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. 

No. 12 Villanova at Elon: Wildcats eager for CAA road win

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No. 12 Villanova at Elon: Wildcats eager for CAA road win

No. 17 Villanova (3-1, 1-0) at Elon (2-2, 1-0)
Rhodes Stadium, Elon, N.C.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Climbing in the national rankings, Villanova looks for its fourth straight win this weekend in a road CAA contest. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
After a season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, the Wildcats have won three straight, including a 31-14 rout of Lafayette last week. The Wildcats’ defense continued to flex its muscle in that victory with senior defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon scoring on a 25-yard fumble return to go along with his two sacks and sophomore linebacker Jeff Steeb returning an interception 45 yards for a TD. For the season, Villanova’s defense has now scored four touchdowns in four games while its rushing defense ranks 21st in the country, allowing just over 100 yards per game. Offensively, running backs Aaron Forbes and Javon White formed a nice tandem last week with both scoring and Forbes running for a career-high 111 yards on 11 carries.

Scouting Elon
The Phoenix bounced back from two straight losses to start the year with a home rout of Fayetteville State and a massive 27-10 road win over nationally ranked William & Mary last week. Just its second victory over over a top-10 FCS program, Elon was led by a 120-yard, two-TD rushing game from Malcolm Summers and an opportunistic defense that intercepted three passes. Elon does have some question marks offensively with several underclassmen in prominent roles, including sophomore Daniel Thompson, who took over for the injured Connor Christiansen at quarterback after the first game. But Elon’s passing offense still ranks third in the CAA with 206.5 yards per game.

Series history
This will be Villanova’s first-ever game vs. Elon, which joined the CAA in 2014.

Storyline to watch
Kpassagnon, an NFL prospect, was the biggest reason why Villanova extended its winning streak to three, putting all kinds of pressure on Lafayette and setting the tone by scoring a defensive touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. He’ll have a chance to do that again and try to rattle a young quarterback early. And he may need to have another big game in what figures to be a low-scoring affair between two hot defenses.

What’s at stake?
Elon and Villanova are among six teams that are 1-0 in the conference, meaning the winner of this game could rise to the top of the conference after just two games.

Prediction
Elon’s win last week was very impressive, but it seems unlikely that this young Phoenix squad can knock off two nationally ranked teams in a row. Villanova 24, Elon 14.

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Howard, Phils can spoil Mets' season

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Howard, Phils can spoil Mets' season

Phillies (70-89) vs. Mets (85-74)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

Just three games remain in the Phillies' season. After a 24-17 start, the season went predictably downhill. However, the Phils have a chance to play spoiler to a big-time rival with the New York Mets in town. Alec Asher is on the hill for the Phillies while Robert Gsellman faces the Phillies for a third times this year.

Here are five things to watch on Friday night.

1. End of the road for the Big Ticket
There are just three games left in Ryan Howard's tenure with the Phillies.

It's been a long ride for Howard. There'll be plenty on Howard this weekend (and there's a pregame ceremony for him on Sunday), but here are some of his stats from his 13 years in Philadelphia.

Howard has hit 381 home runs and has 1,192 RBI with the Phils. He has 10 seasons of at least 20 home runs and has a run of six straight seasons from 2006 to 2011, his first six full seasons, with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. He twice walked more than 100 times in a season and he racked up 276 doubles.

The long-time first baseman has hit 47 home runs against the Mets, his second highest total against any team (52 vs. Atlanta). In 174 games, Howard has 157 hits and 73 walks against the Mets.

Howard goes into the weekend with 197 home runs at Citizens Bank Park. Overall, he's racked up 1,465 total bases at CBP. He has, however, struck out 880 times in 769 games there as well.

2. Playing spoilers
While the Phillies are firmly outside of the playoff race, the New York Mets are in the driver's seat for a wild card spot. The Phillies could have something to say about that.

The San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals both won on Thursday while the Mets were off. That leaves the Mets one game ahead of the Giants for the first wild card spot and two games up on the Cardinals for a playoff spot. 

If the Mets win two of three this weekend, they clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card game on Wednesday. With one win, they guarantee that they cannot be eliminated this weekend. Their magic number is two to clinch a playoff berth, so a combination of wins and Cardinals' losses can get them into the postseason. 

The Phillies can throw a wrench into the Mets' gameplan with a strong showing this weekend. While they've lost six of seven, the Phillies will likely get up for games with playoff implications. Furthermore, the Mets have the incentive to clinch as soon as possible as to avoid needing Noah Syndergaard to pitch on Sunday, so they can hold him for the National League wild card game on Wednesday.

3. Asher closes out impressive month 
Asher has made four starts since coming up earlier this month and has been much more impressive than his late season stint in 2015. 

After going 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA last year, he's 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA. However, despite picking up a win last weekend against the Mets, he struggled late and left room for improvement. 

Asher began his start Saturday vs. the Mets with a perfect game through three innings. He worked around three baserunners in the fourth inning, but came unglued after a couple errors in the fifth inning. While poor defense is not his fault, it would have been a good sign if he could have picked up his defense. Instead, he barely made it through the inning after four unearned runs.

Normally, a team would look for length out of their starter when handed such a large lead, so Asher only making it through five is disappointing. He still hasn't allowed more than two earned runs and has induced plenty of weak contact with his two-seam fastball.

The Mets will be the first (and only) team he faces twice this season.

4. Third time the charm vs. Gsellman?
Gsellman will be making his seventh career MLB start on Friday and it will be his third against the Phillies.

In two starts against the Phils, Gsellman is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA over 13 innings. He has 13 strikeouts against them while allowing 10 hits and three walks. 

All four runs he allowed to the Phillies came in his first start. He had held the Phils to one run over six innings but departed after loading the bases with none out. The Mets' bullpen promptly allowed all three inherited runners to score.

On Sunday, Gsellman dominated, shutting out the Phils for seven innings. He allowed just five baserunners and struck out eight in the 17-0 win. 

The 23-year-old rookie has a 2.56 ERA through seven appearances in the majors. He started the season in Double A, but he will likely get a playoff start if the Mets gets to the Division Series.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have just two extra base hits in 50 plate appearances against Gsellman. They are hitting .222/.271/.267 against him. 

• Eight Phils have hits off Gsellman. Freddy Galvis is 2 for 5 with a double and Jimmy Paredes is 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Michael Conforto hit a home run off Asher last season. No Mets hitter has more than one hit against him, in part because none of them have faced him more than three times.

• The Phillies have 601 runs on the season, the fewest in baseball by 39 runs. The Mets have the fifth worst total with 659 runs.

• Jeanmar Gomez is 0-3 with a 19.13 ERA in September. He's allowed 18 runs (17 earned) in eight innings.