Flyers Never Say Die: Voracek OT Winner Caps Comeback

Flyers Never Say Die: Voracek OT Winner Caps Comeback

We saw it throughout the season and wondered whether the Flyers could keep winning this dangerous gamble when the playoffs began. I guess we shouldn't be surprised we got our answer in the first game of the opening round: No opponent's lead is safe when the Flyers are on the ice. 
It's not exactly heart-friendly hockey, but the Flyers continue to come back and win games in which they've conceded early leads. On Wednesday, they were down 3-0 after the first period, only to come all the way back, force overtime, then win by a 4-3 count after Jake Voracek beat Marc-Andre Fleury to stun the Consol Energy Center crowd.

[PHOTO GALLERY: click here for more photos from the Flyers OT win | VIDEO: watch fans at XFINITY Live! in South Philly react to Voracek's game winner]

A closer look at the game action below. Playoff hockey doesn't get much better than this. 
In the regular season, early Flyers deficits often did not accurately reflect their level of play. As the pattern continued and they frequently opened games down a goal or two, the knee jerk reaction was to think they were outplayed. That wasn't always the case, as some combination of strong goaltending and bad luck/bounces often conspired to tilt the score the other way despite an evenly matched effort. 
That was decidedly NOT the case in the first period of game 1 against the Penguins on Wednesday. The Pens absolutely took it to the Flyers in the game's first 10 minutes, and the visitors had little in the way of a solid response in the first 20. 
1-0Pittsburgh was strong on the forecheck and opportunistic in the neutral zone. Less than four minutes in, their pressure led to the first goal of the series. Guess who. After the Flyers iced the puck for the second time, their skaters were trapped on the ice while Dan Bylsma sent in the Crosby line. Despite putting a check on Crosby and blocking an initial shot, #87 buried a top-shelf backhand. The building went crazy. 
2-0Just four minutes later, it was Tyler Kennedy's turn. After a soft Marc-Andre Bourdon advance was intercepted, Kris Letang sent a perfect pass up the seam to send Jordan Staal on the outlet. Staal then found Kennedy, who made easy work of the play. Jaromir Jagr failed to get back in coverage, perhaps thinking TK was offsides on the play. Hung out to dry in the odd-man rush, Ilya Bryzgalov didn't have much of a chance at it. 
TimeoutIf you were telling yourself this game was far from over, that we've seen this all happen before, only to have the Flyers climb back out, you were likely relieved to see Peter Laviolette call his timeout. Good things happen when his gum's in his hand. 
Lavvy started tinkering with the lines some. One player in particular was standing out—Brayden Schenn. Earlier in the day, we liked Schenn's chances of showing up in a big way this postseason, and he certainly made his mark on game 1. Watch the two hits he made on this one sequence:

The Flyers started to turn things around, but still couldn't crack Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh was efficient in clearing the porch and keeping opportunities outside of the slot, limiting the Flyers to just six shots in the first period. And, they weren't done scoring yet. 
3-0With 37 seconds left in the first period, what looked to be a sure icing call—as in, the linesman's arm was up to signal it was icing—was called off by the linesman on the opposite side of the ice. No idea why. But what followed was a fluky goal that felt like a back-breaker. It was credited to Pascal Dupuis, who rushed to the front of the net and appeared to tap in a pass from Steve Sullivan, who won a battle along the boards, then sent a pass toward the front of the goal. It caught both Bryzgalov and Nick Grossmann off-guard, and somehow wound up in the net.  
The odd waving off of the icing was vexing, but the Flyers would get it back on a similarly blown call. But not before the refs again had remotes being tossed around Delaware Valley living rooms some more. 
Claude Giroux was whistled for the first penalty of the series, and, not surprisingly, it was a questionable call. Brooks Orpik flubbed the puck as he skated along the end boards, slowing up, and Giroux checked him into the boards. Had he played the puck cleanly, it likely wouldn't have been an issue. 
3-1The Flyers killed the penalty off, something they've been successful doing against the Pens this season. When G came out of the box, he set up Scott Hartnell with what looked like a sure goal. Marc-Andre Fleury had other thoughts though, sliding across the crease and stoning Harts. But the pressure was on, the momentum in new hands, and the Flyers were soon on the board. 
Schenn sent a nice pass up the middle to Danny Briere, who admittedly entered the zone offsides, then beat MAF like he stole something.

