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Seattle's efficiency at peak during late run

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Seattle's efficiency at peak during late run

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Buried within the dizzying numbers the Seattle Seahawks have posted the last three weeks that grabbed the attention of the entire NFL, is a steady rise in efficiency that's at the base of not only their scoring eruption, but the Seahawks' late-season charge to win six of seven.

It may sound as if what coaches and players say all the time, but Seattle's has been dramatically better on third-down conversions and in the red zone as the season has progressed.

Why have the Seahawks become the second-most efficient team at scoring inside the 20 in the NFL and coming off the third-best performance on third down of any team in the last 20 years? Because Seattle has made it a non-stop point of emphasis.

``We've progressed because we've made the choice we want to get better,'' Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate said. ``... We've just been real serious about it and working hard at it.''

The Seahawks (10-5) have scored 150 points the last three weeks, the first team to accomplish that feat since 1950. The dynamic play of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the raw numbers Seattle posted has quickly given the Seahawks the tag of the team no one in the NFC wants to face early in the playoffs. Seattle is already bound for the postseason no matter what happens in Sunday's regular-season finale against St. Louis. They will likely end up the No. 5 seed in the NFC, but could finish as high as second or third with help from others.

But some of the underlying reasons why Seattle is suddenly an offensive powerhouse are because of its third-down efficiency and continuing to convert when they do put drives together.

In five of their last six games, the Seahawks third-down conversion rate has exceeded the league average of 38 percent. Seattle went a stunning 11 of 13 on third downs against San Francisco. The only two failed conversions against the 49ers came when Wilson scrambled around the San Francisco defense for 18 seconds before coming up short on a third-down run and when backup quarterback Matt Flynn took a knee on the final play of the game.

The 11 of 13 was the best conversion percentage -84.6 - in the NFL this season and the third-best in the regular season over the last 20 years, according to STATS, Inc. The only times that number was bettered was New Orleans against Detroit in 2008 (11 of 12) and St. Louis versus Denver in 2000 (6 of 7).

In its first nine games, Seattle topped the league average of 38 percent on third downs only once.

``It's just the familiarity and Russell Wilson has worked so hard to capture the essence of the plays and the concepts, as well as he has worked with these guys over a long period of time,'' Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. ``He doesn't waste reps. He gains knowledge and feel and confidence as he works through it, and that's why he's such a fast learner and all. He moves through things and he gets better. It's not just him because the receivers had cleaned things up; we've also used guys in their roles more clearly than we did early so the reps have paid off more so as well.''

Throughout the season, the Seahawks' red-zone efficiency has been among the best in the league. They've scored on 48 of 51 drives inside the opponents' 20 with their scoring efficiency rate of 94.1 percent No. 2 in the NFL behind only Houston. They are one of two teams in the league that have yet to commit a red-zone turnover.

Seattle is perfect in the red zone - 24 of 24 - in the past six games with 17 of those finished by touchdowns. The last time they failed to score on a drive inside the opponents' 20 was in Week 9 against Minnesota when the Seahawks took a knee and ran out the clock at the Vikings 9.

``The growth can't be understated as a team as a whole,'' Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. ``Just the fact we've all come together, the chemistry, the trust, I can't state it enough.''

Notes: Seattle CB Walter Thurmond (hamstring) will miss his third straight game Sunday and Carroll said he might not be back for the playoffs next week. LB Leroy Hill (hamstring) is questionable and will be worked out pregame Sunday. All other players on Seahawks injury report are expected to play. .. Seattle cut CB Ron Parker and DT Hebron Fangupo, and re-signed WR Deon Butler and signed LB Allen Bradford from the practice squad Friday.

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

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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 knockout the punchless Sabres

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3 stars of the game: Caps knockout 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 goals on Monday. 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.