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Seven years ago, Vladimir Putin traveled all the way to Guatemala to woo Olympic leaders with his grandiose vision: hosting the Winter Games in Russia's little-known Black Sea summer resort of Sochi.

Putin's personal pitch - delivered partly in English and French - did the trick as Sochi beat out bids from South Korea and Austria for the right to stage the 2014 Games on the so-called "Russian Riviera."

Putin's political influence and Russia's might bowled over the International Olympic Committee on that day.

It was a risky choice then and it shapes up as even riskier now.

With the opening ceremony less than two weeks away, Putin's prestige and his country's reputation are at stake - riding on a $51 billion mega-project meant to showcase a modern Russia but overshadowed by a barrage of concerns over terrorism, gay rights, human rights, corruption, waste and overspending.

No other Winter Games has faced such an acute terror threat. No other Winter Olympics has been so engulfed in politics. No other recent Olympics has been so closely associated with one man - Putin, the "captain" of the Sochi team.

Amid a politically charged atmosphere and ominous security climate, can Putin and Russia deliver a safe and successful Olympics? Can Sochi defy the grim predictions and dazzle the world with well-organized games featuring shiny new venues, picturesque mountains and the world's best winter sports athletes?

Lest we forget, the Olympics are also supposed to be about sports and athletes: Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and other NHL stars competing for their home countries on the hockey rink; snowboard great Shaun White doing new gravity-defying flips and twists; South Korean figure skating queen Yuna Kim performing graceful magic on the ice; American teen sensation Mikaela Shiffrin zipping through the slalom gates.

About 3,000 athletes from more than 80 countries will be competing in 98 medal events. Twelve new events are on the program, with women's ski jumping making its debut after being rejected for inclusion at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The medals race is likely to be between Norway, the United States, Canada and Germany. The Russians, coming off their worst ever Winter Games in Vancouver, are determined to bounce back on home territory. A gold medal from the Ovechkin-led hockey team would be the ultimate prize for a country that hasn't won the Olympic title since a "Unified Team" of former Soviet republics triumphed in 1992.

"Olympics are probably the most important thing for Russians," Ovechkin said.

Sochi will also offer up its share of human-interest story lines:

- the return of the Jamaican bobsled team for the first time since 2002, rekindling the feel-good story of 1988 that inspired the film "Cool Runnings."

- track and field stars Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams switching from the Summer Olympics to Winter Games as members of the U.S. women's bobsled team.

- British-based classical-pop musician Vanessa-Mae trading her violin for a pair of skis to compete for Thailand, her father's native country.

- and, yes, those wild and crazy pants worn by the Norwegian men's curling team - red, white and blue zig-zag patterns this time.

For now, the world's focus remains squarely on the terror danger posed by the Islamic insurgency in the Northern Caucasus. An Islamic militant group in Dagestan claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings that killed 34 people in late December in Volgograd and threatened to attack the games in Sochi.

Russian security officials have been hunting for three potential female suicide bombers, one of whom is believed to be in Sochi itself. The suspects are known as "black widows," women seeking to avenge husbands or male relatives killed in Russia's fight against insurgents in the region.

"We know some of them got through the perimeter," said Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee. "What we don't know is how many more black widows are out there. ... How many potential cells could be in Sochi and the Olympic Village?"

Russia is mounting what is believed to be the biggest security operation ever for an Olympics, deploying more than 50,000 police and soldiers to protect the games. The cordon includes naval warships, anti-aircraft batteries and drone aircraft. Two U.S. warships will be in the Black Sea to help if needed.

"We will try to make sure that the security measures taken aren't too intrusive or visible and that they won't put pressure on the athletes, guests and journalists," Putin said.

Sochi's preparations have also been clouded by the Western uproar against a Russian law enacted last year that prohibits gay "propaganda" among minors. Critics and gay activists say the law discriminates against homosexuals and could be used against anyone openly supporting gay rights at the games.

Putin has insisted there will be no discrimination of any kind against any athletes or spectators in Sochi, yet his recent comments linking homosexuality and pedophilia have only inflamed the issue.

The IOC, meanwhile, has reminded athletes to comply with "Rule 50" of the Olympic Charter, which forbids protests or political gestures at Olympic venues.

President Barack Obama has seized on the issue by sending a U.S. delegation to Sochi that includes three openly gay members - tennis great Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow.

Hoping to show off a resurgent Russia that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, organizers have built virtually all Olympic facilities from scratch to turn a decaying, Stalinist-era resort into what they hope will be a year-round tourist destination and winter sports mecca for the region.

