An Embarrassing 10-3 Playoff Loss Still Worth It.

An Embarrassing 10-3 Playoff Loss Still Worth It.

The night started out with obvious promise. A win would mean a sweep of not only the Flyers' most hated rivals, but also the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup. A close loss wouldn't be the end of the world, as really, no one expected a sweep in the Flyers' favor when the series began. All day I had a nervous buzz. Anticipation for the possibility of being in the building for something unforgettable;

My buddy Will and I filed in, warmer-than-the-regular-season weather making FDR and the lots that much more fun for tailgaters. The later-than-usual playoff start time didn't hurt either.

Passing through the turnstiles, a nice young lady hands us our bright orange t-shirts with the phrase of the game scrawled on it, the material still warm. No charge here, unlike in Pittsburgh. A few Bullies await along the first steps of the concourse, a few hoagies at Campo's. Our seats are upstairs—way up in the top row, where we can stand all game and bang on the ceiling—so we make our way up the escalators.

Not a Penguins jersey in sight. Not one. Unheard of for this series.

Up on the 200 level, where the better beer resides just behind the main bars that are just off the escalators, the lines were lighter than expected, which got us up the steps with two hands full that much faster.

When the Flyers took the ice and started circling in their end, the lighting and fan attire a uniform orange glow, the place erupted briefly. The Pens came out soon after, and as they skated in a whirlpool of their own, there was the rare blissful mix of fans booing one team while still clapping of the other. Feet glued to the floor with game 3 beer remnants, we stood as Lauren Hart sent us goosebumps and a good shiver. Her rendition was great, Kate by her side on the splitscreen. One tap of her chest as she finished showed that she was really feeling it.

As the teams lined up for the opening faceoff, there were four chants. Let's Go Flyers, We Don't Like You, Crosby Sucks, and Let's Go Flyers in the original cadence. A woman a few seats down from me did it the whole game, swimming defiantly against a current that changed years ago.

Before the fans had taken their seats from the anthem, Steve Sullivan was called for high-sticking. Claude Giroux scored on a power play less than a minute and a half in. A "Flllleeeuuurrrryyyyy" chant began, way prematurely. Evgeni Malkin was whistled for a hook 12 seconds later. Four horsemen were seen between the benches.

As we discussed in the pregamer that day, it was beyond likely that the refs would try to exert control over this game, and they did, for the better part of two periods. We had no idea how painful it would be until the second, but it was pretty apparent in the first. The Flyers tallied three times while up a man, and for some reason, the Flyers' 3-2 lead felt huge.

But then, a subtle but critical moment in the game reversed their fortunes. It wasn't the reason the Flyers would ultimately lose, and it may not show up in many game stories, but we said as it was happening that it wasn't good. Just after the Flyers went up by a 3-2 count and carried tremendous momentum with 4 minutes left in the first period, an offsides call led to a TV timeout. "This isn't good," I said to Will. It felt the same as having two days between games 3 and 4, too much time for a powerful Penguins team to regroup and strategize.

Ten seconds out of the break, the game was tied. Sidney Crosby deflected a goal originally credited as the second of the period for Matt Niskanen, who was inserted into the lineup earlier in the day. A minute later, Jordan Staal scored the first of his hat trick.

We didn't know it yet, but the game was over. The Penguins had weathered a storm that saw multiple Flyers power play goals, including one on a two-man advantage followed another by a nearly full minor. That was the only way they'd beat Marc-Andre Fleury in this one, and the free rides were over after the opening 20 minutes.

The second period began with Matt Carle in the box. Less than a minute after his release, Claude Giroux would be called for the first of six Flyers penalties in the period—four in the first 10 minutes alone, not including the Carle penalty that was served to start it. The Pens scored three times on those power plays, then danced on the ashes twice more in the period.

I kept mentally repeating the mantra we've learned over the course of the playoffs so far, and even dating back to the regular season. This team is never out of it. At 6-3, despite it being a manageable deficit, it felt foolish to expect another comeback.

The final minutes of the period were increasingly absurd. Our seats aren't the best vantage from which to call penalties, so I'm not going to comment on whether any of the calls were legit, missed, etc. Zac Rinaldo seemed deserving of a match, if not a suspension, and I'm pretty sure I called a few Penguins for various infractions the refs didn't agree with, but again, it's not the seat to be judging calls from.

The exodus began in the latter portion of the period, the folks staying ribbing the folks leaving. Some pleaded that they were just headed to the bathroom or to get some food. And a few did return. But the hordes on the escalators showed that the building was going to be laughably empty in the third period.

I've never seen so many seatbacks during live game play.

