FLYERS WIN!! Giroux Leads Game 6 Effort, Sends Penguins Packing

FLYERS WIN!! Giroux Leads Game 6 Effort, Sends Penguins Packing

We can't ask for much more than that for an opening round series, can we? 
Dramatic swings within games and the overall series between rivals that not only want to beat each other, but hurt each other while doing it… An underdog looking likely to pull off an upset, then ceding control of momentum, only to seize it once again and close out the series on home ice in front of a raucous crowd. 
The Flyers have sent the Pittsburgh Penguins to the golf tees, finishing a six-game series with their best effort of the postseason by far. Offensively and defensively, they owned the Penguins, who never fully got going in the game, which the Flyers won by a 5-1 count. 
With the series on the line, a game 7 looming without a win today, the Flyers' top players stepped up and outshined their Pittsburgh counterparts. Claude Giroux set the tone on the opening shift, leveling Sidney Crosby and scoring a goal. Ilya Bryzgalov steadily held court in his own end. Marc-Andre Fleury resumed the futility that marked his play from the first three games of the series, and the Flyers were able to roll through the Penguins. 
A closer look with video highlights, below. 
In his postgame presser, Peter Laviolette said Giroux told him he wanted to be on the ice for the opening shift. He wanted Crosby. Six seconds into the game, right off the opening faceoff, G put a clean, big hit on the Penguins' captain, sending #87 to the ice and getting a huge rise out of the crowd. 
Message sent? Not just yet… 
Later in the shift, Giroux put the Flyers up 1-0 on a blazing wrister. Jaromir Jagr pressured the puck into the zone, and when it came free to Giroux, he ripped it past Fleury. If anyone ever asks you what JAM is, you just tell them about that shift. 
Despite the fast start, the Penguins weren't ready to wilt just yet (that would come later). 
Pittsburgh held control of possession for a few minutes after that opening shift, setting up and cycling well in the Philadelphia end. At one point, they carried a 6-1 lead in shots, with the Flyers' only SOG ending up on the scoreboard. 
The first power play of the game went to the Penguins just 2 minutes in, after Danny Briere was whistled for high-sticking. Matt Read lost his stick on the kill, but the Flyers managed to keep all danger toward the outside. 
A major question before the game, with two notable blueliners injured (not including Chris Pronger), the defense muted any real danger. The Flyers grabbed their first power play of the game after Matt Cooke set a pick on Brayden Schenn. Schenn went down as easy as Crosby usually does, but didn't join Cooke in the box. 
The league's hottest power play unit went to work again, setting three up high, Wayne Simmonds low, and Scott Hartnell just above him in the slot. Giroux ripped a one-timer that MAF had to stretch to stop in the low corner of the net, and he never recovered with the puck loose in his crease. Seeing this from behind the net, the ref didn't whistle play dead, and Hartnell charged in to push the puck through the pile and over the line for a #hartnelldowngoal. Sadly, no one forced him to fight and complete the Hart trick. 
Assisting on the play, Giroux set a new franchise mark for points in a playoff series with 13 (he'd later add to it with another assist). The earlier goal was his sixth in as many games this postseason.
The top line set and carried the tone throughout a 2-0 Flyers first period. The Penguins appeared ready to fold, but no one was counting them as finished just yet. So much hockey left to play, such a misleading margin. 
During an early second period Flyers rush, Pittsburgh's Simon Depres either lost his edge or simply wanted to halt play, crashing through his own net and taking it off it's moorings. It may have saved the Pens a goal for the moment, but it took nothing away from the Flyers' edge. Just afterward, Erik Gustafsson scored on a demoralizing shot that beat MAF. That one felt like the dagger. Fleury was clearly out of his two-game groove, and all momentum favored the Flyers. 
Kimmo Timonen was whistled for a hook, mobilizing the Flyers' dangerous PK unit. They generated three dangerous scoring opportunities, outworking the Penguins with speed and forechecking tenacity. Despite nearly giving up a shorty at one end, the Pens made it a game as Evgeni Malkin scored at the other.  
Up 3-0, were the Flyers playing wrong in playing for the jugular even while down a man? Nope. This whole game was about going for the jugular. Part of their success in this series was using Pittsburgh's power play set up to their own advantage. 
Less than a minute later, they got it back. Danny Briere scored his fifth of the series to make it 4-1. 
It was so tough not to celebrate right then. Three goals can be wiped off the board in a hurry, so we celebrated, but only the goal. The series could wait. 
The two teams played scoreless hockey for the third until Brayden Schenn scored with 8 seconds left in the game. To make it even sweeter, Schenn swiped the puck from Malkin before turning up ice and flying toward the open net. 
The Nah-nah-nah chants had started well before, along with "Crosby Sucks," "We don't like you," and of course, "Let's Go Flyers."
From the brink of a sweep to the brink of collapse and back again, the Flyers upset the Penguins in a tremendously entertaining series. It's almost hard to believe there are still games left to play, because for 2 weeks, this hasn't been about the Stanley Cup. It's been about beating the Penguins. That part is done, and it's time to relax for a few days before
treating the next series the same way. 
Notes: Down Nick Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros, the Flyers put in back-to-back strong efforts on defense. Sunday's was a major difference in the game, as the team managed to block 40 shots. 
The Penguins blocked 14. 
Erik Gustafsson will remember scoring his second NHL goal, but his defensive performance was even more key to the Flyers' win. Lavvy rewarded him with big minutes, including some in tough matchups. He blocked seven shots and managed the attack of Malkin on a few key shifts. 
Braydon Coburn was a beast as well, playing just under half the game. Matt Carle played 27 minutes of his own. 
JVR played only 7 shifts. Wayne Simmonds played just 10. Lavvy's never been shy about playing the producers, and Simmonds has been quiet. JVR is probably still getting his legs under him, if not still a bit nicked up. 
Bryzgalov played very well, with strong blocker saves made like jab punches, no weak goals, and great positioning throughout. 
Sean Couturier once again put the clamps on Malkin, whose goal came on a power play. Again, Malkin seemed frustrated, at one point even slamming his stick against the dasher while on the bench. With the series now over, we can finally look at the job Cooter did on Malkin without the thought that it could still change for the worst. Cooter is the real deal. There's no better way to prove it. 
Though he was reported as the new record holder on the broadcast, Claude Giroux is now actually second all-time in Flyers franchise history for points scored in a single playoff series, with 14. He sits only behind Tim Kerr, who tallied 15 against, guess who, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1989. In a series featuring a pair of guys with MVP awards, Hart Trophies, and Stanley Cup rings, it's safe to say G does indeed enjoy pressure. He was the best player on the ice this series, though he certainly wasn't alone. Even Brooks Orpik called him the best player on the ice. 
Dan Bylsma took a timeout down 4-1 with 46 seconds left in regulation. What do you think he said to his players?
There's a lot more to discuss, and we have a few days to keep looking into what amounts to as enjoyable a series as you can get if you're a Flyers fan. It wasn't always pretty, and they have a lot to work on if they hope to advance against teams that are better in their own end, but it's hard to imagine a more entertaining matchup. 

