Capitals

Lambeau not quite so hostile in recent playoffs

Lambeau not quite so hostile in recent playoffs

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The Green Bay Packers have the Minnesota Vikings right where they want them.

Or do they?

The Vikings (10-6) visit Lambeau Field for Saturday night's NFC wild card, and no place in the NFL has been tougher to play over the last three years. Green Bay (11-5) has won all but two of its last 28 regular-season home games, and its 22 home wins since the start of the 2010 season are one better than both New England and Baltimore.

But Lambeau hasn't been quite so fearsome in the postseason lately, with the Packers losing their last two home playoff games (both to the New York Giants) and three of their last four.

In fact, all four of the Packers' losses in home playoff games have come in the last six played at Lambeau.

``Home-field advantage, I know statistically it may not be what it used to be, but to me there's no place better to play than at Lambeau Field. I love everything about it,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ``Definitely we feel it's an advantage to have our crowd behind us, the surface that we play on. ... It will be a great atmosphere.''

Few teams have better fan bases than the Packers, the only publicly owned team in professional sports. To be from Wisconsin is to be a Packers fan, and loyalty has nothing to do with the won-loss record. The entire state comes to a standstill on Sunday afternoons, and Lambeau has been sold out since 1960 (the only blackouts in Green Bay have to do with electricity). Parents put their children on the waiting list for season tickets when they're born in hopes they'll get them by their 40th birthday, and Wisconsin kids talk about Aaron, B.J., Clay and Charles as if they're their best buddies at school.

``I'd rather be at home, I think anybody would,'' Clay Matthews said Wednesday. ``I mean, that's what you play for ... (to) make teams come into your backyard. Especially with us. We like to think living in this environment, playing in this environment, it plays to us well. "

Weather is behind much of the Green Bay advantage, to say nothing of its mystique.

Buffalo may have more snow, and the wind off Lake Michigan makes for some downright nasty conditions at Soldier Field. But the average temperature in Green Bay doesn't crack the freezing mark from December through February, and the thought of the Ice Bowl creeps into the minds of every opponent when they see a winter game at Lambeau on the schedule.

Temperature at kickoff for that 1967 NFL championship was 13 below, with a wind chill of minus-46. It was so cold the officials' whistles froze, and one fan died of exposure.

``You learn to live with it,'' said Matthews, who endured quite a shock when he arrived in Green Bay from sunny southern California. ``You can't avoid the elements out here.''

Saturday's game will feel like a heat wave by comparison to the Ice Bowl, with lows in the mid-teens, a wind chill near zero. And the weather in Minnesota is equally brutal, though the Vikings play indoors.

But feeling your nostrils freeze as you sprint to and from your car is a lot different than spending 3 1/2 hours in mind-numbing, finger-freezing cold on a regular basis.

``It's something that you have to be prepared for mentally,'' said Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who grew up in Texas and played at Florida State. ``I don't know how well you can prepare for it.''

And yet, the Packers haven't done much with that home-field advantage recently.

It was Atlanta - a Southern team! - that gave Green Bay its first home playoff loss, in the 2002 NFC wild card. Two years later, the Vikings beat the Packers at Lambeau in their only other playoff matchup.

The Giants were more fit for the ``Frozen Tundra'' in the 2007 NFC Championship, beating the Packers in overtime in the second-coldest game at Lambeau Field. Last year, New York knocked the top-seeded Packers out at home.

Oh, and two years ago, when Green Bay won the Super Bowl? The Packers did it on the road, playing the entire postseason away from Lambeau Field.

``I'm not opposed to playing here. Obviously with our crowd and our fans, that's what we want as a team,'' Greg Jennings said. ``But going on the road, being isolated away from everyone, I think the focus level and the sense of urgency is just a little tad higher. Because you're dependent on your teammate. You travel, you're in a hotel, you're all together. It's you guys against everyone else outside of that hotel. So it's a little different.''

