Flyers-Bruins Game 7: . . .

Flyers-Bruins Game 7: . . .

I really can't remember the last time the whole town was this excited about a single playoff game. The diehards are ready to explode, the casual fans have joined the party, and people who don't care ... well, they're mostly wondering why I keep wearing orange to work. But the build-up to this game over the past week, the anticipation of a series finale that could put the Flyers in the history books as just the third team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit...! You've heard all this before. It's all anyone's talking about today. 

Confidence is rarely this high for a team trying to pull off the type of win that is so unlikely that it only happens every 30+ years, but the Flyers' rattling off three straight wins despite a slew of injuries has us all pretty fired up. It also seems to have the Bruins fans worried about being on the wrong end of the trivia question. Can they pull it off? Of course they can, for a variety of reasons. But it's by no means a foregone conclusion that they're headed to the Conference Finals this weekend. 

Breaking down the first six games of the series, we shouldn't be too surprised that the Flyers were still alive after the first three games, which were of course all losses (unless we're focusing on the mounting-injury factor). They lost very evenly played games, earning them that "Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln" sentiment of being on the losing end of just about the closest 3-0 series imaginable. Getting Simon Gagne back and letting the lines gel back together might have been just enough to tip the scales. But factor in those injuries to key forwards and, later, the goalie that dominated the Devils in the first round, and yeah, we're pretty shocked this series has a game 7. 

However, if you listen to the coach and the players, they don't seem to be surprised at all. Down three games, two, one, and even up, they've continued to prepare and practice for every one like they expected to win; even now, they're saying they need to play better than they have. 

Momentum or Microcosm?
One of the big questions tonight is whether the Flyers will benefit from the momentum of having won three straight, or if we're really looking at a one-game series now. The team is saying it's the latter, and that's probably the right way to prepare. Don't expect a repeat of game 5, which ended with an embittered crowed littering the ice and booing their team into the locker room, but know that it's definitely possible.

That was the fluke game in this series though. In game 6, the Bruins played much better, owning the better play for a good 25-30 minutes, including most of the second period when they were already down a goal. That fact could be the undoing of the currently popular line of thinking that the Bruins will shrink if the Flyers score first. I agree it'd be pretty awesome, and I think being scored on first in that particular building would be a lot worse than doing so on the road. But based on what we saw in game 6, this won't be a one-period game. 

To win like that again, they'll need to be able to weather the storm a second time, which is a lot harder than doing it once. However, if the Flyers find themselves down a goal, we've at least seen that they can put enough pressure on the very good defense of the Bruins to keep them in it barring a catastrophic scoring outbreak by Boston. 

Scoring just once in the past two games, they're either due or they're done. 

Battles
One of the matchups the Flyers are winning in this series is the Zdeno Chara-Mike Richards duel. Boston's giant has spent a lot of energy trying to control Richie, which has not only benefitted the Flyers' other lines by seeing them consistently facing Boston's lesser pairings—it also just hasn't worked. Richards has 8 points through 6 games, including 3 goals. Chara's still on the plus side on even strength, but as the series has worn on, he's increasingly looked like a man skating with a small tree in his hands (which isn't far from the truth). 

Meanwhile, after successfully muting the scoring stars of the Devils by putting their defensive efforts into the proverbial "taking away their time and space," the Flyers opened the second round against a team that doesn't have easily recognizable snipers like Ilya Kovalchuk. As such, it wasn't as easy to employ the same system and account for the likes of the dagger-wielders like Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan in the first three games. But they've been able to do it since, tying up sticks and pressuring the puck carrier to force offside calls or turnovers, or otherwise keeping the play in their zone on the perimeter, without much garbage in front. 

Seeing a few Bruins join the injured Flyers in the press box didn't hurt either. 

The Leight Show
Hate to put the whole series and beyond on one guy's shoulders, but the fact is it often comes down to which goalie plays better and gets luckier. In just over a game and a half of playoff backstopping, Michael Leighton has been outstanding, and has only needed to be a little lucky. Keep that up, and the Flyers should be able to beat Rask a few times tonight and move on. 

I'm watching the game at home with some friends and a fridge full of beer. In the event of a win, you'll probably see a post consisting of a few words and maybe a picture. If not, well... Have a great weekend doing something other than watching hockey.

Predictions? At the start of the series, I called it for the Flyers in 7. I think I'll stick with that.

Game 7 Flyers art by reader Mike Brooks. 