Sochi features one of the most compact layouts in Olympic history, with all indoor arenas located close to each other in an Olympic Park along the coast. The cluster of snow venues are about 45 minutes away in the Krasnaya Polyana mountains.

"The venues will be perhaps the most spectacular, the best ever," said senior Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg, who organized the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer.

The project has come at a monumental cost: the $51 billion price tag, which includes construction of news road, tunnels, rail lines and other long-term infrastructure investments, is a record for any Winter or Summer Games. Billions of dollars have disappeared in kickbacks, embezzlement or mismanagement, critics claim.

"What's not good is all the money that's been spent," said Heiberg, head of the IOC marketing commission. "This could influence very badly cities thinking about bidding for the games."

In spite of all the criticism, IOC members believe the Russians deserve the chance to prove the choice of Sochi was the right one.

"Russia today is not the Soviet Union of 1980," Canadian member Dick Pound said. "They are certainly capable of organizing a Winter Olympics. They have created a winter sports complex out of virtually nothing and they did it in 5-6 years. My guess is they will deliver good games."

---

Follow Stephen Wilson on Twitter: HTTP://TWITTER.COM/STEVEWILSONAP

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Monday, 27 January 2014 10:51
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JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Leave it to Peyton Manning to put everything in perspective.

"The Super Bowl is a big deal," the Broncos' record-setting quarterback said Sunday after his team arrived in a frozen Big Apple - well, across the icy Hudson River in New Jersey, actually.

Well, yeah, it's only the biggest sporting event in America, a quasi-national holiday. That's not lost on the four-time NFL MVP and owner of one Super Bowl title.

"I know how hard it is to get here," he added. "I know how much time and sacrifice our team has made in order to have this opportunity to play in this game. We were excited to get on that plane. We were excited getting off that plane, and we are looking forward to being here all week and, hopefully, playing a good game next Sunday."

It will take more than a good game to beat the Seahawks, of course. Seattle brings the stingiest defense in the league to the Super Bowl. It's a juicy matchup between an unstoppable force led by Manning (55 TD passes, 606 points) and an immovable object (231 points allowed, ranked first in overall and passing defense).

And it's exactly what the Seahawks traveled across the country for: the biggest of all challenges.

"Historically, it can't get any tougher," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "People can't even dream to have a season (like Manning had). It's an extraordinary challenge, and we'll see how this matchup goes. They have to play us, too."

Plus, both teams might have to fight through the elements in the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather site.

On Sunday, an icy wind made its way through the Meadowlands, cut across the Hudson and into frigid Manhattan. Looks like Mother Nature is taking seriously the NFL's slogan for this Super Bowl: Best Served Cold.

"Don't let the cold weather get you," is Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard's mantra. "Once you figure out a point in your mind that you're cold, that's when it gets you. So you just have to block it out and be into the moment."

For the moment, each side is dealing with the distractions that accompany reaching the NFL's super-hyped championship game.

More media, for sure. A glaring spotlight on everything. Spending a week away from home. Practicing in another team's facility: the Seahawks at the Giants' complex across the parking lots from MetLife Stadium, the Broncos at the Jets' place in Florham Park, about 30 minutes from the Meadowlands.

Both coaches, Denver's John Fox and Seattle's Carroll, are concerned about the outdoor practice fields being frozen or covered with snow. Neither sounded eager about working indoors the entire week.

Just another inconvenience that goes along with the Super Bowl, although the NFL said the outdoor fields will be available for practices.

"Cold, hot, snow, rain, football is challenging," Seahawks All-Pro safety Earl Thomas said. "That's why we've got to stay in it (mentally) for the whole game - the personnel, the matchups. It's not about psyching yourself up, it's about the opportunity. You've got the God-given ability and you want to show it off. It doesn't matter where it is."

Where it is, of course, is where every football player seeks to be in early February. Whether the Super Bowl is played on the Meadowlands tundra, in Death Valley or on Mars, every NFL player wants to be suiting up for it.

"I think in order to be a championship football team we've got to be weatherproof, and I think our football team played in all different elements this year," Fox said. "I feel comfortable with where we're at as far as the elements, but it's a part of the game. I think tradition-wise, it's been a part of the league and a part of a lot of championships."

Not one regular Seahawks player has been to this stage, giving Denver something of an edge in experience. The Broncos have four: receiver Wes Welker, tight end Jacob Tamme, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and that quarterback named Peyton.

