45 yards. Alabama would be held scoreless in the first, but came back with a fury in the second quarter. Alabama would score 21 straight points, 14 of which would come from an A.J. McCarron pass. However, Auburn did not go down quietly. Auburn would complete an 81 yard drive resulting in a touchdown with 1:40 left in the quarter to bring the score to 21-14. The drive would include multiple rushes by Tre Mason, including a 40 yard rush.

Auburn took some momentum from the end of the second into the third quarter. Marshall would cap off a 69 yard drive with a 13 yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 21 in the opening drive. It became much more interesting from here. Going into the final quarter of the game, the Crimson Tide would attempt to finish an 83 yard drive with a 33 yard field goal. Foster, having missed a field goal on the opening drive of the game for Alabama, made the field goal. However, a false start penalty by the Tide forced a re-kick for Foster. This time, he would miss. Auburns next drive would result in a punt in which they were able to pin Alabama at their own 1 yard line. However, that was no an obstacle for McCarron. The Alabama quarterback threw a pass to Amari Cooper, who was able to run all the way into the end zone for a touchdown. The one play, 99 yard drive would push the Crimson Tide ahead by a touchdown. That would be the last of their scoring however.

Auburn's next two drives included a turnover on downs and a punt, including a drive in which they totaled a loss of 9 yards. It seemed as though Alabama's defense would hold down the Tigers for the remainder of the game. Instead, Auburn would block a 44 yard field goal attempt by Foster and score a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Alabama had 32 seconds to try and score a field goal. They would manage to get into position for a 57 yard field goal. However, backup kicker Adam Griffith would fall short in his kick, and Chris Davis would return the ball from the opposite endzone for a touchdown and an improbably win for Auburn.

IMAGE from ESPN: #14 Nick Marshall of the Auburn Tigers celebrates after beating the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday night. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Penguins Blank Lightning

Chris Kunitz scored twice and Marc-Andre Fleury earned a shutout as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 late Friday evening. The Penguins had won 7 straight games against the Lightning, a streak that started on November 11, 2011. The win tonight brought the streak up to 8 games. After struggling on the road, the Lightning returned home this week and won two straight games. However, the loss to the Penguins snaps a 7 game home winning streak for the Lightning.

The matchup between these two teams was predicted to be a high scoring one. Both the Penguins and the Lightning rank amongst the top 10 teams in the NHL in goals per game. Of course, the Lightning are without star center Steven Stamkos. The two big offensive guns for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, did not score. However, while Malkin was held completely scoreless, Crosby assisted on all 3 goals for the Penguins.

The Lightning managed to hold Pittsburgh to just one goal through most of the game. Kunitz finished off a great passing play by him and Crosby for a goal early in the first period, and the Penguins were held off of the score sheet after that until the third. The Lightning applied plenty of pressure to Penguins' goaltender Fleury, but were unable to get a puck past him. The goalie ended up stopping 21 of 21 shots thrown at him for the shutout.

Lighting goaltender Ben Bishop was solid in net despite receiving the loss. Bishop made 26 saves in 28 chances. He was beaten early in the game by Kunitz and early in the third period on a Penguins powerplay. Pittsburgh center Brandon Sutter flipped the puck from behind the net off a Lightning defender and into the net for a 2-0 lead. Later on in the period, with Bishop on the bench in exchange for an extra attacker, Kunitz scored his second into an empty net to bring the score to 3-0 in the final frame.

The Lightning are off until Tuesday, when the play on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Penguins will travel to Sunrise to take on the Florida Panthers tomorrow night.

IMAGE from Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his first period goal with his teammates against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa, FL.  (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NHL Safety Blunders

In the last couple of years, the National Hockey League has made an emphasis to reduce the number of head injuries. In fact, a lot of people can trace this recent campaign against head injuries directly to Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty two seasons ago. It has not been long since that horrific hit, but one fact stands out the most: Chara was not disciplined.

Of course, that issue was 'solved' two years ago, so I am not here to beat that dead horse any more than it probably has been already. My problem with the NHL is the inconsistency of discipline, and I am pretty sure most fans of the league can agree. It seems as though superstar players always receive the benefit of the doubt over players that are making fall less than multi-million dollar salary. Dare I say the word 'favoritism,' but it is extremely difficult sometimes to avoid that thought. That said, I read an interesting article regarding Chara's style of play. The article compared a hit by New York Islanders' forward Michael Grabner to a hit by Chara, both within a few weeks of each other. The article was written on a New York Islanders-focused blog, Lighthouse Hockey.

Grabner received a two game suspension while Chara received no discipline. The author, solely known as 'Dominik,' was quick to state that he agreed with the suspension against Grabner, a player on his preferred team. However, Chara's hit was at least equally as bad, if not worse, than Grabner's infraction. Dominik is disturbed by the fact that Chara's actions were not disciplined. In short, Dominik outlined the reasons why Chara's hit was illegal and concluded that Chara should have also been suspended.

Another controversial hit was made by Buffalo Sabres' forward John Scott on Oct. 23 against Boston Bruins' forward Loui Eriksson. The hit was somewhat comparable to the ones made by Chara and Grabner. Just somewhat. Scott, with no previous history of illegal actions, received a 7 game suspension while Grabner received just the two games. Scott threw an elbow at Eriksson, which was reason to accuse Scott of intent to injure. However, it is pretty clear that Grabner also threw an elbow deliberately at the head of his victim, while Chara's hit involved forearms to the face of the man he made contact with. I feel as though Chara's situation was the worst one (go figure, it didn't result in any discipline). He already towers above every other player at 6 feet and 9 inches, but Chara felt the need to launch himself upwards into the opposing player, obviously ending with contact to the head. With all of the similarities in the three plays, it is strange to me how one player gets a long suspension, the other gets a short one, and the third one gets nothing at all. Chara, who received no punishment, is the most famous player and has the fattest contract of the three, while Scott is regarded as one of the league's 'goons.' That spells favoritism to me right away, but that's just me.

Of course, there are many more instances where I feel the NHL has completely swung and missed in terms of player safety. The league will always be accused of playing favorites, and in the league's defense, they cannot ever be perfect. Hockey is one of the fastest sports in the world, and referees have so much to worry about on the ice. The league can only review plays a certain amount of ties before it becomes repetitive, and hockey is a sport where a lot of infractions are borderline. Fact is, player safety is not easily enforced in the NHL. However, I feel that the league is currently underachieving.

Image caption: UNIONDALE, NY - NOVEMBER 02: Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins takes a two minute roughing penalty against Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on November 2, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Bruins 3-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

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