Flyers Fight for Each Other Literally and Figuratively in Frantic Comeback Victory over Washington

Flyers Fight for Each Other Literally and Figuratively in Frantic Comeback Victory over Washington

If you wanted retaliation, you got it. Two games after
Claude Giroux was splattered all over the boards like insect on windshield to
no recourse from his teammates, Jakub Voracek stood up for his captain
immediately after a huge open-ice collision on Sunday. The result: four minutes
of 5-on-4 hockey for Washington, and a pair of power-play goals to put the
Capitals ahead 4-2 with 13 minutes remaining in the third period.

But just as Voracek went to bat for Giroux, G and the rest
of his Flyers teammates would do the same for Jake, in the process redefining what it can mean
to retaliate. The Bullies kept on retaliating until they tied
the score with 10 seconds left, kept on retaliating in overtime until they landed
the knockout blow in a rousing 5-4 win.

[ Video and more on Jake Voracek's first NHL fight ]

And as great a comeback as it was, this victory may have
meant more than the standard two points in the standings for a desperate team.
This felt like something of a defining performance from Giroux – not so much as
a player necessarily, but as a leader.

While the Flyers were saddled with Voracek’s (questionable) double-minor
for instigating and fighting with a visor, it was Giroux who was actually
responsible for the turnover that gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the first place.
He got a little too cute with the puck during the penalty kill, skating it deep
into his own zone before attempting to clear. Alex Ovechkin nullified Giroux’s
stick, essentially gift-wrapping a goal for Marcus Johansson who took the play
to the wide-open slot and snapped the disc past Ilya Bryzgalov.

Less than a minute later the score was 4-2. Washington won an
offensive draw and cycled the puck to the opposite faceoff dot where Ovechkin
was all alone for the one-timer.

Giroux was visibly frustrated with himself. Bryz was visibly
frustrated by everything, throwing his Gatorade bottle toward the benches. Moments
later Scott Hartnell took out his frustrations with a slashing penalty. Voracek
had to take his out in the dressing room, serving a 10-minute misconduct for
instigating. The game was spiraling out of control.

The captain pulled it back together. The Flyers went on the
power play with seven minutes to play, where Kimmo Timonen set Giroux up for a
wicked slapper from his customary spot, a shot that seemed to bend time and
space as it whizzed into Washington netminder Braden Holtby’s top shelf. You
better believe Giroux was fired up for that Doop.

By the final shift in regulation, the momentum was squarely
in Philadelphia’s corner. Bryzgalov went to the bench, and for about 80 seconds
the orange sweaters were attacking the Capitals in waves. The Flyers were able
to sustain the pressure, the puck moving back and forth through Giroux throughout,
until finally Timonen found twine on his shot from the point. The Wells Fargo
Center came unglued.

The Caps were not long for this world. In overtime Ruslan
Fedotenko ran a sweet give and go with Timonen, with Feds slipping the puck
underneath a lunging Holtby for the winner.

It was the type of effort followers had been waiting to see
all season, the Flyers finally overcoming adversity with the hopes of it jump-starting
their campaign. Every time we keep thinking it’s going to be too little too
late for that, they pull us back in. Believe it or not, Philly surprisingly is a
mere two points out of the eighth seed after picking up five points out of a possible
six over the last three.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins suffering multiple injuries
recently – including to Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) – a potential postseason opponent
suddenly looks a bit vulnerable.

Perhaps more important though, this was what we’ve been
waiting to see out of Giroux. He finished with one goal, two assists, seven
shots, three blocked shots and two hits, yet his night almost transcended
that of an all-star performance. Giroux practically willed his team to victory,
picking up Voracek, and for that matter himself, too. Maybe that’s the best
sign to date for a club that has looked uninspired far too often this year.
Maybe there is still a pulse there after all.

Notes

Max Talbot
left the game with an apparent left knee injury late in the second
period after attempting to check Mike Green. Talbot missed everything
except the defenseman's leg, his knee taking the brunt of hit collision,
and he was either unable or unwilling to put any weight on it from
there. Once Talbot made it back to the bench, he would have to be
carried to the back from there, though he did contribute a goal to the
win.

Oliver Lauridsen made his second NHL
start, while veteran Kent Huskins – acquired from the Detroit Red Wings
over the weekend for a conditional draft pick – played his first game in
Orange & Black. None of the goals scored were particularly a result
of defensive breakdowns, so no complaints there for a change.

Timonen led Flyers' scorers with four points. Matt Read lit the lamp for the second consecutive game after going over a month without a tally. Zac Rinaldo had seven hits in eight minutes of ice time. Bryzgalov stopped 25 of 29 shots.

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In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

When Ersan Ilyasova was traded to the Hawks on Wednesday, it became Dario Saric's time to shine.

And shine he did in the Sixers' 120-112 win over the Wizards Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. In the first game coming off the All-Star break, Saric got the starting nod at power forward. He certainly looked the part, posting 20 points (10 of 19 from the field), 11 rebounds and four assists.

Saric, now the only true four on the roster, was proud of his team's performance against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

"We have a lot of veterans who can share the ball and that's how you're supposed to play," Saric said. "For me I'm not surprised if we [beat the third-best team] in the East, but I believe these guys can play very good basketball."