Manning, of course, is the only current Bronco to have won a ring, with Indianapolis in 2007. He also lost the Super Bowl in 2010 with the Colts.

On Monday, with the long travel out of the way and the introductory news conferences behind them, each team gets down to business. They can't wait.

"I don't believe in such a thing called distractions," Woodyard said. "This is the moment we have got to be in. It's what you wanted your whole life."

---

AP NFL website: WWW.PRO32.AP.ORG

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED.Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Monday, 27 January 2014 10:49
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Jabari Brown had 24 points with a career-best six assists and Jordan Clarkson added 22 points, helping Missouri handle South Carolina 82-74 on Saturday.
 
Earnest Ross added 14 points for the Tigers (15-4, 3-3 SEC), who led by double digits most of the way and kept the Gamecocks (7-12, 0-6) winless in conference play. The winners shot 54 percent and combined for a season-best 18 assists.
 
Brenton Williams had a career-best seven 3-pointers and a season-best 32 points for South Carolina, which has dropped the first six conference games for the first time since a 0-6 start in 1998-99, and is 0-7 on the road. Sindarius Thornwell fouled out late and had 14 points after totaling 50 points the previous two games.
 
Brown leads the SEC in scoring with an average of about 20 points and was 4 for 6 from 3-point range. He's 16 for 24 from long range the last four games.
 
Missouri is 43-2 at home in three seasons under coach Frank Haith. South Carolina coach Frank Martin picked up one of the wins in 2012 when he was at Kansas State but is 1-6 overall at Missouri.
 
Michael Carrera scored six of his 16 points in the final 1:46 for South Carolina, including two free throws that cut the deficit to six points with 1:18 to go. Ryan Rosburg was 0 for 4 at the line the final 1:29 for Missouri, but Carrera also missed a pair with just under a minute left.
 
Carrera added 11 rebounds for the losers.
 
Ross had 12 points and Missouri shot 50 percent in the first half, leading by as many as 20 points and taking a 38-22 cushion into the break. Wesley Clark had a 3-pointer and Ross converted a three-point play to cap a 16-0 run that put Missouri up 38-18 with 1:48 to go.
 
South Carolina cut the gap to 11 points early in the second half before Missouri answered with eight straight points, including 3-pointers by Clarkson and Brown in a 53-second span.
 
The Gamecocks waited more than 6 minutes for its first basket while falling behind 11-0, and shot 25.9 percent in the first half.
 
Thornwell, who totaled 50 points the previous two games, was held to six points in 12 minutes while saddled with two fouls.
 
The attendance of 12,033 was the largest of the season at Mizzou Arena, which holds just over 15,000.
Saturday, 25 January 2014 19:20
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) -- Kevin Shattenkirk and Alexander Steen scored shootout goals to lift the St. Louis Blues to 4-3 win over the New York Islanders following a puzzling goal reversal call in overtime.
 
Thomas Vanek appeared to score the winner for the Islanders on the power play with 1:15 left in overtime but the play was overturned on review. The puck dribbled past Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak and went to Toronto for review. The puck appeared to hit Vanek's skate but the distinct kicking motion that usually negates goals wasn't apparent.
 
Matt Martin had put the Islanders ahead 3-2 midway through the second period. T.J. Oshie tied the game at 19:33 with his 12th goal.
 
Vanek and Kyle Okposo scored in the first for the Islanders. Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice for the Blues.
 
The Islanders lost for just the fifth time in 15 games.
 
Kevin Poulin made a number of acrobatic saves for New York. His best was a point-blank pad save on Blues leading scorer Alexander Steen midway through the second. He also denied Steen and Oshie during a power play midway through the third.
 
Vanek opened the scoring at 4:01 of the first, slapping the puck by Jarolsav Halak for his 19th of the season. Vanek has points in 17 of his last 19 games with nine goals and 16 assists during the stretch.
 
The 30-year-old left wing was acquired from Buffalo on Oct. 27 for Matt Moulson and two high draft picks. The line of Vanek with center John Tavares and with Okposo on the right has ignited the Islanders over the past month.
 
Okposo has points in five straight games and in 18 of his last 22 contests while Tavares (23 goals and 41 assists) is second in league scoring behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.
 
The line connected again at 15:11 when Okposo jammed the puck past Halak for his 22nd goal of the year. Fans at Nassau Coliseum also chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A" for Okposo, who wasn't picked for the U.S. team for the Winter Games next month in Sochi, Russia even though he's having a breakout season. Okposo already has a career-high 54 points.
 
