Flyers Fight for Each Other Literally and Figuratively in Frantic Comeback Victory over Washington

Flyers Fight for Each Other Literally and Figuratively in Frantic Comeback Victory over Washington

If you wanted retaliation, you got it. Two games after
Claude Giroux was splattered all over the boards like insect on windshield to
no recourse from his teammates, Jakub Voracek stood up for his captain
immediately after a huge open-ice collision on Sunday. The result: four minutes
of 5-on-4 hockey for Washington, and a pair of power-play goals to put the
Capitals ahead 4-2 with 13 minutes remaining in the third period.

But just as Voracek went to bat for Giroux, G and the rest
of his Flyers teammates would do the same for Jake, in the process redefining what it can mean
to retaliate. The Bullies kept on retaliating until they tied
the score with 10 seconds left, kept on retaliating in overtime until they landed
the knockout blow in a rousing 5-4 win.

[ Video and more on Jake Voracek's first NHL fight ]

And as great a comeback as it was, this victory may have
meant more than the standard two points in the standings for a desperate team.
This felt like something of a defining performance from Giroux – not so much as
a player necessarily, but as a leader.

While the Flyers were saddled with Voracek’s (questionable) double-minor
for instigating and fighting with a visor, it was Giroux who was actually
responsible for the turnover that gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the first place.
He got a little too cute with the puck during the penalty kill, skating it deep
into his own zone before attempting to clear. Alex Ovechkin nullified Giroux’s
stick, essentially gift-wrapping a goal for Marcus Johansson who took the play
to the wide-open slot and snapped the disc past Ilya Bryzgalov.

Less than a minute later the score was 4-2. Washington won an
offensive draw and cycled the puck to the opposite faceoff dot where Ovechkin
was all alone for the one-timer.

Giroux was visibly frustrated with himself. Bryz was visibly
frustrated by everything, throwing his Gatorade bottle toward the benches. Moments
later Scott Hartnell took out his frustrations with a slashing penalty. Voracek
had to take his out in the dressing room, serving a 10-minute misconduct for
instigating. The game was spiraling out of control.

The captain pulled it back together. The Flyers went on the
power play with seven minutes to play, where Kimmo Timonen set Giroux up for a
wicked slapper from his customary spot, a shot that seemed to bend time and
space as it whizzed into Washington netminder Braden Holtby’s top shelf. You
better believe Giroux was fired up for that Doop.

By the final shift in regulation, the momentum was squarely
in Philadelphia’s corner. Bryzgalov went to the bench, and for about 80 seconds
the orange sweaters were attacking the Capitals in waves. The Flyers were able
to sustain the pressure, the puck moving back and forth through Giroux throughout,
until finally Timonen found twine on his shot from the point. The Wells Fargo
Center came unglued.

The Caps were not long for this world. In overtime Ruslan
Fedotenko ran a sweet give and go with Timonen, with Feds slipping the puck
underneath a lunging Holtby for the winner.

It was the type of effort followers had been waiting to see
all season, the Flyers finally overcoming adversity with the hopes of it jump-starting
their campaign. Every time we keep thinking it’s going to be too little too
late for that, they pull us back in. Believe it or not, Philly surprisingly is a
mere two points out of the eighth seed after picking up five points out of a possible
six over the last three.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins suffering multiple injuries
recently – including to Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) – a potential postseason opponent
suddenly looks a bit vulnerable.

Perhaps more important though, this was what we’ve been
waiting to see out of Giroux. He finished with one goal, two assists, seven
shots, three blocked shots and two hits, yet his night almost transcended
that of an all-star performance. Giroux practically willed his team to victory,
picking up Voracek, and for that matter himself, too. Maybe that’s the best
sign to date for a club that has looked uninspired far too often this year.
Maybe there is still a pulse there after all.

Notes

Max Talbot
left the game with an apparent left knee injury late in the second
period after attempting to check Mike Green. Talbot missed everything
except the defenseman's leg, his knee taking the brunt of hit collision,
and he was either unable or unwilling to put any weight on it from
there. Once Talbot made it back to the bench, he would have to be
carried to the back from there, though he did contribute a goal to the
win.

Oliver Lauridsen made his second NHL
start, while veteran Kent Huskins – acquired from the Detroit Red Wings
over the weekend for a conditional draft pick – played his first game in
Orange & Black. None of the goals scored were particularly a result
of defensive breakdowns, so no complaints there for a change.

Timonen led Flyers' scorers with four points. Matt Read lit the lamp for the second consecutive game after going over a month without a tally. Zac Rinaldo had seven hits in eight minutes of ice time. Bryzgalov stopped 25 of 29 shots.

>> BOX SCORE [Yahoo!]

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Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.