There was blood in the water after that, the comeback had begun.  
The Flyers had to kill off another second period penalty, this time to Zac Rinaldo. He probably earned it, but James Neal clearly embellished the hit. The PK unit again held the Pens scoreless, with a huge save by Bryz on a Chris Kunitz opportunity. 
Just as the buzzer was about to sound to end the second period, Craig Adams tried to lay a hit on Schenn. He probably wasn't expecting to be the one on his ass. 

At the second intermission, the Flyers were still down 3-1, and the start of the third didn't help. Just 1:49 into the final frame of regulation, Jagr was called for interference on Crosby. Again, an embellishment by a Penguin led to a call. Crosby ran into Jagr from behind (in a mostly legal sense, just a collision), Jagr pushed him off, and Crosby threw his head back and got the call. 
Again, the PK unit stepped up and blanked the Pens' power play. 
3-2Back at even strength, the Flyers moved the puck well and generated good opportunities. The Briere line was buzzing and cycling when Schenn found Danny, who sent a shot through a possible screen by Crosby to beat Fleury and put the Flyers within one. 
3-3Keeping with the hot hand, Lavvy sent them back out, and Danny almost scored his third of the ni
ght. After the attempt, he got trucked by Orpik on what looked to be a clean hit. But, the officiating wasn't great in this one, and Orpik might have gotten the other end of a makeup call as he was sent to the box for interference. On the ensuing power play—the Flyers only of the game—the top unit had some good pressure but couldn't break through. Scott Hartnell was unable to change after the Pens forced a clear, but he was rewarded for sticking with the play after most of the night's second PP unit jumped on. Jagr sent him a nice set-up, and Harts slap-passed it toward the goal, where Schenn was the happy beneficiary of the Pens giving Jagr a lot of respect. 
Watch as Hartnell starts toward the bench, then quickly decides to stay on:
Schennnnnnnnnnnnn…
The Flyers had taken control of the game, forcing overtime. No shootouts, or gimmicks, they'll play until someone scores. It didn't take long. 
4-3!Jake Voracek was the hero in the extra frame… Although we have to give some credit to Kris Letang for the assist:

Absolute elation. There's an indescribable satisfaction borne of truly believing a team is still in a game that might appear to non-fans to be completely out of reach. Even more satisfying is the schadenfreude of seeing a rival bleed out on home ice while grown men regret wearing bear costumes to the game
Game 1 is in the books. I don't think anyone on either side lacked for interest in this series, but it's hard to ask for more from a game that we got here. 
NotesHeading into the first intermission, the road to a comeback looked rough. The Flyers would need to slow the game down and stop gambling, yet somehow put three on the board while not allowing any more. The Pens were winning the end-to-end style of play by owning the middle of the ice. Fortunately, Pittsburgh's back end is still leaky, and the Flyers took advantage. 
Voracek worked his ass off for the Flyers this year, often without the goals to show for it. A playoff OT winner has to be worth about 10 regular season tallies. Had to feel good to make Letang look bad, too. They once shared a dance.  
Despite being on the ice for the game's first goal, the Flyers' fourth line put in a great effort, keeping the Malkin line off the board entirely. Hard to pin the first goal on them after they were frozen due to an icing, while Bylsma got to send in the Crosby line. 
Pavel Kubina was a healthy scratch. After Marc-Andre Bourdon missed the third period and was labeled day-to-day after it was announced he wouldn't return, it looks like Kubina could be in the lineup for game 2. 
Bryz was a rock in net. After the opening period, he let nothing past, and he was tested. 
We can complain about the calls that went against the Flyers and the Penguins' ability to draw calls with head fakes on the refs, but make no mistake, the Flyers benefited from a blown offsides call and a questionable penalty. 
It was a great night for the players who came over in the deals that sent Mike Richards to LA and Jeff Carter to Columbus. However, the Kings enjoyed having those two in their opening game too. Richards was outstanding, scoring a goal, assisting two others, and putting some big hits on. Carter had a pair of assists, including a nifty redirection off his skate on a pass from Richards. The Kings topped the Canucks by a 4-2 count. Are you rooting for Flyers West?

NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

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NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you spend billions of dollars to build it, they will come.