Saric was excellent in the starting role, but his exceptional play dates back before the All-Star break. Including Friday, he's averaged 20.5 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 assists over his last six games. The Sixers are 4-2 in that span.

Head coach Brett Brown is seeing what he expected to see from the Croatian rookie.

"He's a professional basketball player," Brown said. "He has been that for a while. His love of the game, his passion for the game is contagious. It's a thing that we loved maybe more than anything about him when we did the deal with Orlando, knowing however many years ago with the trade with Elfrid Payton and Saric. That was a calculated move."

Saric played almost 33 minutes Friday night. So what did Brown do to give Saric a breather? He sent out Robert Covington.

Covington has played the position most of his life but has spent his entire Sixers career on the wing. In a time of need, he stepped up for a team still adjusting to roster changes.

The 6-foot-8 Covington held his own against the likes of Philly native Markieff Morris. It didn't seem to faze his offensive game, either. Covington scored 25 points on 9 of 14 from the field (5 of 9 from three). He also added 11 rebounds and three assists.

Covington has also been a catalyst for the Sixers during their recent success. He's averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 steals in his last six. He's also shot a ridiculous 46 percent from three (19 of 41) in that span.

"We can only control what we're able to control on the court," Covington said. "Everything outside of what they do in management doesn't include us. We can only focus on what we can control on the court, and that's what our main focus was on these last few days."

Saric continues to show that he was worth wait while Covington continues to prove that he's a keeper.

They've certainly had different paths. Saric was a lottery pick and regarded as one the top young players in Europe. Covington went undrafted out of Tennessee State and spent the 2013-14 primarily with the Rockets' D-League affiliate.

Bryan Colangelo has identified Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the team's "transformational players." That's likely true, but every NBA team needs guys like Saric and Covington to complement their stars.

Covington is impressed with the progress of Saric in his rookie season.

"Dario's a very special player," Covington said. "He's able to do so much on the court. Tonight, you saw every aspect of his game. He'll guard, defending, rebounding and making plays on the offensive game. That's what Dario does. Now that he's going to play more in the starting lineup, it's really going to help him."

Saric may be the frontrunner to take home the Rookie of the Month for February. He's second only to Joel Embiid in double-doubles (seven) and 20-point games (six) among rookies. Whether it's Saric or Embiid, it appears the Rookie of the Year will be a Sixer.

His promotion to the starting lineup and wins against teams like the Wizards should only help Saric's cause.

"Maybe you see [me start consistently], maybe not," Saric said. "The game first time here I try to find myself. I got a couple rebounds, but still I try to find myself with the new role. I've tried to move around, catch the rhythm of the game, that's the most important thing in basketball."

He appeared to find himself just fine Friday night.

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

PITTSBURGH -- For Flyers coach Dave Hakstol and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, tonight’s Stadium Series game between the Flyers and Penguins brings back memories.
 
Hakstol coached North Dakota in an outdoor hockey in college, while Gostisbehere participated in one as a freshman at Union College.
 
For Hakstol, however, this whole idea of outdoor hockey began when he was growing up in central Alberta in the small town of Drayton Valley.
 
“I think everybody’s got great memories of growing up outdoors,” Hakstol said. “We had a back creek that we could shovel off. I’m sure everybody could sit back and tell you stories of playing on the outdoor rinks.
 
“For me, most recently, I’ve got two kids growing up playing on outdoor rinks, backyard rinks. It’s pretty cool. It takes you right back to the heart of the game.”
 
Hakstol’s outdoor coaching experience came during a game between Nebraska-Omaha and his North Dakota squad in 2013 at the “Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice.”
 
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Hakstol said of the event. “It’s just a different feel. It’s an ideal scenario.”
 
He said while tonight's game is special, it’s still about the points, first and foremost.
 
“You are cognizant of everything that surrounds the event and the game,” Hakstol said. “Yet for us, it’s two points. We’re fighting for every point here. That is going to paramount.”

Gostisbehere played at Fenway Park in 2012 for Union in a game against Harvard. That night, Union won, 2-0, to become the first ECAC club to ever win outdoors.
 
“I played at Fenway Park against Harvard and it was fun,” Gostisbehere said. “That was my freshman year and the only one I ever played in.
 
“Good crowd. It wasn’t packed obviously, but it was a night game. The ice was really good. It was really cold, too. It was pretty cool.”
 
As warm as it was Friday here -- a historic 78 degrees -- temperatures will begin in the 40s tonight at Heinz Field and then drop. It rained this morning but has since ceased.
 
“The biggest thing for me was to take a second, look around,” Gostisbehere said, admitting he failed to do that in college and won’t make that mistake again.
 
“Just cherish it a little bit. You are so focused on the game, it’s tough. That was biggest thing for me. It was such a blur. Just being in college and having the opportunity to play at Fenway Park was pretty awesome.”

This will the Flyers first-ever outdoor affair in Pittsburgh.
 
“It’s pretty exciting and I’m glad to be part of it,” Gostisbehere said.