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?

Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

040816-wright-play-webbestvideo3_1280x720_661696579972.jpg

Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

Villanova’s chances at repeating as national champions just got much better.

Josh Hart is returning for his senior season.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer from last season’s title-winning team tweeted this Tuesday night:

Shortly after, Villanova officially announced the news.

Hart was in the midst of going through the NBA draft process, attending the combine in Chicago and working out for teams. By not hiring an agent, he was able to test the waters without jeopardizing his final year of college eligibility. Hart had until Wednesday to make a decision, which is coming back to the defending champs.

“I enjoyed the process and learned a lot,” Hart said in a statement released by the school. “It was definitely worthwhile. I look forward to graduating next year and coming back to play with my teammates.”

As a junior, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Villanova’s 95-51 Final Four win over Oklahoma, before following it up with 12 points and eight rebounds in the national title game in which the Wildcats thrillingly won at the buzzer, 77-74, on a Kris Jenkins three-pointer.

Hart and Jenkins, the team’s two leading scorers, return along with key pieces Jalen Brunson (9.6 ppg), Phil Booth (7.0 ppg), Mikal Bridges (6.4 ppg) and Darryl Reynolds (4.5 rpg).

“Josh Hart did a great job in this process,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I’m really proud of the way that he showed himself. I am really happy for him that he is returning to play with his classmates and that he will graduate on time.” 

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

ap-phillies-jeremy-hellickson.jpg
AP

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — What figures to be the Phillies’ most challenging road trip so far is not off to a good start.
 
The Phillies lost for the second time in as many nights to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander manhandled the Phillies in leading his team to a 3-1 victory.
 
The Phillies were held to just three hits in the first eight innings. They rallied for a run on two hits and a sacrifice fly by Tommy Joseph after Verlander had exited in the ninth.
 
The Phils have lost four out of their last five games and are 25-21 on the season.
 
After a slow start, the Tigers have come alive. They have won eight of their last nine.
 
The series ends Wednesday afternoon. The Phillies open a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. They have the best record in the majors.
 
Starting pitching report
Jeremy Hellickson delivered a very solid start of seven innings and three runs, but received no run support. He walked just one and struck out seven.
 
Hellickson has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.
 
Verlander gave up just two singles and a double over eight shutout innings. He walked two and struck out 10.
 
Verlander’s 108th and final pitch of the game was a 97 mph fastball past Odubel Herrera.
 
Bullpen report
Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a shaky ninth for the save. He squandered his team’s shutout bid by allowing the Phillies’ only run.
 
The save was Francisco’s 400th. He is the sixth pitcher in big-league history to reach that milestone.
 
At the plate
Ryan Howard entered the night hitting .083 (4 for 48) in the month of May. Three of those hits were homers and the other was a double. Howard had not had a single since April 29, a span of 19 games. He ended the singles drought with a base hit against Verlander in the second inning.
 
Howard popped out, struck out and grounded out in his next three at-bats as his average actually climbed to .159.
 
Howard batted fifth and Joseph hit fourth. Joseph, who had a homer and a double in Monday night’s game, stung the ball right at the shortstop and leftfielder, respectively, in his first two at-bats before singling in his third at-bat. He lined a sacrifice fly to left for the Phils’ only run in the ninth.
 
Freddy Galvis doubled twice for the Phils.
 
Miguel Cabrera, who had two homers and a double on Monday night, continued to scorch the Phils. He doubled home a run in the first inning and plated another with a groundout in the sixth. Victor Martinez, who drove in the go-ahead run Monday night, drove in the Tigers’ third run with a single in the sixth.
 
In the field
Catcher Carlos Ruiz threw out two runners trying to steal second.
 
Third baseman Maikel Franco unsuccessfully tried to backhand a bounding ball from J.D. Martinez in the sixth inning. If Franco makes the play, he probably starts an around-the-horn double play. Instead, it got by him, was generously scored a double and led to the Tigers’ second run of the game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche, rehabbing from an oblique strain with the Double A Reading club, hit a two-run home run Tuesday night.
 
Up next
The series concludes Wednesday afternoon. Aaron Nola (3-3, 2.85) starts for the Phillies against Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 6.23).

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

052416-zang-on-qbs-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_692165699514.jpg

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).