Defensive breakdowns doom the Lightning

by Gary Shelton on January 28, 2020

in general

Lightning's Stamkos scored two goals./CHUCK MULLER

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

Following a long break for the All-Star game, the Tampa Bay Lightning returned to play Monday night in Dallas.

Sort of.

Officially, the Lighting played another game. But after a mix of turnovers and odd-man rushes, it didn't quite seem so in a 3-2 overtime loss to Dallas. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, trying for his 11th-straight victory, looked as if he had sports cars buzzing around him for much of the night.

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“Way too many odd-man rushes," said Steven Stamkos, who scored both Tampa Bay goals. "Turnovers and bad lays by us. Sloppy. We’ve got to learn some lessons from tonight

"We gave up six or seven odd-man rushes. I can't remember the last time we've given up that many. We've had like, six in the last 10 gamrs. It's uncharacteristic of the way we've been playing. We've got to correct that."

Even Dallas' winning goal came when Jamie Benn stole the puck from Brayden Point and had a one-on-one with Vasilevskiy. He scored his second goal of the night.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper agreed.

"We gave up more chances on  turnovers and odd man rushes than we’ve given up in two months," Cooper said. "It was fitting the game ended on a turnover. You can chalk it up to whatever you want. Give a team like that chances and they're going to burn you. We got a point out of it. We'll take that."

Cooper thought his team overpassed instead of putting more pressure on Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop, a former Lightning player.

Stamkos' first goal came when he deflected a shot by Nikita Kucherov into the net. His second game with 1:26 to play when the Bolts capitalized on a six-on-five to tie.

The Bolts are in Los Angeles to play the Kings on Wednesday night. The puck drops at 10 p.m.

Remembering Kobe and one man’s dreams

by Gary Shelton on January 27, 2020

in general

Monday, 4 a.m.

He was intelligent. He was fluid. He was charismatic.

But as much as anything else, Kobe Bryant was a dreamer.

It was in the 2012 Olympics when Bryant, the former Lakers' star who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, sat on small stage in a corner of London reserved for the Olympics. He was talking about his current team, and of the famous Michael Jordan-led team of 1992.

His team could beat that one, he said.


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Now, I've never been one to scoff at the confidence of a professional athlete. Heck, that confidence is one reason they're so darned good at what they do. But it was hard not to smile as Bryant spoke. Heck, that '92 team was the Dream Team, a team with 11 Hall of Famers on it. It destroyed opponents -- who admittedly weren't anywhere as good as the competition that Bryant and his teammates faced. It was Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley and John Stockton and the gang. No one beat that team.

This team? With Bryant and LeBron James and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? It was talented. But it wasn't the dream team. Not if a normal person was doing the dreaming.

Still, Bryant insisted it could beat the Dream Team. Yeah, I wrote. Maybe once in a seven-game series. Maybe twice in a 27-game series.

It was early in the Games, one of those days that you fill with interviews. So a couple of us showed up at a small theater. I got there early, and I claimed a spot near the stage in front of Bryant, one of the best talkers on the team.

Eventually, the room filled with international reporters. You know how it works. The Belgian in the 10th row pushes hard into the back of the Russian in the ninth row, who is jammed into the back of the Spaniard in the eighth row. He infringes on the Indian in the seventh row, who is busy holding is tape recorder over the shoulder of a Bolivian in the sixth row. That guy is shoving up against the Australian in the fifth row, who is tailgating the Nigerian in the fourth row, who should have assault charges filed against him by the Italian in the third row. That guy is bodying up to the Brit on the second row, who makes it a personal goal to get inside of my rib cage. Sometimes, you aren't as smart as you think you are by seizing the first row.

So Kobe talked about how much the Olympics mean even to a rich athlete. Personally, I had always been a skeptic. A discus thrower who puts four years into the Games seems to be more committed than a basketball player who started to think about the Olympic only once the NBA season ends.

It's hard to get a good run of questioning going when the media is a throng. Everyone shouts out their questions, and the writers step all over each other. Still, I was sort of a pest. I kept asking about pro athletes and their love of the games. Bryant kept insisting that it mattered to him, too.

But Bryant gave me something to think about. When it comes to competition, a man's bank account is a small factor. It's about team and country and drive and desire.

Bryant's team won the tournament in London, and when he kissed his gold medal, it seemed as genuine as any athlete in the games. He had accomplished something worth having; isn't that the point.

When it comes to the Olympics, I can be archaic. I loved growing up in the age of amateurism, when the Olympics were the No. 1 goal for an athlete, and where the money was small. In those days, being an Olympian required a great degree of sacrifice.

But these days, everyone is rich: Swimmers, gymnasts, tennis players, track stars. I once compared Shaq O'Neal to a hammer-thrower named David Popejoy, who had finished 16th one year and was darned proud of it. O'Neal had a movie coming out; Popejoy couldn't afford to go to a movie.

