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Pagano, Colts getting back to business as usual

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Pagano, Colts getting back to business as usual

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Chuck Pagano beat the traffic and a blizzard into work Wednesday morning - all in an effort to beat the Texans.

After spending the last three months fighting leukemia, the inspirational Colts coach arrived early at the team complex. He met briefly with his players to give them a succinct message about this week's game plan, then stepped onto the practice field for the first time since Sept. 26.

It seemed nothing had changed.

``From Day 1, we set goals for ourselves, and after watching what this team has done over the course of the season, the last 12 weeks, it's just not in our DNA,'' Pagano said when asked about resting his starters Sunday against Houston. ``Our families deserve it, our fans deserve to see our best game regardless of the circumstances. They're going to roll the ball out there and our job is to win a ballgame and that's what we're going to do.''

While Pagano wanted to take a business-as-usual approach into his first regular workday, it certainly wasn't easy amid all the outside stuff.

Up to a foot of wind-whipped snow had fallen in parts of Indianapolis, creating hazardous driving conditions. Pagano said he arrived at the team complex so early, he had no trouble driving. And though he considered moving up the scheduled afternoon practice so players could return home, Pagano decided against it because forecasters were hopeful the road conditions would improve as the snow tapered off late in the afternoon.

The snowiest day of the year was no deterrent for Pagano, who returned to the team complex Monday, met briefly with players who gave him a standing ovation, and spent about 30 minutes answering questions from reporters. On Wednesday, he strolled onto the team's indoor practice field for the first time in three months, presided over the full-scale practice in the afternoon and savored every precious moment.

``Any time you just get removed from where you're supposed to be on a daily basis - I've been doing this for the last 28 years of my life and then all of a sudden to be taken away from it, and then to be blessed to get back before the end of the season - it's a great feeling,'' he said. ``It's just good to be back around the players and practice and coaching again.''

Playing to win what would normally be a meaningless game is a stark contrast from previous Colts playoff years. Starters were routinely held out of late-season games that had no bearing on playoff position.

The most glaring example came in 2009 when the Colts were 14-0, yet yanked their starters in the third quarter of a home game against the New York Jets. Indy lost the game, played some starters one series the next week in snowy Buffalo, and lost a few weeks later to New Orleans in the Super Bowl.

But after making this year's historic turnaround from 2-14 to 10-5, and enduring the emotional roller-coaster of losing a head coach for 12 weeks and now getting him back, the Colts want to play. They are locked into the AFC's No. 5 seed and will open the playoffs on the road against the AFC's No. 4 seed, Baltimore or New England.

Players embraced Pagano's choice.

``I think there is something to be said about keeping your momentum going and I think it could be a positive thing,'' outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said. ``I think guys who are banged up, they shouldn't play. But I think that guys who can play, should play. Yeah, you're risking getting hurt, but that's just what it is. It's part of the game.''

The Colts want to win this one for another reason: their coach.

With Pagano out, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians went 9-3, tying the league record for wins after a midseason coaching change. He led the Colts within one victory of the second-greatest turnaround in league history with nine more wins than the previous season.

Pagano, though, was fighting a much larger battle. On Nov. 5, his oncologist, Dr. Larry Cripe, announced that the cancer was in complete remission. A month later, Pagano completed the final round of treatment and last week Cripe told reporters Pagano had been given medical clearance to return to the sideline.

``I think we're really getting everything back to normal, but I think everyone in the building is just glad to have him around,'' safety Antoine Bethea said. ``We want things rolling like we've had, but with Chuck added.''

Pagano did say center Samson Satele and backup running back Delone Carter would miss the Texans game because of ankle injuries. He made it clear a handful of others such as running back Donald Brown and defensive end Cory Redding could wind up on the bench to recover from injuries.

Otherwise, Pagano expects this to be just another game week.

``We're going to approach it just like we approached the first three and the way they approached the last 12,'' he said. ``We'd all like to win 11 games, that's our goal and that's our focus.''

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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.