An Embarrassing 10-3 Playoff Loss Still Worth It.

An Embarrassing 10-3 Playoff Loss Still Worth It.

The night started out with obvious promise. A win would mean a sweep of not only the Flyers' most hated rivals, but also the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup. A close loss wouldn't be the end of the world, as really, no one expected a sweep in the Flyers' favor when the series began. All day I had a nervous buzz. Anticipation for the possibility of being in the building for something unforgettable;

My buddy Will and I filed in, warmer-than-the-regular-season weather making FDR and the lots that much more fun for tailgaters. The later-than-usual playoff start time didn't hurt either.

Passing through the turnstiles, a nice young lady hands us our bright orange t-shirts with the phrase of the game scrawled on it, the material still warm. No charge here, unlike in Pittsburgh. A few Bullies await along the first steps of the concourse, a few hoagies at Campo's. Our seats are upstairs—way up in the top row, where we can stand all game and bang on the ceiling—so we make our way up the escalators.

Not a Penguins jersey in sight. Not one. Unheard of for this series.

Up on the 200 level, where the better beer resides just behind the main bars that are just off the escalators, the lines were lighter than expected, which got us up the steps with two hands full that much faster.

When the Flyers took the ice and started circling in their end, the lighting and fan attire a uniform orange glow, the place erupted briefly. The Pens came out soon after, and as they skated in a whirlpool of their own, there was the rare blissful mix of fans booing one team while still clapping of the other. Feet glued to the floor with game 3 beer remnants, we stood as Lauren Hart sent us goosebumps and a good shiver. Her rendition was great, Kate by her side on the splitscreen. One tap of her chest as she finished showed that she was really feeling it.

As the teams lined up for the opening faceoff, there were four chants. Let's Go Flyers, We Don't Like You, Crosby Sucks, and Let's Go Flyers in the original cadence. A woman a few seats down from me did it the whole game, swimming defiantly against a current that changed years ago.

Before the fans had taken their seats from the anthem, Steve Sullivan was called for high-sticking. Claude Giroux scored on a power play less than a minute and a half in. A "Flllleeeuuurrrryyyyy" chant began, way prematurely. Evgeni Malkin was whistled for a hook 12 seconds later. Four horsemen were seen between the benches.

As we discussed in the pregamer that day, it was beyond likely that the refs would try to exert control over this game, and they did, for the better part of two periods. We had no idea how painful it would be until the second, but it was pretty apparent in the first. The Flyers tallied three times while up a man, and for some reason, the Flyers' 3-2 lead felt huge.

But then, a subtle but critical moment in the game reversed their fortunes. It wasn't the reason the Flyers would ultimately lose, and it may not show up in many game stories, but we said as it was happening that it wasn't good. Just after the Flyers went up by a 3-2 count and carried tremendous momentum with 4 minutes left in the first period, an offsides call led to a TV timeout. "This isn't good," I said to Will. It felt the same as having two days between games 3 and 4, too much time for a powerful Penguins team to regroup and strategize.

Ten seconds out of the break, the game was tied. Sidney Crosby deflected a goal originally credited as the second of the period for Matt Niskanen, who was inserted into the lineup earlier in the day. A minute later, Jordan Staal scored the first of his hat trick.

We didn't know it yet, but the game was over. The Penguins had weathered a storm that saw multiple Flyers power play goals, including one on a two-man advantage followed another by a nearly full minor. That was the only way they'd beat Marc-Andre Fleury in this one, and the free rides were over after the opening 20 minutes.

The second period began with Matt Carle in the box. Less than a minute after his release, Claude Giroux would be called for the first of six Flyers penalties in the period—four in the first 10 minutes alone, not including the Carle penalty that was served to start it. The Pens scored three times on those power plays, then danced on the ashes twice more in the period.

I kept mentally repeating the mantra we've learned over the course of the playoffs so far, and even dating back to the regular season. This team is never out of it. At 6-3, despite it being a manageable deficit, it felt foolish to expect another comeback.

