It's Still the Super Bowl

It's Still the Super Bowl

Maybe it should not have come as such a huge surprise, but I admit to being sort of in disbelief over the number of Eagles fans who claim they flat out are not watching the Super Bowl. Some of the chatter is undoubtedly hot air, but at least one poll indicated 30% of you have alternative plans. Even if two-thirds of respondents were lying, one in ten serious football fans -- serious enough to visit an Eagles blog in February -- won't watch the biggest game of the year.

In the interest of full disclosure -- not that this should qualify as some big shock -- I've grown to kind of like the Patriots, so I can take some small, impersonal satisfaction in a New England victory. That said, I've not missed a single Super Bowl during my conscious memory, haven't even flipped the channel early... and there have been plenty of loathsome match-ups and plain bad games.

It's the biggest sporting event on the planet, and it's the game I love. So, yeah, I'm watching, and I'm interested.

Prediction
Still not buying the Giants as a great team, and the Patriots have the ability to mitigate one of New York's biggest strengths: their defensive line. New England has a solid front that can slow the vaunted pass rush, and Tom Brady shouldn't need a ton of time to dissect one of the worst pass defenses (29th) in the NFL this season.

Reflecting on the Week 9 meeting between the two, the only reason the Giants were even in the game was due to a subpar performance from Brady, who threw two bad picks. In all, the Pats turned the ball over four times, plus missed a chip-shot field goal -- and New York still needed Eli Manning to lead a touchdown drive in the final 1:36 to steal the win. The Giants will be able to put some points on the board, especially with Hakeem Nicks in the lineup this time around, but as long as Brady doesn't give them extra chances, they shouldn't be able to score enough to top New England.

Final: Patriots 45, Giants 27
MVP: TE Aaron Hernandez

Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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USA Today Images

Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH -- To their credit, the Sharks regrouped after a miserable first period at Consol Energy Center in which it looked like they might get run out of the building.

It wasn’t enough, though, as Nick Bonino’s late third period goal pushed the Penguins to a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

On the game-winner, Brent Burns lost his stick and couldn’t prevent Kris Letang from finding Bonino in front of the net with Paul Martin defending the slot. Bonino flipped it through Martin Jones at 17:27 of the final frame.

The Sharks went to the power play with 2:09 to go, but couldn’t tie it up.

Game 2 is in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The Penguins dominated the first period, only to have the Sharks completely turn the tables in the second, resulting in a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes.

The Penguins had the Sharks on their heels for virtually the entire opening frame, outshooting San Jose 15-4 and scoring a pair.

The first came at 12:46 of the first. On a rush, Justin Schultz’s shot from the high slot hit the glove of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and rookie Bryan Rust was there to smack in the loose puck.

Just one minute and two seconds later, the Penguins upped their cushion. Sidney Crosby tracked down a loose puck in the corner ahead of Justin Braun, calmly played the puck off his backhand and whipped a cross-ice pass to Conor Sheary. Another rookie, Sheary whizzed a wrist shot past Jones’ far shoulder.

It was evident early in the second, though, that San Jose had regrouped, as Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski both had good looks at the net. They broke through on an early power play courtesy of Tomas Hertl, who curled in a pass from down low off of Olli Maatta at 3:02.

Pittsburgh withstood a continual push from the Sharks for much of the period until Marleau’s late score. After Couture outworked Maatta deep in the offensive zone and pushed the puck to the point to Burns, Marleau secured Burns’ rebound and wrapped it around at 18:12.

Burns had two assists, and made a strong defensive play with about three minutes left in the first, backchecking hard and lifting up Carl Hagelin’s stick on a breakaway.

Special teams

The Sharks were 1-for-2 on the power play, on Hertl’s second man advantage goal of the playoffs. They are 18-for-65 in the postseason (27.6 percent).

Pittsburgh went 0-for-3, generating five shots on goal. The Pens are 15-for-67 overall (22.3 percent).

Marleau was whistled for an illegal check to the head of Rust in the third period, sending the 24-year-old to the dressing room for a brief stretch.

In goal

Jones and Murray were each making their first career starts in the Stanley Cup Final. Jones took the loss with 38 saves, while Murray stopped 24 San Jose shots.

Lineup

Sharks forward Matt Nieto remained out with an upper body injury.

Pavelski saw his seven-game point streak (5g, 5a) come to an end. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz increased his point streak to six games (3g, 4a).

Up next

The Sharks are 5-11 all-time when losing Game 1 of a playoff series, but 1-0 this year as they came back to defeat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

Teams that win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the championship 78 percent of the time (59-18). The last team to win the Cup after losing Game 1 was the 2011 Bruins.

Joel Embiid declares himself '#FinallyHealthy' on Instagram, creates great new hashtag

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Joel Embiid declares himself '#FinallyHealthy' on Instagram, creates great new hashtag

When will Joel Embiid be cleared to make his NBA debut? That question still remains.

But the big man is making it known, he is setting his sights on that game (whenever it may be) and being part of the Sixers’ new chapter.