Three times over.

The NFL awarded Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles, three cities that made significant financial investments in new stadiums or recently upgraded an existing one. Atlanta will host the game in 2019, followed by Miami (2020) and Los Angeles (2021), it was announced Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.

"I think if they find guys like me that are willing to do it, I think they want to show them that it is worthwhile," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said.

Atlanta will host its third Super Bowl, but the first at its new $1.4 billion stadium which opens in 2017. The previous two were at the Georgia Dome.

Miami will have its record-setting 11th Super Bowl following a $450 million stadium renovation.

Los Angeles, which gets the relocated Rams this season, has not had a Super Bowl in the area since 1993 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The game will be played at the new $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, California, which opens in 2019.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans were also in the running to host a Super Bowl (see full story).

Steelers: Bell believes Bengals targeted him
PITTSBURGH -- Le'Veon Bell considers the first injury of his NFL career -- a sprained foot in a preseason game three years ago -- a freak accident.

The last two? Not so much.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back took the field with his teammates Tuesday for the first time since tearing the MCL in his right knee last November against Cincinnati. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict twisted Bell awkwardly as the two tumbled out of bounds just a few yards away from where Bell's 2014 season ended after taking a shot to the same knee from Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson.

Burfict celebrated openly as Bell writhed in pain, a memory that lingers even after Burfict reached out on social media in March to express support as Bell worked his way through rehab.

"Obviously it looked like they were happy about it," Bell said. "I'll take the liberty of just thinking everybody plays just football to love the game. But people aren't out here playing like that. People are playing to take people out. Obviously I know that now" (see full story).

Cardinals: Fitzgerald not thinking beyond this season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald has been an Arizona Cardinal all 12 of his NFL seasons, breaking every franchise receiving record along the way.

Now, he enters the final year of a two-year, $22 million contract, and he said Tuesday that he doesn't even think about whether he will play football beyond this season, with the Cardinals or anyone else.

"We're just in OTAs right now, man," he said. "We've got training camp and minicamp and the regular season. We've got a long ways to go before that's even a point of discussion. So I'm enjoying this. I'm trying to make it the best year yet."

Fitzgerald will turn 33 before next season begins. And last season proved he remains one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL.

"I think Larry has a lot of tread left on the tire," Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "Obviously he's in the last year of his deal. That's out of my pay scale. But obviously I think he's still got juice in the system" (see full story).

Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

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Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

The Sixers are taking their talent evaluation on the road.

On Tuesday, members of the front office attended a workout for Excel Sports Management in New York, which included Brandon Ingram, the projected No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Jamal Murray, a projected lottery pick, and Thon Maker, according to the Inquirer.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own facility, and it is common for teams to attend organized workouts for higher-rated prospects. Head coach Brett Brown, managing owner Josh Harris and vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley traveled to the session, but president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo was in Toronto for his son's high school graduation, according to the report.

The Sixers hold the first, 24th and 26th picks in the upcoming draft. The decision between one and two is widely considered to be between Ingram and Ben Simmons (see story). The Sixers have the assets on their roster to move up from Nos. 24 and 26 through a trade, which makes scouting prospects outside of the top two an integral part to their evaluation.

The team has worked out 12 players in Philadelphia and will continue to do so up until the draft on June 23. 

10 observations from Eagles OTA practice Tuesday

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10 observations from Eagles OTA practice Tuesday

Finally some nice weather.

The Eagles began their second round of OTAs on Tuesday under the beaming sun, in near-80 degree temperatures. That’s a departure from the first day of rookie camp and the first day of last week’s OTAs, which both brought rain.

So without the confinements of the practice bubble and without a slick football, we got a chance to see the 2016 Eagles in desirable conditions Tuesday.

Here are 10 observations from Tuesday’s practice:

1. Overall, a pretty sloppy day for the defense. As soon as the team portion of the practice began, Sam Bradford got the defensive line to jump about three times in the first several plays of practice. Late in the practice, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had enough and ripped into a second-year defensive back.

During his nearly 30-minute press conference after practice, Schwartz was asked about his past experience grooming a first-round quarterback (Matthew Stafford), but said he doesn’t have much time to worry about Carson Wentz.

“We’ve got enough worries on defense right now,” he said.

