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?

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Redskins favored by 2; over/under 47

When the Eagles went into FedEx Field in Week 6, they had an opportunity to leave 4-1 and in great position in the NFC East. Instead, what ensued was a stretch of three divisional losses in four weeks by a combined 18 points.

Two months later, the Eagles are out of the race at 5-7 while the 6-5-1 Redskins are still battling for an NFC wild-card spot. The 'Skins would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today — they currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC, behind the Bucs (7-5) but ahead of the Vikings and Packers (6-6).

This is obviously a crucial game for Washington, but the Eagles are just as desperate after losing by 11, 14 and 18 points the last three weeks. Don't underestimate the role desperation and a few weeks of embarrassment can have on a team's ability to bounce back. It was partly why I cautioned in these scouting reports the last two weeks not to count out either Green Bay or Cincinnati, teams that had more talent and stability than a few weeks of midseason losses indicated.

Cousins and Reed
The next time the Eagles limit Kirk Cousins will be the first time. In four games against them, he's completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 336 yards, thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Washington has averaged 31 points and won three of the four contests.

The Eagles' margin of error on defense is extremely small in this game. To win, they'll need a better effort against a Redskins' ground game that gashed them for 230 yards last time, they'll need to generate consistent pressure on Cousins and they'll need Jordan Reed to not be himself.

Reed, the NFC's most dangerous tight end, is questionable with a Grade 3 AC joint separation suffered on Thanksgiving. Reed was a warrior on Turkey Day, leaving the game in the second quarter, standing on the sideline in a sling, probably receiving a little (ahem) help at halftime, and then dominating in the second half in Dallas. Reed finished that game with 12 catches for 95 yards and two TDs, but was hurt badly enough to miss last week's game.

The Eagles were fortunate to avoid Reed in the season's earlier matchup. Fortunate because he destroyed them last December, catching nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs in a 14-point win. Washington uses its tight ends more than any offense in the league, and Reed is a mismatch even for an Eagles team that has allowed the fewest catches (31) and receiving yards (327) to tight ends. 

With Reed out in October, backup Vernon Davis burned the Eagles for two catches, 50 yards and a TD. But it sounds like Reed will play Sunday after telling reporters that his range of motion is back.

The issue in stopping Washington is the Eagles just don't have enough defensive backs to defend everything. It's why they need Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to get consistent pressure and keep Cousins out of a rhythm. They haven't been able to do that. They had no sacks in Washington in Week 6 and have failed to sack Cousins in two of the last three meetings.

Without forcing Cousins to get off his spot and get the ball out quickly, the Eagles' secondary hasn't shown anything to inspire confidence they can stop DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Reed and Davis at the same time.

To make matters worse, this is the first week Washington's All-Pro left tackle, Trent Williams, is back from a four-game substance abuse suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just three sacks in his last eight games against the Eagles.

Which Wentz will show?
Last week was Carson Wentz's worst game as an NFL quarterback. He missed wide-open throws, threw three interceptions and could have thrown more and barely exceeded 300 yards despite throwing the ball 60 times. 

He didn't look like the guy we saw the first four games of the season, and quite frankly he hasn't looked like a top-20 QB since October. 

The lack of weapons and occasionally poor protection are major reasons why, but Wentz isn't void of blame — he's simply missed some makeable throws.

Against Washington back on Oct. 16, Wentz was just 11 of 22 for 179 yards as the Eagles lost the time of possession battle. The best days belonged to Ryan Mathews (9 carries, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (three catches, 75 yards). Both are questionable heading into this one. 

Wentz didn't throw a single pass at Josh Norman in the first meeting. At times, Norman has followed the opposing team's top receiver, but don't expect him to do so this Sunday. Norman has lined up on the left side 64 percent of the time this season and in the slot just nine percent. 

Slot matchup
Matthews has run 73 percent of his routes from the slot and should draw third-round pick Kendall Fuller. As long as Matthews is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury, this should be a good matchup for the Eagles. 

Fuller has been beaten repeatedly this season, allowing 42 catches (on 53 targets) for 542 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 123.9 rating against him, third-worst among all slot corners. (Malcolm Jenkins is actually worst in this category with a 137.9 QB rating allowed in the slot.)

Fuller has also struggled to wrap receivers up after the catch, allowing an NFL-high 213 yards after the catch. Picking up yards after a reception is something the Eagles have struggled to do all year.

Run game
The Eagles were shutting running backs down until they played the Redskins in October. Since-demoted RB Matt Jones rushed for 135 yards, current starter Rob Kelley rushed for 59, and both had a run of 45-plus yards.

Cox, Barwin and LB Nigel Bradham had awful games that afternoon against the run. It also didn't help that the Eagles were credited with 12 missed tackles. 

Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left that game early with a groin injury and missed the next three weeks. Since returning, however, Logan hasn't been himself, struggling to rush the passer and stop the run.

The Kerrigan factor
The Eagles always have trouble containing Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who had three sacks in the first meeting. 

Kerrigan has been a force in 2016 with 44 QB hurries, which is three more than Kahlil Mack and second-most among outside linebackers to Von Miller.

Kerrigan has nine sacks in 11 career games against the Eagles, and Washington is 5-1 when he has at least one against them.

Prediction
Close game, better performance from Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with Jackson and Crowder, over the middle with Reed and short with Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27

Nearly back from injury, Mathews hopes to rejuvenate Eagles' running game

Nearly back from injury, Mathews hopes to rejuvenate Eagles' running game

It’s been a fairly rocky season for Ryan Mathews, who cost the Eagles the Lions game with a late fumble, was demoted by head coach Doug Pederson for a spell, hurt his knee against the Seahawks and missed two games and is on pace for a third straight season under 600 rushing yards.

Mathews, who missed the double-digit losses to the Packers and Bengals, is expected to return on Sunday, when the fading Eagles face the Redskins.

Mathews is an interesting case. When he’s gotten at least nine carries this year, the Eagles are 4-2. When he’s gotten fewer or hasn’t played, the Eagles are 1-5.

Here’s the Mathews conundrum: He’s averaging a healthy 4.2 yards per carry and ranks eighth in the entire NFL with seven rushing touchdowns. Yet he’s gotten more than 11 carries only three times – in wins against the Browns, Vikings and Falcons.

Without him the last two weeks, the Eagles ran 37 times for a total of 134 yards, just 3.6 a pop. And lost.

He’s no Shady, Westbrook or Duce, but he does move the chains.

“I think Ryan brings definitely a different dimension,” center Jason Kelce said. “He’s an extremely powerful, explosive back. He hits the hole hard. There’s been some games he’s been absolutely dominant when he’s gotten the opportunities. 

“He’s done a great job for us. Good to have him back, glad he’s healthy and back out there and hopefully we can get something going for him up front.”

Mathews actually ranks 11th in the NFL since 2010 with 36 rushing touchdowns.

He said he feels 100 percent three weeks after injuring his knee in Seattle.

“I feel good,” he said at his locker after practice Thursday. “Tried to get back out there with my teammates and get back in the groove of things. 

“I’m good enough to practice and go. It’s just getting back in the rhythm, getting the timing down. I missed two weeks and it’s kind of hard. Just trying to get back in the groove of things.”

The Eagles take a 5-7 record and three-game losing streak into their 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday against the 6-5-1 Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins have won four straight over the Eagles. A win would give them their first five-game winning streak over their NFC East rival since a six-game stretch from 1981 through 1984.

“It’s hard,” Mathews said. “We just have to learn from the mistakes and push forward. We can’t change anything in the past, we can’t undo the games. We get another chance Sunday to go out there and play our best.”

Rookie Wendell Smallwood has been the Eagles’ leading rusher the last three weeks, but the Eagles haven’t had anybody run for as many as 50 yards since the Atlanta game – the last time they won.

The Eagles have only some very faint playoff hopes at this point. But it won’t hurt to get Mathews back.

“Well, he's definitely a bigger back,” Pederson said. “He's a little bit more between-the-tackles and has that veteran experience that you see out of him. 

“It will be good to get him back out on the field Sunday and get him some more work.”

This has been a weird year for the Eagles’ running game, which has generally been fairly effective when Pederson commits to it. 

But that rarely happens. 

Either the Eagles find themselves too far behind to stick with it or Pederson just decides to have Carson Wentz throw the ball 50 times and the running backs whither on the bench.

“It’s tough,” Mathews said. “We as a group have to do our job and when our number is called we have to make plays. We’ll get it going.”

The Eagles haven’t had anybody get 20 carries in a game since opening day. Nobody’s gotten more than 13 carries since Mathews against the Falcons.

Mathews, twice a 1,000-yard rusher, could well be playing his final few games as an Eagle.

Curiously, his 4.64 average in an Eagles uniform is fifth-best ever by players with a minimum of 200 carries behind three quarterbacks – Michael Vick (6.70), Randall Cunningham (6.62) and Donovan McNabb (5.67) – and LeSean McCoy (4.65).

So with a strong final few games, he could actually own the highest rushing average in franchise history by a running back.

Mathews, who’s only gotten nine or more carries in back-to-back games twice in two years with the Eagles, said his only remaining goal is to finish strong.

“It would be awesome,” he said. “That’s the main thing you want to do. Take it one game at a time and just try to get better and finish off strong.”