Tarasenko cut the margin in half at 17:17 of the first, beating Poulin high from about 30 feet out. The 22-year-old right wing scored again at 1:17 of the second, his 17th goal this season. He hit the left post late in second and had a golden chance midway through the third when his rebound shot appeared to hit both posts without going into the net.
 
The Blues won the previous meeting this season, 5-1 at the Scottrade Center on Dec. 5.
 
The Blues were completing visits to all three local teams. They defeated the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday after losing 7-1 in Newark to the Devils.
 
St. Louis is 16-3-1 against the East this season. They are 40-10-6 against the East since 2010-11, league-best intra-conference play.
 
NOTES: The Islanders are 19-6-3 when they score at least three goals and are 2-19-5 when they do not . Ten members of the Blues will represent their countries at the Olympics, tying Chicago and Detroit for the most among NHL teams . The Islanders have led by two or more goals 15 times in their 54 games. They are 6-4-5 in those game
Saturday, 25 January 2014 16:02
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NEW YORK (AP) -- St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored the tiebreaking power-play goal early in the third period, and the Blues got the best of the New York Rangers again in a 2-1 victory on Thursday night.
 
Alexander Steen also had a goal for the Blues before leaving late in the second period with a lower-body injury. David Backes had two assists, and Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves in beating New York's Henrik Lundqvist in a matchup of Olympic goalies.
 
New York's Rick Nash scored his sixth goal in four games - netting at least one in each - but Shattenkirk took advantage of Nash's slashing penalty, scoring 9 seconds into the power play at 3:09.
 
Lundqvist made 23 saves in his return from a one-game absence caused by the flu. He allowed fewer than three goals for the seventh straight game, but still couldn't find a way to stop the Blues - the only NHL team he has never beaten (0-4).
 
St. Louis swept the two-game season series and has won seven of the past eight meetings. The Blues, beaten 7-1 at New Jersey on Tuesday, have earned points in eight straight visits to Madison Square Garden.
 
The Rangers got even late in the second period on Nash's team-leading 17th goal. Derek Stepan sent a pass from behind the net out to Nash, who stepped into a slap shot from the dot in the left circle and ripped a drive past Halak with 1:43 left.
 
New York continued to pressure the Blues for the remainder of the period and drew its second power play of the night in the closing seconds. The Rangers outshot the Blues 28-18 through 40 minutes.
 
Lundqvist was steady in his return. He seemed a bit off on his timing at certain points, but made several good saves after the Rangers fell behind.
 
Steen gave the Blues an early 1-0 lead with his 26th goal. A pass from Jaden Schwartz hit Steen's right skate in front of the crease, caromed off Lundqvist's stick and skate and trickled in behind him at 8:38. The goal was briefly reviewed by video replay, and it was determined that the puck wasn't kicked into the net.
 
It was the fifth straight goal allowed by the Rangers since they had a 3-1 lead over the Islanders in the second period on Tuesday in a 5-3 loss. A late power-play goal was the winner in that one, too.
 
Steen struggled to get to the bench in the second after going hard into the boards, but he was back soon after on the power play. He skated off for good with 2:57 left.
 
NOTES: Nash has 21 goals and 40 points in 50 games versus the Blues. ... Steen has 14 career points against the Rangers and 12 in the past seven games - including six goals. ... Schwartz played in his 100th NHL game. The Blues will attend the White Out for Mandi game at Yale University on Friday, an event in memory of Schwartz's sister - a former hockey player at Yale who died of leukemia in 2011. ... Blues C Maxim Lapierre was activated from the injured list after missing five games due to a lower body injury. ... Newly acquired D Kevin Klein made his Rangers debut. ... St. Louis C Derek Roy was a healthy scratch.
Thursday, 23 January 2014 22:37
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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A week ago, LSU failed to execute in the final minutes of regulation and dropped an overtime decision to Ole Miss.
 
The results were the opposite for LSU against Missouri on Tuesday. Jordan Mickey scored four points and Anthony Hickey sank four consecutive free throws in the final minute and LSU held off the Tigers for a 77-71 Southeastern Conference win.
 
Hickey, who entered the game shooting 50 percent from the free-throw line, was fouled on purpose twice by Missouri. Hickey made his first pair of free throws to give LSU a 74-68 lead with 37 seconds remaining.
 
Following a 3-pointer by Jabari Brown, Hickey was again fouled. Hickey sank two more free throws with 17 seconds left to push LSU ahead 76-71.
 
