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Smith: Falcons not satisfied with 1 playoff win

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Smith: Falcons not satisfied with 1 playoff win

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) A slip of the tongue gave away Atlanta coach Mike Smith's focus.

Smith was just starting his review Monday of the Falcons' 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs when it became clear his thoughts were on this week's NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.

``We knew the San Francisco Forty ... excuse me, the Seattle Seahawks, were a very good football team and they showed a lot of resiliency,'' Smith said before smiling after catching his verbal miscue.

``We were very fortunate to make the plays there at the end of the game and get the win,'' he said.

The win over Seattle Sunday was the first for Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan in four postseason games with Atlanta. There was much talk after the game that the long-awaited first playoff win was the most important for the Falcons and would allow Ryan and other players to relax.

Smith shot down both theories.

``I don't think we'll be able to play looser,'' Smith said. ``I think we've got to get back into our preparation mode. I know many people have talked about the outcome and what does it mean to the Atlanta Falcons. It means we have an opportunity to play again and in the playoffs you want to keep playing. I think our guys understand the challenge this week is going to be big.''

The Falcons are the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Atlanta lost at home to Green Bay as the top seed following the 2010 regular season and then lost in the first round at the New York Giants last year.

Ryan and the Falcons built leads of 20-0 and 27-7 against Seattle before falling behind 28-27 with 31 seconds remaining. Then Ryan completed passes to Harry Douglas, for 22 yards, and Tony Gonzalez, for 19 yards, to set up Matt Bryant's go-ahead 49-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining.

Smith said it was a ``fun'' win for the team and the city of Atlanta, but he said it didn't mean the Falcons have realized their goals.

``Our goals and our expectations are a lot higher than just winning one playoff game,'' he said.

The Falcons will be home again for Sunday's NFC championship game as they look to advance to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. The 1998 season ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos.

Ryan and some of his teammates acknowledged they are glad there will be no more questions about not winning a postseason game.

``But at the same time, our goal is not to win one playoff game,'' Ryan said. ``Our goal isn't to stop answering that question.

``Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have. That's the mind-set this team has.''

Asked if the monkey is off the team's back, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said ``maybe a little bit'' before also saying the team had bigger goals.

``The outsiders said we can't win in the playoffs, now they have to come up with other things to say,'' Weatherspoon said. ``Our goal is to get the next win and then the next one after that.''

Smith said he didn't sleep well Sunday night, but not because of a big celebration.

``No, not celebrating,'' he said. ``For everybody involved, that was a fun football game and it's hard to unwind from fun football games. I think for everybody at least here in Atlanta it certainly was. Then I got going this morning on San Francisco.''

There may be little sleep for Smith's defensive coaches this week as the Falcons prepare a plan to contain 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick passed for 263 yards and rushed for 181 yards - a playoff record for a quarterback - in San Francisco's 45-31 win over Green Bay on Saturday.

The Falcons couldn't stop Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who had seven carries for 60 yards and a touchdown while passing for 385 yards and two touchdowns.

Smith said the 6-foot-5 Kaepernick is ``probably between Russell'' and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who also had success against the Falcons this season.

Newton ran for 116 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown run, while passing for 287 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers' 30-20 home win over the Falcons on Dec. 9. Newton ran for 87 yards with a touchdown and passed for 215 yards with two touchdowns in the Falcons' 30-28 win over Carolina on Sept. 30.

Wilson had only 26 yards rushing in the first half as the Seahawks were held scoreless. The rookie quarterback gained momentum after Falcons defensive end John Abraham aggravated his left ankle injury midway through the second quarter. Abraham did not play in the second half.

Smith said he expects Abraham to be back in practice ``before the end of the week.''

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.

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