Capitals

Biermann steps forward as starting DE for Falcons

Biermann steps forward as starting DE for Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Ray Edwards' loss is Kroy Biermann's gain for the Atlanta Falcons.

Biermann took over as a starting defensive end earlier this week after the Falcons cut Edwards, but the move was a bit ceremonial.

Biermann had already started three times at left end ahead Edwards, whose goodwill expired after he managed no sacks in nine games this year and just 3.5 in 16 games last season.

Right end John Abraham, the NFL's active career sacks leader, believes Biermann deserves the job full-time.

``He'll do whatever they want him to do,'' Abraham said. ``He's just a great all-around guy and he has no stipulations about what he will and will not do.''

That didn't seem to be the case with Edwards, who had a combined 16.5 sacks in his last two years before leaving Minnesota as a free agent.

Edwards' inability to fit in, however, no longer concerns tackle Jonathan Babineaux, the longest-tenured Falcons defensive player at eight years.

``You've just got to move on, you know?'' Babineaux said. ``It's unfortunate that the situation happened. I don't know to what extent or why it happened, but I'm a player. I do what I'm told. That's why we have management, GMs and a team president to take care of stuff like that.''

Biermann, who started 14 games in 2010, originally lost the left end job last year when the NFL lockout ended and Atlanta signed Edwards to a contract with $11 million guaranteed.

But after watching Biermann flourish in the scheme designed by first-year defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons decided that Edwards was no longer needed in a diminished role.

Biermann, who's never missed a game since getting drafted in the fifth round of '08, is eager to show that he's worthy of the promotion. He has eight tackles for lost yardage and two sacks.

``I approach my job the same every day and that is to come here, work hard, get better and do whatever I can to help this team win,'' Biermann said. ``Being asked to do multiple positions and cover kicks and play the game of football, however I can contribute and help this organization, I'm glad to do it.''

Cliff Matthews and rookie Jonathan Massaquoi also are likely play additional snaps when Atlanta (8-1) hosts Arizona (4-5) on Sunday.

Matthews has earned playing time by making the most of his chances in practice. A seventh-round pick from South Carolina last year, Matthews was inactive for every game as a rookie and has been used sparingly in just four games this season.

Massaquoi, a fifth-round pick from Troy, has been active for just one game. He is listed as the third-string right end with fourth-year veteran Lawrence Sidbury second-string.

``They are all young guys that have not done the job yet,'' Nolan said. ``They are talented young guys. They work well in practice. They've shown the ability to at least get the shot to do the job of playing defensive end. But all three of them are guys that we're hoping to develop, and we've got to start that process at some time so it looks like it will be it.''

Edwards' departure means that the Falcons use a committee to complement Abraham, their only elite pass rusher since left end Patrick Kerney signed with Seattle as a free agent in 2007.

Kerney left Atlanta as the franchise's No. 3 career leader in sacks. The Falcons drafted Jamaal Anderson as his successor, but he never came close to justifying getting drafted eighth overall in 2007.

Anderson managed just 3.5 sacks in four seasons, lost the job to Biermann in Week 2 of 2010 and was cut in training camp last year.

``I really don't worry about who's on my other side so much anymore,'' Abraham said. ``Being 13 years in the league, not having I guess a big-name guy beside really doesn't matter. My teammates here have done a great job and have helped me on the field. I know my main priority is to get to the quarterback so I really don't rationalize about having anyone else around me.''

Now it's Biermann's turn. He has played a variety of roles under Nolan, even lining up deep at safety for snaps that confused quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Michael Vick in wins over Denver and Philadelphia.

``It's been fun and it's something obviously they wouldn't be doing if they didn't feel comfortable,'' Biermann said. ``They're not going to put anybody out there in the position that they're going to make a fool out of them. It was kind of a touch-and-go thing on both sides. They had to feel me out, and I had to feel the scheme out. Things have continued to evolve, and it's been good so far.''

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.