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49ers leading Cardinals 7-0 after 1 quarter

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49ers leading Cardinals 7-0 after 1 quarter

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Alex Smith threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree, giving the San Francisco 49ers a 7-0 lead over the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter Monday night.

San Francisco had its way with Arizona's defense early, rolling up 113 yards in the first quarter of a rare game with the roof open at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The 49ers stalled out in their first drive, thanks to a facemask penalty, but moved 77 yards in 10 plays on their scoring drive.

Smith kept it going after a holding penalty by hitting Delanie Walker on a 23-yard pass to Arizona's 10. Two plays later, Smith threw a quick pass to Crabtree, who grabbed the ball above the head of cornerback Patrick Peterson for the score.

Arizona got off to a good start, with running back LaRod Stephens-Howling breaking free for a 24-yard reception on a screen pass in the Cardinals' first play. Like so many Cardinals drives this season, the progress fizzled out and the drive ended when John Skelton threw a pass that was nearly intercepted.

Arizona's second drive was even worse: three and out with a false-start penalty, minus-7 yards.

The Cardinals' start was no surprise; Monday nights have been a horror show for them since moving to the desert in 1988.

Arizona has lost seven of eight under the spotlight and the last two were memorably ugly for what happened after the game.

In 2006, Cardinals' coach Dennis Green had one of the NFL's biggest meltdowns, shouting ``They are who we thought they were!'' during his postgame news conference after a loss to the Bears.

Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson did his best Green imitation in 2010, when he shouted ``Nothing's funny to me!'' after a reporter repeatedly asked him why he was smiling during the closing seconds of blowout loss to the 49ers - Arizona's last game on Monday Night Football.

On the field, this NFC West showdown figured to be a physical beatdown.

For one, these two teams don't like each other much, trading insults before the games, blows once they started.

They also have two of the NFL's best defenses, aggressive units that try to knock opponents senseless.

The 49ers came in with the league's best defense, a punch-you-in-the-mouth group led by a dominating front seven that includes three All-Pros: defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

San Francisco entered Monday night's game tied with Chicago for the NFL's best scoring defense, allowing 14.3 points per game, and has held three teams to 115 yards passing or less.

Arizona has the NFL's seventh overall defense and is third in scoring at 16.9 points per game. The Cardinals have been an opportunistic bunch, too, creating 15 turnovers the first seven games.

Arizona got the first good lick against San Francisco in the first quarter, when cornerback Patrick Peterson laid out 49ers receiver Mario Manningham on a screen pass.

The 49ers pushed right back, rolling over the Cardinals' defense on their scoring drive while their defense stifled one of the NFL's worst offenses in two opening drives, holding Arizona to 22 total yards.

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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