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Manning throws for 305 yards, Broncos top Saints

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Manning throws for 305 yards, Broncos top Saints

DENVER (AP) A dinged-up right thumb wasn't enough to throw Peyton Manning off his game, and to no one's surprise, neither was the New Orleans Saints' defense.

Despite banging his throwing thumb on an opponent's helmet in the second quarter Sunday night, Manning passed for 305 yards and three scores, led a pair of 90-plus-yard touchdown drives and easily outplayed Drew Brees to lead the Denver Broncos to a 34-14 victory over the Saints.

Manning surpassed the 300-yard mark for the fifth straight time to match his personal best and set a franchise record for Denver (4-3). He completed 22 of 30 throws for a passer rating of 138.9. Willis McGahee ran for 122 yards and a score for the Broncos, who won two in a row for the first time this season and took sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

The Broncos gained 530 yards - a season high - against the NFL's worst defense, which came in allowing more yards (2,793) over the first six games of a season than any team since 1950.

New Orleans (2-5) was hoping to get a boost from the return of linebackers-turned-interim head coach Joe Vitt from his six-game suspension for the team's bounty scandal. All he can do is stand on the sidelines, though, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma - another Saint implicated in the scandal - returned to the starting lineup, but he couldn't plug the holes, either.

The Broncos' defense, meanwhile, held Brees and the league's top passing offense to 213 yards and two scores, the second marking the first points Denver has allowed in the fourth quarter since opening week. Brees threw for both scores to extend his record to 50 straight games with at least one touchdown pass. He also reached 301 career touchdown passes to climb past John Elway for sixth on the career list.

Small consolation on a night in which the Broncos defense looked almost as good as its offense.

Linebacker Wesley Woodyard did extensive damage, finishing with 13 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one interception, when Vitt chose to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Denver 47 early in the second quarter with the game tied at 7.

Manning answered with a 56-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown, capped on a 13-yard pass to Eric Decker, who was all alone when Jabari Greer slipped. Decker celebrated by spiking the ball a good 10 rows into the stands.

A bit later, Manning dinged his thumb while completing a 23-yard pass to Decker, leaving a trace of blood across the quarterback's thumb. Manning handed off the next four plays and the Broncos settled for a field goal before halftime. But when Manning returned for the third quarter, he warmed up with no trouble and showed no signs of injury.

He then answered any questions by going 4 for 4 to start the third quarter, moving the Broncos 93 yards and capping it with a 1-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas for a 24-7 lead.

Thomas finished with seven catches for 137 yards. Decker also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter for a 31-7 lead. He finished with 43 yards receiving.

Denver's first scoring drive opened at the 2 and began with four straight runs by McGahee for gains of 4, 12, 7 and 3. That set up play action and Manning hit Thomas for 41 yards. Five plays later, Manning dropped back, peaked through the crowded line and somehow picked out McGahee among all the big men clogging things up. That little flip screen was good for 14 yards and set up McGahee's 1-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.

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Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

To call it a hit is generous. To call it a huge play is accurate. 

Capitals forward Tom Wilson backed into a loose puck along the boards in the defensive zone of Friday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. He waited for a hit sure to come from behind. 

Colin Wilson, the Avalanche center, moved in to dislodge the puck. Instead he got dislodged from gravity. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Tom Wilson, barely moving and braced for contact, used his own leverage to launch Colin Wilson into the air, arms and legs akimbo. 

By the time Colin Wilson crashed to the ice, Tom Wilson had chipped a blind backhand pass to center ice, where Alex Ovechkin stopped it with his skate, dropped it to teammate Nicklas Backstrom, who gave it back as they entered the offensive zone. Ovechkin crossed from left to right and ripped a shot past former teammate Philipp Grubauer in goal for Colorado. 

It was a wonderful pass from Backstrom, who put the Avalanche on their heels. Ovechkin’s shot was a bullet that left little chance for Grubauer. But make no mistake – it all started with Wilson, who was prepared to take a hit to make a play. It is those little things that the Capitals missed during Wilson’s 16-game suspension by the NHL. It was the little things that helped them to a 3-2 overtime victory.  

“[Wilson] brings so much energy to this group,” Backstrom said. “He’s everywhere out there. That’s what we need. He’s playing PK, he’s playing power plays, he’s doing everything. He’s a valuable guy in this group so we’re happy to have him back.”

The game-winning goal in overtime by Backstrom was a perfect example. Wilson took a drop pass from defenseman John Carlson 12 seconds into overtime with Washington on a 4-on-3 power play. That’s when he went to work. 

For six seconds Wilson and Avalanche center Carl Soderberg did battle along the right boards high in the offensive zone. Just as Wilson was knocked to the ice, he slipped a pass back to Backstrom alone at the point. 

