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Sports briefs

NHL playoffs open, lead by East's youth

The beef and brawn reign in the West. Back East is where the kids skate and play with abandon.

Including, of course, Alex The Great, who is ready for his coming out party. That is, if he and the Washington Capitals have anything left after racing for weeks just to get into the playoffs.

No story down the stretch was more compelling than Alex Ovechkin's brilliant play in helping the Capitals erase a dismal first half that cost a coach a job and left the club just a step above last place.

Now it's time for his postseason debut, which will take place Friday night in the nation's capital against the Philadelphia Flyers. Behind Ovechkin's offense, Washington chased down the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast Division title with an 11-1 finish.

Sidney Crosby, edged for rookie of the year honors by Ovechkin two seasons ago, has the Pittsburgh Penguins playing postseason hockey for a second straight year. The first-round opponent is the same as 2007, but this time the second-seeded Penguins expect to have a lot more to dish out to the reeling Ottawa Senators.

Newman, Penske docked 25 points

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman became the latest driver penalized by NASCAR, losing 25 points Tuesday because his car failed inspection at Texas Motor Speedway.

Newman's No. 12 Dodge was too high when NASCAR inspected it following its fourth-place run, an adjustment that could provide additional downforce.

"What happened last week was a mistake and we're moving on from it and looking forward to this week," Newman said. "We hate to lose points, but we have a good team and we will be able to make them up."

The penalty dropped Newman from eighth to 10th in the Sprint Cup standings.

Also penalized were car owner Roger Penske, who was docked 25 points, and crew chief Roy McCauley, fined $25,000 and placed on probation until the end of the year.

Stover asks players for new union chief

Matt Stover, the Baltimore Ravens' veteran kicker, has begun a campaign to replace Gene Upshaw as executive director of the NFL Players Association by next March.

Stover's action comes at a time when the union could be heading for critical negotiations with the league on the collective bargaining agreement.

"I feel that the board must begin to prepare for a change in leadership immediately," Stover said in an e-mail to the union's executive board and player representatives that was obtained Tuesday by ESPN. "I believe we have the proper environment with our teammates and leadership within the board to execute the process of this selection."

Union president Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans said that Stover's opinion does not reflect the opinion of the players.

Liverpool, Chelsea to meet in semifinals

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Steven Gerrard converted a tiebreaking penalty kick to give Liverpool a spot in the European Champions League semifinals, just one minute after Emmanuel Adebayor appeared to put Arsenal in the final four.

Gerrard scored in the 85th minute and Ryan Babel added an injury-time goal to give Liverpool a dramatic 4-2 quarterfinal victory over Arsenal on Tuesday night.

"That was possibly one of the worst performances I've ever put in in a Liverpool shirt," Gerrard said. "But I still had the confidence to score the penalty."

Liverpool won the home-and-home series on 5-3 aggregate and advanced to a semifinal matchup with Chelsea, which defeated visiting Fenerbahce 2-0 for a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Davenport wins Amelia Isle opener

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — Lindsay Davenport began her quest for a fourth Bausch & Lomb Championships title with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Vania King on Tuesday, overcoming a lack of sleep caused by her 9-month-old son's nagging cold.

"To be honest, it felt a little awkward," Davenport said, "but eager to try to improve."