Flyers in Boston for St. Patrick's Matinee

Flyers in Boston for St. Patrick's Matinee

While the Phillies are wearing their annual greens and the nation drowns in celebration of St. Patrick's Day and the NCAA Tournament, the Flyers have themselves quite a matchup as well. Lavvy's boys are in Boston to face the Bruins (1 PM, CSN), who are not the same team they were when they lifted the Cup last spring, nor even for the first half of the season. Ottawa now holds the top slot in the Northeast, though they've played two more games than the Bruins, who have held first place since November. 
Boston has lost four straight, and the Flyers' current surge, Pittsburgh's amazing run of 10 consecutive wins, and the Devils' doing well, the top four teams in the Atlantic currently have more points than any team from either the Northeast or the Southeast. 
Wasn't long ago anyone in their right mind would have taken Tim Thomas over Ilya Bryzgalov. How about now? 
Bryz is the owner of a shiny new franchise record for consecutive shutout minutes, though he'll rightly deflect any praise to the guys in front of him. The goaltending has been outstanding, but so too has the defense. The acquisitions of Nick Grossmann and, when he's been healthy, Pavel Kubina, have paid huge dividends already. The team is blocking shots well, and getting between shooters and the goal without too much screening. 
The Bruins, meanwhile, have been leaking like a sieve. In their last six games, they've allowed fewer than four goals only once, and their previous two games have been losses in which their opponents scored six goals while the Bruins managed only one and two, respectively.
Thomas' game has been shaky, and his proven backup is hurt. The team has signed Marty Turco temporarily. Joe Haggerty of CSN New England says Thomas will start today, which is no surprise despite his seeing action in 11 straight games. He'll face Bryzgalov, who could start back-to-back games with Pittsburgh on the docket for tomorrow. Bob's had success against the Pens though too, so Lavvy could opt to give him the Sunday start. 
Boston is a team very self-aware of their need to improve before the playoffs begin, and they're still obviously plenty dangerous. They know they're not playing to their potential. They also know what that potential is, and they could turn it around at any time. Hopefully not today… 
Sorry, but, giving the circumstances, had to play this. 

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).