With Soderberg on top of him and both out of the play, Wilson watched Backstrom take advantage of the extra space in what effectively became a 3-on-2. He passed to Carlson in the right faceoff circle and then got the puck back in the high slot and beat Grubauer blocker side for the win. That doesn’t happen without Wilson. 

“When you’re playing with good players, you just try and keep it simple, win your battles and they’ll do the rest,” Wilson said. “And that’s exactly what happened on both those plays. At the end there, I thought about throwing it across the ice a couple times, but I’m not that comfortable out there yet so just kind of ragged on the wall and waited. Nicky got open for me and made it easy, I just threw it over to him and it was in the back of the net.”  

The Ovechkin goal put Washington ahead 2-1 at 18:29 of the second period. The Backstrom winner came 22 seconds into overtime. Wilson, in his third game back after his original 20-game suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator, played a career-high 24 minutes, 24 seconds. He moved to the power play for 4:19 with T.J. Oshie out with an upper-body injury and contributed 1:35 on the penalty kill – a little less than usual. 

Wilson played on the PK for 5:23 in his first game back Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. He scored a goal in that game, too, by driving the net hard and has been a jolt of energy for a team that was scuffling coming into a difficult four-game road trip. The Capitals are 2-1-0 with one game left Monday at the Montreal Canadiens. 
 
“Tom is one of those guys that was vocal in our room, vocal on the bench that we’re fully in control of that game still even though we gave up the late goal,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “But that’s a tough start [after the suspension], three in four, and then add in the altitude and the minutes that we’re counting on him playing because they aren’t easy minutes. And then obviously having to chase around that top line tonight from Colorado is no easy task. Just really happy with the fact that we got him back a little earlier than was originally set up for us. It’s been a good bounce for our team.” 

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

A shorthanded Capitals team marched into Colorado and took a 3-2 overtime win over the Avalanche on Friday.

Here are five reasons the Caps won.

A big glove save

With no T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Braden Holtby, the Caps were a bit shorthanded heading into the game. After the Avalanche took a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds in, it felt like it could be a very long night for Washington.

It could have been if not for an early breakaway save by Pheonix Copley.

Soon after the goal, Nathan MacKinnon grabbed the puck on a breakaway. MacKinnon is one of the best offensive players in the league and not the guy you want to see going in alone on Copley on a breakaway.

Copley, however, flashed the glove and made the save to keep the game at 1-0.

One year ago to the day, the Caps lost 6-2 in Colorado. With the injuries Washington was dealing with, it’s not a stretch to think this game could have gone off the rails quickly had the Avalanche jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Tic-Tac-Toe

The Caps struggled through the first period to get any real penetration on Colorado’s defense and were kept largely on the perimeter with very few high-danger opportunities. The Avalanche defense got a bit more porous in the second and Washington took advantage.

Travis Boyd collected the puck in the offensive zone below the goal line. As he skated along the wall, he found himself face-to-face with four Colorado players who were all just following the puck. As far as defense goes, that’s not an ideal situation. Boyd found a wide-open Chandler Stephenson on the cross-ice pass, Stephenson goes back left to Devante Smith-Pelly who had an empty net to shoot on to get the Caps on the board and tie the game at one.


Game speed

After six seasons in Washington, Philipp Grubauer has faced literally thousands of shots from Alex Ovechkin in practice. But he never faced one of those shots in a game until Friday. Those shots come off the stick a bit faster when it counts as Grubauer learned.

Nicklas Backstrom entered the offensive zone with the puck and backhanded it to Ovechkin. Backstrom kept driving to the net drawing the defense with him except for Tyson Barrie. Backstrom’s passed to the left, but Ovechkin collected it going right which caught Barrie flatfooted. Ovehckin easily skated around Barrie to find an open shooting lane, then snapped a shot past Grubauer to put the Caps up 2-1. Ovechkin’s celebration was almost instantaneous, he knew he had Grubauer beat.


A late penalty

The referees really put away the whistles in the third period. They even missed a clear high-stick to Dmitry Orlov that drew blood and should have been a double-minor. Colorado came back to tie the game, but Smith-Pelly finally drew a blatant holding penalty from Ian Cole with just over a minute left to go in regulation.

The Avalanche survived to force overtime, but Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winner on the power play just 22 seconds in for the win.

Tom Wilson making a Tom Wilson play

Space is important in hockey. That’s what makes a four-on-three power play harder to cover than a five-on-four power play. You know what’s even better? A three-on-two.

The Caps entered overtime on a power play which gave them a four-on-three to start. Tom Wilson had the puck on the wall and took a hit from Carl Soderberg. He saw the hit coming and took it so he could make the pass to Backstrom. He won the board battle and the hit took Soderberg out of the play, giving the Caps a three-on-two in the offensive zone to work with. Backstrom passed to John Carlson who passed back to Backstrom. He had all day to fire the game-winner and it was all thanks to a tremendous play from Wilson that most people would not have noticed.

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