Capitals

Steelers cure road woes behind unlikely stars

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Steelers cure road woes behind unlikely stars

PITTSBURGH (AP) Running backs streaking through open holes into the secondary. A defense that showed some swagger and backed it up with solid play. A fourth-quarter lead on the road that ended with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger snapping the ball in victory formation instead of watching an opponent drill the game-winning field goal following a spectacular collapse.

Yep, the Pittsburgh Steelers are back. For the moment anyway.

Pittsburgh's decisive 24-17 win over Cincinnati on Sunday night did more than snap a four-game road losing streak and give the Steelers (3-3) a much-needed momentum boost, it also provided a reminder that there are few teams in the league as resilient as the guys wearing black and gold.

It's why coach Mike Tomlin didn't act surprised after third-string running back Jonathan Dwyer rushed for a career-high 122 yards behind an offensive line missing two starters.

Pittsburgh preaches the importance of ``next man up.'' Against the Bengals the next men played an awful lot like the guys they were replacing.

``The standard is the standard here,'' Dwyer said. ``We lost our franchise player, Maurkice Pouncey, and Doug (Legursky) stepped up tremendously. It shows how talented we are and that we try to live up to that high standard.''

One the Steelers failed to meet in critical situations during befuddling road losses to Oakland and Tennessee. Yet instead of flinching after Chris Rainey's 11-yard touchdown sprint early in the fourth quarter put Pittsburgh in front, the Steelers flexed.

Three times the Bengals had the ball in the final 14 minutes with a chance to tie the score. Three times they punted, the last coming with 3:57 to go. Dwyer helped make sure Cincinnati's offense never came back on the field, sealing it with a 32-yard dash that allowed Pittsburgh to run out the clock.

While starter Rashard Mendenhall and backup Isaac Redman watched from the sideline in sweats, Dwyer kept chipping away at Cincinnati's defense until it finally broke.

``Two of my teammates and my brothers went down, but it was an opportunity,'' Dwyer said. ``As a unit, we wanted to fill that void.''

It wasn't just the running game, however, that showed some signs of life. Pittsburgh's secondary endured a withering 10 days of criticism after Tennessee stormed back in the final 5 minutes to steal a 26-23 win on Oct. 12.

No player took more heat than cornerback Ike Taylor, who was torched for the game-tying touchdown against the Titans on a night he was also flagged twice for pass interference and once for defensive holding.

Tasked with trying to corral the hottest receiver in the NFL in second-year wideout A.J. Green, Taylor responded by playing like someone who considers himself one of the better cover men in the league.

Though Green did manage an eight-yard touchdown reception in the first half - on a pass Taylor just missed knocking down - it was the only time Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton was able to get the ball to his budding star.

The final ball thrown Green's way was a tribute to Taylor's terrific night. On third-and-10 at the Cincinnati 11 on what would be the Bengals' final drive, Dalton chucked it high and out of bounds while trying to hit Green down the sideline.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, whose interception late in the second quarter helped Pittsburgh tie the game just before the half, figures the Steelers simply returned to a formula that's made them one of the most consistent teams in the league over the last decade.

``We got off the field on third down,'' Woodley said. ``We got a turnover that put the offense in good field position to put points on the board. At the end of the day, that's all you ask. We put pressure on their quarterback. Ike Taylor did a good job against their top receiver.''

Pittsburgh held the Bengals to 105 yards on their final 10 possessions. While the Steelers didn't register a sack, they forced Dalton into an off night and shut down Cincinnati's running game after getting gashed on an early 80-yard touchdown drive.

It was a needed return to normalcy for Pittsburgh, which improved to 12-2 at Paul Brown Stadium while sending the Bengals to their third straight loss. The Steelers play six of their final 10 games at Heinz Field - where they've been nearly unbeatable the last two-plus seasons - and with injury-ravaged Baltimore (5-2) suddenly looking very vulnerable, Pittsburgh appears right back in it.

Then again, the Steelers never really thought they were out of it. Sure, they needed to make up some ground. They hope arguably their best game of the season is just the start.

``We got ourselves into a hole,'' Tomlin said. ``The first thing we've got to do is stop digging. We did that; now we've got to build on it.''

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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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