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Jackson's injury leads to Spiller Time in Buffalo

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Jackson's injury leads to Spiller Time in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) The only thing C.J. Spiller was running out of in Buffalo was the patience needed to answer the near-weekly round of questions of why he wasn't more involved in the Bills' offense.

``Pretty much, because, I don't know what else you all want me to say,'' Spiller said. ``I can only carry the ball when my number's called.''

Spiller should get accustomed to hearing his No. 28 called far more often over the final three games.

That's because ``Spiller Time'' has finally arrived after co-starting running back Fred Jackson was placed on the season-ending injured reserve Tuesday because of a sprained right knee.

Spiller doesn't enjoy the circumstances behind why he'll be getting more playing time. And yet, he's up to the challenge as Buffalo (5-8) prepares to ``host'' the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at Toronto on Sunday.

``I'm not necessarily eager. I'm just eager to try to see what I can do to try to help us win,'' Spiller said. ``It's time for every playmaker on this team to rise up a little bit, including myself. So I definitely have to take it to another notch.''

Another notch might take his game to an unprecedented level.

With 944 yards on 144 carries, Spiller is averaging 6.55 yards per run. That's the NFL's highest total through 13 games since 1963, when Hall of Famer Jim Brown averaged 6.61 yards per carry with the Cleveland Browns.

Spiller insists he has nothing to prove to anyone whether he's getting 20-plus carries or just seven as happened in a 15-12 loss to St. Louis last weekend.

``My teammates know what I can do. My coaches know what I can do. I know what I can do as an individual. The only thing you have to prove is wins,'' Spiller said. ``I'm not in the business to try to please `Joe Blow' down the street because he wants me to carry the ball 30 times. That's not what we're all about.''

Spiller has been the Bills' most dynamic threat this season. And he's finally playing up to the expectations the team saw in drafting him with the ninth pick in 2010.

He leads the team with five touchdowns rushing and is on the verge of his first 1,000-yard season. Also a threat in the passing attack, Spiller has 34 catches for 354 yards and a score.

Spiller's production, however, has been overshadowed by lingering questions and criticisms of coach Chan Gailey, and why the running back isn't on the field more often for an offense that could certainly use a spark.

Spiller has had 15 or more carries this only twice this season, with a career-best 22 for 91 yards in a 19-14 win over Miami on Nov. 15. There have been far more times when Spiller's seemingly been overlooked, such as last week when he had only three carries in the second half.

Gailey explained Spiller's time was limited because of how the running back rotation was split with Jackson, who had nine carries. And he defended the need for having a rotation as an opportunity to keep both of his running backs fresh.

``They're both great players, and neither one of them are going to get it as much as they want,'' Gailey said. ``You could look at it and say there's a couple of plays I wish (Spiller) was in there on. And there were a couple of plays I wish Fred was in there on to be perfectly honest.''

That rotation is now out the window with Jackson hurt.

Gailey said Spiller will get a majority of playing time, with third-stringer Tashard Choice serving as the backup.

The two-back rotation is new to Gailey, an offensive-minded coach who has 18 years of NFL experience. In Dallas, he leaned on Emmitt Smith in 1998-99; in Pittsburgh, it was Jerome Bettis in the mid-90s; and in Denver, he was the offensive coordinator who had Bobby Humphrey break 1,100 yards in both 1989 and `90.

Gailey's philosophy changed last season when he was impressed by how Spiller closed the season averaging 74 yards over the final six games filling in for Jackson, who broke his right leg.

``We came into the season saying, `We've got two great backs, let's use them both, that way we may not wear one down,''' Gailey said. ``I'd do it again if I had to do it over.''

Spiller isn't going to argue.

``My style is I'll never go up there and beg, beg, beg for the ball, because I understand we've got a lot of playmakers out there,'' Spiller said. ``Everybody wants to try to make the play.

``I'm no different, but I'm not going to sit around and mope.''

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2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs opponent set: How Capitals fared vs. ex-coach Barry Trotz and Islanders

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs opponent set: How Capitals fared vs. ex-coach Barry Trotz and Islanders

Nearly 10 months after the Washington Capitals began their 2019-20 season, we finally know their Stanley Cup playoffs first-round opponent.

After defeating the Boston Bruins 2-1 on Sunday afternoon, Washington has earned the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and will face the New York Islanders in the first round.

The Islanders are a familiar foe for the Capitals. New York coach Barry Trotz led Washington to a Stanley Cup title in 2018. The two sides have faced one another seven times in the postseason, with the Islanders emerging victorious in five of those series. They have been chock full of famous moments from the Eastern Epic in 1987 to Dale Hunter's infamous hit on Pierre Turgeon in 1993 to a classic seven-game series in 2015. 

The 2020 matchup will be the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs since that 2015 series, when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a late goal in Game 7 at Capital One Arena to win it for Washington in Trotz's first year as head coach. The storylines in this one are endless as Trotz's former assistant, Todd Reirden, looks for his first playoff series win behind the bench.  

