3 Stars: Flyers push win streak to five with statement win over NHL-best Blues

3 Stars: Flyers push win streak to five with statement win over NHL-best Blues

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-1 victory over the league-leading St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center from the perspective of two players and one whistle-happy referee.

You guys smell that? That smells like a five-game winning streak, all against some of the best the NHL has to offer.

3. Francois St. Laurent

If you didn’t know that St. Laurent is a NHL referee before Saturday afternoon’s game, you certainly do now because it seemed like he was blowing his whistle every 10 seconds to call another penalty.

All told, St. Laurent and his partner Gene Hebert called 18 minor penalties – four of which were on Flyers captain Claude Giroux alone. But St. Laurent was the ref making most of the calls and skating over to the penalty boxes to announce them.

Two of the best and hottest teams in the NHL met on Saturday at Wells Fargo Center. Let ‘em play, ref.

That said, the Flyers’ penalty kill units were great yet again as they held the Blues, who entered the game with the seventh-best power play in the league, scoreless on six chances with the man advantage. That’s now 27 of the last 28 power plays against that the Flyers have killed off.

2. Steve Mason

There have been times this season when Mason hasn’t been great but his teammates picked him with some offense. And there have been times this season when Mason has had to stand on his head to help his team hang on to a lead.

Saturday was an example of the latter.

Mason made 32 saves to earn the victory. He came up especially huge in the third period when his team clung to a slim lead.

First, he made a great glove save on a shot from the point by St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo as the teams played 4-on-4. Then, with St. Louis on the power play, Mason stopped forward Derek Roy on the doorstep three times, the last of which may have been the netminder’s best save of the day as he snatched Roy’s opportunity out of the air while sprawled across the goal line.

The Flyers really needed Mason on Saturday as they were outshot 33-19 for the game and smothered by the Blues for the better parts of the first and third periods. In that third period, the Flyers were outshot 11-3 but Mason had every answer for those 11 third-period shots. It doesn’t hurt that two of the Flyers three third-period shots found the back of the net courtesy of Jake Voracek and an empty-netter by Wayne Simmonds.

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1. Scott Hartnell

Much like this past Tuesday when the Blackhawks were in town, the Flyers needed a spark after a lackluster start to the game. And much like this past Tuesday, Hartnell was there to provide it.

After the Flyers were swamped by the Blues for most of the opening stanza and found themselves down at intermission, Hartnell took a centering pass from Voracek and beat newly-acquired Blues goalie Ryan Miller for a power-play goal to knot the game at one just 57 seconds into the second period.

It was a goal that allowed the Flyers to get their feet back under themselves and get some confidence that would show throughout the rest of the period. They carried play in the second period and would eventually get another goal from Brayden Schenn that would stick as the game-winner.

With the Blues pressing again late in the third and the Flyers holding onto a 2-1 lead, Hartnell got in on the forecheck, caused a turnover and then sent puck over to Giroux, who fed Voracek for a huge insurance goal on one of the Flyers’ rare shots in the third. Without Hartnell’s hard work and forechecking, the goal likely never would have happened and who knows where things would have gone from there with how hard the Blues were pressing?

It was a hard-nosed, physical game so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Hartnell made an impact on Saturday afternoon.

That’s now six points – four goals and two assists – for Hartnell over the team’s current five-game winning streak. He’s stepping his game up at the right time.


In a week of statement wins, Saturday afternoon’s win over the NHL-best Blues may have been the biggest statement the Flyers have made. It may not always be pretty, but this team is getting the job done against the best teams in the league. The rest of the NHL is officially on notice because the Flyers look like they are for real.

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to TeamRankings.com, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”