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Falcons will play regular season finale to win

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Falcons will play regular season finale to win

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith rewarded his players with three days off after they earned the NFC's top seed.

As Smith sees it, the Falcons need as much rest as possible before they host a divisional round game in three weeks.

``It is a grind through four preseason games and 16 regular season games,'' Smith said on Sunday. ``If you're fortunate enough to play in that second season, you want to be as fresh as you can be.''

When Atlanta (13-2) returns to practice on Wednesday, Smith will begin to determine how much the starters will play when Tampa Bay (6-9) visits the Georgia Dome next Sunday.

Some decisions might not be made until late in the week, but it seems unlikely that quarterback Matt Ryan and other valuable starters will take every snap against the Buccaneers.

Either way, Smith wants to see how focused his players are in practice.

If they prepare as well as they did before blowing out the New York Giants two weeks ago and taking a 31-18 victory Saturday night at Detroit, the Falcons should be able to build a quick lead on Tampa Bay.

But that was hardly the case at Carolina on Dec. 9 when Atlanta played a sloppy game - offensively, defensively and on special teams - for the first time this season.

The Falcons were coming off an emotional home victory over New Orleans the week before to win the NFC South title, but they looked lethargic against the Panthers.

Smith said the team can't afford to waste the Tampa Bay game as an opportunity to improve.

``We're going to play the game to win,'' he said. ``That's how we're going to approach it. All games are important, and in terms of the importance, does it have no bearing? It really does because we want to win every time we go out and play.''

Except for an unproductive third quarter at Detroit, Atlanta essentially dominated the Lions by following a script that's worked well this season - start fast, win the turnover margin, avoid penalties and close with a flourish.

In the first half, Ryan completed 15 of 16 passes for 184 yards, Roddy White outran the coverage on two long touchdown catches and Julio Jones scored the third TD by getting both feet down in the back of the end zone.

Another reason the Falcons led 21-6 at halftime: Fumbles forced by Corey Peters and John Abraham and recovered by Peria Jerry and Robert McClain.

The offense followed each takeaway with a touchdown.

``We had to come out here and win this game,'' Jones said. ``We slipped up against Carolina looking at their record and everything. And this is another team that doesn't have a really good record but I mean it's the NFL. We've got to come out here and play every (time).''

Turnovers weren't the only means for success on defense. Late in the first quarter, cornerback Dunta Robinson stopped Kevin Smith 10 yards short of a first down to force a field goal. Early in the fourth, Peters tackled quarterback Matthew Stafford 2 yards short to force another field goal.

Ryan and the offense used up all but 12 seconds of the next 10-plus minutes - the only Detroit snap ending with Asante Samuel's interception - to take a 15-point lead.

``I thought we did a great job of it on that (second) drive in the fourth quarter,'' Ryan said. ``We converted a couple of third downs, kept it going and were able to punch it in. That was a huge momentum changer.''

If the Falcons can keep their momentum going with sharp focus in practice next week, Smith believes they won't suffer a letdown similar to the one that torpedoed their 2010 season with a blowout loss to Green Bay in the playoffs.

Atlanta had the No. 1 seed then, too, but Smith plans to change the practice routine after the Tampa Bay game. He indicated that players seemed overworked two years ago during the playoff bye week.

``We'll handle it differently with our workload and the days that we're going to work during our bye week and what our schedule will be,'' Smith said. ``We're not going to do anything like we did the last time.''

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3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

Nicklas Backstrom scored with less than seven seconds remaining to give the Capitals the 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday in a preseason preview of the regular-season opener. Radko Gudas and Richard Panik also scored.

Here are three players who impressed for the Caps.

1. Richard Panik

Panik got plenty of practice on the penalty kill with 4:16 of shorthanded ice time shorthanded. In that time he gave a glimpse of why he was so coveted by the Caps as a free agent.

In the first period, Panik pounced on a loose puck at the top of the faceoff circle in the defensive zone. Seeing he had room to work with, he did not just clear it down the ice and instead elected to skate up with it. He fought off the backcheck from Tyler Bozak through the neutral zone, drew an additional two Blues players to him, then drew a holding call from Bozak because he would not give up the puck.

