Avoid the Links: Flyers should mix up line combos to find offensive spark

Avoid the Links: Flyers should mix up line combos to find offensive spark

Having scored just 10 goals in through five games and finding themselves down 3-2 to the New York Rangers in the teams’ first-round playoff series, it’s no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers need an offensive spark if they are to keep their season alive with a win in Game 6 tonight at Wells Fargo Center.

Despite that fact, you may have heard that Flyers head coach Craig Berube stuck with the same lines that he’s used over the past few games at this morning's practice and that those lines will likely be intact to start Game 6.

But don’t expect those lines to stay intact all night. In fact, expect them to change often, especially if the Flyers fall behind early again or come out flat.

As things stand, the Flyers’ lines look like this: Scott Hartnell-Claude Giroux-Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn-Vinny Lecavalier-Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Jason Akeson and Michael Raffl-Adam Hall-Zac Rinaldo.

If the Flyers come out with another lackluster start tonight, the first move Berube should make is to tinker with the first line by bumping Hartnell down. That trio clearly has just not worked in this series as well as it did in the regular season and they need another dynamic threat alongside Giroux to really get his game going.

In this series, the trio has just two goals and both are by Voracek, the only Flyer forward who has shown any real fire or bite in his game. They also only have five assists. Compare that to the Rangers’ top line of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Marty St. Louis that has four goals and 10 assists and you can see which team’s top line has had the advantage.

Berube has moved Schenn to Hartnell’s spot at times in this series but the spark still hadn’t been there with that move.

Who should take that spot then?

Lecavalier should be the first choice.

Say what you want about him, but Lecavalier still is an offensive threat that can open up space for Giroux and Voracek to go to work in the Rangers’ zone. He may not be as comfortable on the wing, but it’s do or die and it’s a lot easier to be comfortable playing with guys like Giroux and Voracek.

If Lecavalier doesn’t work out there, Raffl should be the second choice.

He has the offensive skill to make it work. Remember when Berube moved him to that spot earlier in the season? That was right around the time Giroux started his torrid point streak that inserted him into the MVP conversation. Let’s just say that wasn’t a coincidence.

Hartnell, who really hasn’t been effective at all in the series with just two assists, should be bumped down to the second-line or fourth-line wing.

The third line of Read-Couturier-Akeson shouldn’t be broken up. Just like the rest of the team, they haven’t set the world on fire offensively but you can’t devalue their defensive capabilities against the Rangers’ top offensive players.

One move Berube has already made that he can’t go back on is inserting Erik Gustafsson in for Hal Gill on the defensive side of the ledger.

The Rangers have proven to be the much faster team thus far in the series. Gill, the proverbial Game 5 scapegoat after he missed the net on a scoring chance and then fumbled the puck leading to a Rangers’ breakaway goal seconds later, didn’t do anything to help counter that speed.

Speed has never been the 39-year-old defenseman’s strong suit and certainly isn’t these days. Enter Gustafsson.

The 25-year-old Swede played 31 regular-season games and tallied two goals and eight assists in those 31 games.

But his insertion into the lineup isn’t about his offensive game. It’s about using his speed to match the speed of the Rangers’ forwards as much as possible. That aspect has been an immense struggle so far for the Flyers in this series and a big part of why they find their backs against the wall tonight.

Above all else, the Flyers need to come out strong at the start tonight with some grit and fire to their game, no matter the line combinations.

If they don’t and they allow the Rangers to grab the early momentum yet again, it could be a long night and summer, for that matter.

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

BOX SCORE

The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

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College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn was ready to try anything to get a win for his Auburn Tigers.

Malzahn relinquished offensive play-calling duties. Following his daughters' advice, he traded his usual game-day visor for a cap. And then, when the clock expired and LSU players were celebrating an apparent last-second win, the Auburn coach put all his faith in a ruling he couldn't control.

Daniel Carlson kicked six field goals and Auburn beat No. 18 LSU 18-13 on Saturday night after officials ruled Danny Etling's apparent last-gasp scoring pass came after time expired.

Malzahn said he knew there were only zeroes on the clock before the snap to Etling.

"I was pretty confident time had expired," Malzahn said. "It was just a matter of going to the booth and confirming it."

Etling rolled to his right and found D.J. Shark in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard pass, setting off a short-lived celebration by LSU players (see full recap).

Hornibrook proves he's ready in Badgers' win over Spartans
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- By the time Alex Hornibrook's first start was over, there wasn't much question about whether he could handle one of the toughest road tests in the Big Ten.

Hornibrook threw for 195 yards and a touchdown, and 11th-ranked Wisconsin turned its early-season showdown with No. 8 Michigan State into a rout, beating the Spartans 30-6 on Saturday.

"You've got to have respect for a guy whose first start is against a Michigan State defense," Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said.

"He's going to come out the next game and do even better. I think he's just getting his feet wet."

The freshman quarterback outplayed fifth-year senior Tyler O'Connor, his Michigan State counterpart. The Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) were the better team in the first half and then outscored the Spartans 17-0 in the third quarter (see full recap).

No. 23 Rebels find their rhythm, beat No. 12 Georgia 45-14
OXFORD, Miss. -- Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly faked the handoff and then took off running toward the end zone. A few seconds and 41 yards later, the quarterback had cruised through the middle of the Georgia defense and into the end zone untouched.

It was pretty much that easy for the Rebels all afternoon. Ole Miss finally built a lead it couldn't give away.

No. 23 Ole Miss rolled to a 45-14 victory over No. 12 Georgia on Saturday, building a 31-0 lead by halftime and a 45-0 advantage by midway through the fourth quarter.

Kelly threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) broke a 10-game losing streak in the series dating to 1996 (see full recap).

Dobbs rallies No. 14 Vols to 38-28 win over No. 19 Gators
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- This time, Tennessee delivered the comeback.

And in the process, the Volunteers took out 11 years' worth of frustration on Florida.

Joshua Dobbs accounted for five second-half touchdowns Saturday and No. 14 Tennessee erased a 21-point deficit to beat No. 19 Florida 38-28 and end their 11-game losing streak in the annual series.

"I didn't see anybody blink," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "Nobody flinched. They just kept playing."

This marks the first time Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) has beaten Florida (3-1, 1-1) since 2004. The Volunteers had lost to Florida by one point each of the last two years despite leading in the fourth quarter of both games (see full recap).