Flyers-Pens: Where Backlund At?!

Flyers-Pens: Where Backlund At?!

We've already bitterly admitted overall ownership at the hands of the Penguins in recent years. The Flyers owned them for decades, but for this stretch, we've on the losing end. 

A win today won't undo that, it won't clinch the Flyers a playoffs spot (the Pens can clinch, however), nor will it really instill any lasting confidence—at least not on its own. The best we can hope for is a win that will remind the Flyers of the team they were expected to be this season. That, and beating the Pens is always a great thing no matter what the circumstances. If I remember correctly, that is.It's probably safe to say that the Flyers are at the lowest point of their season right now. Four straight losses against teams that aren't among the league's elite, including Thursday's lose-from-ahead debacle against the Wild. They finally looked good to start a game, going up 2-0. Then they took their foot off the gas offensively, lapsed defensively, and got pathetic goaltending at the worst possible time. 

Play like that today and they may leave the building with a 7-1 loss and somehow even less confidence than they took to Pittsburgh, even if the Penguins aren't at their best either. 

The Pens are likely to be without Evgeni Malkin, a major break in favor of the Flyers, and Sergei Gonchar could be out too. They've also lost three straight heading into today's action, and six of their last eight. There's no doubt Pittsburgh will make the playoffs, and be a true contender when they do. But at least for the moment, heading into a huge game for the Flyers, the Pens are struggling somewhat. They did battle hard in their last one though, a 4-3 loss to the best team in the league. The Capitals may have reaffirmed their dominance, but it took a shootout to dispatch the Penguins. 

While two rivals on losing streaks will faceoff today, one is still playing at a higher level than the other. 

Among the myriad concerns of the Flyers, they currently have no answer at goaltending. Pick yourself up off the floor

Perhaps this isn't the ideal opponent or setting to toss Johan Backlund out there for his NHL debut, but does anyone really want to see Brian Boucher face the Pens today?

Backlund isn't your ordinary NHL rookie. The Swedish import is 28 years old, and he won't be wide-eyed when he sees #87 skating during warmups, having played for his country nationally and for years in the Elite league. I won't bother throwing his stats with the Phantoms at you. They mean nothing today, and they're not particularly stunning in one direction or the other anyway, although the team has been impressed enough with him. Left with no real choice in the matter, we're looking at Backlund's start as a positive for the Flyers, who need any change they can get right now. 

We've already seen them initially step up their game in front of the likes of a cast-aside in Ray Emery, as well another in Michael Leighton this season. Leighton played well in his own right, but his successes were about as surprising to me as Brad Lidge's 2008 run was. With those guys though, we had some book on them. I got nothing on Backlund, and I don't have a clue what to expect. 

Paul Holmgren wants to see him play, and so do I, for two reasons—curiosity and desperation. Whether we'll know much about him after today remains to be seen. Pittsburgh can light any goalie up, and in order to give Backlund a fair grade, we'd have to see the guys in front of him play at least a pretty good game for 60 minutes. Their lapses lately have certainly exposed the inadequacies of Boucher.   

So in yet another gamethread, we'll say the same thing again, because the Flyers haven't bucked the trend yet: If they can't take the ice ready for 60 or more minutes of battle-oriented hockey today, they simply can't do it at all. Their backs have been against the wall for weeks, yet the results haven't improved. They need to play physical hockey, if nothing else, and they need to find a way to get better shots on goal. 

Crosby will likely get his points—he always does against our guys. Say what you will about The Kid. The guy is highly visible when it matters most, as much as it pains a hater to say that. The Flyers need to answer that with some step-up of their own. From the sounds of it, even they don't know if they can. 

We'll see today at 1 PM. 

Photos By Dave Sandford, Len Redkoles for Getty Images. 

Sixers draw high praise from Warriors after loss to NBA leader

Sixers draw high praise from Warriors after loss to NBA leader

BOX SCORE

The Warriors are the blueprint of a total team in the NBA. They have a star-studded starting lineup and a top sixth man with the positional versatility that creates hard-to-combat matchups.

Yet, as the Warriors notched their 50th win of the season, 119-108, in a collaborative effort against the Sixers, they gave credit to the potential they see in their opponent, even when Brett Brown didn't have his key pieces on the court Monday (see Instant Replay).

"They play hard," Stephen Curry said. "They have some talent to work around. Hopefully they have some consistency with their roster going forward and getting guys healthy. One thing about them, you've got to compliment their energy and effort and fight every night they play."

Facing the Warriors with a full squad is challenging enough. The Sixers did it shorthanded without Joel Embiid, who is out indefinitely with a left knee contusion (see story). They also are less than a week removed from trading starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova and the defensive-minded Nerlens Noel.

