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Seahawks far different from 2010 playoff team

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Seahawks far different from 2010 playoff team

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Pete Carroll was thrilled to be in the postseason but knew it was a mirage.

Two seasons ago, in his first venture back in the NFL from the college game, Carroll guided the Seattle Seahawks into the postseason with the dubious distinction of being the only team in NFL history to win a division title with a losing record. Seattle at least showed itself worthy of the playoffs by upsetting New Orleans, but was quickly dispatched at Chicago in the second round.

He knew the Seahawks needed to be younger, faster, more athletic and deeper. A makeover was needed.

``We're just so much deeper now and we've raised these guys in the program and I just think there's a common feel that we're on the same page,'' Carroll said Monday.

When the Seahawks (11-5) face Washington in Sunday's playoff opener, they'll do so with 33 new faces on the 53-man roster from just two seasons ago. The moves were drastic in some areas and subtle in others.

No matter what the changes were, it's made Seattle a far better and more deserving team for this postseason trip. Carroll said he believes the type of success the Seahawks found in reaching at least 11 wins for just the third time in franchise history should have come sooner.

Ultimately, it was the decision to draft Russell Wilson in the third round that finally made them a legitimate contender.

``I feel like I wish so much that we had got it done last year. We didn't capture it quickly enough. It just didn't come around like we wanted it to. But we'll take it. We'll take it where we are. It's been three terrific years for us in retooling the program and the roster and the staff and getting everything right. We really feel the momentum in the youth and the hopefulness for the future is there.''

When that 2010 playoff appearance came the Seahawks' way, they were a flawed team, fortunate to play in the worst division in football at that time. Carroll's defensive philosophies were still being implemented and the offense was a jumbled mess. There was little continuity on the offensive line. Marshawn Lynch had arrived in a trade from Buffalo but Seattle had yet to figure out the best ways to use its new bruising back. Most importantly, the quarterback position was unsettled with Matt Hasselbeck the entrenched veteran and Charlie Whitehurst the upstart.

They were rarely competitive, losing by an average margin of 21 points in their nine losses. Only one of their seven regular-season wins came against a team that finished with a winning record.

Fast-forward and while still having some flaws, this Seattle team is far more complete. The defense finished the season the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL, giving up just 15.3 points per game. They were No. 4 in the league overall, the highest year-end ranking for Seattle in team history.

Offensively, the Seahawks have morphed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's system around what Wilson does best, using his athleticism and quickness as a threat to complement Lynch's violent running. Lynch's success is largely because of the zone-blocking schemes implemented by assistant head coach Tom Cable and finding linemen who fit what Seattle wants to do.

From the playoff win over New Orleans in 2010 to now, the Seahawks will have 15 different starters on the field against the Redskins.

``We're young and we're fast and we're tough and we've created a physical nature about us that we're really proud of. It goes from offense to defense to special teams,'' Carroll said. ``We're just going to try to keep getting better. We've got a long ways to go.''

Wilson tied Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26 touchdowns on a third-quarter scoring pass in Sunday's win over St. Louis. He had a chance to hold the record himself, but instead ran for a 1-yard TD with 1:39 left to give Seattle a 20-13 win over the Rams.

Wilson finished the season with a 100.0 passer rating, the highest in franchise history. He threw for 3,118 yards, added another 489 rushing, had 30 combined touchdowns running and passing, and became the first rookie QB in NFL history to go 8-0 at home.

``Did Peyton go to the playoffs his first year? No,'' Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said after Sunday's win. ``OK. Then you know who I think is better.''

Notes: Seattle placed CB Walter Thurmond on injured reserve Monday, opening a roster spot for the addition of CB Brandon Browner, who is eligible to return this week after serving a four-game suspension for banned substances. Thurmond started initially in place of Browner, but suffered a hamstring injury before Seattle's Week 15 game at Buffalo and aggravated the injury last week trying to get back for the season finale. ... Carroll said he expects LB Leroy Hill to practice this week and be available. Hill missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury.

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A Vrana steal, a Kuznetsov surprise and more shenanigans between the Caps and Ducks

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USA TODAY Sports

A Vrana steal, a Kuznetsov surprise and more shenanigans between the Caps and Ducks

For the first time in franchise history, the Capitals have swept all three California teams on the road. The final win came on Friday in a 3-2 narrow defeat of the Anaheim Ducks. The game was full of shenanigans, some of which were cheeky and fun, but others were cruel and tragic.

Check out the game recap here.

Observations from the win

Just let them fight

We all remember what happened the last time these two teams played between Garnet Hathaway and Erik Gudbranson. It was no surprise to see those two lock horns in the second period, but the moment Gudbranson dropped his gloves, the refs were pulling the two apart preventing the fight.

The game devolved from there. In total, there was 66 PIM distributed in this game and I can't help but think most of it could have been avoided had the refs just let Hathaway and Gudbranson fight it out initially.

Why were they so quick to step in? I'm guessing that was the line in the sand drawn by the refs in an attempt by to keep control of the game and both players were told this is what would happen if they tried to fight. Rather than calm the game down, however, that seemed to make things worse.

Hathway and Gudbrandson ended up fighting in the third period anyway so what was the point of stopping them?

That sure sounds like they just needed to get that initial fight out of the way. That would have been better for both teams. Gudbranson's took an extra two minutes on the original fight attempt and the Caps scored on the resulting power play. Washington, meanwhile, sure seemed to get distracted by all the fisticuffs and scrums as the game went along, quickly losing control of a game it led 2-0.

