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Playoff race makes odd allies of Packers, Seahawks

Playoff race makes odd allies of Packers, Seahawks

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Pay up, Seahawks.

The Green Bay Packers have put the Inaccurate Reception behind them, and they've done their best not to begrudge Seattle the win that really wasn't. But karma has a way of coming back around, and the Seahawks have a chance to put things right this weekend.

``Without looking in the past, we have to root for a team we fell short to,'' Clay Matthews said Thursday. ``So that's how it goes. We'll control our own destiny by winning these out and hopefully we can get some help along the way.''

See, San Francisco (10-3-1) is a game ahead of Green Bay (10-4) for the NFC's No. 2 seed and Seattle plays the 49ers on Sunday night. Beat the Niners and the Seahawks can essentially get the Packers back to where they would have been had replacement referees not blown that call back in September.

Which means that, providing they beat Tennessee on Sunday afternoon, the Packers will find themselves rooting for the Seahawks.

``Yeah, but we'd love to have that bye, be sitting there at the 1 or 2 seed,'' Aaron Rodgers said. ``So at this point, we're trying to have a short memory, kind of rooting for the teams that you need to win.''

The Inaccurate Reception, alternately known as the Fail Mary, was arguably the worst call of the NFL season. Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings appeared to intercept a last-ditch pass to Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate in the end zone only to have replacement referees rule it a touchdown, giving Seattle a 14-12 win. While the NFL said the next day that the reception call was right, it conceded that Tate should have been called for interference on the play, which would have given Green Bay the win.

The outrage was immediate, and came from every corner of the country. Fans were already fed up after several other questionable calls, and they were incensed one had actually affected the outcome of a game. By the end of the week, the league and its union referees had a new deal.

But many feared the game would cost Green Bay, and wondered what the league would do if it did. Turns out, all that angst was for nothing. The Packers have won eight of nine - only Denver has been better during the span - and last week clinched their second straight NFC North title.

``That's one thing you worried about at the time, if we're sitting here the last week of the season and have to win to get in, or maybe win and get some help. That would have been probably talked about more,'' Rodgers said. ``It's going to probably affect (Seattle) more. They're in a position right now to, I believe, clinch a berth with a win this week. It's not on our minds anymore.''

Yes, but if the Packers had that extra win, they, not San Francisco, would be sitting in the No. 2 spot right now.

``There's a lot of what-ifs,'' Rodgers said. ``Nothing we can do about it.''

No, but Seattle can.

The Seahawks are 6-0 at CenturyLink Field this year, joining Atlanta as the NFL's only teams with perfect home records. After winning three straight and five of their last six, Seattle can secure at least a wild-card berth with a victory Sunday.

``I don't know if they owe us anything - not them, in particular,'' Matthews said.

But if the Seahawks would like to wipe the karmic slate clean, who are the Packers to argue?

``We want home field,'' James Jones said, ``so hopefully they get it done.''

NOTES: With the winter's first big storm dumping more than a half-foot of snow on Green Bay by midday, coach Mike McCarthy cut practice short early Thursday. ``I feel it's important to get our players home today before it gets dark,'' McCarthy said. ``The bulk of the storm is coming between noon and 6 p.m. is my understanding. We do have a couple guys who haven't driven in snow before, so this is a little bit of an exciting introduction to say the least.'' ... Despite the weather, McCarthy said all of the players made it to practice on time. ... McCarthy is optimistic OL T.J. Lang (concussion) will be cleared for Sunday's game. Lang wasn't able to go through the concussion evaluation Thursday because he's got the flu. ... C Jeff Saturday (neck/shoulder) and G Greg Van Roten (back) also missed practice Thursday, but McCarthy expects they'll play Sunday.

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Could this be the best season of Alex Ovechkin’s career?

Could this be the best season of Alex Ovechkin’s career?

The NHL is rapidly becoming a young man’s game. Just look at the most dominant players in the league. Connor McDavid is the best player in the world at 21. Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon sit No. 1 and 2 in points in the league at the ages of 22 and 23 respectively. The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking the league by storm with a pair of 21-year-olds in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner leading the way. Patrik Laine, 20, is one of the top goal scorers in the league and Brayden Point, 22, may be the best player on a loaded Tampa Bay roster.

Sitting above all those players, however, and atop the league in goals is the 33-year-old Alex Ovechkin.

“He is having a great start to the year,” head coach Todd Reirden said Tuesday. “In particular it's been his five-on-five play, converting on his chances and taking advantage of some fortunate breaks that went his way tonight, but he's earning. He's earning it and he's doing things the right way and he's been a great leader for us so far this year. Can't say enough about the year he's having.”

Ovechkin now has a four-goal lead in the goal-scoring race as he scored Nos. 23, 24 and 25 with his 21st career hat trick on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the seventh time last season as the league’s leading goal scorer. He did not reach 25 goals until game No. 41 on Jan. 2 and that’s after he spotted himself seven goals in the first two games of the season. In 2007-08 – the season in which Ovechkin lit the lamp a career-high 65 times – he did not reach 25 goals until game No. 36 on Dec. 22.

Thursday’s game was just Washington’s 30th of the season.

Ovechkin is currently enjoying a 12-game point streak that has seen him compile 19 points during that stretch, the second-longest streak of his career. Of those 19 points, only one has come on the power play.

With 39 points on the season, Ovechkin ranks tied for seventh in the NHL.

Is his current goal-scoring pace sustainable? Perhaps not. For his career, Ovechkin has a shooting percentage of 12.6-percent. For the season, he is shooting at 21.6-percent. But he is also taking fewer shots.

Ovechkin is currently shooting 3.87 shots per game, the second lowest rate of his career. If that holds, it will be only the third time in his career he has averaged fewer than four shots per game in a season.

So for those arguing that Ovechkin’s shooting percentage is bound to decline, there’s also a case to be made that he is also likely to start taking more shots which would help keep his goal-scoring pace up.

But the fact that we are even talking about this is remarkable in and of itself. While most players begin to physically decline in their early 30s, Ovechkin could be putting together the best season of his career at 33. That is absolutely remarkable considering the physical style in which he plays and all the miles he has put in with the Olympics, playoffs and 12 NHL seasons of over 70 games. Excluding the lockout-shortened season, the fewest number of games he has played in a season is 72.

Ovechkin has never missed more than 10 games in a single season. Ever.

So while the pundits argue over whether players like McDavid, Matthews or MacKinnon are the best in the league, don’t forget about the 33-year-old who is outscoring them all and who now also has a Stanley Cup ring to go with his already storied career.

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Nats' Max Scherzer puts pitching arm to good use thanks to Alex Ovechkin's hat trick

Nats' Max Scherzer puts pitching arm to good use thanks to Alex Ovechkin's hat trick

Washington National ace Max Scherzer is putting his throwing arm to good use in the offseason thanks to Alex Ovechkin.

The pitcher and his wife, Erica May-Scherzer, were in attendance for the Caps' 6-2 blowout win over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night where Ovi notched a hat trick for the first time since Nov. 25, 2017.

In classic hat trick celebratory fashion, Scherzer threw his cap onto the ice at Capital One Arena.

Scherzer has always been a big supporter of the Caps. Back in June, the Cy Young Award winner and Nats first baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, led the "Lets Go Caps" chant during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. He even credited striking out 13 batters the following day to the Caps' win. 

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