Flyers Shut Out Habs, Bring Series Back to Philly up 3-1

Flyers Shut Out Habs, Bring Series Back to Philly up 3-1

Less frequently than we might imagine, the final score of a hockey game says it all. Today's 3-0 Flyers blanking of the Habs is one of those occasions. There was no subplot in which the losing team played better but the winners had the lucky bounces. The Flyers dominated the Habs for the better part of 50 minutes after weathering a tentative start to the game in a hostile environment, and Michael Leighton has now put up three shutouts in four games this series. He's the first Flyers goalie to ever notch three perfect games in a playoff series. Welcome to history, Leights. You're in amazing company all of your own. 

After going from confident to cocky in less than a game, the Habs felt the bitter end of that pill in game 4.

Here's a look at the goals and storylines, including ... SANDGATE. 

Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere each played well in their respective returns for injury, and Claude Giroux was our hero on offense, ripping the skates off of Josh Gorges and then shelfing Jaroslav Halak for the opening goal. 

As you can see in the replay there, Giroux was barely a factor in the goal, so was the pass by Timonen; it was all the Gorges skate issue, right boys? /sarcasm

But for a quick memory refresher, it was Gorges who whacked Giroux in the mouth in game 3, breaking some teeth while Gorges laughed and wasn't penalized. Glad the Habs had a good time yukking it up in that game, because they got blown off their home ice in this one. 

Giroux would also score the game's final goal, a contested empty netter from the side board that drew the admiration of the NBC crew.

SANDGATE
One story we'll be interested to hear more about is the possibility that there was dirt or sand outside of the Flyers locker room. In the first period, multiple Flyers had to leave the ice because of skate blade issues, and the NBC crew alerted us to the fact that towels had to be placed over the runway outside the locker room because something was on the ground there. The Flyers wouldn't give much in the way of comments on the issue after the game, but there's no masking the fact that several guys had to leave the ice a few times to have their skates sharpened before they put those towels down. I guess 21,000 fans isn't enough of a home ice advantage. 

On the heels of a win, the Flyers had zero complaints when the mics were in front of them after the game. Some seemed to think there was something there, but wouldn't take the bait, while others had no idea where the sand questions were coming from. 

THE SHUTOUT SHUT UP
In this series, we've tried to equally credit Leighton and his defensemen, who've complemented each other well enough to generate three shutouts in four games. Tonight, the defense had incredibly active sticks, deflecting Montreal shots and breaking up rushes before they got too close to the cage. It was like a clinic out there, and it was the perfect answer to the defense's shakiest game in weeks. 

The Flyers closed out the first period strongly but again were outshot. They responded by smothering the sleeping Canadiens with a pillow in the second, outshooting them 13-1 in the frame. There's no taking anything away from the shutout goaltender, but Leighton had just 17 shots to stop in this one. Funny thing for us Flyers fans? The Leigh-taaauuuuoon chants by the Habs faithful that started with in the opening shifts and continued at various points throughout what would be a shut out. In Philly, we only do that when the other goalie gets touched up, and more so when he's torched. 

Chris Pronger logged 31 minutes of ice time in this one, a good three minutes more than his average in the playoffs. He also put a long breakout pass on the tape of Ville Leino for the Flyers' second goal, showing about the best accuracy with long-distance passing you could possibly ask for. Good recovery, Mav.

THE BEST OF RETURN TO FOREVER
So how about Lappy and Carter? There was some question as to whether they were rushed back for this game, but a 3-0 win should quiet any of that noise right quick. Lappy was strong and even mixed it up with Roman Hamrlik, taking the Habs d-man off with him for a pair of coincidentals. 

Carter was used in an interesting fashion early on, skating tiny shifts with several lines. Maybe it was to get the feel of the game back into his skates, but after seeing the Flyers shock everyone by pulling a bait and switch with his playing status, I saw that as further gamesmanship on the part of Peter Laviolette. The Canadiens had no ability to plan for Carter before the game, and then Lavvy wiped out their home ice second-change matchup ability in the first by switching up the lines fast and early. Carter was held without a point, but his shifts built up as the game went on, and he did manage 4 shots on goal, tying Mike Richards for the team lead in that category. 

After both of the first two shutout wins to start this series, the Flyers spoke about not being content with their performances, citing the need to be better. In game 3, they took a step back and got embarrassed. But today, they played their best game of the series, which now heads back to Philadelphia for what should be a great game 5. Who has tickets? This guy. 

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).