FLYERS WIN!! Giroux Leads Game 6 Effort, Sends Penguins Packing

FLYERS WIN!! Giroux Leads Game 6 Effort, Sends Penguins Packing

We can't ask for much more than that for an opening round series, can we? 
Dramatic swings within games and the overall series between rivals that not only want to beat each other, but hurt each other while doing it… An underdog looking likely to pull off an upset, then ceding control of momentum, only to seize it once again and close out the series on home ice in front of a raucous crowd. 
The Flyers have sent the Pittsburgh Penguins to the golf tees, finishing a six-game series with their best effort of the postseason by far. Offensively and defensively, they owned the Penguins, who never fully got going in the game, which the Flyers won by a 5-1 count. 
With the series on the line, a game 7 looming without a win today, the Flyers' top players stepped up and outshined their Pittsburgh counterparts. Claude Giroux set the tone on the opening shift, leveling Sidney Crosby and scoring a goal. Ilya Bryzgalov steadily held court in his own end. Marc-Andre Fleury resumed the futility that marked his play from the first three games of the series, and the Flyers were able to roll through the Penguins. 
A closer look with video highlights, below. 
In his postgame presser, Peter Laviolette said Giroux told him he wanted to be on the ice for the opening shift. He wanted Crosby. Six seconds into the game, right off the opening faceoff, G put a clean, big hit on the Penguins' captain, sending #87 to the ice and getting a huge rise out of the crowd. 
Message sent? Not just yet… 
Later in the shift, Giroux put the Flyers up 1-0 on a blazing wrister. Jaromir Jagr pressured the puck into the zone, and when it came free to Giroux, he ripped it past Fleury. If anyone ever asks you what JAM is, you just tell them about that shift. 
Despite the fast start, the Penguins weren't ready to wilt just yet (that would come later). 
Pittsburgh held control of possession for a few minutes after that opening shift, setting up and cycling well in the Philadelphia end. At one point, they carried a 6-1 lead in shots, with the Flyers' only SOG ending up on the scoreboard. 
The first power play of the game went to the Penguins just 2 minutes in, after Danny Briere was whistled for high-sticking. Matt Read lost his stick on the kill, but the Flyers managed to keep all danger toward the outside. 
A major question before the game, with two notable blueliners injured (not including Chris Pronger), the defense muted any real danger. The Flyers grabbed their first power play of the game after Matt Cooke set a pick on Brayden Schenn. Schenn went down as easy as Crosby usually does, but didn't join Cooke in the box. 
The league's hottest power play unit went to work again, setting three up high, Wayne Simmonds low, and Scott Hartnell just above him in the slot. Giroux ripped a one-timer that MAF had to stretch to stop in the low corner of the net, and he never recovered with the puck loose in his crease. Seeing this from behind the net, the ref didn't whistle play dead, and Hartnell charged in to push the puck through the pile and over the line for a #hartnelldowngoal. Sadly, no one forced him to fight and complete the Hart trick. 
Assisting on the play, Giroux set a new franchise mark for points in a playoff series with 13 (he'd later add to it with another assist). The earlier goal was his sixth in as many games this postseason.
The top line set and carried the tone throughout a 2-0 Flyers first period. The Penguins appeared ready to fold, but no one was counting them as finished just yet. So much hockey left to play, such a misleading margin. 
During an early second period Flyers rush, Pittsburgh's Simon Depres either lost his edge or simply wanted to halt play, crashing through his own net and taking it off it's moorings. It may have saved the Pens a goal for the moment, but it took nothing away from the Flyers' edge. Just afterward, Erik Gustafsson scored on a demoralizing shot that beat MAF. That one felt like the dagger. Fleury was clearly out of his two-game groove, and all momentum favored the Flyers. 
Kimmo Timonen was whistled for a hook, mobilizing the Flyers' dangerous PK unit. They generated three dangerous scoring opportunities, outworking the Penguins with speed and forechecking tenacity. Despite nearly giving up a shorty at one end, the Pens made it a game as Evgeni Malkin scored at the other.  
Up 3-0, were the Flyers playing wrong in playing for the jugular even while down a man? Nope. This whole game was about going for the jugular. Part of their success in this series was using Pittsburgh's power play set up to their own advantage. 
Less than a minute later, they got it back. Danny Briere scored his fifth of the series to make it 4-1. 
It was so tough not to celebrate right then. Three goals can be wiped off the board in a hurry, so we celebrated, but only the goal. The series could wait. 
The two teams played scoreless hockey for the third until Brayden Schenn scored with 8 seconds left in the game. To make it even sweeter, Schenn swiped the puck from Malkin before turning up ice and flying toward the open net. 
The Nah-nah-nah chants had started well before, along with "Crosby Sucks," "We don't like you," and of course, "Let's Go Flyers."
From the brink of a sweep to the brink of collapse and back again, the Flyers upset the Penguins in a tremendously entertaining series. It's almost hard to believe there are still games left to play, because for 2 weeks, this hasn't been about the Stanley Cup. It's been about beating the Penguins. That part is done, and it's time to relax for a few days before
treating the next series the same way. 
Notes: Down Nick Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros, the Flyers put in back-to-back strong efforts on defense. Sunday's was a major difference in the game, as the team managed to block 40 shots. 
The Penguins blocked 14. 
Erik Gustafsson will remember scoring his second NHL goal, but his defensive performance was even more key to the Flyers' win. Lavvy rewarded him with big minutes, including some in tough matchups. He blocked seven shots and managed the attack of Malkin on a few key shifts. 
Braydon Coburn was a beast as well, playing just under half the game. Matt Carle played 27 minutes of his own. 
JVR played only 7 shifts. Wayne Simmonds played just 10. Lavvy's never been shy about playing the producers, and Simmonds has been quiet. JVR is probably still getting his legs under him, if not still a bit nicked up. 
Bryzgalov played very well, with strong blocker saves made like jab punches, no weak goals, and great positioning throughout. 
Sean Couturier once again put the clamps on Malkin, whose goal came on a power play. Again, Malkin seemed frustrated, at one point even slamming his stick against the dasher while on the bench. With the series now over, we can finally look at the job Cooter did on Malkin without the thought that it could still change for the worst. Cooter is the real deal. There's no better way to prove it. 
Though he was reported as the new record holder on the broadcast, Claude Giroux is now actually second all-time in Flyers franchise history for points scored in a single playoff series, with 14. He sits only behind Tim Kerr, who tallied 15 against, guess who, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1989. In a series featuring a pair of guys with MVP awards, Hart Trophies, and Stanley Cup rings, it's safe to say G does indeed enjoy pressure. He was the best player on the ice this series, though he certainly wasn't alone. Even Brooks Orpik called him the best player on the ice. 
Dan Bylsma took a timeout down 4-1 with 46 seconds left in regulation. What do you think he said to his players?
There's a lot more to discuss, and we have a few days to keep looking into what amounts to as enjoyable a series as you can get if you're a Flyers fan. It wasn't always pretty, and they have a lot to work on if they hope to advance against teams that are better in their own end, but it's hard to imagine a more entertaining matchup. 