"You've got to give this team a lot of credit," Draymond Green said. "They're going to be really, really, really good. I mean, they're missing Embiid and Ben Simmons and they're really on their way."

With 10 available players, including Justin Anderson, who has had just one shootaround to actually get a run in with the team, the Sixers fought until the final buzzer sounded. Dario Saric led the Sixers with 21 points and seven assists, while also collecting seven rebounds. Gerald Henderson scored 16 and both Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes added 15 (see feature highlight). Covington also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.

"They play the right way," Klay Thompson said. "They made it tough on us tonight. I'm excited to see their team when Embiid and Simmons are healthy. It should be a scary frontcourt, and with Saric. They're heading in the right direction. They'll only get better this June because they have some high picks. It's a bright future in Philly."

The Sixers held the Warriors to 6 for 29 three-point shooting (20.7 percent), including an 0-for-11 outing by Curry. This was the third time this season and only the 37th time in his career Curry missed all of his three-point attempts.

"I think he had an off night," Brown said. "I think at times we got lucky with them as a team. They didn't shoot it the way the team normally would shoot it. Some of it is I give our guys credit."

Curry took his uncharacteristic performance, which included a pair of air-balls, in stride.

"The weatherman said it was a low-pressure system that was coming and I forgot to adjust," Curry said. "One thing, [I] don't ever get down on myself. Obviously that's why I got 11 of them up and not make one. You still have confidence the next one's going in."

Still, the Warriors turned to team basketball to pull away with the win. While they struggled from long range, they found other ways to run up the scoreboard, including shooting 33 for 39 at the free throw line.

Kevin Durant led all players with 27 points to go with eight rebounds. Green recorded a 14-point, 11-assist double-double and six boards. Thompson scored 21 points and Zaza Pachulia added 16. And at the end of the night, Curry still finished with 19 points in spite of his three-point woes.

"We've been doing this for a while together now and just try to find ways to get it done," Green said. "Obviously you've got to do a lot more on the defensive end to get stops, and try to create more offense. I think it was a good effort from everybody tonight to chip in."

Added Curry: "For us to still have the moxie to withstand that and still pretty much have the lead the whole game and allow our defense to get us a win tonight was kind of our M.O."

The Warriors are a perennial title contender thanks to their balanced roster and depth of weapons. The Sixers are in the beginning stages of working toward that goal. After Monday's game, the NBA's strongest example of "team" appreciated the direction in which Sixers are moving.

"Putting this franchise back together," Green said, "it's amazing to see."

Best of NHL: Ryan White scores in winning debut with Wild

Best of NHL: Ryan White scores in winning debut with Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Mikael Granlund beat two defenders to find open ice and wrap the winning shot around goalie Jonathan Quick just 12 seconds into overtime, giving the Minnesota Wild a 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night.

Granlund's 20th goal of the season gave goalie Devan Dubnyk his NHL-leading 33rd win and the Wild their 15th comeback victory. They answered all four goals in regulation by the Kings, from Nick Shore, Tanner Pearson, Jake Muzzin and Marian Gaborik.

Jason Zucker's spinning wrist shot midway through the third period tied the game for the Wild, who also had goals from Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Schroeder and Ryan White in his debut. White and Martin Hanzal were acquired in a trade with Arizona the night before (see full recap).

Kucherov's hat trick carries Lightning past Sens
TAMPA, Fla. -- Nikita Kucherov scored three power-play goals in the second period and the Tampa Bay Lightning kept their fading playoff hopes alive with a 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Monday night.

Kucherov had the second hat trick of his career and added an assist in the third period. Jonathan Drouin assisted all three of his goals and Victor Hedman assisted on two.

A day after trading goaltender Ben Bishop to Los Angeles and just hours after trading forward Brian Boyle to Toronto, the Lightning improved to 6-1-2 over their past nine games.

The Senators, who won at Florida on Sunday night, are 6-6 over their past 12 games (see full recap).

Galchenyuk lifts Canadiens over Devils in OT
NEWARK, N.J. -- Alex Galchenyuk scored on a power play at 2:54 of overtime and the Montreal Canadiens rallied from a two-goal third-period deficit to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 on Monday night.

Max Pacioretty scored twice in the final 11:23 of regulation to tie the game and Alexander Radulov added a goal for the Canadiens, who won consecutive games for the first time since early January. Al Montoya had 34 saves for Montreal.

Kyle Palmieri, John Moore and Travis Zajac scored for the Devils, who have lost four straight games (0-2-2), the past two in overtime. Cory Schneider made 29 saves.

Galchenyuk beat Schneider with a shot from between the circles less than a minute after Damon Severson was penalized for hooking (see full recap).