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.

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver. 

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

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Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State got bullied a bit Saturday, but never gave up its lunch money. 

It spent the second half taking control of the schoolyard.

After getting pushed around for much of Saturday night’s first half, the Nittany Lions were anything but punchy after the break. Penn State (No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings) got its high-powered offense into gear in the second and roared back for the school’s first victory in the Big Ten Championship game, 38-31, over No. 6 Wisconsin.

The Nittany Lions (11-2) are bound for the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season and are outright conference champions for the first time in 22 years.  

Penn State trailed by three touchdowns midway through the second quarter but allowed just three points the rest of the night. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and a title-game record four touchdowns to spark a comeback that saw the Nittany Lions outscore the Badgers 24-3 in the second half. McSorley was named Big Ten Championship game MVP.

Wisconsin missed a 48-yard field goal early in the second half and Penn State needed just 11 seconds to take advantage. McSorley (22 for 31) hit Saeed Blacknall with a 70-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to a touchdown. Saquon Barkley tied it at 28 later in the third with a 1-yard scoring run.

Blacknall ended the night with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns while DaeSean Hamilton had eight grabs for 118. 

Wisconsin retook the lead with a short field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter but Penn State went ahead for good on the ensuing drive, which ended with McSorley’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Barkley.

Tyler Davis added a 24-yard field goal later in the fourth and the Penn State defense sealed the victory when Grant Haley stuffed Wisconsin’s Corey Clement on fourth-and-1 with 1:01 to play.

The Nittany Lions fumbled the ball away twice in the opening half — one was returned for a short Badgers touchdown — but only trailed 28-14 at intermission after McSorley hit Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown with under a minute to play in the half. 

Mike Gesicki caught McSorley’s first scoring pass, a 33-yarder, late in the first quarter.

Clement finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Badgers (10-3), who also got scoring runs from Bradrick Shaw and Dare Ogunbowale. Bart Houston was 16 for 21 for 174 yards. 

Smelling the roses?
Penn State is likely off to Pasadena for the fourth time in school history and is seeking to reach .500 in college football’s longest running postseason game. The Nittany Lions defeated Oregon 38-20 in the 1995 game but fell to Southern California in their other two trips, in 2009 and 1923.

It appears the Trojans might be their opponents once more; No. 4 Washington won the Pac-12 championship Friday night but appears headed for the playoff. The Rose Bowl gets its choice of Pac-12 runner-up Colorado (10-3) or 9-3 USC.

There is a chance Penn State could be selected to the College Football Playoff, but No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all won this weekend, while No. 2 Ohio State was idle. The playoff will be announced at noon on Sunday.

He’s fine
Sophomore running back running back Saquon Barkley showed no ill effects of a right foot injury suffered during a Nov. 26 win over Michigan State. He added the go-ahead touchdown — and another mention in Penn State’s record book — for good measure.

Barkley, who left in the third quarter of Nittany Lions’ penultimate victory, hauled in a touchdown pass from McSorley in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to give Penn State the lead for good. He had a short scoring run earlier in the period.

Barkley broke Evan Royster’s sophomore rushing record with a 19-carry, 83-yard night to push his season total to 1,302 yards. He set the mark for Penn State freshman (1,076) last fall.

Nice run
Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott’s 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter snapped a shutout streak that had seen Penn State outscore its opponents 82-0 in the second halves of games. The last scoring play before Endicott’s boot came in the second half of a 45-31 win over Indiana on Nov. 12.