The final minutes of the period were increasingly absurd. Our seats aren't the best vantage from which to call penalties, so I'm not going to comment on whether any of the calls were legit, missed, etc. Zac Rinaldo seemed deserving of a match, if not a suspension, and I'm pretty sure I called a few Penguins for various infractions the refs didn't agree with, but again, it's not the seat to be judging calls from.

The exodus began in the latter portion of the period, the folks staying ribbing the folks leaving. Some pleaded that they were just headed to the bathroom or to get some food. And a few did return. But the hordes on the escalators showed that the building was going to be laughably empty in the third period.

I've never seen so many seatbacks during live game play.

We stayed through the end, and in the final 30 seconds, what I perceived to be a genuine Let's Go Flyers chant began and lasted to the final horn. There were plenty of mocking cheers when Flyers goalies made saves, especially Bob, as the game was well out of hand. But this didn't feel as mocking, if at all. The fans, particularly those who stayed, know the series goes on, and this was just one game.

Will and I have been to a lot of games, plenty of wins and more than a few losses, including a fair share to the Penguins. As this tragedy was unfolding, we were trying to decide if it was the toughest loss we'd been to. It was certainly among the worst games. But is it worse to be at a loss that can be chalked up to a catastrophe halfway in, or to see something like a 3-1 third period lead evaporate into a last-minute loss?

The devastating parts of this loss are clear. MAF got his groove back. Crosby played his game. Malkin got on the board a few times. The Flyers couldn't score without the power play and couldn't defend or goaltend at all. They lost another defenseman to injury. We had our first goalie change, and we all know what comes with that.

So from that standpoint, it was as scary a horror film as could be imagined. Game 4 tickets were hard to come by, yet the seats were somewhat understandably empty for the entire third period. The Penguins are back in this series.

Still, it was worth it to go. The lead-in alone was every reason you're a fan. Will drove down from Albany—and back that night—and didn't gripe a word about the drive, only the game. Instead we made plans for our annual effort to get to at least one home game per series, provided the Flyers get us one more win in the next three opportunities…

*

This guy got booed pretty hard walking in. Guess they didn't notice the bonnet at first.
Special thanks to Zach too. Wish you were in town. 

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).

 

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

CLEVELAND -- Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-115 in overtime on Saturday night despite missing starters Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.

Leonard scored six in OT, including a game-sealing dunk with 4.9 seconds left, as the Spurs regrouped after a late collapse in regulation.

David Lee, making a rare start in place of the injured Gasol, added 14 points as San Antonio improved to 18-4 on the road.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scored 29 apiece for the Cavs, who had the last shot in regulation and had plenty of opportunities in the extra five minutes. Cleveland still had a chance to tie it in the final second of overtime, but Kevin Love missed a 3-pointer (see full recap).

Lillard, McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Boston
BOSTON -- Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.

Thomas nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 to play in OT, pushing Boston ahead by one, but Al-Farouq Aminu was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws to move Portland back in front.

Lillard then drove the lane, was fouled and hit the free throw. Mason Plumlee had a short jumper in the lane and a free throw in the closing 24 seconds (see full recap).

Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105
NEW YORK -- Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New York Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

Carmelo Anthony's attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

Eric Bledsoe added 23 points for the Suns, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points, Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14 (see full recap).

Dekker scores career-best 30 leading Rockets past Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sam Dekker scored a career-high 30 points, James Harden added 29 points and 10 assists and the Houston Rockets leaned on their usual 3-point offense to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 119-95 on Saturday night.

Eric Gordon added 21 points as the Rockets built the lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter before easily coasting home.

Dekker, making his first career start in place of the ill Ryan Anderson, made 12 of 19 shots, including 6 of 11 from outside the arc. Houston shot 51 percent overall and 38 percent from distance.

Marc Gasol scored 32 points and Mike Conley added 15 for the Grizzlies, who lost for the third time in the last four.

Memphis struggled shooting the entire night, finishing at 37 percent and unsuccessfully tried to follow the Rockets' long-range attack but converted only 9 of 34 from outside the arc (see full recap).