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall scored a team-high 19 points -- including five dunks -- and Kris Jenkins added 15, as No. 2 Villanova pulled away late to beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, and clinch the 2017 Big East Conference regular-season title outright.

Paschall, starting during Darryll Reynolds’ injury absence, shot 8 for 12 from the field and added six rebounds.

Creighton’s last lead was 45-43 six minutes into the second half, but a Paschall slam and Jenkins’ first three after five misses sparked a 16-4 run that gave the Wildcats a 59-49 lead with 8½ minutes left. Creighton got no closer than seven the rest of the way.

Paschall’s career high is a 31-point game for Fordham against NYIT on Nov. 14, 2014.

Villanova again struggled from three-point range but had tremendous success attacking the basket, especially in the second half of the final game at the Pavilion for two years.

The Wildcats shot just 17 percent from three (3 for 18) but 69 percent from two (24 for 35) and repeatedly got to the foul line in the second half, when they were 14 for 18.

Jenkins again struggled from three (1 for 7) yet still finished with 15 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.

Josh Hart shot 7 for 11 for 16 points and added seven rebounds and three assists.

Villanova opened a streaky first half by taking a 7-0 lead, but Creighton hit four straight threes in less than two minutes and led by three. Villanova then went on a 17-2 run and led by as many as 10 points before Creighton finished the half on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 33.

There were seven lead changes in the first seven minutes of the second half, but Villanova finally pulled away and outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes.

Mikal Bridges added 11 points and eight rebounds for Villanova, while Jalen Brunson had nine points and three assists.

Freshman Dante DiVincenzo came off the bench to contribute nine points and four rebounds for Villanova.

What it means
Villanova improved to 27-3 overall and 14-3 in the Big East, clinching the conference title outright. Entering play Saturday, only Villanova or Butler was in position to win the conference title, with Villanova holding a magic number of one.

Villanova, which lost to Butler on Wednesday, has now won 12 straight games immediately following losses (15 if you carry over to the next year).

The Wildcats last lost consecutive games at the end of the 2012-2013 season, when they fell to Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals and to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Creighton fell to 22-7 overall and 9-7 in the Big East. The Bluejays are 4-6 since an 18-1 start.

Stat of the day
Marcus Foster had 25 points and eight assists, becoming the first player with 25 points and five assists against Villanova since Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds (and five steals) in a 93-72 win over Villanova on Feb. 28, 2011, at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Turning point 
Villanova led by one at 48-47 when Jenkins finally buried a three for a four-point lead.

Moving out
This was Villanova’s last game at the Pavilion for about 20 months. Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year while renovations are made to the Pavilion.

Villanova is 293-62 all-time at the Pavilion, which opened in 1985. That includes a 131-12 mark since the start of the 2004-2005 season.

By the numbers
Khyri Thomas scored 17 points for the Bluejays … Creighton was 7 for 14 from three in the first half but 4 for 13 in the second half … Villanova has won six straight against Creighton since a 101-80 loss in February 2014 when Doug McDermott scored 39 … Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fifth straight game with a rib injury.  

What's next
Villanova has a week off before facing Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington at noon Saturday. Georgetown is 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big East.