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Cancer patient gets wish, Giants play like champs

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Cancer patient gets wish, Giants play like champs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) A week off, some rest and a poignant plea from a 15-year-old cancer patient got the New York Giants back on track.

Now the rest of the NFL has something to worry about. The Giants are playing like world champions again.

A refreshed Eli Manning came back from the bye week and threw three touchdown passes as the Giants embarrassed Aaron Rodgers and the streaking Green Bay Packers 38-10 on Sunday night.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak and gave the Giants (7-4) a two-game lead in the NFC East with five games left in the regular season. The dominating performance also ended a five-game winning streak for the Packers (7-4), who fell a game behind Chicago in the NFC North.

``We just had to go out there with a lot of confidence and play like we are capable,'' Giants center David Baas said. ``I felt we did that. We showed everybody. People that counted us out, they better wake up.''

No one was more pleased with the Giants than Adam Merchant. The 15-year-old fan from Barre, Vt., attended Friday's practice and Sunday's game, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Merchant spoke to the team after practice and seemed to remind them what it's all about.

``I told them to go out and play like world champs,'' he said, sitting at a locker next to defensive captain Justin Tuck.

When asked why he gave the message, he shot back:

``Because we really needed to go out and play like world champs.''

Against the Packers, the Giants did.

Manning, who had not thrown a touchdown in three games, had scoring strikes of 16 yards to rookie Rueben Randle, 9 yards to Victor Cruz and 13 to Hakeem Nicks. The last one gave him 200 for his career, breaking the team record held by Phil Simms.

``The thing I'm most proud of tonight is the way we played and getting a win,'' said Manning, who was 16 of 30 for 249 yards. ``This was a big game, we needed to come out and play well and get a win. We finally got back to playing offense, defense, special teams, all of us playing at a high level, playing as a team, and hopefully we can build off of this momentum.''

Everybody seemed to contribute. Ahmad Bradshaw ran 13 yards for a touchdown and went 59-yards with a screen pass to set up Andre Brown's 2-yard TD run on the opening drive.

The defense sacked Rodgers five times and set up 10 points with Corey Webster's pick leading to Lawrence Tynes' field goal and Osi Umenyiora's strip-sack and Jason Pierre-Paul's 10-yard return setting up Bradshaw's TD run that gave New York a 31-10 lead.

The 31 points were the most scored by the Giants in a half this season, and it pretty much decided the game.

The only negative was Brown broke his left leg in the second half and his season looks done.

The Packers were done before that, at as far as this game.

``I think this is a game that makes everybody look inside and find out what you're about,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. ``I haven't felt like this since the first game I coached as a Green Bay Packers head coach. Beaten very thoroughly tonight. It doesn't taste good. It doesn't feel good.''

Rodgers got Green Bay off to a great start, connecting with Jordy Nelson on a 61-yard scoring pass on its first series. There was little else to celebrate in a game where he finished 14 of 25 for 219 yards, an interception and a lost fumble.

``You win five in a row and everyone is happy, but like I said last year during the run, there are things that go under the radar that need to be handled,'' Rodgers said ``Sometimes it takes a loss. ... We need to remember this feeling and not have this kind of embarrassment happen again.

The Packers were missing such key starters as linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive back Charles Woodson and receiver Greg Jennings, and it showed as they were manhandled by the Giants for the second straight time. New York beat them 37-20 in the NFC semifinal, a game some Packers said they lost more than the Giants won.

This one, there was no doubt who was the better team.

``We went out there and proved it,'' Merchant said.

Manning was impressed with the way Merchant handled himself, saying players felt it was special that the youngster had one wish and chose to spend time with the Giants.

``He had the opportunity to come out and talk to the team, so Coach Coughlin does a great job and all the players do a great job of making him feel welcome and fired up,'' Manning said. ``It can be kind of nerve-racking to come talk to your favorite team and have a little pep talk, but he did a great job and he said to go show everybody you're the world champions and why you're the world champions and play that way. I think it got everybody fired up and obviously we came out and played the way that we know we can.''

The Giants never trailed after Manning's touchdown pass to Randle, the first of his career. Webster's interception set up Tynes' field goal for a 17-7 lead and Cruz capped a 61-yard drive early in the second quarter to push the lead to 24-7.

A short field goal by Mason Crosby got Green Bay within two touchdowns, but Umenyiora's forced fumble set up Bradshaw's TD run and the game was over by halftime.

NOTES: The Giants lost safety Kenny Phillips with a knee injury in the third quarter. He was making his first appearance since Week 4. ... Giants right tackle David Diehl sustained a stinger in the first half. ... Green Bay lost safety M.D. Jennings (rib), DE C.J. Wilson (knee), and RB Johnny White (concussion). ... Giants tight end Martellus Bennett caught a fan who leaned too far over the lower railing trying to grab a glove Bennett was giving a child after the game. The fan was arrested.

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the game. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

 

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5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.

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