Feel the Br-eeze: Briere, Bryzgalov Lift Clinching Flyers

Feel the Br-eeze: Briere, Bryzgalov Lift Clinching Flyers

It was little more than a formality, but the Flyers were formally invited to the Lord Stanley's dance by virtue of their 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 23 of 24 shots, and Danny Briere lit the lamp twice, his first non-empty netters since going off for a hat trick on January 8. Bryz even assisted on one of them.

Now let's talk a little about match-up. Who do you want in Round 1?

The Penguins lost last night, their first in regulation in 15 games, but continue their run on the top seed in the East. They're just three back of the Rangers, who have seven games remaining compared to the Pens' eight. Two of Pittsburgh's game are against the Flyers though, which means Orange and Black may very well dictate who they see in the first round one.

Barring any major developments, the Flyers appear fairly locked into that five seed, four at best, which means they'll be seeing one of the teams either way. It's going to be very difficult for Pittsburgh to catch New York without at least one win over Philly, but they have not had much success so far this season, earning two points in just one of their four meetings.

Meanwhile, the Flyers are a great big 0-5 against the Rags, with one game left on the slate. However, all of those games were played before Bryz got his mojo back, and it says something of New York's play of late that anybody is in position to catch them for first place. They have one more to play in Philly, but do the Rangers still scare anybody?

Who would you rather see in the first round? Flyers seem to match up pretty well with Pittsburgh, but they've only seen them once since Sidney Crosby returned, and it came down to the final second in overtime. The Rangers have been pounding them, but mid-season additions to the blue line may change the dynamic a bit. Are you concerned either way?

Instant Replay: Phillies 2, Rockies 1 (11 innings)

Instant Replay: Phillies 2, Rockies 1 (11 innings)

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning Thursday to score Michael Saunders and snap the Phillies' five-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Rockies.

The win is their first victory in a game not started by Jeremy Hellickson since May 1. It also prevented the Phillies from being swept by Colorado.

At 16-29, the Phillies have the second-worst record in the majors. The Rockies, 32-17, have the second-best record in the majors.

Starting pitching report
Vince Velasquez pitched well, allowing one run over five innings to a stacked Rockies lineup, but he again had a short outing because of a high pitch count.

Velasquez put nine men on base and struck out seven. He threw 94 pitches, 70 for strikes.

After Velasquez's last start in Pittsburgh, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said the right-hander's secondary pitches simply need to improve, that he needs to be able to show more than just a mid-90s fastball.

On Thursday, Velasquez threw 72 fastballs, 14 curveballs, four sliders and four changeups. The Rockies swung through only two of those 22 off-speed pitches and went 4 for 6 when putting them in play.

Mackanin left Velasquez in to hit for himself with runners on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the fifth and Velasquez popped out on a sacrifice attempt. Many fans have already questioned the decision, but let's keep in mind Velasquez has handled the bat well. He's 6 for 17 (.353) on the season and tied for the major-league lead in hits among pitchers. He had an infield single in his first at-bat.

Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson continued the theme of mediocre starting pitchers stymying the Phillies. Anderson allowed just one run on six hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts.

In the series, Rockies starting pitchers allowed three runs in 27 innings. They had a 1.00 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning. And these four starters — Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, Tyler Chatwood and Anderson — entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA.

Bullpen report
Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez each pitched one scoreless inning. It's understandably been overlooked during the Phillies' skid, but the bullpen is finally in a groove. Over their last seven games, Phillies relievers have allowed just two earned runs in 22 2/3 innings for a 0.79 ERA.

Neris threw 10 pitches, all of them strikes. He's allowed one run in 9 2/3 innings since his meltdown at Dodger Stadium.

At the plate
Before the walk-off hit, Joseph stayed hot with a home run off the ivy wall in dead-center to start the bottom of the seventh.

Joseph is hitting .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

Joseph has now played 148 games with 498 plate appearances in the majors — slightly less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. Those numbers are just above the league average for first basemen over that span.