Times change, however. This was no longer the days of Eleanor Holm (I interviewed her, too. Charming lady. I think she liked me more than she did her co-star in that Tarzan movie.)

I'll be honest. Bryant wasn't one of my favorite players. He had been charged with rape in 2003. After such a charge, you never really know the heart of a player.

Still, I was the one who approached the stage for the interview. If that makes me less than who I am, I apologize.

But there was a conviction in Bryant that day. He helped convince me that, in this modern day, there is room for professional athletes in the Olympics, that their dreams are no less valid than those of a weightlifter or a shooter.

He was smart. He was gifted. He had the great smile.

I'm sorry he's gone.

See you in my dreams, Kobe.

Testing a fan’s patience: The Tampa Bay quiz

by Gary Shelton on January 26, 2020

in general

Will Winston be back with the Bucs in 2020?/JEFFREY S. KING

SUNDAY, 4 a.m.

So you say you've seen it all. You say you've got it all figured out. You have seen the past, and you can imagine the future.

Nope. Nothing is going to surprise you. All of your question marks are exclamation points.

You know what the Bucs are going to do with Jameis Winston, King of the Pick-Six. You know who is going to lead the Rays. You know how long the Lightning will last. You know who the Bucs will draft, and who they will re-sign. You know how many games Andrei Vasilevskiy will win. You know how many games Blake Snell will win.You know who wrote the book of love. You know who let the dogs out.

Here it is then, the latest sports quiz for the opinionated reader. Get out your No. 2 pencils (why don't the polls recognize them as No. 1) and follow along. Eyes on your own paper.

And you know how many post-season games are in store for a Tampa Bay sports fan.

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Question One: Who will be the Bucs' starting quarterback in 2020?

  1. Philip Rivers

2. Derek Carr

3. Andy Dalton

4. Jameis Winston.

Question Two: Who will lead the Rays in victories in 2020?

  1. Charlie Morton

2. Blake Snell

3. Tyler Glasnow

4. Brendan McKay

Question Three: How long will the Lightning last in this season's playoffs?

  1. First-round elimination.

2. Second-round elimination.

3. Third-round elimination.

4. Stanley Cup Champions.

Question Four: What position will the Bucs draft first in the first round?

  1. Safety.

2. Quarterback.

3. Running back.

4. Offensive lineman.

Question five: How many games will Jeff Scott win in his first season at USF?

  1. Four

2. Six

3. Eight

4. Ten

Question six: Who will represent the Rays in the all-star game?

  1. Charlie Morton

2. Austin Meadows

3. Willie Adames

4. Kevin Kiermaier

Question seven: Who will lead the Lightning in goals at the end of the regular season?

  1. Nikita Kucherov

2. Steven Stamkos

3. Alex Killorn

4. Brayden Point.

Question eight: Which player will NOT be back with the Bucs next season?

1 Shaq Barrett

2. Jason Pierre-Paul

3. Jameis Winston

4. Ndamukong Suh.

Question nine: Who will lead the Rays in home runs?

  1. Austin Meadows

2. Hunter Renfroe

3. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo 

4. Brandon Lowe

Question Ten: In the last two years, Andrei Vasilevskiy has won 44 and 39 games. How many will he win this year.

  1. 33

2. 40

3. 44

4. 50

Question Eleven: How many games will the Bucs win in 2020?

  1. Seven

2. Nine

3. Two


Question 12: Where will the Rays end up playing Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

  1. Third base

2. First base

3. Designated hitter

4. Left field

Question 13: What would the new Tampa Bay Vipers have to do to grab your attention.

  1. Go undefeated.

2. Sign Mike Alstott as a starting running back.

3. Hire Tony Dungy as head coach.

4. Sign Josh Freeman.

Question 14: Who will end up as the Lightning MVP?

  1. Victor Hedman

2. Mikhail Sergachev

3. Anthony Cirelli

4. Steven Stamkos

Question 15: Who will lead the Rays in strikeouts?

  1. Charlie Morton

2. Blake Snell

3. Tyler Glasnow

4. Austin Meadows

Question 16: If Winston doesn't re-sign with the Bucs, where might he end up:

  1. New England

2. Jacksonville

3. San Diego

4. Indianapolis

Question 17: Who will have the highest batting average on the Rays?

  1. Jose Martinez

2. Austin Meadows

3. Willie Adames

4. Randy Arozarena

Question 18: Who is the next inductee into the Buc's Ring of Honor?

  1. Hardy Nickerson

2. Simeon Rice

3. Monte Kiffin

4. James Wilder

Question 19: What city's mayor will Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg have the most lunches with in 2020?

  1. Montreal

2. St. Petersburg

3. Charlotte

4. Orlando

Question 20: Who will lead the Bucs in receiving in 2020?

  1. Mike Evans

2. Chris Godwin

3. Breshad Perriman

4. O.J. Howard

Question 21: The Bucs will make the playoffs in 2020 if ...

