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. 

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games, starts Friday

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MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games, starts Friday

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

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NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

NEW YORK -- A person familiar with the negotiations says the New York Jets made a three-year offer to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in March that includes $12 million guaranteed in the first year.

That offer has remained on the table for Fitzpatrick, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is commenting publicly on the negotiations.

The New York Post first reported the terms of the offer Friday.

Fitzpatrick and the Jets have been locked in a contract stalemate. The 33-year-old quarterback is a free agent and coming off a season in which he threw a Jets-record 31 touchdown passes and led New York within a victory of the playoffs.

Both the Jets and Fitzpatrick have said they would like a reunion, but have unable to agree on a deal.

Bears: First-round pick Leonard Floyd agrees to deal
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears and first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd have agreed to a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year.

The Bears drafted the outside linebacker from Georgia with the ninth pick after trading up two spots in a deal with Tampa Bay. Chicago hopes he will add some athleticism to a team trying to build on a 6-10 season. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound Floyd led the Bulldogs in sacks for the third straight year with 4 , and tied for the team lead with 10 1/2 tackles for loss last season.

With the announcement Friday, the Bears have agreed to contracts with eight of their nine picks. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard, a third-rounder, is the exception.

NFL: Navy's Reynolds, Carter can defer military service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Keenan Reynolds will get his chance to play in the NFL this season.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Friday that the record-setting Navy quarterback Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain can defer their military service to play in the NFL.

Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech to the academy in Annapolis. As students cheered the news about their graduating classmates, Carter said: "Go get 'em."

Reynolds was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He is the NCAA's career leader in touchdowns with 88. He had 31 touchdown passes while leading Navy's triple-option offense. The Ravens plan to use him as a running back, receiver and kick returner.

Swain has signed with the San Diego Chargers (see full story).

Redskins: Activists criticize poll on team name
WASHINGTON -- Native American leaders and activists have criticized a recent US national poll that found nine of 10 Native Americans aren't offended by the Washington Redskins' name.

On a conference call held Friday by the National Congress of American Indians and "Change the Mascot" campaign, panelists voiced opposition to a Washington Post poll that surveyed 504 Native Americans, 90 percent of whom said the name doesn't bother them.

James Fenelon, a California State San Bernardino sociology professor, called the poll "immoral," adding it was not representative of Native American communities. Amanda Blackhorse, lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Redskins, said the "misguided" poll will not affect attempts to change the name.

National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata said: "This issue is not about polling. This issue is about human rights."

D.C. council member David Grosso said he hadn't been swayed and that the government would not support the team moving back into the District unless the name was changed.

The team currently plays its home games in Maryland, with its headquarters and training facility in Virginia.