So, how have the Caps fared against the Islanders this season? Let's take a look...

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Capitals vs. Islanders: Season Series 2-2

Oct. 4, 2019: Capitals defeat Islanders, 2-1

Both T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana excelled for Washington, each notching a goal. Braden Holtby was stellar in net, too, allowing just one goal on the night as the Capitals held on to for a 2-1 road victory in the first matchup between the two sides this season.

Dec. 31, 2019: Islanders defeat Capitals, 4-3

The celebrations came a little early on New Year's Eve, as both the Caps and Isles each scored a pair of goals in the first period. However, New York would follow with another two-goal period, while the Caps would find the back of the net just once more on the day. Holtby struggled in net, allowing four goals and finishing with just 18 saves.

Jan. 18, 2020: Capitals defeat Islanders, 6-4

This game was arguably Washington's best victory of the entire 2020 season. Trailing 4-1 entering the third period, the Capitals answered with five (!!) goals in the final frame to knock off the Islanders, 6-4. Alex Ovechkin continued his incredible hot streak, finishing the game with another hat trick.

Feb. 10, 2020: Islanders defeat Capitals, 5-3

The final contest between these two teams was not a pretty one for netminder Ilya Samsonov. The rookie goaltender allowed five goals within the first two periods and was eventually replaced by Holtby after just a .750 save percentage. Bad news for New York, however, as Samsonov will miss the entire postseason due to injury.

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Caps claim round robin finale over Bruins to secure a first-round matchup with the Islanders

Caps claim round robin finale over Bruins to secure a first-round matchup with the Islanders

The Capitals are winless in the 2020 postseason no more. Washington defeated the Boston Bruins 2-0 on Sunday for their lone win in the round robin off of goals from T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson. The win secures third place for Washington and a first-round matchup with the New York Islanders.

Here is why the Caps won.

The penalty kill

The penalty kill was not tested nearly as much on Sunday as it was in Washington's game on Thursday, but it remained perfect as it killed off both of the Bruins' power plays on the day while allowing only one shot on goal.

In what has been largely a lackluster showing for Washington through the round robin, the penalty kill has been among the few bright spots and was a perfect 8 for 8 through three games.

Braden Holtby

Washington's best player through the round robin has been its netminder and that remained the case on Sunday. Holtby turned aside 30 of the 31 shots he faced for another strong performance in net. He was beaten only by Jake DeBrusk who caught Holtby by surprise by some fancy footwork to adjust to fire a quick shot on net.

Boston had a golden opportunity to tie the game at 1 in the second period as Charlie McAvoy cut through the middle for a 1-on-1 chance, but Holtby calmly stared him down and plucked the wrister out of the air with the glove.

RELATED: T.J. OSHIE'S REBOUND GOAL GETS THE CAPS ON THE BOARD VERSUS THE BRUINS

Team defense

Offensively, this was not a great game for the Caps. The team managed only two shots on goal through the first period. The offense was better as the game went along, finishing with 25 for the game, but there was not much to speak of early on. Still, it wasn't as if the Bruins were skating circles around them either.

Thursday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers was a pretty bad one in terms of team defense. The Flyers scored one goal off a turnover and two more off of defensive breakdowns. Washington's team defense was much improved on Sunday in what was a very conservative game.

Now, obviously the team has to find more of a balance -- you can't fire only two shots on goal in a period and hope to win many of those games -- but with defense being one of the team's major weaknesses heading into the playoffs, Sunday's game was certainly a step in the right direction.

Oshie's redemption

Washington's performance in the first period was not encouraging. The team had only one shot on goal late in the period, but Oshie had a golden opportunity late with a nice steal from McAvoy. Oshie saw McAvoy pinch in the offensive zone so he charged, chipped away the puck and launched a 2-on-1 in the other direction. Oshie carried the puck and called his own number, but missed the shot badly. It looked like he was trying to hit the corner, but missed by a good foot.

Oshie redeemed himself later in the period, however, as he beat Zdeno Chara to the puck on the doorstep and shot it home to give Washington the 1-0 lead. It was the Caps' second shot on goal of the period and it came in the final minute.

Wilson justifies Pastrnak's tweet

On July 28, David Pastrnak sent out a bizarre tweet declaring that Wilson was the best scorer in the league. I don't know about the entire league, but he was the best goal-scorer on Sunday with his insurance tally in the third period.

As Ilya Kovalchuk cleared the puck out of the defensive zone, Wilson sprinted down the ice to beat two Bruins and he claimed the puck behind the defense. He pulled the puck backhand to forehand and fired a quick shot off the post and into the top shelf. Goalie Tuukka Rask probably wishes he came out of the net to collect that puck, but he didn't and Wilson took advantage with a really nice looking goal.

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