From Comcast SportsNetBALTIMORE (AP) -- The Baltimore Ravens wanted one long final ride for Ray Lewis.They also wanted Denver. They got it.Having disposed of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, they now face a far more imposing challenge -- Peyton Manning and the streaking Broncos.Anquan Boldin set a franchise record with 145 yards receiving, including the clinching touchdown in the Ravens' 24-9 victory Sunday over the Colts in an AFC wild-card game. The win delays star linebacker Lewis' retirement for at least another week as Baltimore (11-6) heads to top-seeded Denver (13-3) next Saturday.The Broncos beat the Ravens 34-17 three weeks ago."I wanted Denver," Boldin said, "because they beat us."We'll make it different."And he wanted the Broncos because it prolongs the Ravens' pursuit of their first NFL title since the 2000 season, when Lewis won the first of two Defensive Player of the Year awards."I came to Baltimore to win a championship," Boldin added. "We all did."Lewis, who made 13 tackles Sunday, ended his last home game in Baltimore at fullback, of all things, for the final kneel-down. He then went into a short version of his trademark dance before being mobbed by teammates.He followed with a victory lap, his right arm, covered by a brace, held high in salute to the fans after playing for the first time since tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14 against Dallas."My only focus was to come in and get my team a win. Nothing else was planned," the 37-year-old Lewis said. "It's one of those things, when you recap it all and try to say what is one of your greatest moments."I knew how it started but I never knew how it would end here in Baltimore. To go the way it did today, I wouldn't change nothing."He would like nothing more than to change past results against Manning, who was 2-0 in the postseason against Baltimore while with the Colts."It's on to the next one," the 17-year veteran said. "We saw them earlier in the year and now we get them back again, but with all of our guns back."The loss ended the Colts' turnaround season in which they went from 2-14 to the playoffs in coach Chuck Pagano's first year in Indianapolis (11-6). Pagano missed 12 weeks while undergoing treatment for leukemia and returned last week.He was upbeat following the defeat to the team he served as an assistant coach for four years."The foundation is set, and we said we were going to build one on rock and not on sand," Pagano said. "You weather storms like this and you learn from times like this."Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who went 9-3 as interim coach, was absent Sunday after being hospitalized with an undisclosed illness. Pagano said Arians "is fine" and would stay overnight for observation before rejoining the Colts on Monday.Quarterback coach Clyde Christensen called the plays, but Baltimore's suddenly revitalized defense -- inspired by Lewis' pending retirement, no doubt -- never let standout rookie QB Luck get comfortable."It's great making the playoffs, but you can't make mistakes and expect to beat a playoff team like we did," said Luck, who was sacked three times, Paul Kruger getting 2 of those. "We'll have to look back at those and hopefully fix them."Sunday's victory enhanced the Ravens' success rate in opening playoff games. Flacco now has won at least one postseason game in all five of his pro seasons, the only quarterback to do it in the Super Bowl era.His main target Sunday was Boldin, who had receptions of 50 and 46 yards, plus his 18-yard TD on a floater from Flacco in the corner of the end zone with 9:14 to go."I told (Flacco) before the game I was going to get 200 yards," Boldin said with a chuckle."It's huge for us. It's huge for this city, they've supported us this entire year and they expect a lot from us. In return, we want to give it to them."Baltimore overcame the first two lost fumbles of the season by Ray Rice, too, as John Harbaugh became the only head coach in the Super Bowl era with wins in his first five playoff campaigns.Backup halfback Bernard Pierce rescued Rice with a 43-yard burst that led to Boldin's touchdown, and ran for 103 yards.Flacco also connected with Dennis Pitta for a 20-yard TD and rookie Justin Tucker made a 23-yard field goal.Indy's only points came on three field goals by Adam Vinatieri, from 47, 52 and 26 yards. Luck completed 28 of 54 passes for 288 yards. It was the most attempts by a rookie in a playoff game.Reggie Wayne had 114 yards on nine receptions and moved into second in career playoff catches with 92 -- 59 behind leader Jerry Rice. But the Colts, who moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984 -- they still are despised here -- became the second NFL team to improve to 11 wins following a two-win season and then lose in the opening round of the playoffs.The Ravens also beat the 2008 Dolphins in a similar scenario.Both teams were sloppy early on, with Rice losing a fumble, Lewis dropping a potential interception, and Luck being stripped of the ball on a sack.But Rice atoned with a 47-yard gain on a screen pass, leading to Vonta Leach's 2-yard touchdown.That Pro Bowl backfield was bolstered by the kick returns of another Pro Bowl player, Jacoby Jones. He gained 60 yards on kickoff runbacks and 57 on punt returns.Vinatieri, familiar with big kicks in the playoffs after winning two Super Bowls for New England with field goals, made a 47-yarder in the second quarter, a 52-yarder as the first half expired, and a 26-yarder near the end of the third period. But he also missed a 40-yarder wide right, his first miss against Baltimore after 18 successes.NOTES:Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe sprained an ankle late in the game. The Ravens didn't specify which ankle. ... Harbaugh is 6-4 in playoff games, as is Flacco. ... Rice finished with 70 yards rushing and Flacco threw for 282. ... Rookie Vick Ballard rushed for 91 yards for Indy. ... Colts T Winston Justice injured his arm.
Ask anyone in Chicago who the standout of training camp 2.0 was and you'll hear one name: Kirby Dach.
“He has all the potential in the world,” Patrick Kane said. “He can be a top player in the league.”
“He’s got the potential to be a great player in this league and a great player for the Blackhawks for a long time," echoed Brent Seabrook.
