3 Stars: Flyers blow chance for home ice in first round with loss at Lightning

3 Stars: Flyers blow chance for home ice in first round with loss at Lightning

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. from the perspective of two players and one unit that struggled mightily in the third period.

 

That third period sure was ugly on Thursday night. For even more of a punch to the gut and just like the title suggests, this loss combined with the New York Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres makes the Rangers the second seed in the first round of the Metropolitan Division playoffs and eliminates the Flyers from any shot at home-ice advantage in the first round.

 

3. Tyler Johnson

The Lightning’s extremely impressive rookie forward made his presence felt early on Thursday night when he took a nice cross-ice pass from Steven Stamkos and blasted the puck past Flyers goalie Ray Emery just exactly two minutes into the game for the opening tally.

Fast-forward to the third period. Johnson hit cutting defenseman Eric Brewer, who was left wide-open in the slot by the porous Flyers defense (more on this in a bit). Brewer rifled a wrister past Emery for the eventual game-winning goal.

The first-period goal was Johnson’s 24th of the season. That ties him with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for most among rookies. That goal combined with his third-period assist gives Johnson 50 points on the year, third most among rookies.

Although MacKinnon will probably win the Calder Trophy, that’s not too shabby of a stat line for Johnson.

 

2. The Flyers’ third-period defense

Where to even start here? It was brutal.

About five minutes into the third, Lightning winger Richard Panik skated with the puck deep into the Flyers’ zone. Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn totally missed his check and let Panik escape around the net. Panik came out in front and began an offensive flurry that he eventually finished when the Flyers failed to cover him and he backhanded it past Emery for a 2-1 Lightning lead. There were Flyers all around Panik but they were all flatfooted and no one picked him up.

Things got worse on the aforementioned Brewer goal. Brewer was allowed to slide into the slot untouched after what looked like a miscommunication between Flyers winger Steve Downie and his defensemen. It was the third-to-last game of the season. Brutal breakdowns and miscommunications like that shouldn’t have happened.

Stamkos’ power-play goal later on wasn’t pretty either as Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn misplayed the puck and three Lightning players were there to pounce before Stamkos eventually cashed in.

It wasn’t like Tampa Bay dominated the period, either. Tampa had nine shots in the period, the same amount Philadelphia had. It just seemed like Tampa dominated the period because of how poorly the Flyers played defense.

It’s a bit worrisome considering there was fairly important home-ice advantage on the line for the Flyers. This kind of stuff needs to be cleaned up in the next two games.

 

1. Anders Lindback

Thought the Flyers were going to have an easier time with Lindback, the Lightning’s backup, in net in place of injured starter Ben Bishop?

Think again.

Lindback was superb as he made 36 saves for the victory in just his second start since late January.

Once he made that sprawling glove save on Flyers winger Tye McGinn in the first period, you just had a feeling it could be one of those nights.

Well, it was one of those nights. The Lightning netminder had basically every answer except for a Wayne Simmonds power-play goal and Sean Couturier’s gift of a goal that went off a Lightning defenseman’s stick and into the net.

Lindback now has seven wins on the season and three of those wins have come against the Flyers for a season-series sweep for the Lightning.

The Flyers never saw Bishop, one of the best goalies in the league this year, or the lethal Stamkos, who missed most of the season with a broken leg, during two of the meetings and were still swept by the Lightning.

 

As if the whole losing-a-chance-at-home-ice thing didn’t hurt enough, don’t look now because the Columbus Blue Jackets and Flyers remained tied for the third seed in the Metro at 91 points each.

But the Flyers currently have a game in hand since the jackets won’t play Sunday. The Flyers also hold the first tiebreaker, which is regulation and overtime wins. They have 38 of those while the Jackets have 37. The Jackets took the season series, 3-1, but that’s the second tiebreaker, as goofy as that may sound.

Don’t sleep on these last two games. There is a ton left to still be decided. Plus, the Flyers don’t want to fall into that last wild-card spot and have to book that flight to Boston next week.

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera leads off for first time in 84 games

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera leads off for first time in 84 games

A day after going 0 for 5 with five strikeouts, Odubel Herrera is leading off for the Phillies in their series opener Friday night against the Reds (see game notes).

It's the first time Herrera is leading off since last Aug. 19, a span of 84 games.

Cesar Hernandez gets the night off, with Andres Blanco batting second and playing second.

Maikel Franco is back in the six-hole after going 1 for 5 with two strikeouts in the cleanup spot Thursday. Tommy Joseph bats fourth and Michael Saunders fifth.

Cameron Rupp, who walked three times in Thursday's win over the Rockies, catches Aaron Nola and bats seventh.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Andres Blanco, 2B
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Aaron Nola, P

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies (16-29) vs. Reds (22-24)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Following their first win in a week, the Phillies open a new series this weekend against a beatable team in the Cincinnati Reds, who are 3-9 in their last 12 games and 1-7 in their last eight road games.

