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Dolphins encouraged by resurgent ground game

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Dolphins encouraged by resurgent ground game

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Reggie Bush's vantage point was from behind. Carrying the ball on a sweep, he happily followed 303-pound pulling center Mike Pouncey, who led the way like a runaway bulldozer.

``I knew it was going to be a big play,'' Bush said.

It ended in the end zone. The 21-yard touchdown run showed that when the Miami Dolphins get their ground game going, they can be hard to stop.

For the first time since Week 3, the Dolphins topped 100 yards rushing Sunday in their 24-21 victory over Seattle. While Ryan Tannehill led a fourth-quarter comeback and Dan Carpenter kicked the winning field goal on the final play, the resurgent running attack was an unsung hero - and cause for encouragement heading into December.

``All week we talked about getting back to Miami Dolphin football - running the ball well, getting 4 or 5 yards, and the big runs will come,'' Bush said. ``We really talked about controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.''

That they did. Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks' 1,000-yard rusher, netted only 46 yards in 19 carries for a season-low 2.4 per attempt. Miami outrushed Seattle 189 yards to 96.

That's the sort of differential coach Joe Philbin envisions as a winning formula for the Dolphins. With a rookie quarterback and so-so secondary, he figures the ground game and rushing defense should be Miami's strengths.

``It's important for us to be a good running football team, and a good defend-the-run team,'' Philbin said.

Running the ball might be mandatory for Miami to keep up with high-scoring New England on Sunday. The Dolphins (5-6) are unlikely to catch the Patriots (8-3) in the AFC East, but they're only a game out in the race for the conference's final wild-card spot.

``Every game is a playoff game from now on out,'' linebacker Kevin Burnett said. ``Now is the time.''

The Dolphins are ready to make a run at it, with a ground game that has become a two-back attack. Bush and Daniel Thomas have been alternating series in recent weeks, and against Seattle the tandem clicked.

Bush, who had just 82 yards in the previous three games, did his best work on the flanks. He made the most of Pouncey's uncommon agility on the touchdown run and finished with 87 yards in 14 carries. Thomas, working mostly between the tackles, added 60 in nine carries.

Combined they averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

``We definitely wanted to set a tone,'' Thomas said. ``We haven't been running the ball too well lately.''

The Dolphins' ground attack was potent at the start of the season but then stalled, a major reason they took a three-game losing streak into the Seahawks game.

Blocking was much improved Sunday, and the backs were tough to bring down, Philbin said after reviewing videotape of the game.

``Everybody offensively should take a look at this tape and see what we're capable of doing,'' he said. ``We haven't been doing that consistently enough, clearly. The other tapes we've showed would tell you that. We just need to continue.''

The same goes for a run defense that led the NFL a month into the season, then allowed the next five opponents to average 132 yards per game.

``Some people may have felt we were slipping a little bit,'' defensive end Jared Odrick said, ``and we were.''

Seattle netted only 96 yards rushing, including 38 by Russell Wilson on quarterback scrambles.

Even so, Philbin said, there's room for improvement across the board - the spin expected from a coach about to face Tom Brady and the Patriots. Against a team averaging an NFL-best 37 points per game, Miami will need stingy run defense, a clock-eating ground game and more.

``We've got an excellent team coming to town,'' Philbin said. ``We're going to have to play our best game of the year to win. We're going to have to improve. We're not inventing a brand new offense, defense or special teams to win this game. We have to get better from within, and we've got to do it quickly.''

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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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