Panik's 4:16 of penalty kill time was more than top penalty killer Carl Hagelin's 2:26, though the fact that Hagelin took two minors on the night probably had something to do with it.

Late in the game, Panik was also added to the power play as a sixth attacker with the goalie pulled. He would score the game-tying goal with just 1:09 left in regulation.

2. The goalies

Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov both played about a half of the game. It is really hard to evaluate a goalie on just 30 minutes of work, so I will give a shoutout to both as both played very well.

Vanecek got the start. He looked a little awkward at first, but settled in as the game went along for a solid performance. He stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced with the only goal he allowed a weird deflection off of Brett Leason’s skate.

Samsonov took over about halfway through the second period and within minutes found himself defending the net on a 5-on-3 penalty kill. The penalty killers helped out their young netminder allowing only one shot on goal, but it was a good one. Colton Parayko one-timed a slap shot, but Samsonov was there to stop with no rebound. Soon after the penalty was over, Vladimir Tarasenko was all alone in front of the net, but was denied by Samsonov’s who stretched the blocker to deny the high shot.

Sanford scores on the PP. Samsonov wasn't tight against the post. Showed him too much daylight and Sanford made him pay.

Samsonov finished with 11 saves on 12 shots.

3. Connor McMichael

Boy, somebody got a confidence boost from Monday’s game. 

McMichael was given a second preseason game as a reward for his solid performance on Monday and he definitely showed off the confidence that comes along with being a first-round draft pick.

In the first period, McMichael found himself all alone with the puck on a mini-breakaway on Jordan Binnington. Just a reminder, this is the Binnington who was the starting goalie for the Stanley Cup champions.

So what did McMichael do? He skated to the front and tried the stick between the legs shot. It may not have worked, but you have to respect the confidence this kid had just to try, though no doubt the coaches probably had a few words for him in the locker room about it.

There was one area in which McMichael struggled, however, and that was on the faceoff where he lost all five draws he took on the night.

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WNBA Semifinals: Aces at Mystics - Game 2: Date, time, TV channel, live stream how to watch

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WNBA Semifinals: Aces at Mystics - Game 2: Date, time, TV channel, live stream how to watch

After a thrilling back-and-forth contest to start the WNBA Semifinals, the Washington Mystics and Elena Delle Donne are back in action to host the Las Vegas Aces for Game 2.

Washington took Game 1 97-95 over Las Vegas in their first game in nine days to start the series. Rusty and stuttering out of the gate, the Mystics were able to gut out a win after an explosive run in the third and early fourth quarter. 

Emma Meesseman (27 points) led the charge for Washington. In the third quarter, she took over the game totaling 13 of the team's 26 points and got the Mystics back in control of the contest. Elena Delle Donne finished with 24 points and hit the game-clinching basket in the final minute of regulation.

A'ja Wilson had 23 points in a losing effort, despite playing all but three minutes. Off the bench, Kelsey Plum emerged with 16 points to give the Aces an additional spark. 

Game 2 is on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. The best-of-five series features the high-powered and No. 1 seeded Mystics against the most defensively sound squad in the No. 4 seeded Aces.

The Aces entered the series with a ton of momentum, fresh off one of the craziest wins in WNBA history. They gut-punched the top seed in the opening half and nearly stole it in the closing seconds. Nevertheless, it appears the Mystics with the third-best offense in the WNBA's existence found their footing and will be better prepared for Game 2. 

ACES VS. MYSTICS GAME 2:

Who: Las Vegas Aces at Washington Mystics

What: WNBA Semifinals Game 2

When: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington D.C.

TV Channel: ESPN2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

MYSTICS vs. ACES WNBA SEMIFINALS SCHEDULE:

Game 1: Mystics 97, Aces 95 (Mystics lead 1-0)

Game 2: Thurs, Sept. 19: Aces at Mystics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 3: Sun, Sept. 22: Mystics at Aces, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 4: Tue, Sept 24: Mystics at Aces, Time TBD, ESPN2 (if necessary)

Game 5: Thurs, Sept. 26: Aces at Mystics, Time TBD, ESPN2 (if necessary)

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