Flyers Outlast Penguins 6-5 in Instant Classic

Flyers Outlast Penguins 6-5 in Instant Classic

Warning in advance: there is no way a summary of Wednesday
night’s tilt between the Flyers and Penguins could ever do the action justice – particularly the wild third period that
had fans of every allegiance on the edge of their seats literally until the final
horn sounded a 6-5 victory for Orange & Black in Pittsburgh – but you couldn’t possibly ask for more from a regular season
hockey game.

This was two bitter rivals – a pair of evenly-matched heavyweights
at that – engaged in a physical, high-scoring confrontation with all of the drama and
atmosphere of an Eastern Conference Final.

We jump right to the 7:36 mark in third period, where Philadelphia
appeared to have the game in hand on Wayne Simmonds’ second goal of the night.
Already responsible for a Gordie Howe hat trick [watch], Simmer’s center feed for Claude
Giroux instead tipped off of Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen’s stick, the
deflection fooling goaltender Tomas Vokoun to put the Flyers ahead 5-3.

But this is the Pittsburgh Penguins after all, for whom
12-plus minutes is more than enough time to score two or more goals –
especially when they have eight minutes of power-play time to work.

A series of unfortunate-to-thoughtless penalties put
the Pens on one- and usually two-man advantages for over four minutes straight. First Mike
Knuble caught Deryk Engelland with a bloody high stick for four,
followed a short time later by a Ruslan Fedotenko shaft to the head of James
Neal. Max Talbot shattered his stick on the ensuing
5-on-3, and it was elementary from there for Neal as he cut the deficit in half
with his 12th tally of the season, tying him for the league lead.

One minute later Talbot joined the parade to the box after not-so-subtly
covering the puck with his glove while it was on the ice – a new infraction for
2013 – and for a moment Flyers’ fans worst fears were realized.

All initial indications were Tyler Kennedy had knotted the
score from a scrum in front of Ilya Bryzgalov during Pittsburgh’s eternal
5-on-3 (Knuble is still serving for his double-minor, as is Fedotenko). The puck rested peacefully behind Ilya Bryzgalov across the goal line, the official signaled, and the
reaction inside the CONSOL Energy Center was rocking.

Replay showed Kennedy came into the fray
with a distinct kicking motion however, so that goal was disallowed. Such drama!

Even though you knew the Penguins would draw even anyway. Brandon Sutter found himself holding the pill
behind the Flyers’ net right before the two-minute warning, the defense giving chase, but the space in front of Bryzgalov vacated as
well.
Bryz tried to block the wrap-around as Sutter powered the puck through his weak stick attempt and right into the netminder’s five hole.

That familiar sinking feeling wouldn’t last for long. The Bullies went right back on the attack. Jakub Voracek
gained the Pittsburgh zone, sending the puck along the boards as he took a
walloping from Brooks Orpik below the goal line. Giroux gathered the pass in and rewarded Jake, sending
the play right back. With Orpik continuing to harass him, Voracek whipped around so he could just throw the rubber on Vokoun – only Vokoun wasn’t tight to the post.

A shot from an
impossible angle that had absolutely no right slipping past a 36-year-old NHL veteran did precisely that, banking in off of Vokoun to give the 23-year-old Voracek his first-career hat
trick.

With 1:28 remaining, it also proved to be the game-winner. Vokoun's blank stare as he lay on the ice was priceless.

Pittsburgh mounted one last gasp with an extra skater, but
the Flyers survived to pick up an enormous two points on their Atlantic-leading foes – and it was punch-for-punch right to
the finish.

Much of the talk from the players leading into the game was about Pittsburgh
being a measuring stick. If this result was any indication, Philadelphia can
still hang with the big dogs in East. They overcame an early 2-0
deficit, then refused to allow the action completely slip away from them when things
started going south late.

The Flyers have now earned 13 points out of the last 20 points
possible, going 6-3-1 in these 10 compared to 2-6 over the first eight.
That pace is no slouch.

It will be tough for the Flyers to turn around and match the
intensity and effort from Wednesday night or even Monday’s 7-0 drubbing of the
Islanders in the second half of a back-to-back on
Thursday versus the Florida Panthers. This was one hell of a way to wrap up a six-game road trip though,
from which they’ll gladly take the split, and worry about the rest of the slate one night
at a time.

Game Highlights:

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Sixers use 3-ball to get past Bucks' frontcourt length

Sixers use 3-ball to get past Bucks' frontcourt length

One of the ways teams have attacked the Milwaukee Bucks this season is by hoisting up a large number of three-point attempts. 

So it wasn’t alarming to Sixers coach Brett Brown that his team launched 37 shots from beyond the arc in the Sixers' 113-104 win over Milwaukee on Monday (see instant replay)

“I wanted more of them,” Brown said. 

The Bucks entered Monday tied for fourth in opponent three-point attempts and makes. Teams are averaging 10.3 made triples on 29.1 attempts against Milwaukee.

This has a lot to do with the length of the Bucks, which allow the ninth fewest points in the paint and are tied for 11th in blocked shots. 

“When you look at how they play, I think they are the seventh ranked defense in the NBA, they are so long,” Brown said. “As we studied them and put forth a scouting report and instructions, we wanted everybody to take two steps further back as a starting point to create space for Joel (Embiid) and Jahlil (Okafor).