"It was a great team effort out there," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "Missouri played aggressive in the second half, tied it and eventually took the lead. I'm really proud of how our team bore their neck.
 
"They played with a sense of urgency and toughness down the stretch," Jones said. "They got stops and tough rebounds on the defensive end. Then, they were able to execute on the offensive end. They knocked down some big free throws."
 
Shavon Coleman led LSU (12-5, 3-2) with a season-high 19 points. Johnny O'Bryant added 16 points, while Andre Stringer had 12. Mickey scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
 
"Towards the end of the game, you have to get the ball inside and get some fouls," Mickey said. "You don't want to keep taking jump shots that can allow the other team to get back in the game, so you have to go inside and try to get some easy layups."
 
Brown had a career-high 28 points for Missouri (14-4, 2-3). Jordan Clarkson contributed 19 points, while Earnest Ross had 16.
 
"You can't take anything away from our guys' competitive spirit," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "LSU made some big shots and made their free throws when they went to the line down the stretch. We were slow reacting a little bit on defense. It obviously wasn't one of our better moments defensively."
 
Missouri, which trailed for most of the game, went ahead 65-64 on a 3-pointer by Brown with 3:39 remaining. LSU's Mickey replied with two free throws and a field goal and Coleman made a layup after a steal by Tim Quarterman.
 
Missouri stayed in striking range as Clarkson made three of four free throws on Missouri's next two possessions. Then Hickey was fouled twice, and he sealed the win with his clutch foul shooting.
 
LSU led for most of the first half and built an 18-10 lead after Coleman made a 3-pointer with 12:31 remaining. Sparked by Brown's eight points, Missouri rallied to take its first lead at 29-26 with 5:26 left before halftime.
 
LSU regained the lead by outscoring Missouri 12-2 over the next five minutes. Stringer started the run with a 3-pointer, Mickey made two baskets and sank two foul shots, and Jarell Marting scored three points. Brown hit a field goal, but Missouri trailed 38-33 at the half.
 
Missouri seized momentum at the start of the second half. A 3-pointer by Clarkson and a layup by Brown tied the score at 38, then a bucket by Johnathan Williams put Missouri on top less than 90 seconds into the half.
 
Trailing by four for a third time, LSU's Mickey scored on an inside basket, then Stringer hit a trey for a 50-49 lead with 14:08 to play. Quarterman made a field goal and Coleman sank one of two foul shots to increase the lead to 53-49.
 
LSU extended its advantage to six points at 59-53 following field goals by O'Bryant and Coleman. But a three-point play by Ross cut Missouri's deficit in half with 8:33 remaining. LSU got the lead back to six points again on a field goal by Martin and a foul shot by Coleman.
 
Another three-point play — this one by Brown — again cut Missouri's deficit in half. Missouri then tied the score when Ross made one of two free throws and hit a layup following an LSU turnover. A driving basket by Coleman put LSU back ahead 64-62 with 4:05 remaining.
Tuesday, 21 January 2014 23:51
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Mark Fayne and Ryan Carter scored 24 seconds apart early in the first period to spark the New Jersey Devils to a 7-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night.
 
Jaromir Jagr, Ryane Clowe, Adam Henrique, Damien Brunner and Eric Gelinas added goals and the Devils celebrated a return to the snow-bound Prudential Center after losing three of four on the road. The seven goals were a season high, both ways. It was the biggest outburst by the Devils, and the most surrendered by the Blues.
 
Cory Schneider, 3-0-2 in his last five appearances, made 26 saves.
 
The game went on as scheduled despite a heavy snowstorm that held the crowd to an announced turnout of 2,000.
 
Alexander Steen scored for the Blues who sported two impressive marks coming in: they were 14-2-1 against Eastern Conference foes and 15-5-3 on the road.
 
None of that mattered as the Devils stunned the Blues with goals by Fayne and Carter only 2:51 in.
 
Fayne got it started with a high floater from the right point that eluded Brian Elliot at 2:27. It was the New Jersey defenseman's first goal in 25 games.
 
Carter followed 24 seconds later with a backhanded rebound.
 
Steen settled things momentarily for St. Louis with his career-high 25th goal to cut the Devils' lead to 2-1 at 8:47.
 
Jagr put New Jersey back up by two at 10:27 with his 697th career tally. The pass from Reid Boucher bounced off Jagr's left skate, and was affirmed by a video review.
 
Elliott was yanked about two minutes later, having surrendered three goals on nine shots. Jaroslav Halak came on in relief.
 
