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Colts players eagerly awaiting Pagano's return

Colts players eagerly awaiting Pagano's return

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Bruce Arians stood at the podium Friday, answering questions and doing the same thing he's done since Oct. 1.

It may have been his last weekday appearance as Indianapolis' interim coach.

With doctors giving head coach Chuck Pagano clearance to return to his job, Arians sounded cautiously optimistic that Pagano would be running the team Monday for the first time since he was diagnosed with leukemia.

``It's still up in the air, but he feels pretty solid that he's ready to go,'' Arians said, reiterating the point he's made all week - he's eager to give the reins back to his longtime friend.

Pagano hasn't coached a game since a Sept. 23 loss to Jacksonville. Three days later, he was admitted to an Indianapolis hospital to begin the first of three rounds of chemotherapy.

But Arians wasn't told about the diagnosis until Sept. 30, and players and the other assistants didn't find out until a team meeting Oct. 1, the day the Colts returned from their bye.

Indy has gone 8-3 since Pagano left and has moved within one win - or one Steelers loss - of clinching an improbable playoff spot in what has been a historic turnaround from last season's 2-14 debacle. Arians needs one more win to tie the NFL record for most wins following a midseason coaching change (nine), and if the Colts win Sunday at Kansas City, they would join the short list of NFL's teams to win two or fewer games one season and 10 or more the next.

If Pagano is back Monday, it won't be the first time the Colts (9-5) have seen or heard from their recovering head coach. He has communicated with players and coaches through phone calls and text message, watched tape of practices and games on his computer and has given pregame and postgame speeches following home games.

But Indy is about to embark on an almost unprecedented coaching transition - just as the playoffs are about to begin - though the players and coaches are eager to make it work.

``It will be real special. He's our leader, he's our general,'' Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne said. ``To get him back for the playoffs would be picture perfect. He's been through some tough times, he's fought through it and he's taught us how to fight.''

Wayne and Pagano have been friends since they worked together at the University of Miami. Defensive end Cory Redding, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and safety Tom Zbikowski all followed Pagano from Baltimore to Indy. Arians and Pagano have had a close relationship for years, which was one of the reasons Pagano made Arians his first hire.

Most believe Monday morning's team meeting will be emotional.

``I'm sure there will be a bunch of excitement, a lot of joy,'' rookie tight end Dwayne Allen said when asked about Pagano leading that meeting. ``I'm sure he'll talk about what he's gone through and as we sit and listen to a man we all admire tell his story, I'm sure it will mean a lot to us.

Later, Allen added: ``I remember when he came into the locker room and told us that `we cannot allow circumstances to dictate who we are going to be' and he sure didn't let circumstances dictate who he was going to be, either.''

The big question is how much Pagano can or will do.

His physician, Dr. Larry Crape, said there are no restrictions, though he has advised Pagano, like his other patients, to scale back the workload if it becomes too overwhelming. Those who know Pagano think he will follow the doctor's orders.

``I believe he'll be smart enough to do that,'' Redding said. ``I know he wants to get back, but he still has to listen to his body. I believe he trusts the coaching staff and us to do what we've been doing.''

Winning.

``It's fantastic news,'' Arians said Friday. ``Hopefully, he's strong enough and can hit the road Monday. Like we've always said that's the best Christmas present we could have hoped for.''

Notes: Arians said Zbikowski would travel with the team for Sunday's game against the Chiefs. Backup running back Delone Carter, inside linebacker Kavell Conner and center Samson Satele have already been ruled out. Everyone else, including backup center A.Q Shipley, will be game-time decisions. ... If Shipley cannot play, Arians said right guard Mike McGlynn will start at center and backup Jeff Linkenbach will replace McGlynn at guard.

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

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NBC Sports Washington

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.