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.

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Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”

“Chokers.”

And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Ian Mahinmi's season...

Player: Ian Mahinmi

Position: Center

Age: 31

2017-18 salary: $15.9 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.9 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 55.6 FG%, 00.0 3P%, 70.3 FT%, 55.6 eFG%, 107 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 1/12 vs. Magic - 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, steal, assist, 7-for-8 FG, 3-for-4 FT

Season review: After missing 51 games in the 2016-17 season, the first of his four-year contract with the Wizards, center Ian Mahinmi managed to stay healthy for the entirety of 2017-18. He appeared in 77 games and gave the Wizards a good look at the player they signed to a $64 million deal in free agency.

Mahinmi was a mainstay in the Wizards' rotation as their backup center. While Marcin Gortat started all 82 games at center, Mahinmi at times got the nod late in games as head coach Scott Brooks favored his defense.

Though Mahinmi was available all season, he still fell short of the numbers he put up in his last year in Indiana, in 2015-16. Mahinmi's minutes per game were his fewest since 2010-11, and his points and rebounds were his fewest since 2013-14. 

Mahinmi's numbers were affected by his low minutes, as he could never quite crack the top six or seven spots in Brooks' rotation. His numbers per 36 minutes, however, were on par with how he played in Indiana before the Wizards signed him to a big contract.

2015-16 per 36: 13.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.3 spg

2017-18 per 36: 11.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 1.2 spg

That, of course, only means so much. Mahinmi may have been relatively efficient with his minutes, but the consistency wasn't there to convince Brooks and the coaching staff to increase his role.

It will be interesting to see what the team plans for Mahinmi next season, as this summer could bring changes to their frontcourt. Both of their starting big men - Gortat and Markieff Morris - have one year left on their contracts. If Gortat in particular is dealt, that could open the door for Mahinmi to earn more playing time.

The Wizards could also add to their frontcourt through the draft. If they get a rim-protecting big man in the first round, that could be bad news for Mahinmi's playing time. Like several Wizards players, Mahinmi's role is up in the air entering this summer.

Potential to improve: Finishing around rim, consistency, limiting fouls

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

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