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

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MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

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NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

NEW YORK -- A person familiar with the negotiations says the New York Jets made a three-year offer to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in March that includes $12 million guaranteed in the first year.

That offer has remained on the table for Fitzpatrick, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is commenting publicly on the negotiations.

The New York Post first reported the terms of the offer Friday.

Fitzpatrick and the Jets have been locked in a contract stalemate. The 33-year-old quarterback is a free agent and coming off a season in which he threw a Jets-record 31 touchdown passes and led New York within a victory of the playoffs.

Both the Jets and Fitzpatrick have said they would like a reunion, but have unable to agree on a deal.

Bears: First-round pick Leonard Floyd agrees to deal
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears and first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd have agreed to a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year.

The Bears drafted the outside linebacker from Georgia with the ninth pick after trading up two spots in a deal with Tampa Bay. Chicago hopes he will add some athleticism to a team trying to build on a 6-10 season. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound Floyd led the Bulldogs in sacks for the third straight year with 4 , and tied for the team lead with 10 1/2 tackles for loss last season.

With the announcement Friday, the Bears have agreed to contracts with eight of their nine picks. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard, a third-rounder, is the exception.

NFL: Navy's Reynolds, Carter can defer military service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Keenan Reynolds will get his chance to play in the NFL this season.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Friday that the record-setting Navy quarterback Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain can defer their military service to play in the NFL.

Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech to the academy in Annapolis. As students cheered the news about their graduating classmates, Carter said: "Go get 'em."

Reynolds was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He is the NCAA's career leader in touchdowns with 88. He had 31 touchdown passes while leading Navy's triple-option offense. The Ravens plan to use him as a running back, receiver and kick returner.

Swain has signed with the San Diego Chargers (see full story).

Redskins: Activists criticize poll on team name
WASHINGTON -- Native American leaders and activists have criticized a recent US national poll that found nine of 10 Native Americans aren't offended by the Washington Redskins' name.

On a conference call held Friday by the National Congress of American Indians and "Change the Mascot" campaign, panelists voiced opposition to a Washington Post poll that surveyed 504 Native Americans, 90 percent of whom said the name doesn't bother them.

James Fenelon, a California State San Bernardino sociology professor, called the poll "immoral," adding it was not representative of Native American communities. Amanda Blackhorse, lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Redskins, said the "misguided" poll will not affect attempts to change the name.

National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata said: "This issue is not about polling. This issue is about human rights."

D.C. council member David Grosso said he hadn't been swayed and that the government would not support the team moving back into the District unless the name was changed.

The team currently plays its home games in Maryland, with its headquarters and training facility in Virginia.