Comment of the week sponsored by Smith's Restaurant and Bar

Comment of the week sponsored by Smith's Restaurant and Bar

Today's comment of the week involves pig farming. But before we get to that! Don't forget to mark your calendar for the January 23rd Level meetup and Flyers watch party we'll be having at Smith's Restaurant and Bar  located in Rittenhouse in Center City. All the cool blogger nerds will be there.

If you've never been to Smith's, they have some pretty killer specials during all NFL games (including Thursdays): $4 Harpoon drafts, $10 pizzas, and some great $5 food specials like guac, boneless wings, or chicken nachos.

This week's winner of a $25 gift card to Smith's is a guy who once worked on a pig farm in New Zealand. Gotta reward that kind of effort. Congrats, PhillyNZ, who wrote in about our reflecting on the 5-year anniversary of the Phillies World Series victory.

I was working on a pig farm in New Zealand, during a kind of year-long overseas experience. I would drive 45 minutes from the farm to the nearest mall, where I would order a coffee at a cafe and get an hour of free internet, during which I would read and respond to E-mails for about 10 minutes and then read everything about the games for the next 50. I couldn’t get internet any other way. I was able to watch Game 4 at a friend’s house who had a sweet TV package, and because it was a national holiday that day (all the games happened around lunchtime in NZ because of the time difference, and I had to be working then). I loved every bit of it.

The next day when I went to the coffee shop to find out if they had won it all, I was disappointed the game was suspended. I E-mailed my mom to send me a text when/if they won it all. When I didn’t get a text the next day, I thought they had either lost or the text didn’t go through, so I raced to the coffee shop after work only to find out that it was still suspended. The next day, around 1:30 or 2pm, while I was filling the wallowing holes for the pigs with water, I finally got the text from my mom (who had to learn how to send a text, by the way): “Phillies win!!” It was awesome. I was all alone, halfway across the world, but I was just as happy as everyone in Philly that they won.

New Zealand was great (if you can afford it, go), but that was one of the highlights.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).

NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

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NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Bryan Rust scored a pair of second-period goals and Matt Murray stopped 16 shots to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night to send the franchise to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009.

Pittsburgh will host Western Conference champion San Jose in Game 1 of the final Monday night.

Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the playoffs for the Lightning and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves, but it wasn't enough to send Tampa Bay back to the Cup Final for a second straight year. Captain Steven Stamkos had two shots in his return from a two-month layoff while dealing with a blood clot.

The Penguins avoided elimination with a borderline dominant 5-2 victory in Game 6 that provided a snapshot of the formula that fueled their rise through the Eastern Conference standings shortly after coach Mike Sullivan's arrival in mid-December. Sullivan calls it "playing the right way," a way abetted by the influx of speed brought in by general manager Jim Rutherford. That group includes Rust, who forced his way onto the roster thanks to feverish skating and a relentlessness that belies his nondescript 5-foot-11 frame.

That effort -- or "desperation level" as captain Sidney Crosby calls it -- provided the Penguins with the boost they needed to overcome a bit of unfortunate history and the return of Stamkos. Pittsburgh had dropped five straight Game 7s at home, including a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay in 2011 in a series in which both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed due to injury. That loss had become symbolic of the franchise's postseason shortcomings following that gritty run to the Cup in 2009 that culminated with a Game 7 win in Detroit that was supposed to be the launching pad of a dynasty.

Seven long years later, with an entirely new cast around mainstays Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins are finally heading back.

It hardly came easy. Vasilevskiy, a revelation while filling in for injured Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, spent most of the night facing barrage after barrage as Pittsburgh controlled the puck and the pace of play for long stretches. Not even the return of Stamkos, who missed eight weeks while recovering from surgery to fix a blood clot near his right collarbone, could give Tampa Bay a boost as it sought a second straight appearance in the final round.

The 26-year-old practically chased Vasilevskiy onto the ice and played 11:55, his best chance coming on a breakaway in the second period in which his slap shot from the right circle hit Murray and trickled wide.