Let's have ourselves a look-see:

1. Nola's turn
Aaron Nola is on the mound tonight for his second start since a month-long DL stint. He was extremely impressive his last time out, allowing one run on four hits over seven innings in Pittsburgh.

Nola's fastball reached as high as 95.5 mph against the Pirates, which is notable because he threw only two pitches faster than 94 mph all of last season. His velocity was up before the lower back strain and it's a great sign that the elbow injury which ended his 2016 season is truly in the past.

In Pittsburgh, Nola (2-1, 3.52) threw 19 of 27 first-pitch strikes. He got 11 outs on the first three pitches of at-bats. 

He's faced the Reds twice in his career and dominated them both times, allowing two earned runs in 14 innings with one walk and 17 strikeouts.

Current Reds have gone 7 fo 39 (.179) against him with just two extra-base hits. Joey Votto is 0 for 5.

2. What to do with Odubel
Pete Mackanin has an interesting decision to make this weekend with slumping Odubel Herrera, who on Thursday became the first player in the majors this season to go 0 for 5 with five strikeouts in a game.

Herrera is down to .226 on the season with a .275 on-base percentage. In May, he's hit .194 with one walk and 28 strikeouts.

Mackanin could bench Herrera like he did with Maikel Franco for two games earlier this week. It would send a message to the player that poor at-bats and wild swings have consequences. And, quite frankly, sitting Herrera for a day or two might give the Phillies a better chance to win.

The issue, of course, is that there's a thin line between giving a player a chance to clear his head and ridding him of opportunities to get back on track.

Plus, the Phillies don't have great options in replacing Herrera in the lineup. They have a four-man bench at the moment and the only options would be putting Ty Kelly or Brock Stassi in left field and moving Aaron Altherr to center.

(Update: Mackanin is taking the opposite approach with Herrera, leading him off Friday night.)

Herrera just has not been himself this season and it's troubling. At this point last season, Herrera was hitting .327 with a .901 OPS. He's been an undisciplined hitter in 2017 and when you have two of them in the middle of the lineup in Herrera and Franco, it makes things really easy on pitchers at times.

Herrera started the year hot, hitting in his first eight games. Since then, he's hit .203/.239/.324 in 155 plate appearances with six walks and 42 K's.

3. Tommy time
Tommy Joseph has been one of the very best hitters in baseball this month, batting .329/.400/.671 with six doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs in 22 games.

He's 148 games and 499 plate appearances into his major-league career and has hit .257 with 23 doubles, 28 homers, 69 RBIs and an .804 OPS. That's about 10 points higher than the league average OPS from first basemen over that span.

Had Joseph's April slump continued into May, prospect Rhys Hoskins might have already been called up. But Joseph has done enough so far to hold off Hoskins, who appears to have more upside because of his combination of power and plate selection.

Controlling the strike zone is the next step for Joseph. He has a .311 OBP so far with 33 walks and 112 strikeouts as a Phillie.

But over the last two seasons, he's been one of the few Phils who's taken advantage of this ballpark. Joseph's hit .276 with an .844 OPS at Citizens Bank Park compared to .240 with a .769 OPS on the road.

4. Scouting the Reds
The Phillies face 29-year-old Reds right-hander Tim Adleman (2-2, 6.19).

You look at the ERA and think, OK, maybe the Phillies' bats will wake up tonight. But keep in mind that the Rockies' four starting pitchers this week entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA and the Phillies scored three runs against them in 27 innings.

There's nothing special about the 6-foot-5 Adleman. He throws his fastball and sinker in the 88 to 91 mph range with a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. His opponents have hit .300 against his fastball and have eight extra-base hits with a .290 batting average against his changeup.

In six starts this season, Adleman's yet to go deeper than six innings. The Phils faced him last season and scored three runs in five innings. Cesar Hernandez went 2 for 2 with a walk and Franco went 1 for 3 with a double.

As for Cincinnati's offense, Votto is obviously the hitter you worry about most. He's hit .299/.422/.591 this season with 12 doubles, 12 homers, 38 RBIs, 35 walks and 24 strikeouts. A typical Votto season.

Shortstop Zack Cozart has been surprisingly hot these first two months, hitting .340 with 20 extra-base hits, 22 walks and 29 strikeouts. It's most surprising to see him walking this much because he never has. He's 15 walks away from matching his career high.

Leftfielder Adam Duvall has killed the Phillies over the last two seasons. He went 5 for 11 with two doubles and a homer in the season-opening series in Cincy and went 8 for 18 with four doubles against them last season.

5. This and that
• Over the last seven games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 22⅔ innings.

• Howie Kendrick started at third base for Lehigh Valley during his rehab assignment Thursday. He was hit by two pitches and removed from the game.  

• Reds closer Raisel Iglesias is one of the most underrated relievers in baseball. He's 8 for 8 in save chances this season with a 0.73 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He's struck out 28 and allowed just one home run in 24⅔ innings. His ability to go multiple innings is what makes him stand out — he's Andrew Miller-like in that regard. Iglesias has pitched more than one inning in 7 of his 19 appearances.