Monday night Embiid posted a photo of himself in a Sixers jersey with the caption “Wish we could fast forward to next season #FinallyHealthy#TrustTheNewProcess.”

Wish we could fast forward to next season #FinallyHealthy #TrustTheNewProcess

A photo posted by Joel Hans Embiid (@joelembiid) on

That second hashtag, though? Just tremendous.

Yes, even in the midst of an electric Western Conference Finals Game 7 between the Warriors and Thunder, Embiid is thinking ahead to next season.

Embiid, the third overall pick in 2014, has yet to play in an NBA game because of foot injuries. He has been going through non-contact drills during his rehab, teasing viewers with videos of his three-point shooting, and dabbling in soccer moves.

Embiid has been expressing his excitement of playing next season on social media. Seven weeks ago, a caption included “We'll see y'all next season. ME PERSONALLY.”

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 3

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Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 3

BOX SCORE

Jeremy Hellickson did everything he could Monday night to stop the bleeding a rough road trip through Detroit and Chicago provided the Phillies.

But the usually consistent Hector Neris had his worst inning of the year and Washington pounced.

The Nationals scored three runs in the top of the eighth inning and snapped a four-game losing streak to the Phillies with a 4-3 win on Monday at Citizens Bank Park.

Jayson Werth’s two-out RBI single plated the tying run in the top of the eighth to even the score at 2-2. Neris then walked Chris Heisey to load the bases for Daniel Murphy, who homered earlier. He delivered with the crushing blow, a two-run single that put the Nationals ahead for good.

Jonathan Papelbon, whom the Phillies have had success against at Citizens Bank Park, worked around back-to-back doubles by Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard to start the ninth inning and to pick up his 14th save of the season.

Papelbon fanned pinch-hitter Tommy Joseph with a slider, blew a fastball by Cesar Hernandez and got Tyler Goeddel to line out to second base to end the game.

The Phillies, now losers in eight of 10, saw their record fall to 26-25. On Tuesday, they’ll try to avoid falling to .500 for the first time since April 26.

Starting pitching report
In a pitcher’s duel against Washington’s Tanner Roark, Hellickson was dominant in seven innings of work. He needed just 79 pitches in those innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning.

For the fifth straight time, Hellickson held his opponents to three runs or less. He struck out eight Nationals and scattered just three hits while not issuing a walk. Hellickson left the game in line for the win, but the Phillies' usually efficient bullpen faltered.

Hellickson struck out the side in the sixth inning, which ended with Werth swinging through a breaking ball.

Bullpen report
Neris entered Monday having not given up a run since May 6, a streak of nine and 2/3 innings. He started off by striking out Wilson Ramos with his nasty splitter.

Neris then walked Danny Espinosa before getting pinch-hitter Clint Robinson to line out for the inning’s second out. But command continued to be an issue. Neris walked Ben Revere to keep the inning alive for Werth, who made him pay. And then Murphy made it worse.

Jeanmar Gomez came on to clean up the eighth inning and then pitched a perfect ninth inning.

At the plate
The Phillies used their small ball ways to score the game’s first run in the bottom of the second. Back-to-back one-out walks of Hernandez, who would steal second and reach third on a wild pitch, and Goeddel put runners on the corners for Hellickson, who executed a perfect sacrifice safety squeeze bunt to score Hernandez.

After Washington tied the game at 1-1 on a Murphy home run, the Phillies struck back in the bottom of the sixth with a Freddy Galvis homer on a 1-2 slider down in the zone. Galvis went down to get the pitch and drove it to the right field seats for what turned out to be the game-winning run.

Howard, who was given the start at first base after sitting Sunday, was 0 for 3 with a pair of strikeouts and a long flyout to deep right-centerfield before he smashed an RBI double to follow up Franco’s double to kick off the ninth inning.

In the field
Howard’s leaping catch of Ramos’ line drive to end the second inning helped keep the Nationals off the board early.

Goeddel, who made that game-ending throw to the plate a few weeks back, again showed off his arm in the top of the seventh inning. With Bryce Harper on first base after being hit by a Hellickson fastball in the knee, Murphy, moments after hitting a home run foul and out of play, drove a pitch toward the gap in left-centerfield.

Goeddel closed on it and quickly fired to first. Harper, slow getting back to the base, was doubled off as Howard deceptively waited to show his glove until the ball neared. Washington manager Dusty Baker challenged the play, but a review that lasted two minutes and 15 seconds confirmed the call on the field.

Franco made a catch in the eighth inning similar to Howard’s. Robinson sent a line shot over the head of Franco, who made a full-extension grab with his glove. He appeared to injure his left shoulder on the play but remained in the game.

Asche on the way?
Cody Asche, who continues to work his way back from an oblique injury, went 1 for 4 Monday afternoon with a home run - his second during his rehab assignment - in Lehigh Valley’s 6-4 win over Norfolk.

Asche’s 20-day rehab assignment concludes Wednesday. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said the club would look at Asche then and said it's a “possibility” the 25-year-old joins the Phillies after.

Up next
The Phillies continue their 10-game homestand on Tuesday with Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86 ERA) facing off against Washington’s Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52).