Yet he was outshone -- as was everyone else inside an electric Consol Energy Center -- by a 24-year-old who managed all of five goals in 55 regular season games, a total he's matched in just 17 games during the postseason. And perhaps even more surprising than the amount of success Rust has enjoyed during the playoffs is when he's done the most damage. He collected two goals and an assist in a series closeout win over the New York Rangers in the opening round.

Just over a month later, Rust was at it again.

He gave the Penguins the lead 1:55 into the second when he raced down the slot, took a feed from Kunitz and beat Vasilevskiy over his glove. Drouin's fourth goal of the series tied it at 9:36 of the second, a wicked wrist shot from the circle that zipped by Murray and seemed to blunt Pittsburgh's momentum.

Only it didn't.

All of 30 seconds later, the Penguins were back in front. Ben Lovejoy's slap shot from the point caromed off the end boards to the right of the net. Rust jabbed at it, squeezing it between Vasilevskiy's left arm and his body.

The Penguins kept coming. Only the spectacular play of the 21-year-old Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in it. Pittsburgh outshot Tampa Bay 21-5 in the second period alone, yet couldn't extend its advantage.

Their season on the brink, the Lightning recovered but Murray never wavered. His teammates in front of him kept Tampa Bay from getting in his way and when the final horn blared, Pittsburgh's metamorphosis from the blahs of December to the madness of May was complete.

Notes
The Penguins went 0 for 5 on the power play. The Lightning were 0 for 1. ... The team that scores first is now 124-42 all-time in Game 7s, including 5-0 this year.

57 early-entry candidates withdraw from 2016 NBA draft

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57 early-entry candidates withdraw from 2016 NBA draft

NBA prospects have been testing the waters and putting out feelers to the gauge interest levels of organizations during the pre-draft process. As a result, 57 early entry-candidates have withdrawn from 2016 draft eligibility. 

Among those are Villanova’s Josh Hart, who worked out for the Sixers and made his decision close to the deadline (see story), and Kris Jenkins. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame also worked out for the Sixers and will return for his senior year. 

Below is a complete list of entry entry candidates that have withdrawn:

Abdul-Malik Abu, North Carolina State 
BeeJay Anya, North Carolina State 
Ian Baker, New Mexico State 
V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame 
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana 
Antonio Blakeney, LSU 
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson 
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier 
Amida Brimah, Connecticut 
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky 
Dillon Brooks, Oregon 
Elijah Brown, New Mexico 
Deonte Burton, Iowa State 
Antonio Campbell, Ohio 
Conor Clifford, Washington State 
Charles Cooke III, Dayton 
Bakari Copeland, Maryland-Eastern Shore 
Moustapha Diagne, Northwest Florida State 
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon 
D’Andre Downey, Stillman College (AL) 
Vince Edwards, Purdue 
Jimmy Hall, Kent State 
Josh Hart, Villanova
Josh Hawkinson, Washington State 
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin 
Ike Iroegbu, Washington State 
Justin Jackson, North Carolina 
Kris Jenkins, Villanova 
Que Johnson, Washington State 
Peter Jok, Iowa 
Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
Travion Kirkendoll, Centenary College (LA) 
Dedric Lawson, Memphis 
Marcus Lee, Kentucky 
Makai Mason, Yale 
Jahmal McMurray, South Florida 
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina 
Dallas Moore, North Florida 
Jalen Moore, Utah State 
Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb 
Malik Newman, Mississippi State 
Marc-Eddy Norelia, Florida Gulf Coast 
Cameron Oliver, Nevada 
Alec Peters, Valparaiso 
QJ Peterson,VMI 
Malik Pope, San Diego State 
Rodney Purvis, Connecticut 
Corey Sanders Jr., Rutgers 
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue 
Rakish Taylor, Anderson University (SC) 
Ethan Telfair, Idaho State 
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State 
Melo Trimble, Maryland 
Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton 
Andrew White III, Nebraska 
Alec Wintering, Portland 
Zeek Woodley, Northwestern State