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Merriman excited to get second chance with Bills

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Merriman excited to get second chance with Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Shawne Merriman finds himself back in Buffalo eager to resume playing football after a two-month break, while also feeling a little red-faced over his, well, red face.

Preparing for his first practice with the Bills on Wednesday since re-signing with the team, the pass-rushing specialist sheepishly explained why his face was conspicuously sunburnt. It happened about 10 days ago after he finished a workout at his home in Miami.

``I fell asleep on the beach,'' Merriman said. ``I woke up and my face was just hurting so bad. First time I ever had a sunburn.''

Vacation time's over. With winter around the corner, Merriman won't be needing any sunblock in Buffalo, where the three-time Pro Bowl selection is getting yet another chance to kick start what's been a stalled career.

``I'll look to heal up here now,'' he said. ``I'm excited, man.''

Deemed expendable in mid-August, when the Bills cut Merriman, the player nicknamed ``Lights Out'' is back in a bid to provide a spark and add veteran depth to an injury-depleted defensive line. Starting right defensive end Mark Anderson is out indefinitely after having knee surgery last week, while veteran backup lineman Spencer Johnson is week to week with an ankle injury.

Coach Chan Gailey said he needs to evaluate Merriman in practice first before determining whether he'll play Sunday, when the Bills (3-3) host Tennessee (2-4).

``Probably, but don't make me 100 percent on that,'' Gailey said referring to Merriman's chances of playing. ``As long as he's in playing shape and everything goes well this week, and he gets back into the flow of things, he's probably going to be right there Sunday afternoon giving us some help.''

The Bills defense could as much help as it can get after getting off to a very inconsistent start.

After allowing a combined 1,201 yards and 97 points in consecutive blowout losses, Buffalo bounced back in a 19-16 overtime win at Arizona last weekend. It was a game in which high-priced free-agent addition Mario Williams had two of Buffalo's five sacks, and safety Jairus Byrd's second of two interceptions set up Rian Lindell's decisive field goal.

Having kept tabs with his former teammates and watched Buffalo's games on TV, Merriman is fully aware of the Bills struggles and itching to help.

``It's a little bit tougher to sit back and watch the game,'' he said. ``But the good thing is, I don't have to sit back and watch any more. I can go out there and play now.''

In his prime, Merriman was one of the league's most feared pass rushers. The NFL's 2005 defensive rookie of the year combined for 39 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with San Diego.

Injuries, however, caught up to Merriman. He's managed just six sacks over his past four seasons, including two in Buffalo.

Discarded by the Chargers midway through the 2010 season, Merriman was claimed on waivers by Buffalo. He didn't make it through his first practice with the Bills before aggravating a nagging Achilles tendon injury.

He lasted five games with Buffalo the following year before landing on season-ending injured reserve in order to have surgery on his tendon and shoulder.

Merriman declared himself as feeling rejuvenated in June, but that wasn't enough for him to keep his job. His $4 million contract was considered too expensive for a backup, and the Bills wanted to free up space to develop younger players.

Merriman bears no hard feelings against the Bills. And he said he's spent the past two months staying in shape by working out in both Miami and San Diego.

``I'm happy to not only contribute, but kind of just pick up where I left off and do what they need me to do,'' he said. ``And obviously with these guys, if they didn't think I could play defensive end, then they wouldn't have brought me back.''

It helps that Merriman's familiar with the Bills' defensive scheme as well as the players.

``Very welcome. We love to have him back here,'' linebacker Nick Barnett said. ``He's done it before and can do it again. He's got his opportunity right now, and I think you can see his ribs showing because the man is hungry.''

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NOTES: Rookie CB Ron Brooks returned to practice for the first time since breaking his right foot in a preseason game. Placed on the Injured Reserve/Designated for Return list, he's eligible to be activated after Week 8. ... RG Kraig Urbik practiced for the first time in two weeks since hurting his ankle, and has a chance to play Sunday. ... Gailey has ruled out LT Cordy Glenn (ankle) from playing Sunday, but expects the starter to have a good chance to return once the Bills return from their bye week off next week.

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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