Capitals

Broncos G Kuper ready for 1st playoff appearance

Broncos G Kuper ready for 1st playoff appearance

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Peyton Manning's pocket of protection is about to get an upgrade.

A finally healthy Chris Kuper is expected to return at right guard Saturday when the top-seeded Denver Broncos (13-3) host the Baltimore Ravens (11-6) in an AFC divisional playoff.

``It would be great,'' coach John Fox said after Tuesday's practice, the exact four words Peyton Manning would use 10 minutes later. ``He was voted on as a team captain by his teammates. He's a guy who's been in and out of the lineup all year. He's worked very hard to get back. It was good to see him out there today, and he had a fine day.''

Left tackle Ryan Clady also returned to practice, after missing all of last week's workouts with an undisclosed injury. Although he's dealt with a troublesome hamstring of late, Clady has never missed a game in his five-year NFL career.

Kuper, on the other hand, spent more time on the sideline than on the football field this season, and his absence was sorely felt, particularly - and, quite literally - by Manning.

Coming off four neck surgeries, Manning was sacked 21 times this season - but only twice with Kuper in the lineup.

Although Manny Ramirez admirably filled in, the O-line wasn't the same without Kuper.

The anchor of Denver's offensive line and a seventh-year pro out of North Dakota, Kuper made just five starts at right guard this season and played a half dozen snaps on special teams in two other games, including the season finale against Kansas City.

He missed the first four games after breaking his left forearm in training camp Aug. 14 and he missed five other games with a sprained left ankle, the same one he dislocated and broke in a gruesome scene a year ago.

For overcoming all these tribulations, his teammates Tuesday voted him their 2012 Ed Block Courage Award winner.

``Obviously, you don't want to be in that situation because that means you had to fight through some injuries or adversity, but to be recognized as a guy who will do that, I think that's just part of being a professional,'' Kuper said.

Manning lauded Kuper for his perseverance.

``What Kupe's been through from an injury standpoint, certainly physically, it's taken its toll,'' Manning said. ``That's a real challenge mentally, and I can just tell you that from my experience last year. He's had a positive attitude; he's worked hard; he and I have spent a lot of time in the training room together, so to see him back out there ... it's kind of like seeing Willis: it's a great lift to the team and it'd be great to have him in there on Saturday.''

Running back Willis McGahee returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since tearing a ligament in his right knee in mid-November and missing the last six games of the regular season. He's eligible to return to the active roster if the Broncos reach the AFC championship.

Kuper is gearing up for his first playoff game. He missed the Broncos' run last season after getting hurt in the season finale.

``I remember watching that game on TV last year and what he's done to come back from it is pretty spectacular,'' wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. ``So, it's well-deserved.''

And all the adversity this year, ``he's fought through it,'' Stokley said. ``He's a team guy and he's one of those guys that when he's on the field everybody looks to and kind of rallies around.''

Kuper was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl after playing in just seven games this season, a measure of how much he's respected across the league.

``To get him back at a much-needed time is a blessing,'' Broncos pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil said. ``Glad he's able to go out and showcase what he can do.''

Kuper said the bye week did wonders for him, allowing him to knock off some rust.

``It helped me tons,'' he said. ``It's been a trying year for me, so getting that extra week to kind of work back into the offense, it helped me a lot. It felt good. I'm doing my best out there to get ready to go.''

Now, he's about to get his first taste of the playoffs.

``This is what I've been playing for since I got here,'' Kuper said.

Notes: McGahee didn't make himself available for comment Tuesday but RB Lance Ball said, ``I don't know when he'll be back or if he'll be back or not, but it was just good to go out there and see him out there practicing.''

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

The win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.

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