Upon hearing this enormous praise from a pair of three-time Stanley Cup champions and joining the hype train myself, I couldn’t help but think: Are we putting unfair expectations on a kid who’s still only 19?
The answer: Nope. Because he can handle it.
Dach looks like a completely different player after finally having an “offseason” to recharge, both mentally and physically. And it’s showing in the postseason.
Through three games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, Dach has four points — all assists — and a team-best plus-4 rating; in total, he’s been on the ice for eight of the Blackhawks’ 13 goals so far. He became the first Blackhawks rookie to register at least one point in his first three postseason games since Eddie Olczyk in 1985.
All those numbers are great, but here’s the eye-opener: Dach is averaging 20:21 of ice time in the postseason, which trails only Patrick Kane (22:21) among team forwards. He led all Blackhawks forwards with 23:21 of ice time in Wednesday’s Game 3 comeback win over the Edmonton Oilers, which was, by far, a career high for Dach, who averaged 14:16 of ice time during the regular season.
The Blackhawks are giving him an enormous amount of responsibility, whether it's top-six minutes at even strength, power-play time on the first unit and penalty kill reps. And Dach is handling it about as well as you could ask for.
"He loves responsibility and he thrives on it," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We knew, based on how he looked in training camp, that he was ready to take a bigger role here. He's been great. He's been as advertised."
Dach isn't just making an impact on the scoresheet, either. He's doing the little things right, too.
Olli Maatta scored the first goal in Game 3 after his shot from the point got past Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen, but that puck doesn't go in without the 6-foot-4, 197-pound Dach wreaking havoc in front of the net. Those plays don't go unnoticed inside the locker room.
"It shows that the coach trusts in your abilities to get a job done," Dach said of the added responsibility. "And as a player, it's a welcoming challenge. You want to be put in those situations and succeed in them."
One of the main reasons why the Blackhawks selected Dach third overall in 2019 was because of the way he elevated his game in the Western Hockey League playoffs. He was the engine for the Saskatoon Blades and the focal point for opponents yet thrived off the attention.
“He does all the things that can wow you, but then he does the other stuff, too," GM Stan Bowman said the day the Blackhawks drafted Dach. "He was great at stripping pucks, he was great at backchecking, he was great at the physical play when the series got pretty intense in the playoffs and it was clear they were targeting him. He not only took it, he gave it back. It was impressive to see him raise his game at a time of year when it matters most, which is playoff hockey.
"You watch the NHL playoffs and you see how intense it can be and then you look at the way he plays, and you can see that that game translates."
It sure does.
Whether he can be a big-time point producer in the NHL remains to be seen, but it's clear Dach is the kind of player whose game is better suited for the playoffs than the regular season. And we're seeing why.
Jonathan Toews was dominant in Game 1's 6-4 win and he was back at it in Game 3. But, with the special teams woes the Oilers have been causing the Hawks in touting a power play that was No. 1 in the NHL at the time of the pause and a penalty kill that was No. 2, not to mention the top two points leaders in the league during the regular season (Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid), Chicago needed some unlikely heroes to emerge in the series.
Enter Blackhawks defensemen Connor Murphy, Olli Maatta and Slater Koekkoek.
With Game 3 tied 3-3 and just 1:16 remaining early Thursday morning, Murphy fired a wrist shot to put the Hawks ahead. It even appeared as if he scored the goal himself at first, but Toews was credited with his second goal of the game on the play and Murphy with the primary assist. The D-man finished Game 3 with a +/- rating of +1 in 21:55 of ice time.
"Just a lucky bounce," a modest Murphy said of his play that helped the Blackhawks take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, having the Oilers facing elimination in Friday's Game 4. "Didn’t throw (a) hard one at the net. I saw Tazer had good position. He was all alone in front, should be able to get a tip on it. ... Just those last minutes of games, every faceoff’s so huge, obviously that one being a big one to get a shot off."
Koekkoek got the primary assist on Matthew Highmore's first career postseason goal which tied the game 3-3 at 14:13 of the third.
Maatta scored the first goal of the game 9:14 into the opening frame off a pass from Patrick Kane and picked up the secondary assist on Highmore's goal.
"He's got experience from playing in the playoffs, it's nice to have that, and he's done a great job defensively, killing penalties and he's calm back there," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said of Maatta, who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins before coming to the Hawks, after the game. "He's been able to chip in offensively, too, that's always a bonus. Our D as a whole are doing a great job of getting pucks through and getting it to the net, and we're going to need to continue to do that."
Maatta has a two-game goal streak in the series and he and his D-partner, Koekkoek, were the only blueliners in Game 2's 6-3 loss with a positive +/- rating (+2). Maatta had one goal in Game 2 and Koekkoek a goal and an assist.
"I think we do a great job whenever we get in the zone, our forwards do a great job holding onto the puck. That makes them collapse a little bit. They do a good job of giving us the puck with a little more time. It hasn't been only me and Kooks," Maatta said of the Hawks blueline's contributions to the series. "It's been Haaner (Calvin de Haan) and Murph and Duncs (Duncan Keith) and Boqi (Adam Boqvist). They're getting pucks through and it feels like every time we get it to the net our forwards are in good position, battling for them, getting rebounds, getting tips. It makes it tough for them."
According to Murphy, with the way the Blackhawks' forwards and D have been effectively collaborating in the offensive zone, it's best for Chicago's defensemen to just keep firing pucks on net when they can.
"It’s always part of your game plan," Murphy said. "Especially our forwards draw good attention when they’re entering the zone, knowing that we’ve got a lot of firepower in them, a lot of skill and strength. They do a good job of drawing wingers down to them. It leaves a couple of open shots. Kooks and Olli have been hot lately and have really smart shots they get through, go in. That’s always a good plan."