  1. Winston cuts his interceptions in half to 15.

2. Ronald Jones runs for 1,000 yards.

3. The Bucs get at least 47 sacks as they did in 2019.

4. Hell freezes over.

Spare me the fake moments of all-star games

by Gary Shelton on January 25, 2020

in general

Hedman will represent Lightning in all-star game./CHUCK MULLER

SATURDAY, 4 a.m.

Star forward Alex Ovechkin says he's skipping NHL all-star weekend because he's "listening to his body."

His body, presumably, is shouting at the top of its lungs "get me away from anything resembling an all-star game."

I don't know about you, but here's the way I feel about all-star games: The taste was chewed out of that gum a long time ago.

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Look, I love sports. I've spent a lifetime chasing balls of every particular shape around the yard, and I've been enthralled by the characters who play. I've covered great players, and great teams. I've covered awful players and miserable teams. Either way, there is a plot line to every team.

But all-star games?

No thanks.

The underlying problem with all-star games, of course, is that they're glorified exhibitions. You cannot replicate the most important aspect of sports. They matter. Despite all the cheaters, despite all the losers, they matter. Someone is usually playing for something.

That beats a forgettable pass by an all-star any day of the week.

For Ovechkin, it is the second straight season he'll sit out the all-star game. I think he's onto something. If I followed the Capitals, I'd much, much rather he prepare for a regular season game than score six goals in a 12-11 victory for his all-star team.

I'll be honest. I'm intrigued by the skills competition. The target shooting is incredible to me. I like the fastest man competition.

But if you're trying to compare it to hockey -- real hockey -- then you're better off playing a video game.

I've covered a couple of NBA all-star games, and God forbid anyone ever play a lick of defense. The one NBA all-star game that was worth watching was in 1992. But that wasn't because of the game -- it was because of Magic Johnson. Johnson had sat out all season with HIV, but came back for the game. He scored 25 points, including a three-pointer at the buzzer, to win the MVP.

Except for that game, though, the NBA all-star game is less interesting than the slam-dunk competition. Which was fun for about 14 minutes.

Then there is the NFL Pro Bowl, which yawned its way out of Hawaii because players kept skipping the long flight to make it to the game. That, and too much Don Ho.

Again, it isn't real football. It's a simulation. I'd rather watch the Jets play the Browns.

If there is anything close to an exception, it's the baseball all-star game. There is a history of great moments there. And it comes as close as any game to approximating the real game.

But you know when the baseball all-star lost me forever? I mean, just reached out and turned off my television set. It was 2002, when the game finished in a 7-7 tie because the teams ran out of players. What game -- especially a game so important that they spend days getting ready for it -- ends in a tie?

Look, I'm all for honoring all-stars. But for playing a fake game with half of an effort? No, that won't do.

I know. Instead of watching the all-star game, why not rent Slap Shot one more time. Or Miracle. Or Mystery Alaska.

Who knows? Maybe Ovechkin should rent it, too.

Could this be one of the classic Super Bowls?

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Friday, 4 a.m. Think of it like a yearly movie. Most of them are duds. Most of them have bad actors, and bad scripts, and major plot holes. Most of them are death at the box office. You look at them, and you think that it’s no wonder that the event fizzled. But every now […]

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Who would you pick to replace Winston?

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Jeter was the best of bad Hall of Fame class

January 22, 2020 general

Wednesday, 4 a.m. You say you’re looking for someone who isn’t going to be honored by the Hall of Fame. You’re looking for someone who will honor the Hall of Fame by his presence. Well, you’ve got Derek Jeter. And after that, you’ve got Derek Jeter. And did I mention Derek Jeter? Jeter was elected […]

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17 years later, Bucs’ title is memorable

January 21, 2020 general

Tuesday, 4 a.m. On the night the world stood still, we were all in motion. You were cheering. Your friend was dancing. Warren Sapp was talking. Jon Gruden was grinning. Me? I was running through the tunnels of a football stadium in San Diego and out toward a makeshift tent nearby. The Tampa Bay Bucs […]

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49ers run all over Green Bay; will face Chiefs

January 20, 2020 general

Monday, 4 a.m. It is a franchise built on quarterbacks, a talented, clutch bunch if ever there were any. Joe Montana? Some will still tell you he’s in the running for the best ever to play the position. Steve Young? He’s in the Hall of Fame, too. John Brodie played here. Y.A. Tittle. Jim Plunkett […]

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Can Tannehill surprise us one more time?

January 19, 2020 general

Sunday, 4 a.m. Blake Bortles starred here. Dan Pastorini, too. Shaun King was a player here. And Mark Sanchez. And Chris Chandler. All of them, at one time or the other, were good enough to reach a conference championship game with their teams. Most of them, at the key moment, didn’t succeed. Content beyond this […]

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