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

CAMDEN, N.J. — Thursday is significant for the Sixers beyond the trade deadline. It is also the day of Ben Simmons' CT scan to evaluate how his right foot is healing.

"I feel like tomorrow at some point we're all going to be able to lay out a more genuine plan for him," Brett Brown said. "I feel like we're going to be good to go with some greater news and a more advanced detail of his plans after this scan."

Once all parties involved assess the results, the team will provide an update, which may not be Thursday. Simmons has been sidelined all season after suffering a Jones fracture during the final scrimmage of training camp. 

On Wednesday he went through his individual workout plan, which included five-on-none scripting with teammates.

"He's still getting a feel for all of us," Nerlens Noel said. "He's learning to throw it up to me, bounce pass to whoever. It's learning certain tendencies that'll make you start to feel more a part of the team."

The Sixers have not placed a timetable on Simmons' return. The first overall pick has not been cleared for full contact five-on-five practice, the next step in his recovery. Prior to the All-Star break, Brown said he expects Simmons will play at some point this season. He stands by that projection with 26 games remaining. 

"I personally would like to see him play this season. I don't backpedal from that," Brown said. "I think my comments are really very much influenced by his reciprocal desire to play this year, which we all respect. Everybody's got clandestine conspiracy theories on why he might not want to play. I know in my heart and speaking to him, he wants to get on a court and play basketball again.

"I hope he can do that too. If for some reason he can't, we'll deal with it. But I think it would help him to play NBA basketball and get his competitive juices going again if the doctors point us in that direction."

Simmons' teammates are ready to welcome him into the mix when he is given the green light. Their limited glimpses into his talent have them eager for his debut.

"Unlimited potential," Noel said. "I think with Ben, the thing that makes him so special is his IQ for the game, a sixth sense on the court. Him being able to find little things that not very many 6-10 guys can find. I think that's going to propel his game and make him a special player in this league." 

Added Joel Embiid: "I'm excited ... I thought he was our best player in training camp."

Trade deadline looming, Sixers cherish what could be final day together

Trade deadline looming, Sixers cherish what could be final day together

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers looked around the court on Wednesday and knew it could be their last practice all together.

The NBA trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Thursday. The Sixers are scheduled to practice that day, but who is there for it remains to be seen.

“Honestly, I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Joel Embiid said. “Hopefully I’m here and hopefully my teammates are here. We’ve been playing great basketball when we are healthy and we all play. Hopefully we keep the same group and you never know what can happen.”

The Sixers have stayed tight knit through losing, ups and downs and trade talks. In their ideal world, they would remain teammates for the rest of the season. In the basketball world, there is a strong possibility at least one of them will be moved.

“You’ve learned that you’re not confident on anything,” Brett Brown said when asked about having the same players after the deadline. “There’s nothing that would point to either my 16 years of experience in the league or my three previous trade situations here in Philadelphia that would make me say anything otherwise. We’ve maintained a very high level of transparency with my team. We talk freely. It doesn’t feel as dramatic perhaps as it might have in other years.”

Jahlil Okafor has been the focal point of trade discussions. The Sixers were close to a deal for him last week, to the point where they sat him out two games and did not send him to Charlotte. Okafor will keep his phone close as the deadline approaches.

“I did the best I can to just focus in with the guys [at practice], going over the plays and working on defense,” Okafor said. “But it was definitely on my mind that I could be out of here tomorrow.”

Okafor said he would not have hard feelings if a deal did not happen after being on the trading block. At the same time, he just wants to know what his NBA future holds.

“If the Sixers decide to keep me, I’ll be happy," he said. "I have amazing teammates that I love being with every day and I’ll go back to my everyday routine. If that’s here or somewhere else, I’m just ready for 3 o’clock to happen so I can continue with my career and start doing what I love to do, and that’s play basketball.”

The Sixers' trade talks, to this point, have centered around the bigs because of a logjam in the frontcourt. At the start of the season Nerlens Noel said the team had to make a change. Noel said he was not worried about the deadline and noted the Sixers' first practice after the All-Star break was upbeat, not anxious.

“It’s been such a long season with so many things that were said, so now at this point it’s whatever happens happens,” Noel said.

So who will stay and who will go? With the Sixers' roster in question, Embiid summed up the trade deadline in Embiid fashion.

“It’s business,” Embiid said. “Anything can happen. So you’ve got to trust the process, I guess.”