These aren't the same Packers that lost those other postseason games at Lambeau, either. Mike Sherman was coaching the Packers when they lost to Atlanta and Minnesota. That first loss to the Giants was Brett Favre's last game as a Packer.

``It hasn't worked out for us lately,'' Jennings said. ``But it's a different year.''

Notes: WR Jordy Nelson (knee) practiced Wednesday and said he plans to play against the Vikings. ... DE Jerel Worthy will not play the rest of the season after injuring his knee last Sunday in Minnesota. ... WR Jarrett Boykin (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday, but McCarthy said the injury isn't as bad as initially feared.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Remembering the other series-clinching goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov

Remembering the other series-clinching goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov

When you think about Evgeny Kuznetsov in the playoffs, most probably think of his overtime-winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018 that ended the series and handed Washington a long-awaited victory over its archrival. But that wasn’t the first series-clinching goal Kuznetsov scored.

Before the Stanley Cup was brought to Washington, before the bird celebration, there was another epic moment of Kuznetsov’s career that now feels overshadowed by the 2018 run.

In 2015, the Caps returned to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. They entered the postseason as the second-place team in the Metropolitan Division, drawing the third-place New York Islanders in the first round.

A back-and-forth series, it ultimately went the distance with Game 7 being played in Washington. As even as the series had been, the Caps dominated that Game 7, suffocating the Islanders and giving up only 11 shots on goal. Joel Ward put Washington ahead 1-0, but Frans Nielsen tied it early in the third period. Despite the dominant defensive performance, Jaroslav Halak (remember him?) would not allow the Caps to the chance to put the game away.

Just when it began to feel as if Halak was going to steal away another Game 7 from the Caps, a young Russian center in just his first full NHL season took over.

With less than eight minutes remaining in the third period, Kuznetsov took a pass along the half wall, showed Frans Nielsen his back and when Nielsen bit, he spun and cut to the center of the ice. Nielsen was caught a step behind and whacked Kuznetsov in desperation, actually diving to the ice to try to keep him from breaking loose. In one slick move Kuznetsov had cut through the Islanders’ defense and was in alone on net. Halak went down to the butterfly as Kuznetsov cut to center, but Kuznetsov showed incredible patience and did not immediately shoot. Suddenly, Halak was committed and helpless. He dove to his right desperately holding up the glove as Kuznetsov kept gliding across the ice, but Halak had left too much of the net open by going down too soon and Kuznetsov hit the corner.

With 7:18 remaining in the game and the series, Kuznetsov had given the Caps the 2-1 lead.

The series was a breakout performance for Kuznetsov who returned the following season and earned a top-six role, something not all that easy for young players to do under head coach Barry Trotz. It also gave a franchise still bearing the scars of Halak’s 2010 upset a measure of revenge.

And the rest is history.

What heroics does Kuznetsov have in store for the Islanders on Saturday when the two teams meet at 1 p.m.? Tune in to NBC Sports Washington at 12 p.m. for coverage.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Whether it's good or bad, nothing the Wizards do is subtle. 

They'll score a million points and give up two million points. They'll beat the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics without Bradley Beal but also blow an 18-point fourth quarter lead to the Bulls. 

The Wizards had some turnover issues Friday night, but again, they're never subtle. 

Washington committed 28 turnovers on the way to a 29-point loss. Following the first seven minutes of play, the Wizards had seven turnovers and seven points. 

The last time the Wizards turned the ball over that much was April 2, 1994, in a 104-96 win over the Bucks. The last time an NBA team turned it over 28 times? The 2010 Suns. 

Nine Wizards players had multiple turnovers, while five players had at least three. 

Following Bradley Beal's comments criticizing the team's culture and need to develop winning habits, the Wizards' response left more than enough to be desired. Credit the Raptors defense utilizing their length and ball pressure to take advantage of when the Wizards were loose with the ball, but it takes more than good defense to turn it over 28 times. 

The bright side is this was an uncharacteristic performance for the Wizards. They currently average the 10th-fewest turnovers per game in the NBA, so there's a good chance they clean things up on Monday against the Pistons. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: