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Pats rout Colts 59-24 but Gronkowski injures arm

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Pats rout Colts 59-24 but Gronkowski injures arm

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots defense came alive just in time. It may have to make an even bigger contribution with Rob Gronkowski likely out for a while with an arm injury.

The touchdown catches and powerful blocks the tight end is known for will be missing after he was hurt late in the fourth quarter of Sunday' 59-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Gronkowski scored on completions of 4 and 24 yards from Tom Brady, giving him 10 touchdowns and making him the first tight end in NFL history with at least 10 touchdowns in three straight seasons. He finished the game with seven catches for 137 yards and is second on the team with 53 receptions.

``Rob does a great job for us,'' coach Bill Belichick said after the game, ``blocking, receiving, third down, red area. He's a good player.''

Belichick didn't mention the injury, which the Patriots identified as affecting his arm without saying which one. Comcast SportsNet New England said Gronkowski broke his forearm while blocking on the extra point after the final touchdown.

The Patriots gave no timetable for his return. They have six games left, starting Thursday night at the New York Jets.

They didn't need Gronkowski's touchdowns on Sunday, not when one of the NFL's worst pass defenses scored on interception returns of 59 yards by newcomer Aqib Talib and 87 yards by rookie Alfonzo Dennard.

Dennard watched himself on the video board as he raced to the end zone. He wanted to see if Andrew Luck, who threw the pass, might catch him.

``I went to the sideline and (safety Devin McCourty) was like, `If the quarterback would've caught you, you know we would've given you stuff about it,'' he said.

The Patriots lead the NFL with 35.8 points a game and tied their single-game scoring record on Sunday.

``The coaches want us to play aggressive,'' said Dennard, whose touchdown made it 45-17. ``So that's what I was doing out there.''

The first matchup between three-time Super Bowl winner Brady and star rookie Luck was no match. Brady threw three touchdown passes. Luck threw three interceptions.

``They're good enough,'' Luck said. ``They don't need those gifts, but to their credit, they created those and we didn't.''

The loss of Gronkowski could be costly. The Patriots other tight end, Aaron Hernandez, has missed the last three games and six overall, after spraining his ankle. That leaves three healthy tight ends - Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui and Visanthe Shiancoe - and they've totaled just four catches.

The Patriots forced four turnovers. Rob Ninkovich's fifth forced fumble of the season - knocking the ball out of Luck's hand - set up Gronkowski's second scoring grab on the next play.

``We knew we couldn't come here and turn the football over and have a chance to win,'' Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. ``We've got a lot of rookies out there so every week is a learning experience. It was a bad learning experience.''

The Colts (6-4) had their four-game winning streak stopped. The Patriots (7-3) won their fourth straight game and extended their lead in the AFC East to three games.

Even so, Brady doesn't want the Patriots to start patting themselves on the back.

``I don't think we're anywhere (near) where we need to be at this point,'' he said.

Julian Edelman scored on a 68-yard punt return three plays before Talib's interception put the Patriots ahead to stay, 21-14.

``I don't think guys panicked'' after that one-two punch, Luck said. ``Playing hard is not enough, as evidenced tonight.''

Brady completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards and no interceptions. Luck was 27 for 50 for two touchdowns and 334 yards and set an NFL record as the first rookie with five 300-yard games.

The Colts were competitive for one half. The Patriots led 24-17 heading into the third quarter.

Then the Patriots scored on passes of 2 yards to Edelman and 24 yards to Gronkowski and Dennard's interception return.

Luck followed with a 43-yard scoring pass to T.Y. Hilton, the second of the game to the fellow rookie, but the Patriots responded with touchdown runs of 3 yards by Stevan Ridley and 4 yards by Shane Vereen.

The game began with touchdowns on the first three series: a 1-yard run by Delone Carter of the Colts, a 4-yard pass from Brady to Gronkowski, and a 14-yard pass from Luck to Hilton.

``A lot of plays motivated the defense,'' said Talib, playing his first game since being obtained from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. ``About that third or fourth (Colts) series, we kind of got into it. It was kind of quiet out there early (then) we started talking.''

The Patriots obtained him before last Sunday's 37-31 win over Buffalo. But he sat that one out to complete a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Notes: The Colts outgained the Patriots 448 yards to 446. ... The 59 points equals the Patriots record set in a 59-0 win over the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 18, 2009. ... The Patriots are 18-0 in the second half of the season starting in 2010. ... Welker stretched his streak to 104 games with at least one reception. ... Reggie Wayne tied Cris Carter's NFL mark with 58 consecutive games with at least three catches.

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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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