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Braves' McCann aiming to be ready for opening day

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Braves' McCann aiming to be ready for opening day

ATLANTA (AP) Brian McCann would like to be behind the plate on opening day and beat the projections which have him missing the start of the season.

Even so, the Braves catcher realizes he must be cautious in his return from major surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

McCann said Wednesday ``things are ramping up'' midway through his six-month rehabilitation schedule. He began throwing last week and started running two weeks ago.

After making six straight All-Star teams, McCann struggled last season as he tried to play through the injury. He hit only .230, easily a career low and almost 50 points below his career average.

McCann is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the season. He said his goal is to convince team doctors in spring training otherwise.

He knows it won't be easy.

``I'm going to have to persuade a lot of people,'' McCann said. ``I'm going to have to show them I'm ready to go and my shoulder is healed. I plan on doing that. I don't know if that's going to happen, but that's my mindset. I want to be ready as soon as possible. I keep getting better each day.''

Braves general manager Frank Wren said doctors who will be wary of clearing the catcher for jarring hits which could cause a setback to the shoulder.

``With the surgery he had, he'll be able to hit, he'll be able to throw, he'll be 100 percent in those areas in spring training,'' Wren said. ``It's just the last risk factor is diving and sliding. That's the area in the shoulder repair our doctors want to make sure is healed. The only way you can do that is with time. You can't rehab it to make it heal faster. That's going to be the last thing before they turn him loose.''

If doctors hold firm to six months from the surgery for McCann's recovery, he would be cleared on April 15. If so, he would miss two weeks - a small price if it helps to raise the odds McCann can return to his All-Star form.

``I think his mindset is that he's going to be ready,'' Wren said. ``Our doctors would rather be safe than sorry and will probably pull the reins back some. But if everything goes well in spring training, I don't think it will be more than a couple weeks before he is ready to rejoin us. I know that's probably two weeks too long for him, but we don't want to put him in a situation where he has any major setbacks.''

McCann, who will be 29 when the season opens, is a career .279 hitter. His string of six straight All-Star appearances began in 2006, his first full season. He has hit at least 20 homers six times and has three seasons with more than 90 RBIs.

The Braves lost backup catcher David Ross, who signed with Boston. McCann's new backup is Gerald Laird, who played with Detroit last season.

Last season's low point for McCann came when he was left out of the starting lineup for the Braves' wild-card loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished the season with respectable power numbers - 20 homers and 67 RBIs - but he hit only .219 with seven homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break.

``He was swinging almost one-armed,'' said Braves second baseman Dan Uggla. ``It's tough. But he's tough and such a competitor that he was going to play through the pain.

``I knew it was bothering him. You could tell after watching him hit and play for the last seven years he wasn't doing the things I was used to seeing him doing. I knew something wasn't right.''

McCann said he ``tried everything and it just didn't work for me.''

``I could swing a bat,'' McCann said. ``I just couldn't swing it and be effective like I wanted to. I still felt I could get a big hit for the team and I was still valuable, so I kept going.

``I feel like sometimes as an athlete you take a couple steps back to go a couple steps forward so I'm looking to coming back better than ever.''

McCann said his shoulder already feels better than last season.

``I'm limited right now in what I can do in the gym but I feel amazing,'' he said. ``I feel great.

``My range of motion is better now than it was last season, which kind of shows me it's been there for a while now, I just didn't notice it. It just got worse and worse.''

Wren, McCann and five other players, including Uggla and Jason Heyward, spent Wednesday morning at City of Refuge, an Atlanta mission located only a few miles from Turner Field. The players helped serve a meal and visited a daycare for children of clients working at the facility.

The visit was part of the team's series of offseason public appearances through the Southeast.

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.