Bitter End to Brilliant Classic: Rangers Outlast Flyers

Bitter End to Brilliant Classic: Rangers Outlast Flyers

The 2012 NHL Winter Classic lived up to every bit of hype that has been piled on it over the past year. The teams represented one of the league's best rivalries, and each side was at the top of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference for the period leading up to and including game. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, although the net result of participation in the event was positive, the finale was disappointing.

Despite a hard-fought 60 minutes, the Flyers wilted in the third period, and goaltending was—predictably—one of the deciding factors. It's also a clear difference between the Flyers and the team they trail in the division.

Below, a look at the best and worst the day had to offer.

Deep Rooted Atmosphere
There was little doubt that a Flyers-Rangers matchup on the field at one of baseball's new palaces would be met with tremendous fan response, and we've come to expect Winter Classics to be outstanding theatre no matter where they're played and who is on the ice. A crowd of nearly 47,000 surrounded a makeshift yet perfect hockey stage, and the weather behaved, with only wind providing any sort of issue. A light wave of flurries later in the game added even more to a gorgeous scene. Off the ice, the NHL, Flyers, Phillies, and Rangers did just about everything right in terms of putting on a memorable show for fans who shelled out big money for a unique experience.

The NBC announcers said it was hard for the coaches to communicate on their benches because of how loud it was.

The Roots were a highlight as well, putting on a great intermission show. All but Black Thought donned Flyers jerseys (at least he ditched his frequently worn Yankees cap), and they played "The Fire," replacing "Fire" with "Flyers." Great performance by Philly's top musical act:

Patti LaBelle... not the best anthem we've heard, and we'll leave it at that.

Flyers Are Subjects in King Henrik's Realm
Unfortunately, the result that counts is that the Flyers are still chasing a superior Rangers team in the standings and in bona fide contention for a Stanley Cup. One huge reason—although not the only one—is Henrik Lundqvist. Through a tight first period, Henrik turned aside everything sent his way, as did Sergei Bobrovsky. But a soft goal surrendered by Bob in the third will be hard to forget, whereas Lundqvist seemed to only get stronger.

The Flyers had the advantage in opportunities early, but most were not particularly dangerous. Lundqvist was square to nearly every shot, and didn't have to deal with much in the way of screens of second-effort attempts.

Through nearly half the game, neither side threatened too dangerously. Then, in a matter of 2:25, three goals were scored.

Schenn Opens His Account, Flyers Take Over
When the Flyers finally lit the scoreboard for the first time, it was a historic moment in what may become a brilliant NHL career. Brayden Schenn has battled injuries in his time as a Flyer, but earned every bit of his goal on Monday. Schenn won an offensive zone face-off, then made his way to the net as Matt Carle through the puck toward the cage. Lundqvist made the initial stop, but left the rebound at his feet, where an opportunistic Schenn put it home and celebrated exactly as you might expect.

[More on that here]
Schenn joins Danny Syvret in the realm of Flyers who have scored their first NHL goals in a Winter Classic. Hopefully that's all they'll have in common.

While we were all still high-fiving, Claude Giroux scored his 18th of the season, moving ahead of Henrik Sedin for the NHL points lead (46). Max Talbot was the playmaker who set it up, making good use of some open ice while G weaved into the slot. Talbot found him, and with two quick touches, put a great move on Lundqvist and beat him high.

Momentum Walls Out, Mike Rupp Chumps Out
Unfortunately, the Rangers got one back just 30 seconds after G's tally. Mike Rupp scored, then did a salute to mock Jaromir Jagr. One of these players will be remember for his greatness. The other will be remembered—if at all—for mocking him.

Andrej Meszaros didn't help his goalie out on this one, drifting into no-man's land and attempting to block a shot with his legs while standing straight up, stick nearly useless. The shot got past him, and a fully screened Bob had no answer for it. Probably won't need a translator to get the gist of any postage banter between the Flyers' two goalies tonight.

Third Period Hell
Short the aforementioned Jagr for part of the first, most of the second, and all of the third periods, the Flyers slowed down considerably in the final frame, appearing to lose their legs somewhat. The Rangers, meanwhile, sustained their attack. Rupp scored again less than three minutes into the third, a sorrowfully soft goal on Bob's part sure to draw more attention than it would in any other game.

Fans looking for revenge on Rupp for his disrespect of Jagr got just the opposite. Rupp scored his second of the game, just his third of the season. Lundqvist beating you is one thing… Mike Rupp is a whole lot tougher to stomach.

Brad Richards would score for the Rangers as well, putting them up by a 3-2 count. Giroux seemed to lose his man on the play, and Richards showed why he was a top prize in the off-season.

A Dramatic Finale
As the time got closer and closer to quad zeroes in the third, the Flyers kicked into a gear they hadn't seen in 20 minutes of ice time. Lundqvist remained in the gear he'd cruised in all day. The refs didn't help the Flyers out on one play in tight, blowing a very loose puck dead. But, they did award the Flyers a powerplay they didn't deserve, whistling Ryan McDonagh for delay of game after he was pushed into the Rangers' net, taking it off its moorings.

McDonagh played a key role in the final dramatic sequence as well, when, with Bob pulled, he was whistled for covering the puck in his own crease. The Flyers were awarded a penalty shot, which was taken by Danny Briere.

True to form in this one, Briere made his attempt on Lundqvist, but you could hardly say he challenged him. Briere skated straight in on net, and Henrik stayed square, not reacting until Briere made his move, going for the five hole. The shot was turned easily aside, and the game was over 20 seconds later. (Good stat by Devils beat Tom Gulitti: Including Briere's today, shooters are now 0-for-11 on penalty shots with a chance to tie game in final minute over last 15 years.)

End Result
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

The Rangers are now four points ahead in the standings, hardly an insurmountable margin. The Flyers hung with them for most of the game, but a few key lapses proved fatal.
The injury to Jaromir Jagr bears observing (though he downplayed it afterwards), as of course does the goaltending situation.

Overall, this was not a head-hanging loss, and the weekend on the whole was a great success for all parties involved. We certainly enjoyed it. And, like the players and coaches seemed to after the game, we're looking forward to life after the Winter Classic. The Flyers have an identity to cultivate and half a season to do it.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).