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. 

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)