Didinger's championship round scouting report

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Didinger's championship round scouting report

Sizing up Sundays NFL conference championship games:

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
(Sunday, 3 p.m., FOX)

Key stat: The 49ers rolled up 579 total yards, a franchise postseason record, in their 45-31 win over Green Bay. They gained 323 yards on the ground and controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes, which kept Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense off the field.

Hot and cold: 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has just seven catches in the last seven games but he is a freakish talent 6-3, 250 pounds with 4.4 speed who holds the team record for touchdowns by a tight end (35). After seeing how much damage Seattle tight end Zach Miller did to the Atlanta defense (eight catches, 142 yards, one touchdown) the 49ers might expand Davis role in this game.

Momentum: The 49ers have lost their last five playoff games on the road. The last time the 49ers won a playoff game on the road was 1988 when they knocked off the Bears in Chicago, 28-3. Jim Harbaugh (now their coach) was a quarterback with the Bears.

Xs and Os: Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was head coach of the 49ers from 2005 until 2008. He is familiar with most of their personnel but he wasnt there to coach Colin Kaepernick, and the young quarterback is the key to this game. Nolan will have to find a way to contain him. Kaepernick ran for 181 yards against Green Bay (most ever by an NFL quarterback). Nolan will play primarily zone coverage so his linebackers and defensive backs can keep their eyes in the backfield.

Intangibles: Matt Ryan finally won his first NFL postseason game against Seattle. He had an up and down game (three touchdown passes, two interceptions) but he made two clutch throws on the final drive to set up the winning field goal. With that burden off his shoulders now, "Matty Ice" may be looser and better against the 49ers.

Injury factor: Atlanta defensive end John Abraham reinjured his ankle last week and played only 15 snaps against Seattle. With Abraham on the bench, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson ran wild in the second half. The Falcons need Abraham at full strength or close to it if they hope to contain Kaepernick.
Player to watch: Safety Donte Whitner is the most underrated player on a very good and very physical 49ers defense. He will be responsible for covering Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. The future Hall of Famer is Ryans go-to receiver.

Prediction: The Falcons could not stop Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who totaled 704 yards (502 passing, 202 rushing) and six touchdowns in two games this season. They didnt have much more success with Wilson last week. Now here comes Kaepernick fresh off his record-setting performance against the Pack. This is a very tough matchup for the Falcons, even at home.

49ers 27, Falcons 17

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
(Sunday, 6:30 p.m., CBS)

Key stat: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has 40 postseason touchdown passes, five behind his boyhood idol Joe Montana.

Hot and cold: The Ravens scored 17 or fewer points on the road five times this season. That wont get it done against the Patriots, the NFLs highest scoring offense.

Momentum: Ravens QB Joe Flacco has stepped up his game in the postseason. In the wins over Indianapolis and Denver, Flacco threw five touchdowns with no interceptions. He had an efficiency rating of 120.0 compared to 88.1 in the regular season. Flacco outplayed Brady in last seasons AFC title game, passing for 306 yards and two touchdowns.

Xs and Os: Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith has developed into a game-changing deep threat. He had two touchdown catches against the Broncos, burning veteran Champ Bailey in the process, and he scored three touchdowns in the last two games against the Patriots. The threat of his deep speed creates space underneath for tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, who have combined for nine catches in the postseason.

Intangibles: The Ravens have rallied around linebacker Ray Lewis, who will retire after this season. The desire to win it for Ray is a strong motivator for the team and the future Hall of Famer is doing his part by playing inspired football (17 tackles against Denver). The Ravens also remember last seasons bitter 23-20 loss to the Patriots in the conference final. This is their chance for payback.

Injury factor: The Patriots are without tight end Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm) and may be missing running back Danny Woodhead (thumb), so that takes away two of the teams best receivers, but Brady still has plenty of weapons in Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd (who had nine catches for 108 yards against the Ravens earlier this season).

Player to watch: When the Ravens have beaten the Patriots three years ago in the playoffs and again this season Ray Rice was the key. He had an 83-yard scoring run to open the playoff game and he ran for 101 yards and a touchdown in the 31-30 win this season. When the Ravens lost to the Pats in the conference final last season, Rice was a non-factor (67 yards). They need to get him going in both the running and passing game.

Prediction: The Ravens play the Patriots tough, even in Foxborough, but you have to wonder how their aging defense will hold up this week. Denver had success running a hurry-up offense against Baltimore last week and the Ravens' defense has played 184 snaps the last two games. With Brady cranking up the tempo, it will be hard for Lewis and company to keep pace.

Patriots 30, Ravens 20

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

There are good penalties. And bad penalties. And penalties which aren’t even penalties.

The last one would perfectly describe Radko Gudas’ hip check on Miles Wood that was whistled as clipping by referee Dan O’Halloran in the second period.

Even Wood was laughing as Gudas went to the box, realizing what a break he had gotten – a power play for nothing.

“He’s a pretty quick D-man,” Wood said. “I don’t think it should have been a call, but it was a good hit by him.”

That gave the Devils a power play. Then, when Wayne Simmond argued the call with O'Halloran, Simmonds drew two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The resulting 5-on-3 New Jersey power play saw the Devils score to break a 1-1 tie.

Minutes later, the Flyers had a bad line change and it was 3-1. Game over. The Devils would go on to win, 4-1 (see game story).

Bottom line? The Gudas call changed everything.

“I was really surprised,” Gudas said. “I didn’t think it was a penalty at all.”

Is this oversimplifying the game to say everything changed with that one call?

“Are we really simplifying it?” Gudas asked. “I think that after those calls we have to get together as a group and make sure we kill these off. Unfortunately, we let them score on that power play. It was just unlucky.”

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol called it “an excellent hit” by Gudas. He wouldn’t go deeper than that.

The six muffed power plays gave him enough reason to believe the Flyers could have gotten back in it. His Flyers are 3-9-3 since winning 10 games.

You can’t underestimate how those two calls turned the tables on the Flyers in this game.

“Everyone has their own opinion on the hit and we were obviously frustrated on the hit,” Travis Konecny said. “We thought it was a clean hit and we reacted to it. We have everyone’s backs.

“We have all had the one’s where we are angry with the ref and the one who made a hit like that. There is a time for that moment there.”

Goalie Michal Neuvirth thought it was a difference maker.

“Oh, absolutely, we were playing better in the second period,” he said. “I thought we had a momentum. You know stuff like that 5-on-3 for two minutes, it’s tough to defend.

“I think it’s taking way too many penalties lately and you got to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).