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Vikings still wowed by Peterson's rapid recovery

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Vikings still wowed by Peterson's rapid recovery

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Most days, Adrian Peterson went through rehab drills looking as if he were never injured.

No one could've foreseen the rapid recovery Peterson has made since that bionic left knee of his was severely damaged near the end of a lost 2011 season for Minnesota. No one could have predicted these weekly gallops down the field and through the NFL record book.

With two games to go, Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season rushing record. He is 188 yards from becoming the seventh player in league history to reach 2,000 yards in one year.

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Dec. 24, 2011:

The Vikings were playing at Washington the day before Christmas, a meaningless matchup between teams well out of postseason contention. The end of a routine 3-yard run early in the third quarter by Peterson, the throwback thoroughbred the Vikings have hitched their franchise to in a league now dominated by the forward pass, ended with excruciating pain.

Redskins safety DeJon Gomes dived at his lower left leg to take him down, tearing Peterson's anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the process. Peterson, lying face down on the grass, knew immediately ``something bad'' had happened. By the time head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and team physician Dr. Joel Boyd raced over from the sideline, Peterson was screaming, ``Why me? Why me?''

Sugarman and Boyd performed the Lachman test, where the leg is pushed and wiggled to gauge the stability of the ACL.

``It was just gone,'' Sugarman said. ``So now your worst nightmare is confirmed.''

By the time the game was over, Peterson's attitude had already turned. His knee in a brace, sitting in the training room, he asked Sugarman, ``Hey, what do we do next? Where do we start? How do we get better?''

``His grieving was very short-lived,'' Sugarman said.

The rehabilitation of one of the best running backs in NFL history began.

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The winter:

The first three months of the reconstructive knee surgery recovery are always the hardest, and even for Peterson this was no different. The mornings were dark and cold. Most of his teammates were gone. There were occasional text messages Sugarman had to send to encourage Peterson not to let up. The swelling had to subside first, before he could start the process of restoring his range of motion. The pain from both the incision and the bone that had to be broken to allow the ligament to be replaced was intense. But as soon as Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 30, Peterson was ready.

``I had in my mind from the moment I got out of surgery that I was going to be back, that I was going to be good and healthy,'' Peterson said.

In three weeks, he was walking. After six weeks, he began to jog in the pool. At eight weeks, he was sprinting, with the jets turned on for resistance. Then, 10 weeks after the operation, he ran on hard ground for the first time. Peterson and Sugarman were the only people on the indoor field at Winter Park that day.

``The first time I have a guy run after an ACL, they look like they have marbles in their shoe,'' Sugarman said. ``He probably had done it on his own without telling me before that, I would guess. But the guy took off and ran across the field like, `Whoa! He looks totally normal.' This isn't supposed to happen. So that was awesome.''

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The spring and summer:

On the first day of the team's conditioning program in late April, the players lined up for sprints. Peterson was working with Sugarman on the side when he saw what was going on. Granted permission to participate, Peterson jumped in line with the rest of the runners. His exhausted teammates wore expressions of disbelief.

``He finished in first four different times,'' head coach Leslie Frazier said.

Peterson also spent time at his offseason home in Houston, where he worked with physical therapist Russ Paine at the Memorial Herrmann Sports Medicine Institute. Paine picked up where Sugarman and his staff left off.

When Peterson showed up for his sessions at the clinic, the other athletes rehabbing there stared in amazement as he sprinted at the top speed levels of the treadmill. When he lined himself up at the leg press machine, he asked that the prescribed weight be doubled.

``I really wasn't playing around. I was on a mission,'' he said.

After 14 weeks, the drills advanced. Sugarman rolled a soccer ball as Peterson shuffled from side to side in a sand pit, trying to catch it like a goalie and throw it back in the same motion. He ran tight circles around hula hoops on the turf. He sprinted forward as Sugarman held him back with a bungee cord. Sometimes, for fun, they chased each other around the training room on stools with wheels so Peterson could strengthen his hamstring muscles. Or they'd stand on small red discs and toss a ball back and forth.

``He was terrible at it. He just hates to lose at anything,'' Sugarman said. ``So it's great when I can beat him at something.''

Peterson started training camp in Mankato, Minn., on the physically unable to perform list. His protest unsuccessful, he realized the importance of taking the process slowly. Those precious last few degrees of flexion in the knee took several months to return. The cutting, stopping and restarting he has to do for his job required nothing less than the full explosive ability of the joint. The muscles around the knee that atrophied after the surgery needed to be recalibrated, with quadriceps, hamstrings and calves in the proper strength proportion to one another.

Peterson began to be integrated into practice, though, with fans and coaches holding their breaths,

``He just dominated the rehab. It was ridiculous,'' Sugarman said.

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The opener:

Peterson was in the backfield on Sept. 9 as he planned all along, and he ran like he never left, carrying the ball 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime victory over Jacksonville. He got the game ball afterward, which he gratefully passed on to Sugarman.

The ligament was as strong as ever, as good as new, but that didn't mean the Vikings weren't still nervous, wondering how Peterson would perform.

``I don't really worry anymore. But the first part of the season I was worried sick,'' Sugarman said.

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The rest of the season:

Peterson felt right after the Sept. 23 win over San Francisco, when he woke up the morning after feeling the usual post-game soreness. He truly began to take off on Oct. 21, when he hit the 150-yard mark in beating Arizona. He's passed the 170-yard mark in four of the last six games, twice surpassing 200 yards.

``He was never going to let this injury be an excuse for him not to be at the level he was at, and I think all the people saying he couldn't do it gave him more drive,'' defensive end Jared Allen said. ``That's the competitor in him, and that's why we love him here.''

Peterson jumped in the cold tub to recover after Sunday's game at St. Louis. He's still been doing stretching and strengthening exercises on his left leg. Other than that, there's nary a sign of his injury left.

Sugarman has received all kinds of correspondence from coaches and competitors in all levels of athletics, wondering what their secret was. But Peterson hasn't really rewritten the ACL rehab manual. He's just added another remarkable chapter to his exceptional career.

``His ability to heal is probably different than mine or yours. His work ethic. His determination. His faith. He just has all these factors that, when put together, allowed him to accomplish what he has almost a year out from this terrible injury,'' Sugarman said.

``I don't think it's quite fair for everyone who tears their ACL moving forward to compare themselves to Adrian Peterson. They're setting themselves up for, in most cases, an unrealistic expectation.''

Peterson, who is 27, has stated his desire to break Emmitt Smith's record for career rushing. He'd have to play a long time to do that. But after his performance this year, that mark is just as achievable for him as the rest.

``It just depends on how long God blesses me to play,'' he said. ``I might go far and play `til I'm 40. I don't know.''

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Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

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USA TODAY Sports

Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

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USA TODAY Sports

George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues -- when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West -- to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.

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