“Then you can hug the line or you can step into the line. We really wanted to promote steppers because of their length.” 

Four of Milwaukee’s last five opponents have attempted at least 30 threes, and the Bucks have allowed at least 10 made threes in each of their last seven games. 

The Sixers, which have hoisted at least 30 three-point attempts in 22 of 39 games, kept up the trend.

“Every team we play shoots threes,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “At some point, we have to understand what the three means to us as a team if we want to win. We can talk about it but if there's no effort in guarding it and understanding, again, it starts with effort. If we don't give it, we're going to give up a lot of threes.”

The Sixers scored 18 of its 24 first-quarter points on three-pointers, making 6 of 13 attempts.

The only quarter the Sixers were beat from the three-point line was also the only quarter they were outscored Monday. Four of Milwaukee’s five made three-pointers came in the second quarter, while the Sixers were just 2 of 8. 

In the decisive second half in which the Sixers outscored the Bucks, 67-50, they hit six threes and allowed just one. 

“We knew how they are defending,” Sixers guard Sergio Rodriguez said. “They are a team with a lot of length, so it is hard to drive and get to the basket. They try to press and steal and are aggressive, so if we break the first line it is easier to shoot threes and find people open. That’s what we did, especially in the second half.”

While the Sixers shot just 37.8 percent from long range, they outscored the Bucks by 27 points on three-pointers. 

Eight different players hit threes for the Sixers with Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova, Nik Stauskas, Gerald Henderson, Chasson Randle and Dario Saric all hitting a pair. 

Jahlil Okafor was the only Sixers player to see the floor and not attempt a shot from beyond the arc.

“We needed to spread it out and we knew we needed to shoot a lot of threes,” Brown said. “We wanted to encourage it. I think it was a significant reason we were able to have 67 points in the second half.”

Okafor stays ready
Up until roughly 30 minutes before tipoff, Okafor was not expecting to play Monday. 

Nerlens Noel was set to backup Joel Embiid at center until a sprained left ankle left him a pregame scratch, which meant Okafor got the call. 

“You have to mentally get ready,” Okafor said. “I just had to get loose as quick as I could. I have been working extremely hard to stay prepared in case something like this happens.” 

Okafor finished with 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting in 20 minutes, helping the Sixers' reserves outscore Milwaukee’s bench, 52-34. 

“To go to Jahlil Okafor before the game and say, ‘I’m not going to go with you, I’m going to go with Nerlens,’ and then two minutes before warm ups go, ‘Whoops, it looks like you are in,’ he didn’t flinch,” Brown said. “I thought he played hard and played well. He was a really big part of the reason we won tonight.

“His attitude continues to blow me away given his age and what he is going through.”   

Instant Replay: Sixers 113, Bucks 104

Instant Replay: Sixers 113, Bucks 104

BOX SCORE 

The tone was set in the opening minutes of the third quarter. 

The Sixers quickly made up a halftime deficit and rolled from there, outscoring the Bucks, 67-50, in the second half for a 113-104 victory over Milwaukee on Monday.

The Sixers have now won four of their last five games with their only loss in the stretch coming the game Joel Embiid sat out. 

Milwaukee used a 19-4 run to take a 54-44 lead, but the Sixers scored the final basket of the first half and the first eight points of the third quarter to tie the game. 

Embiid scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 22 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high tying five blocked shots.

Inside the box score
• The Sixers scored 18 of their 24 first-quarter points from the 3-point line, connecting on 6 of 13 attempts from beyond the arc. Philadelphia hit on 14 of 37 three-point attempts, while Milwaukee was just 5 for 14. 

• Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 21 points in the first half, but battled foul trouble after the break and finished with 23 points for the game. He picked up his fourth foul with 6:04 left in the third quarter and was whistled for his fifth foul just 38 seconds into the fourth quarter. 

• Eight Sixers scored in double figures, led by Embiid with 22. Dario Saric added 17, Ersan Ilyasova scored 12, Gerald Henderson and Robert Covington had 11 and Sergio Rodriguez, Jahlil Okafor and Chasson Randle each added 10. 

McConnell MRI negative
The Sixers will be without their starting point guard for the time being, as T.J. McConnell left the team to return to Philadelphia to receive treatment for a right wrist strain and did not play against the Bucks (see story).
 
An MRI taken on McConnell’s right wrist came back negative, according to Sixers coach Brett Brown.
 
“He has a strain,” Brown said. “There’s no structural damage. In relation to what that means with regards to his return to play, I don’t know that yet.”

Sergio Rodriguez started in McConnell’s place and scored 10 points with seven rebounds and six assists. 

Monster jam
Embiid threw down a thunderous dunk to give the Sixers a 77-76 lead with 1:00 left in the third quarter. He then forced a turnover on the other end and later blocked a shot attempt by Matthew Dellavedova at the third-quarter buzzer. 

Noel sits
Sixers center Nerlens Noel was a late scratch from Monday’s game due to a sprained left ankle. 

Up Next
The Sixers will host Toronto (27-13) on Wednesday and Portland (18-25) on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center before traveling to Atlanta to face the Hawks (24-17) on Saturday.