The first period ended with New Jersey up 3-1 thanks to a 13-6 shot advantage.
 
The Devils tacked on a pair of power-play tallies in the second, by Clowe at 1:03 and Henrique at 15:42, to expand the lead to 5-1.
 
Schneider, who had a relatively easy night, came up with perhaps his best stop midway through the middle period, denying David Backes when he was all alone in the slot.
 
In the third, Brunner added the Devils' third power-play tally at 1:18. Brunner was activated before the game from the injured reserve list after missing 14 games with a right knee injury.
 
Gelinas scored on a fluke, making it 7-1. He fired a shot from the red line that hit a Blues defender and bounced past Halak.
 
NOTES: Devils cleared roster space for Brunner by placing RW Cam Janssen on waivers. Janssen was assigned to Albany (AHL). ... The Blues remain in the New York area for games against the Rangers on Thursday and the Islanders on Saturday. ... Blues RW Vladimir Tarasenko missed a second straight game with the flu. ... The Devils invited fans in the top levels to "come on down" to the lower bowl to fill the available empty seats during a break in the first-period action. Fans also were offered a pair of tickets for an upcoming game. ... Henrique missed the third period with an undisclosed injury.
Tuesday, 21 January 2014 23:49
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DETROIT (AP) -- Magnus Paarjarvi, Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester scored to give the St. Louis Blues a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.
 
Alex Steen added two assists and Jaroslav Halak made 22 saves for the Blues, who had lost their previous two games.
 
Gustav Nyquist scored for Detroit. Jimmy Howard stopped 22 shots before being replaced by Petr Mrazek midway through the second period because of a lower-body injury. Mrazek made 13 saves.
 
Jackman and Shattenkirk scored 1:20 apart early in the second period to put the Blues up 3-1.
 
Jackman broke a 1-1 tie with a screened one-time shot from the high slot at 1:01 of the middle period with the teams playing 4-on-4. It was Jackman's third goal of the season.
 
Shattenkirk's goal was on the power play and came on a screened shot from the left point 2:21 into the period. It was Shattenkirk's seventh goal.
 
Bouwmeester got his fourth goal, 2:14 into the third, when his shot from the left point went in off the Red Wings' Riley Sheahan.
 
The game was tied at 1 after the first 20 minutes despite St. Louis outshooting Detroit 18-7.
 
Paarjarvi opened the scoring with 8:47 left in the opening period when he banked one in off Howard's leg on a wraparound from behind the net. It was Paarjarvi's fourth goal.
 
Nyquist's power-play goal tied the game with 27 seconds remaining in the first. He controlled and put in a loose puck during a goalmouth scramble for Nyquist's sixth goal and his first in nine games.
 
NOTE: C Darren Helm returned for Detroit after missing 18 of the past 19 games with shoulder and groin injuries. ... St. Louis defenseman Ian Cole is from Ann Arbor, Mich. ... The Red Wings were without C Pavel Datsyuk (lower body), RW Johan Franzen (post-concussion syndrome), RW Daniel Alfredsson (back spasms), D Jonathan Ericsson (ribs), C Joakim Andersson (back), C Cory Emmerton (finger) and G Jonas Gustavsson (groin). ... Blues RW Ryan Reaves celebrated his 27th birthday.
 
Monday, 20 January 2014 23:35
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Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos and Richard Sherman's Seattle Seahawks were the NFL's best all season, so it's fitting that they'll meet in the Super Bowl.

Nobody scored as many points or gained as many yards as the Broncos.

Nobody allowed as few points or gave up as few yards as the Seahawks.

And nobody won as many games as those clubs, either.

What a way to finish the season. When the AFC champion Broncos (15-3) play the NFC champion Seahawks (15-3) on Feb. 2 at what could be a chilly MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., it will be the first Super Bowl since 1991 pitting the league's highest-scoring team in the regular season against the team that was scored on the least, according to STATS.

It's also only the second time in the last 20 Super Bowls that the No. 1 seed in each conference reached the NFL championship game.

"It will be a great matchup," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I think it's an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game."

That, of course, would be Manning, the 37-year-old quarterback who is the only four-time NFL MVP - and no one would be surprised if No. 5 arrives the night before the Super Bowl. He established marks by throwing for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, helping Denver lead the league with 37.9 points and 457.3 yards per game. Manning is an inescapable pitchman, too, seen Sunday after Sunday during TV commercials. Hey, there he was selling cars during breaks in the broadcast of the NFC title game. Expect even more face time now.