Batting third, Odubel Herrera went 0 for 5 with five strikeouts. He's the first player in the majors this season to do that and the first Phillie since Pat Burrell in September 2008. Herrera is hitting .226 with a .275 OBP. 

Maikel Franco returned to the lineup after a two-game benching and went 1 for 4, singling up the middle in his first at-bat and flailing at a low-and-away, two-strike breaking ball to strike out with two on and one out in the eighth inning. He then struck out on three pitches to lead off the 11th.

Cameron Rupp walked three times, raising his on-base percentage from .330 to .345.

Up next
The Phillies start a three-game series at home against the Cincinnati Reds, who they haven't seen since the opening week of the season.

Friday, 7:05 p.m. — Aaron Nola (2-1, 3.52) vs. Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 6.75)

Saturday, 4:05 p.m. — Jerad Eickhoff (0-5, 4.70) vs. Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99)

Sunday, 1:35 p.m. — Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) vs. Amir Garrett (3-3, 6.00)

NFL Notes: Former Giant Victor Cruz inks 1-year deal with Bears

NFL Notes: Former Giant Victor Cruz inks 1-year deal with Bears

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears added some salsa, signing former New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz to a one-year contract Thursday.

The Bears were looking for help after Alshon Jeffery signed with Philadelphia.

A feared receiver with the Giants, he helped them win the Super Bowl before being slowed by injuries. He was released after seven seasons in February.

Cruz has 303 catches for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, many of which he celebrated with a salsa dance. A knee injury and a calf problem caused him to miss most of the 2014 season and all of 2015. Last year, he had 39 catches and one touchdown reception.

Giants: Odell Beckham and Olivier Vernon miss OTAs
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York ended their first week of voluntary organized team activities missing two of their biggest stars -- wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon.

The workout Thursday was fourth of the week, and Beckham missed them all. The team did not say whether Vernon missed all four, but the veteran who signed an $85 million contract in the offseason last year wasn't there Thursday, the only day workouts were open to the media.

The only other player missing was third-year defensive end Owa Odighizuwa, who hinted since the end of last season that he may take time away from football.

While coach Ben McAdoo said he wanted all his players at the workouts, he said he would coach the ones there.

NFL: International players to join practice squads
NEW YORK -- Four NFL teams will carry an additional overseas player on their practice squads during the 2017 season. Three players are from Britain and one from Germany.

The announcement by the NFL on Thursday is part of a new International Player Pathway program.

The international players are: tight end Alex Gray with Atlanta, defensive end Efe Obada with Carolina, defensive end Alex Jenkins with New Orleans and linebacker Eric Nzeocha with Tampa Bay.

The players have been training alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in Florida the past three months.

Gray is a former rugby player; Jenkins and Nzeocha were recent college players. Obada was originally signed by Dallas in 2015. Each team will get an exemption for an 11th practice player, who is ineligible to be activated during the season.

Bills: Linebacker Hodges signs, cornerback Gaines released
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills have signed linebacker Gerald Hodges, who started 12 games for San Francisco last season.

Team officials also said Thursday that cornerback Charles Gaines had been released.

Hodges is going into his fifth season after being drafted in 2013 by the Minnesota Vikings. He played two-plus seasons with Minnesota before joining the 49ers. He had 83 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble last year.

Gaines did not play last season but started four games for Cleveland in 2015.

Jaguars: Jags to host Bucs for joint practices before preseason game
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two joint training camp practices before their preseason game in August.

The teams will practice Monday and Tuesday before playing Thursday night, Aug. 17. The Jaguars also will have two joint practices at New England a week earlier, before their preseason opener.

New coach Doug Marrone and top executive Tom Coughlin want the Jaguars to be more physical. Holding joint practices in consecutive weeks will make that clear to the players.

Marrone says he's a fan of joint practices "as long as you can make sure that it is competitive and not combative."

The Jaguars and Bucs also practiced together in Jacksonville before their preseason game last year.