Game 3: Will Regular Season Lessons and Home Ice Advantages Prove Meaningful?

Game 3: Will Regular Season Lessons and Home Ice Advantages Prove Meaningful?

We've discussed it here before, a certain reality we'd almost rather not know… 
The NHL's regular season is little more than a really long, entertaining preseason war of attrition. If a team doesn't make the 16-slot playoffs in the NHL, it had an extremely poor chance to win a Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, the parity among teams that do make it can be staggering. Without getting into some existential debate on the relative meaningless of all things, let alone sports, we watch the regular season simply because we love hockey, our local team, and the players that make it up at any given time. So I'm not taking anything away from our time spent watching, analyzing, debating, and enjoying the 82 games that spanned from October to April. But so little of it matters once the playoffs begin. Or does it…?
You can say they're playing for home ice, for seeding, for experience as a team in understanding their strengths and weakness and those of their opponents. I increasingly feel that only the latter really means much once the second season begins. An eighth seed is up 2-0 in the Western Conference. The Flyers are up 2-0 after a pair of games in a frenzied, hostile building. Home ice often means nothing when it comes to the outcomes of games despite player proclamations to the contrary. 
With the series set to resume in Philadelphia this afternoon, can the Flyers find an advantage that the Penguins could not in Pittsburgh?  
Home ice is a reward for fans and franchises, particularly if the series goes the seven-game distance. For those fortunate enough to have a ticket into the building today, just getting dressed and driving to the Wells Fargo Center, having a few beverages with friends, sharing the playoff atmosphere with your kid for the first time, and seeing the place lit up in that glowing orange will be a transcendent experience. 
For everyone from season ticket holders to casual-fan friends of corporations with catered suites, the feel of the building during the playoffs is completely different. In the regular season, the realities of the long 41-game schedule are more apparent than we want to admit. The building feels big, at times hollow. Every seat isn't quite as filled as attendance reports might indicate on some nights. But once the playoffs begin, it's like the building has been dropped out of a huge plane, and everyone's reality outside of it is suspended amidst an adrenaline rush that lasts for a few hours. The game is the only reality that exists. The camaraderie among the orange-clad masses is more palpable. The hatred of the opponent even more so. As soon as you enter the gate, you can see, hear, and feel it. 
For 60 minutes, the chants are louder, particularly if it's a close game or one decidedly in favor of the Flyers. If they win… The chants as fans file down the stairs and elevators can give you that feeling in your ears where it's like you temporarily lose hearing. 
It really doesn't get any better. 
It's a different story if they lose… one the folks out in Pittsburgh can recount with painful detail. It's also a different story on the ice. The Penguins seemed to be playing with one perceived advantage of being on home ice—getting out to early leads and "keeping the building in the game." The Flyers were completely unfazed though, taking their first period beatings only to assume the bully role sometime in the second period. 
Today we'll watch to see if the Flyers—who were better on the road than at home in each of the past two seasons and haven't always played well in afternoon starts—can put together an effort that obviates all elements that are outside of the game itself. 
We all enjoyed Lavvy's tirade after the Flyers got off to another slow start in game 2. And, they're up 2-0 despite continuing a regular season trend everyone said would sink them if still present in the playoffs. But we wouldn't mind seeing a hot start for a change, even if this team's identity and winning formula seems to be the Comeback Kids. 
How long can they keep that up? Are the Pens strong enough to clamp down once they get a lead, or is their defense and goaltending simply unable to withstand the Flyers attack for a full 60 (or more) minutes?
Hopefully the building is a factor in a huge game 3 win. Sidney Crosby-led teams have fared well in Philly, our ill-conceived "Crosby Sucks" chants seemingly having an effect not unlike earth's yellow sun on the son of Jor-El. But lately, the Flyers haven't been affected by the Pittsburgh captain's stellar play early in games. On Friday, he scored 15 seconds in but was victimized later in the game. Are the Flyers finally in his head? I wouldn't bet on it. They may not need to be in order to win though.
To continue winning in the playoffs, the Flyers need to continue making their regular season experience meaningful. In 82 games, six of which were against Pittsburgh, the Flyers learned that no matter what the Penguins throw at them, it is surmountable. The Penguins are strong but flawed—strong enough to win a pair of games in Philly and flawed enough to be swept out. 
In the first two games of the series, we saw that over the course of the regular season, a young, untested group had become seasoned and fearless. They're playing the team heavily favored to win it all, and they're winning. Rookies are sneering in the faces of superstars. Gritty players are mocking diving in their counterparts. The passion of a coach who climbed on top of the dasher boards in anger is flowing into every forward line and defensive pairing. 
If you're headed to South Philly, enjoy one of the greatest parts of being a Philadelphia sports fan. If you've never been to a Flyers playoff game, this is your annual full-throated recommendation to change that. 
Today should be one hell of a battle. 
Photo the Igloo's remains by Ryan Lawrence of the Delco Times. 

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).