Manning's oft-told tale, certain to be repeated a million times in the coming days, includes his comeback from a series of surgical procedures to his neck, attempts to cure problems that led him to sit out the entire 2011 season. That also led the Indianapolis Colts to send him packing despite two Super Bowl appearances with that club, including a title in 2007.

"It's certainly well-documented what my journey the past 2 1/2 years has been," said Manning, who could become the first starting QB to lead two franchises to titles, "but this team's overcome a lot of obstacles this year."

None more serious, perhaps, than coach John Fox's absence for about a month because of a heart operation. Other issues included the fax faux pas that precipitated the departure of pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, star linebacker Von Miller's drug-testing suspension and season-ending knee injury, and the losses of a handful of other starters on defense.

"Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl - I know how hard it is to get there," Manning said.

He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-16 victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday. Manning's offense scored on six consecutive possessions, accounted for more than 500 yards, had zero turnovers and zero sacks.

Ol' No. 18's opposite number in two weeks, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, provides a real contrast as he seeks his - and the Seahawks' - first Super Bowl trophy.

Wilson is 6 inches shorter, 12 years younger, a skilled scrambler in only his second pro season after slipping to the third round of the draft; he's a guy who had to transfer colleges to get playing time and thought about pursuing a baseball career instead.

"Any time you get to the Super Bowl," Wilson said after Seattle beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 on Sunday, "it's a special time."

Other members of the Seahawks getting the chance to introduce themselves to a wide audience include rugged running back Marshawn Lynch - fans tossed packs of his favorite candy, Skittles, onto the field after a 40-yard TD run in the third quarter - and Carroll, a rah-rah sort who was a title-winning college coach at Southern California.

And maybe, just maybe, some of Manning's less-heralded defensive teammates - the ones who clamped down on New England's running game Sunday and limited Brady much of the afternoon - will get their chance to shine, too.

Seattle's defense, led by Sherman, allowed an average of 14.4 points and 273.6 yards, and topped the NFL in takeaways.

On Sunday, the Seahawks forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, including a victory-sealing interception by Malcolm Smith after Sherman stretched his left hand to tip Colin Kaepernick's pass away from receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone.

"I'm the best corner in the game," said Sherman, an All-Pro. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get."

Seattle's only other trip to the big game ended with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. Denver will be playing in its seventh Super Bowl and eyeing a third title, to go with those from 1998 and 1999, when current executive John Elway was the QB.

In addition to Elway, Manning can match his younger brother Eli with a second Super Bowl crown. Eli, a spectator on Sunday in Denver, won two trophies with the New York Giants, whose stadium hosts this year's Super Bowl, the first to be played outdoors at a cold-weather site.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/HOWARDFENDRICH

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Monday, 20 January 2014 09:29
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DENVER (AP) -- Peyton Manning stuffed the football into his helmet and handed it to an equipment man for safekeeping.
 
The connection: Flawless, as usual.
 
The keepsake: Certainly one he'll want to hang on to.
 
The Broncos quarterback had an answer for everyone Sunday - from Tom Brady to the New England defense to anyone who thought he couldn't win the big one.
 
Manning is taking the Broncos on a trip to New York for the Super Bowl after another of his impeccably crafted victories - this time, a 26-16 win over the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC title game.
 
"Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl, I know how hard it is to get there," Manning said.
 
Especially this time.
 
Only three years ago, he could barely grip a football as he started the long comeback from surgeries that ravaged his neck and nerve endings. And only 53 weeks ago, he suffered a devastating loss to Baltimore in the divisional playoffs that derailed what looked like a Super Bowl trip in his comeback season.
 
But Manning will get his chance for a second Super Bowl ring, after all. He'll try to become the first starting quarterback to win one with two different teams, at the Meadowlands on Feb. 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, who beat San Francisco 23-17 in the NFC title game.
 
"He's been remarkable," said Broncos coach John Fox, off to his second Super Bowl as a head coach. "It's unprecedented what he did."
 
After packing away his football, Manning ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with Brady. A bit later in the locker room, he celebrated with his father, Archie, and brothers Cooper and Eli, the Giants quarterback who surprised Peyton much the way Peyton surprised him by showing up at the NFC title game two years ago.
 
The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against Brady, but is now 2-1 in AFC title games.
 
"I have a lot of respect for him," Brady said. "Certainly, he's a great player and he played great today."
 
Though Manning threw for 400 yards, it was more dink-and-dunk than a fireworks show in this, the 15th installment between the NFL's two best quarterbacks of a generation. Manning set up four field goals by Matt Prater and put his stamp on this one with a pair of long, meticulous and mistake-free touchdown drives in which nothing came cheap.
 
