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Seattle finally solves playoff futility on road

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Seattle finally solves playoff futility on road

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Instead of reveling in shaking 29 years of postseason road futility and completely looking ahead to another cross-country trip, Pete Carroll was left waiting Monday for the results of an MRI that only confirmed what the Seattle Seahawks originally feared.

Seattle will go forward in the postseason without pass-rushing defensive end Chris Clemons, who suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus in his left knee in Sunday's 24-14 win at Washington.

Clemons was hurt when it appeared his cleat got stuck in the messy, dirty turf at FedEx Field early in the third quarter. Seattle was immediately concerned the injury could be serious and Monday's scan confirmed it.

``It's a big loss for us in a lot of ways,'' Carroll said. ``Chris has been a great football player and just a symbol of consistency in the years that we've had him, but he's been a great leader for us too and a tough dude and a guy we've become very comfortable playing with and we'll miss the heck out of him.''

The loss of Clemons and uncertainty about the availability of kicker Steven Hauschka, who suffered a calf strain, overshadowed what should have been a day of celebration after Seattle won its first road playoff game since beating Miami on Dec. 31, 1983.

Clemons was the most consistent pass rusher for the Seahawks since arriving in a trade from Philadelphia before the 2010 season. Clemons had 11 sacks in both 2010 and `11 and followed up a new contract over the summer with 11 1/2 sacks this season.

Rookie first-round pick Bruce Irvin, drafted to be a pass-rushing complement to Clemons, will get the first shot to start. Irvin set a franchise rookie record with eight sacks, but the real challenge will be whether he can hold up in the run game, an area where Clemons did well.

``This is Bruce's opportunity. This is what we drafted him to play and we'll see how he does,'' Carroll said. ``We expect him to do really well as he steps up.''

Players were not available at the Seahawks facility after arriving back in Seattle in the early hours of Monday morning. Clemons tweeted, ``I want to thank everyone for ... prayers. I will be ready for next season. We still got a Super Bowl to win!''

Even with Clemons going down, the Seahawks continued to display a level of resolve that has now carried them to six straight wins and eight of their last nine. Despite falling behind 14-0, Seattle solved the defensive problems that allowed Washington to roll down the field on its first two possessions. In turn, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks offense was given time to chip away at the two-touchdown deficit.

The 14-point hole was the largest deficit overcome in Seahawks playoff history and the largest of any game this season. Wilson directed Seattle back from a 23-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat New England 24-23 in Week 6. Being down 14 in the first quarter seemed easy compared to that.

``I think people take notice we've put together a lot of games together,'' Carroll said. ``When you look at our schedule you can misread the schedule a little bit if you just look at the W's and the L's. We've played really good solid football for a long time. It hasn't just sprung up at the end of the season.''

Seattle's sudden defensive change was helped by hobbling Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, but also by the Seahawks not overthinking. Carroll said he was concerned that with all the intricate details of learning how Washington runs its unique offense that his defenders could be thinking too much early in the game.

But instead of sticking with the zone-read plays Seattle was ready for, the Redskins simply used Alfred Morris to run right at the Seahawks. Washington had 129 total yards in the first quarter and just 74 the rest of the way.

The sticky defense allowed Wilson and Lynch time to get Seattle's offense clicking. After falling behind 14-0, the Seahawks had five drives of 60 or more yards, including a 68-yard drive to start the second half that ended without points after Lynch fumbled at the Washington 1. Lynch atoned for the mistake with his go-ahead 27-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Lynch carried 12 times for 99 yards after halftime. Seattle rushed for 224 yards as a team, the highest-total in franchise history for a playoff game, and third time during its six-game win streak they have topped 200 yards on the ground.

``We haven't been as solid as we are now,'' Carroll said. ``We're much more solid in our thinking and mentality and just the resolve about everything we're doing.''

Notes: Carroll said both offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are focused on the game at Atlanta even as both are courted by other teams for possible head coaching jobs. Seattle has granted permission for Bradley to speak with Philadelphia and Bevell with Chicago. ... Carroll said the team would have kickers in on Tuesday to try out because of the uncertainty about Hauschka's calf. ... The Seahawks may also look at linebackers Mike Morgan and K.J. Wright as pass-rush options with Clemons out and Irvin filling his role.

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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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