3 Stars: Flyers blow chance for home ice in first round with loss at Lightning

3 Stars: Flyers blow chance for home ice in first round with loss at Lightning

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. from the perspective of two players and one unit that struggled mightily in the third period.


That third period sure was ugly on Thursday night. For even more of a punch to the gut and just like the title suggests, this loss combined with the New York Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres makes the Rangers the second seed in the first round of the Metropolitan Division playoffs and eliminates the Flyers from any shot at home-ice advantage in the first round.


3. Tyler Johnson

The Lightning’s extremely impressive rookie forward made his presence felt early on Thursday night when he took a nice cross-ice pass from Steven Stamkos and blasted the puck past Flyers goalie Ray Emery just exactly two minutes into the game for the opening tally.

Fast-forward to the third period. Johnson hit cutting defenseman Eric Brewer, who was left wide-open in the slot by the porous Flyers defense (more on this in a bit). Brewer rifled a wrister past Emery for the eventual game-winning goal.

The first-period goal was Johnson’s 24th of the season. That ties him with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for most among rookies. That goal combined with his third-period assist gives Johnson 50 points on the year, third most among rookies.

Although MacKinnon will probably win the Calder Trophy, that’s not too shabby of a stat line for Johnson.


2. The Flyers’ third-period defense

Where to even start here? It was brutal.

About five minutes into the third, Lightning winger Richard Panik skated with the puck deep into the Flyers’ zone. Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn totally missed his check and let Panik escape around the net. Panik came out in front and began an offensive flurry that he eventually finished when the Flyers failed to cover him and he backhanded it past Emery for a 2-1 Lightning lead. There were Flyers all around Panik but they were all flatfooted and no one picked him up.

Things got worse on the aforementioned Brewer goal. Brewer was allowed to slide into the slot untouched after what looked like a miscommunication between Flyers winger Steve Downie and his defensemen. It was the third-to-last game of the season. Brutal breakdowns and miscommunications like that shouldn’t have happened.

Stamkos’ power-play goal later on wasn’t pretty either as Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn misplayed the puck and three Lightning players were there to pounce before Stamkos eventually cashed in.

It wasn’t like Tampa Bay dominated the period, either. Tampa had nine shots in the period, the same amount Philadelphia had. It just seemed like Tampa dominated the period because of how poorly the Flyers played defense.

It’s a bit worrisome considering there was fairly important home-ice advantage on the line for the Flyers. This kind of stuff needs to be cleaned up in the next two games.


1. Anders Lindback

Thought the Flyers were going to have an easier time with Lindback, the Lightning’s backup, in net in place of injured starter Ben Bishop?

Think again.

Lindback was superb as he made 36 saves for the victory in just his second start since late January.

Once he made that sprawling glove save on Flyers winger Tye McGinn in the first period, you just had a feeling it could be one of those nights.

Well, it was one of those nights. The Lightning netminder had basically every answer except for a Wayne Simmonds power-play goal and Sean Couturier’s gift of a goal that went off a Lightning defenseman’s stick and into the net.

Lindback now has seven wins on the season and three of those wins have come against the Flyers for a season-series sweep for the Lightning.

The Flyers never saw Bishop, one of the best goalies in the league this year, or the lethal Stamkos, who missed most of the season with a broken leg, during two of the meetings and were still swept by the Lightning.


As if the whole losing-a-chance-at-home-ice thing didn’t hurt enough, don’t look now because the Columbus Blue Jackets and Flyers remained tied for the third seed in the Metro at 91 points each.

But the Flyers currently have a game in hand since the jackets won’t play Sunday. The Flyers also hold the first tiebreaker, which is regulation and overtime wins. They have 38 of those while the Jackets have 37. The Jackets took the season series, 3-1, but that’s the second tiebreaker, as goofy as that may sound.

Don’t sleep on these last two games. There is a ton left to still be decided. Plus, the Flyers don’t want to fall into that last wild-card spot and have to book that flight to Boston next week.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).