Game 4: Can Flyers Complete the Let's Just Watch the Game.

Game 4: Can Flyers Complete the Let's Just Watch the Game.

I'm
usually someone who demands a reasonable amount of evidence before I
believe something. I don't consider myself a cynic, but I ordinarily
think there is more to a story than is presented, or less. And yet, when
it comes to sports in particular, I find that I'm entirely
superstitious. 

I shouldn't be anywhere near the internet today. Any
mention of the action one does with a broom makes me want to slam my
laptop shut. The cashier saw my shirt and asked for my prediction on the
game tonight, and I gave him my best Peter Laviolette deflection. I
refuse to think about the outcome of this game, and it pisses me off
that you're not all on board with me. 

Do the Flyers have the decided edge in this series?
Would it take a monumental, historic comeback for it not to end with
them advancing? Do the Penguins appear to be regressing rather than
getting back to elite standing? Yes, to all of that. 

But if the Flyers themselves are treating tonight
like anywhere near what I'm reading, hearing and doing my best not to
think… We'll be in for a game 5, at least. This series didn't end on
Sunday. Some pretty tough obstacles stand between the Flyers and a
celebration tonight. Let's take a look. 

The Other Team on the Ice (No, Not the Penguins)Thankfully,
although the Penguins' power play has recently started scoring on the
Flyers after a regular season of futility and a sluggish start in the
postseason, the Flyers' PK has been just about as productive. Tonight,
they may need to be again. The NHL is under the microscope after
suspensions 6, 7, and 8 were handed out last night, and #9 will likely
come tomorrow. The officials from game 3 of this series were criticized
for letting the game get out of hand. If either side wants to bring the
rough stuff, will the refs treat it like that final game of the season,
when run-of-the-mill rule-breaking resulted in ejections?

If so, who will it favor? Who does it usually favor?
To
add fuel to the fire, Hockey Buzz's Bill Meltzer points out a very
curious choice in the refereeing assignment tonight. I have a ton of
respect for Bill, and following him on twitter is highly recommended for
any Flyers fan.
He's a wealth of knowledge on factors that exceed the range of most
fans and many in the media. Today, he pointed out that the refs tonight
will be Chris Lee and Wes McCauley. Lee isn't a household name, which
can be a good thing, but in this case, Meltzer indicates it is in part
because Lee is one of the worst refs in the league and rarely gets the
call in the postseason. 

Tonight, a deciding contest between two teams that
have amassed as many penalty minutes as they have played, the calls will
be at the whim of a man whistling his fifth NHL postseason game despite
being in the league for 10 seasons. 
Poking the LionI don't
lose sleep over whether anyone's opinion regarding the Daily News'
coverage changes based on a joke they run on their cover. I don't
discredit anyone whose opinion is adversely affected, though my own was
not. I do, however, hate the fact that one of the greatest-ever Flyer
killers has a new decoration for his bulletin board. 

Again, my superstition getting in the way of reason? 
Reason
would dictate that the gauntlet was thrown down on Sidney Crosby well
before the paper was printed and handed to him by Lisa Hillary. Although
he's seen some success in spurts this series, he's made headlines for
all the wrong reasons. In fact, he's damn lucky the league's justice
system is based on punishing acts more so than preventing them, because
he was throwing gasoline on a powder keg in game 3, ultimately leading
to several explosions.

Does the all-world talent take over tonight, or will
his demons get the better of him again, forcing his teammates to focus
on protecting the star rather than passing to him?
Speaking
of his teammates… Man… I almost don't even want to mention #71. The
odds-on favorite for MVP has been locked in Sean Couturier's trunk for the past week. It's appeared as if Cooter is winning the matchup,
but Malkin is also in a slump. He's shooting wide, sloppily, and without
his usual precision. Is he frustrated by his competition, or just a
little off? 

Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed a historic amount of
goals through three games. The defense in front of him will be even more
banged up tonight, and the forward ranks a little thinner without the
three suspension recipients. But can he really be flogged this badly
four games in a row?

By now, I hope I've shaken all the black cats you
people have been throwing in my path to the game tonight. I'll be in the
building with a ticket, top row of the upper deck. I want to be SINGING
on my way out. But not til then… There's at least 60 more minutes of hockey
the Flyers need to treat like they did the last 60 minutes. Despite the
series record, this is not an opponent we want getting even a whiff of
its passion back…

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, N.C. as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder N.C. State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind N.C. State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum been a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. He hit on 118 of 139 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6-for-22 shooting in an ACC tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half-court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.