We stayed through the end, and in the final 30 seconds, what I perceived to be a genuine Let's Go Flyers chant began and lasted to the final horn. There were plenty of mocking cheers when Flyers goalies made saves, especially Bob, as the game was well out of hand. But this didn't feel as mocking, if at all. The fans, particularly those who stayed, know the series goes on, and this was just one game.

Will and I have been to a lot of games, plenty of wins and more than a few losses, including a fair share to the Penguins. As this tragedy was unfolding, we were trying to decide if it was the toughest loss we'd been to. It was certainly among the worst games. But is it worse to be at a loss that can be chalked up to a catastrophe halfway in, or to see something like a 3-1 third period lead evaporate into a last-minute loss?

The devastating parts of this loss are clear. MAF got his groove back. Crosby played his game. Malkin got on the board a few times. The Flyers couldn't score without the power play and couldn't defend or goaltend at all. They lost another defenseman to injury. We had our first goalie change, and we all know what comes with that.

So from that standpoint, it was as scary a horror film as could be imagined. Game 4 tickets were hard to come by, yet the seats were somewhat understandably empty for the entire third period. The Penguins are back in this series.

Still, it was worth it to go. The lead-in alone was every reason you're a fan. Will drove down from Albany—and back that night—and didn't gripe a word about the drive, only the game. Instead we made plans for our annual effort to get to at least one home game per series, provided the Flyers get us one more win in the next three opportunities…

*

This guy got booed pretty hard walking in. Guess they didn't notice the bonnet at first.
Special thanks to Zach too. Wish you were in town. 

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA – Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall scored a team-high 19 points – including five dunks – and Kris Jenkins added 15, as No. 2 Villanova pulled away late to beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, and clinch the 2017 Big East Conference regular-season title outright.

Paschall, starting during Darryll Reynolds’ injury absence, shot 8 for 12 from the field and added six rebounds.

Creighton’s last lead was 45-43 six minutes into the second half, but a Paschall slam and Jenkins’ first three after five misses sparked a 16-4 run that gave the Wildcats a 59-49 lead with 8 ½ minutes left. Creighton got no closer than seven the rest of the way.

Paschall’s career high is a 31-point game for Fordham against NYIT on Nov. 14, 2014.

Villanova again struggled from three-point range but had tremendous success attacking the basket, especially in the second half of the final game at the Pavilion for two years.

The Wildcats shot just 17 percent from three (3 for 18) but 69 percent from 2 (24 for 35) and repeatedly got to the foul line in the second half, when they were 14 for 18.

Jenkins again struggled from three (1 for 7) yet still finished with 15 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.

Josh Hart shot 7 for 11 for 16 points and added seven rebounds and three assists.

Villanova opened a streaky first half by taking a 7-0 lead, but Creighton hit four straight threes in less than two minutes and led by three. Villanova then went on a 17-2 run and led by as many as 10 points before Creighton finished the half on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 33.

There were seven lead changes in the first seven minutes of the second half, but Villanova finally pulled away and outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes.

Mikal Bridges added 11 points and eight rebounds for Villanova, while Jalen Brunson had nine points and three assists.

Freshman Dante DiVincenzo came off the bench to contribute nine points and four rebounds for Villanova.

What it means
Villanova improved to 27-3 overall and 14-3 in the Big East, clinching the conference title outright. Entering play Saturday, only Villanova or Butler was in position to win the conference title, with Villanova holding a magic number of one.

Villanova, which lost to Butler on Wednesday, has now won 12 straight games immediately following losses (15 if you carry over to the next year).

The Wildcats last lost consecutive games at the end of the 2012-2013 season, when they fell to Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals and to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Creighton fell to 22-7 overall and 9-7 in the Big East. The Bluejays are 4-6 since an 18-1 start.

Stat of the day
Marcus Foster had 25 points and eight assists, becoming the first player with 25 points and five assists against Villanova since Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds (and five steals) in a 93-72 win over Villanova on Feb. 28, 2011 at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind.

Turning point 
Villanova led by one at 48-47 when Jenkins finally buried a three for a four-point lead.

Moving out
This was Villanova’s last game at the Pavilion for about 20 months. Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year while renovations are made to the Pavilion.

Villanova is 293-62 all-time at the Pavilion, which opened in 1985. That includes a 131-12 mark since the start of the 2004-2005 season.

By the numbers
Khyri Thomas scored 17 points for the Bluejays … Creighton was 7 for 14 from three in the first half but 4 for 13 in the second half ... Villanova has won six straight against Creighton since a 101-80 loss in February of 2014 when Doug McDermott scored 39 … Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fifth straight game with a rib injury.  

What's next
Villanova has a week off before facing Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington at noon Saturday. Georgetown is 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big East.