2. If you’re looking for a bright spot on defense, we’ll offer up rookie defensive back Jalen Mills. On Tuesday, Mills got a chance to work against the first-team offense in the Nickel package. When Mills came on the field, Ron Brooks moved inside, while Leodis McKelvin remained outside.

Mills made the defensive play of the day, when he got in between Jordan Matthews and a deep sideline pass.

“He’s been impressive so far,” Schwartz said of the seventh-rounder Mills. “But we haven’t even really started yet, to tell you the truth.”

Schwartz said the team wanted to see how Mills would look going against veterans; before Tuesday, he had mostly been going against rookies.

“We don’t have a depth chart right now,” Schwartz cautioned.

While those three worked with the first team on Tuesday, there could be different players there Wednesday. And Nolan Carroll, who’s still recovering, isn’t yet able to do team drills.

3. Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) and Ryan Mathews (illness) both missed practice on Tuesday, which gave some other guys more reps.

At running back, it meant Kenjon Barner worked with the first team, while rookie fifth-rounder Wendell Smallwood worked with the twos. With Mathews out and with Darren Sproles still away, the team had just three running backs suited up on Tuesday. Barner looked pretty good with the first team on Tuesday.

The starting widouts were Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Jordan Matthews. When all three were on the field, Matthews was mostly in the slot. But one guy who did a lot with his reps on Tuesday was free-agent signing Chris Givens. Now, obviously, these guys are still in shorts, but Givens showed off his speed and hands. He’s making a push for the roster as the last receiver to make the team.

4. Fletcher Cox is still not with the team (see story). Last week, during the open practice, Taylor Hart worked next to Bennie Logan in his spot. Tuesday, it was free-agent pickup Mike Martin.

“I’ve been working with them,” Martin said after practice. “We’ve been switching and working both sides. But it’s a great advantage to be able to work with the first-team guys and get those reps.”

5. You’re probably wondering how Wentz looked. He again showed off his strong arm on Tuesday, while working with the threes. Overall, he probably had the best day of the quarterbacks.

He delivered a perfect 25-yard sideline pass to Givens over the shoulder. On another play, he tripped over his offensive lineman’s foot, but was still able to complete an out to Trey Burton while falling. That’s all arm strength, because he couldn’t use his legs to complete the pass.

The one thing we have seen a couple times from Wentz is this: he has a strong arm, but sometimes he has overthrown his targets. Nothing major yet, but something to keep an eye on.

6. Jordan Hicks was back at MIKE with the defense during Tuesday’s team portion of practice, which is a good sign for a team that’s relying on him heavily. Last Tuesday, he was held out with some tightness in his legs.

While Hicks has been playing the middle linebacker spot, Schwartz talked about the versatility of that group.

“All of those guys are pretty much interchangeable, and you have to be now,” Schwartz said.

7. Last Tuesday, head coach Doug Pederson said Cody Parkey wouldn’t be a full-go until perhaps training camp, but the kicker was hitting field goals on Tuesday and looked pretty good.

He did miss about a 43-yarder, but he still has a really good shot to make the team over Caleb Sturgis, who did a nice job filling in last season. It’s not definitely Parkey’s job yet, though. Sturgis looked good Tuesday and that’ll definitely be a competition to watch come training camp.

8. Donnie Jones is the only punter left in the building after the team cut Ryan Quigley earlier this week.

Jones celebrated by booming several punts on Tuesday. He’s still pretty good.

9. Burton has been moving around the field quite a bit in the early going. He’s been lining up on the line as a tight end, in the backfield as a fullback and in the slot as a receiver. It’s pretty clear that in some packages, Pederson and the offense will have a fullback of some kind.

Come training camp, when the hitting begins, Burton will really need to show he can handle that role.

10. Perhaps the most notable change in practice under Pederson, as opposed to Chip Kelly, comes in the form of pace. Under Kelly, the emphasis was on running as many plays as possible in the time allotted, which meant correcting mistakes after practice.

“His approach was to get no-huddle,” left guard Allen Barbre said of Kelly (more on Barbre). “If you stop to correct it all the time, you wouldn’t be getting a no-huddle practice.”

Under Pederson, there’s much more on-field teaching during practice. At one point on Tuesday, Pederson actually stopped the practice, taught technique and made them run it again. Under Kelly, the offense would have been five plays down the line.