He geared down the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that helped him set records for touchdown passes and yardage this season and made the Broncos the highest-scoring team in history. The result: 93- and 80-yard touchdown drives that each lasted more than seven minutes; they were the two longest, time-wise, of the season for the Broncos (15-3).
 
The Broncos held the ball for 35:44. They were 7 for 13 on third-down conversions.
 
"To keep Tom Brady on the sideline is a good thing," Manning said. "That's something you try to do when you're playing the Patriots."
 
Manning capped the second long drive with a 3-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, who got inside the overmatched Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch. It gave Denver a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
 
From there, it was catch-up time for Brady and the Pats (13-5), and they are not built for that - at least not this year.
 
"We got in a hole there," Brady said. "It was just too much to dig our way out."
 
A team that averaged more than 200 yards on the ground the last three games didn't have much quick-strike capability. Brady, who threw for most of his 277 yards in comeback mode, actually led the Patriots to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. But they were a pair of time-consuming, 80-yard drives. The second cut the deficit to 26-16 with 3:07 left, but the Broncos stopped Shane Vereen on the 2-point conversion and the celebration was on in Denver.
 
"Losing is never easy," Patriots defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich said. "But when you have somebody as talented as (Manning), who puts in as much work and effort, and has done it for so long, it's a little bit easier to swallow."
 
The trip to New York, where it figures to be at least a tad cooler than Sunday's 63-degree reading at kickoff, will come 15 years after John Elway rode off into the sunset with his second straight Super Bowl victory.
 
The Broncos have had one close call since - when they lost at home to Pittsburgh in the 2005 season's AFC title game - but what it really took was Elway's return to the franchise in 2011. He slammed the door on the Tim Tebow experiment and signed Manning to a contract, knowing there were risks involved in bringing to town a thirty-something quarterback coming off multiple operations to resurrect his career.
 
Even without Von Miller on the field, Elway put enough pieces in place around Manning to move within a game of the championship.
 
Thomas. Wes Welker (four catches, 38 yards). Eric Decker (5-73). Tight end Julius Thomas (8-85).
 
"It's been a terrific group," Elway said as he hoisted the AFC championship trophy. "They worked their tail off all year."
 
Manning knows how to make the most of all the options he's been given.
 
This game started getting out of hand at about the same time Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib went out with a knee injury. Nobody else could cover Thomas, and Manning, who finds mismatches even under the toughest of circumstances, found this one quickly.
 
"Talib's an excellent player," Manning said, "but Demaryius was going to be a big part of the game plan, either way."
 
Thomas finished with seven catches for 134 yards, including receptions of 26 and 27 yards that set up a field goal for a 13-3 lead before the half.
 
Denver got the ball to start the third quarter and Manning hit Thomas for 15 and 4 yards as part of the 80-yard, 7:08 touchdown drive that gave Denver the 17-point lead.
 
It was 23-3 before Brady began the comeback that came up short.
 
"Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning," Patriots defensive end Andre Carter said. "He's a smart player and able to make adjustments when he needs to."
 
New England came up a win short of the Super Bowl for the second straight year.
 
The thought this week was that Bill Belichick's team was playing with house money, having well exceeded expectations for a team that lost a number of stars - Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski - and has been plagued by injuries all year.
 
But a loss is a loss and facts are facts. Belichick is stuck on three titles and hasn't won one since the NFL busted him for the Spygate videotaping scandal.
 
"There were a lot of opportunities in the game that, if we were able to coach better, play better, execute better in any of those areas, it would have given us a chance," Belichick said.
 
Manning said Belichick is the best coach he's ever had to go against. The quarterback insisted this week's showdown against Brady was more Broncos vs. Patriots than Manning vs. Brady. He lets others decide who's the greatest at this or that.
 
But he earned a chance to improve on his already-sterling legacy - one that figures to leave him holding his fifth MVP trophy come Super Bowl week.
 
A win at MetLife Stadium in two weeks would put him in the same company brother Eli, along with Elway, Roger Staubach and a few others as a two-time Super Bowl winner.
 
Two weeks for Manning to prepare might feel like a lifetime.
 
At times, his long, difficult comeback has felt like a lifetime, too.
 
"We've definitely come a long way in two years," Manning said. "And bouncing back from last year's playoff loss to put ourselves in this position, it definitely feels very gratifying."
 
Sunday, 19 January 2014 23:48
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