Flyers-Habs Face Off to Start Round 2

Flyers-Habs Face Off to Start Round 2

Just two days after closing out a 7-game series the Caps, the Flyers take the ice again tonight with their second round opponent, the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens. No team in the history of the sport can boast the success that the Habs have had, and even though it's a new building, the 24 championships earned on Montreal ice are undoubtedly intimidating.

Their fans are insane. Like, riot gear and arson insane. Just like they did in the regular season, they will boo the hell out of Danny Briere any time he touches the puck. Why? Because he speaks French, and when he became a free agent this past summer, he didn't sign there. He's not even from Montreal; he's from Ottawa. Get over it. But I digress. (Also, Carey Price might hate him for this.)

Danny's also the hottest player on the ice in these playoffs, leading the league in playoff goals (6) and points (11). The Flyers will need him to keep it up, because Montreal is one of the best offensive teams in hockey. They're faster than the Capitals, and we saw how Washington's speed and finesse gave the Flyers fits at times, but they're also deeper. In the end, depth was one of the biggest keys to beating the Caps, but Montreal has it in spades. From a Canadiens blog, we've learned that the top two lines for tonight will be as follows:

It has been confirmed that Carbonneau will stick with
Higgins-Koivu-Kovalev line for the first game of the second round
tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. That means that the Kostitsyn
brothers will again be centered by Tomas Plekanec.

They might not be the biggest household names, but those guys can fire the puck. The Habs also have a hot goaltender in Carey Price. Don't be fooled by his age; this franchise knows how to find soon-to-be legends in goal. A fella by the name of Patrick Roy lead the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup victory in 1986, his rookie year, so maybe postseason experience isn't always as important as it's made out to be. Price was good enough this season to let Montreal send Cristobal Huet to the Caps for chump change, and he notched two shutouts in the series against Boston.

The Bruins did show that Montreal can be beat, taking them to seven games, and the Flyers are arguably a superior team to Boston. However, if they want to advance to the next round, they have to stay out of the penalty box. The Canadiens had an amazing power play unit this past season, converting on 24.2% of their opportunities to lead the NHL in that category. The Flyers were second, with 21.8% success, so Montreal will need to take it easy with the stick play as well. The Bruins managed to stifle the Habs PP unit, holding them to 3 goals on 32 man-ups, so you can bet John Stevens and the boys will be hitting the tape throughout the series.

Marty Biron was the star of the first round for the Flyers, and he's playing at the top his game. He'll need to stay there against the shooting gallery that's about to start, but that's nothing new in the playoffs, where a hot goalie can take a team all the way to glory. The Flyers lost all four games of the season series, outscored 15-6. But they don't call it the second season for nothing, and the Flyers have shown a lot of character any time they've been counted out.   

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games — all losses — that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It's not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it's a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies' starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies' starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn't miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He's had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn't locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight baserunners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It's not fun. It's just something you deal with. It's not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco (see story). Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."