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Colts enter December in position to make playoffs

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Colts enter December in position to make playoffs

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts have a rookie quarterback, an interim coach, a long injury list and one of the league's youngest teams.

It's not supposed to be a winning combination in the NFL, yet somehow Indianapolis finds itself making a surprise playoff push as the calendar turns toward December. And as the stakes increase, the Colts seem immune to late-season pressure.

They just expect to win.

``It's worked this far,'' interim coach Bruce Arians said Monday. ``Just because it's December, the price of poker has gone up but the process is still the same.''

Indy's veterans never bought into the conventional wisdom they had to be patient for this rebuilding project to work. Instead, Pro Bowlers like Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis immediately showed their cards by rejecting any mention of the R-word during the offseason.

The rest of the team went all in with the same message, even if everyone else considered it nothing more than a bluff.

There was good reason for doubts.

At this time last season, the Colts were still winless and positioning themselves to win the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. They finished a dismal 2-14, then blew up one of the NFL's most stable organizations by firing vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell, releasing Peyton Manning and cutting ties with a handful of other key veterans.

Twelve months later, with Luck behind center, only four AFC teams have better records than Indy (7-4) and the postseason has become a real possibility.

``All of our dreams are still alive. We write our own destiny and that's the biggest thing,'' defensive end Cory Redding said after Indy's latest victory, 20-13 over Buffalo. ``We don't have to rely on anybody else to get a win or get a loss. Our destiny is in our hands. It's up to us to just continue to do what we're doing, keep playing hard, keep working hard to just continue to stack wins and stay in this hunt.''

The secret to the Colts' success is simple: They are 5-1 at home, 6-1 in one-possession games and have not lost back-to-back games all season.

Luck is still on pace for a historic rookie year and has already matched the rookie win total of Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick and NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2010.

Wayne is charging toward the best statistical season of his NFL career at the age of 34.

And even the usually-maligned defense has continued to show improvement despite losing both of its starting cornerbacks to injuries during the past month and playing most of this season without Freeney and Mathis on the field at the same time. On Monday, Arians announced the Colts had lost yet another key contributor - defensive tackle Fili Moala, who is expected to go on season-ending injured reserve with a torn ACL.

Since coach Chuck Pagano took an indefinite leave to battle leukemia, the Colts are 6-2 and Arians has moved into a tie for seventh all-time in victories by coaches who have taken over during the season.

Some are already lobbying for Luck to be the rookie of the year, first-year general manager Ryan Grigson to be executive of the year and, yes, Arians as coach of the year.

But none of this has fazed the Colts.

``We understand the position we're in, but again, nothing has been accomplished yet,'' Luck said.

With five games to play, the Colts are in good position, too.

They are currently the AFC's No. 5 seed, one game ahead of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and at least two games ahead of everyone else in the playoff hunt.

Their remaining schedule includes three teams with losing records - Detroit (4-7) on Sunday, home against Tennessee (4-7) the following week and a Dec. 13 date at Kansas City. The other two games are against Houston, including the regular-season finale. By then the Texans may have clinched the conference's top seed and the Colts could have Pagano back on the sideline.

Still, Arians realizes it won't be an easy path.

``We're the type of team, we're going to be in a lot of close games and fortunately we've found a lot of ways to win them,'' he said. ``The big thing for us is to go on the road and protect the football and play good defense and bring those special teams with us on the road and see if we can play our best football on the road.''

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Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — To hear Alex Ovechkin tell it, Saturday night was a rough one for him.

“I have pretty good chances, but today, it was not my day,” Ovechkin said. “You can't score every night."

You wonder if Ovechkin watched the contest he just played in. He scored a goal for the sixth game in a row in a 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres. He had a game-high eight shots on goal. He set a new career-high point scoring streak (14 games). He had the goal that proved to be the winner in the shootout. He leads the NHL with 29 goals and no one else is even close. Things are going pretty well. 

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down. We’ve got to as a team really rally around that. When he’s playing that well you want to have guys really look at that and take it another level and fall in behind that.” 

Only five players age 33 or older have had a longer point streak than Ovechkin’s 14 games. His next goal will secure his 14th30-goal season. He has 23 points during this stretch (17 goals, six assists). You run out of superlatives. 

The same goes for his team. On the heels of a hat trick in Carolina on Friday, Ovechkin helped Washington to its fifth win in a row. The Capitals are 13-3 in their past 16 games and swept a back-to-back set with the Hurricanes and Sabres. Washington is 20-9-3 and with 43 points is six up on second place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. 

Things weren’t perfect on Saturday. The Sabres scored twice on the power play to make it 3-2 before Ovechkin tied it with a booming slap shot after a turnover at 13:46 of the second period. Pheonix Copley stopped 25 of 28 shots subbing for No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, but the penalty kill continues to tank. 

Buffalo scored twice on the power play to take the lead and the first goal of the game by rising star Jack Eichel came exactly two minutes after a Michal Kempny penalty. You can count that as another if you’d like. Close as it gets. Considering Washington coach Todd Reirden put Chandler Stephenson back into the lineup Saturday because of his prowess on the PK, that’s a bad sign. 

So there are things to work on. But the Capitals are in a good position in the standings. Their stars are scoring. Their injury situation has improved somewhat with defenseman Brooks Orpik on the way by the end of the month. It’s only mid December and there are 50 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat and the playoffs seem forever away. But, for now anyway, life is good.      

“It wasn’t an easy night, but definitely we worked for those last two win,” Connolly said. “It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is having fun, everyone is positive and happy. It’s always so much better when you’re winning.” 


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4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

Both Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals extended their streaks on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. Ovechkin's second period goal extended his point streak to 14 games, a career best, and Washington notched its fifth straight win.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

A quick response

Similar to Friday’s game in Carolina, the Caps yielded the first goal very early into the game as Jack Eichel scored less than three minutes in. Just 58 seconds later, however, Brett Connolly erased the deficit with a goal set up by the hard work of Devante Smith-Pelly.

Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton went to retrieve a puck behind the net, but Smith-Pelly pressured him on the forecheck and stole it away. He passed it to Connolly in front and he had an easy layup with Hutton out of the net.

Alex Ovechkin

He did it again.

You would think at this point there was nothing more Ovechkin could do to wow us, but you would be wrong. Though he did not continue his hat trick streak, Ovechkin did in fact extend his point streak to a career-high 14 games with a second period strike that tied the game at three.

Orlov broke up a breakout by Buffalo in the offensive zone and Nicklas Backstrom uickly fired a beautiful pass through traffic to find a wheeling Ovechkin who had plenty of time and space for the wind up to beat Hutton.

Ovechkin now has 17 goals and six assists over the 14-game streak. His goal was his league-leading 29th of the season.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ovechkin also scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

All eyes are on Ovechkin and his point streak, but Kuznetov is putting together a nice little point streak of his own. With an assist on Jakub Vrana’s first period goal, Kuznetsov extended his point streak to eight games. He has one goal and nine assists in that stretch. Kuznetsov also scored in the shootout.

A horrible miss

With about a minute left in the game and the score tied at 3, Sam Reinhart had the game on his stick. Jeff Skinner skated in to a sharp angle and fired a shot up high on Copley. Copley stopped it, but couldn’t control it and the puck rebound fell to Reinhart in the slot with an empty net yawning. Reinhart tried to fire the bouncing puck into the net, but instead hit it off the post behind a helpless Copley. Vrana got his stick down in a desperate attempt to block the shot, but it looked like he did not get a piece of it, Reinhart just could not control the puck enough to hit it home and score what would have almost certainly been the game-winning goal.

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