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Packers move up to No. 2 seed with win, 49ers loss

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Packers move up to No. 2 seed with win, 49ers loss

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Getting a week off sounds great to the Green Bay Packers.

It's looking even better now, too.

The Packers moved up to the No. 2 seed in the NFC on Sunday with their 55-7 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans and Seattle's victory over San Francisco. Beat the Minnesota Vikings next weekend, and the Packers (11-4) can spend the first week of the playoffs parked on the couch.

``Everything happens for a reason. We have 11 wins because of what we've put into it and we're going to take whatever opportunity is in front of us,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ``We're going to play to win next week.''

The Vikings can consider themselves warned.

Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and ran for another against the Titans, Ryan Grant scored twice and the Packers made Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker look like a tackling dummy with seven sacks. It was the most points scored by the Packers since they put up the same number against Tampa Bay on Oct. 2, 1983, and their largest margin of victory since a 52-3 win over New Orleans on Oct. 9, 2005.

The 55 points were the most allowed by the Titans (5-10) since they were shut out 59-0 by the New England Patriots on Oct. 18, 2009. Tennessee was in danger of being blanked again until Kenny Britt's 2-yard reception with 1:39 left in the game.

``They're a good football team,'' Titans safety Jordan Babineaux said. ``They're a playoff team for a reason.''

And there's a reason all of the Titans should be concerned about their job security.

After finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker last year, Tennessee has faded to the back of the AFC. This was the Titans' sixth loss in eight games, and the second time this season they've given up 51 points or more. Yes, the Titans have been ravaged by injuries - they started their fifth offensive line combination Sunday and were without leading receiver Kendall Wright - but they were simply outclassed by the Packers.

``It got uglier than it needed to,'' Titans coach Mike Munchak said. ``We needed to make a stand somewhere and we didn't. I would never have thought this possible because I felt we had been playing better. But today we did not. Obviously we took a step back as a team when you lose by that number. It's only one loss, but it's embarrassing to lose by that score.''

In addition to his seven sacks, Locker was picked off twice and finished 13 of 30 for 140 yards for a quarterback rating of 41.0. Tennessee managed to cross midfield just three times the entire game. After holding their last five opponents to an average of 17.6 points, the Titans had no answer for Rodgers and the Packers. Green Bay scored on nine of its first 12 drives - one of those misses was the end of the first half - and was six of seven in the red zone.

``It was important for us to go out and dominate the opponents late in the year,'' McCarthy said. ``We have momentum going for us, particularly what we've done over the last nine weeks, ten weeks, so we wanted to take the next step as a football team and I felt we were able to accomplish that today.''

Now the Packers can turn their attention to the Vikings. And locking up that No. 2 seed.

Green Bay won the Super Bowl two years as a wild card. Last year, the Packers got that first week off as the No. 1 seed and were promptly bounced out in the divisional round.

But there's a different mentality to this group, which has been hardened by a rough start and a locker room that's looked more like an infirmary what with all its injuries.

Charles Woodson (collarbone) missed his eighth straight game Sunday and Jordy Nelson (hamstring) his third, and the Packers were down to two running backs - neither of whom was on the active roster at the beginning of December - because of injuries to Alex Green and James Starks. The offensive line is being held together with bandages and tape, and injuries to ends C.J. Wilson and Jerel Worthy have left the defensive line thin, too.

``Me, personally, I'd love to have the bye,'' said Clay Matthews, who missed four games with a hamstring injury. ``This team is more mentally tough than last year and that we understand what we need to accomplish and we can't just skate into the playoffs, which we did last year. We're taking this victory, but even more so, we're getting closer.''

NOTES: Randall Cobb broke Ahman Green's single-season franchise record for net yardage. With 101 yards Sunday, Cobb has 2,342 for the year, 92 more than Green in 2003. ... With 100 yards on seven catches, James Jones has at least one 100-yard game in each of his six seasons. His 722 yards also tops his previous season best. ... A.J. Hawk's two sacks tied his career best. ... Seven of the Titans' 10 losses have been by 14 points or more. ... Fifteen different Packers have had a full sack this season, matching the franchise high.

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Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time. He tallied another two goals Monday in Game 6, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game. "He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He had parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from the Great 8 and it didn't stop there.

As Washington tried to close out the game, Ovechkin went all out trying to help his team preserve the lead as he blocked a shot from Ryan Murray with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader. The reason why was on full display on Monday. It is because he has evolved his game. Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, he has committed more to getting to the contested areas and scoring those dirty goals.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well as he was there blocking shots with the rest of his teammates.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

MORE CAPITALS: Pens again: Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

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Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

The Caps are headed to the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins… again.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Yes, for the third time in three years, the Capitals will play the Penguins, hoping to take down the defending Stanley Cup champions and advance out of the second round of the playoffs and to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 1998 season, when the team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Capitals are riding momentum from their first-round series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, where they fought back from an 0-2 series hole to win the series thanks to a 6-3 victory in Game 6 Monday night in Columbus.

That momentum coupled with home-ice advantage — should they choose to capitalize on that this time around — could create an ideal atmosphere for the Caps to take a 2-0 series lead before heading to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4.

A perennial problem, Sidney Crosby enters this series playing some of his best playoff hockey. In their 4-2 series win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pens’ captain scored six goals in six games, including a hat trick in the opening matchup.

But he’s not the only one creating havoc for goalies. Center Jake Guentzel is tied with Crosby at the top of the league in goals and points in the playoffs. The pair each had six goals and seven assists against the Flyers, as well as 17 shots on goal apiece.

Is it possible they’ll get stonewalled by Braden Holtby, who — despite not starting initially in the first two games for the Caps against the Blue Jackets — is rocking a 93.6 save percentage and ranks fourth in the league with a 1.66 goals against average among goaltenders who have played more than one postseason game.

If the Caps can find a spark in their offense with Holtby staying strong in goal, perhaps this could be the year they finally slide past the Pens.

However, history isn’t exactly on Washington’s side. In the second-round series from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, the Pens hold an 8-5 record over the Caps, eliminating them both years on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Pittsburgh leads the Caps in the overall playoff game record, 38-24, and they’ve met for 10 series in the postseason, dating back to 1990-91. Four times the series was pushed to a Game 7, but the Caps never came out on top.

The one and only time the Caps have ever eliminated the Pens from the playoffs was in the 1993-94 season, when they beat Pittsburgh 4-2 in the first round before losing to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

But hey, this year could become the second time in franchise history the Caps take down the Pens.

The NHL has yet to announce when Game 1 of the Capitals vs. Penguins series will take place, but with the Wizards playing Game 6 of their NBA Playoff series at home on Friday, the likliest start date is either Thursday, April 26 or Saturday, April 28.