Offside reviews stink and the NHL should get rid of them

Anaheim had a goal disallowed after a coach's challenge showed that Cam Fowler lifted up his back toe just before the puck crossed over the blue line. Once again, the game was slowed down so the refs could review a play and break down the video pixel by pixel to see if a player was just a hair offside. It saved the Caps a goal, but it was another example of the ridiculous standard linesmen now must stick to when judging if a play was offside or not.

The Ducks did not gain an advantage by the fact that Fowler's toe barely came off the ice right before the puck crossed. That's not the spirit in which the rule was intended.

Just please get rid of the offside review.

Context

The Caps swept a four-game road trip for just the second time in franchise history and they did it without Nicklas Backstrom and with Alex Ovechkin scoring in only one of those four games. They could actually be even better than what we saw  Friday.

Turning point

Anaheim tied the game at 2 just 45 seconds into the third period. They had complete control of the game. They were getting prolonged offensive opportunities in the Caps' zone and Washington's offensive structure was non-existent. They were skating the puck in, shooting and that was about the extent of the Caps' offense at that point.

Everything changed with one bad turnover.

Play of the game

Ovechkin is the team's most dangerous weapon on the power play. Getting the puck to him is priority one. Having said that, the Caps have a lot of weapons on the power play and they don't always utilize them. 

Washington's power play system is run on the half-wall. From there the puck is distributed, but rarely do they ever shoot from that position. They should because it would force defenses to account for it, but they don't and so you can understand why this shot from Evgeny Kuznetsov from the half-wall seemed to catch goalie Ryan Miller by complete surprise.

Stat of the game

The win completes a four-game sweep of the road trip. Does it seem like the Caps are really good on the road this season? That's because they are.

Quote of the game


Fan predictions

This is impressive. You nailed it and you got pretty specific too. There were only three misconducts, but still I'm very impressed.

A bit off on the score, but you got to see a Caps win.

Ha.

There was plenty of this. A total of 66 PIM were issued in this game.

Well, it was nuts but it didn't get that nuts.

Just about everything that could happen to Radko Gudas did in this game...but he still didn't score.

I did, but barely. I am going to guess we lost a few people along the way.

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Capitals punch their way through Anaheim for the win and California sweep

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Capitals punch their way through Anaheim for the win and California sweep

The Capitals survived a physical affair in Anaheim on Friday to earn a narrow 3-2 win over the Ducks and complete the sweep of its four-game road trip. The bad blood from the previous matchup between these two teams boiled over as the game went on. There were two fights, multiple misconducts and plenty of scrums, but ultimately Washington was able to overcome all the extracurriculars to earn the win.

Here's how the Caps did it.

No angle

Travis Boyd opened up the scoring with a Houdini-like goal in that it came at a severe angle. How severe? The shot actually came slightly behind the goal line.

OK, how is that even possible?

Carl Hagelin made the pass behind the net and Boyd made the one-time shot from just past the goal line. When you look at the replay, the puck actually banked in off of goalie Ryan Miller.

The shot may not have defied the laws of physics as it originally appeared, but it was still a pretty darn good shot to put the Caps up 1-0.

Kuznetsov surprises Miller

When the Caps went to the power play, we all knew who was going to shoot, including Miller and that was the problem.

Washington's power play is run on the half-wall. From there the puck is typically distributed to John Carlson to setup Alex Ovechkin or down low to setup T.J. Oshie waiting in the slot. Typically Nicklas Backstrom plays the half-wall. He is one of the elite playmakers in the league but does not shoot nearly enough on the power play and as a result, no one seems to account for a half-wall shot as a possibility.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was playing the half-wall role on Friday. As he skated casually along the wall, Miller shrunk back into his net and planted against the post. That's not what a goalie does when he is expecting a shot. It looked like Miller was placing himself in anticipation of Kuznetsov passing the puck low behind the goal line. Instead, Kuznetsov called his own number and fired the puck on net which Miller was not expecting or ready for at all and the puck snuck through him for the goal.

A successful offside challenge

Sam Steele thought he had put Anaheim on the board in the second period, but for the first time all season, Todd Reirden challenged the goal as offside. The play was reviewed and showed that Cam Fowler had lifted his back toe off the ice just before Brendan Guhle brought the puck over the blue line. As ridiculous as the video review has made offsides, by the letter of the law the play was in fact offside and the goal was disallowed.

Ryan Getzlaf would score soon after for real this time so the review ultimately did not cost the Ducks, but the point wasn't so much that it cost Anaheim, but that it didn't cost Washington.

Had Reirden lost the challenge, not only would the goal stand as called, but the Caps would have been assessed a delay of game penalty. Instead, the goal was taken off the board and Washington maintained its two-goal lead...briefly.

A bad turnover

Anaheim tied the game at 2 just 45 seconds into the third period. They had complete control of the game. They were getting prolonged offensive opportunities in the Caps' zone and Washington's offensive structure was non-existent. They were skating the puck in, shooting and that was about the extent of the Caps' offense at that point.

And everything changed with one bad turnover.

Less than a minute after Adam Henrique pulled the game even Miller went behind the net and left the puck for Guhle. Guhle took it and put it right to the stick of Vrana. His initial shot was stopped, but he picked up the rebound and stickhandled it past the netminder for the go-ahead goal

Anaheim had all of the momentum and had finally pulled even and then handed the lead right back to Washington.

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