Game 14: Flyers Host Blue Jackets, Voracek Has Something to Prove

Game 14: Flyers Host Blue Jackets, Voracek Has Something to Prove

After dropping a disappointing shootout loss to the Devils on Thursday, the Flyers get a rebound game with what has to date been one of the worst teams in the NHL. Maybe the worst. The Columbus Blue Jackets (2-10-1) opened the season with eight straight losses and have won just twice to date. After trading the eighth overall pick and Jakub Voracek to the Flyers for Jeff Carter and signing free agent defenseman James Wisniewski in the off-season, the team was expected to improve on its 81-point offering from last season. Instead, they're bailing water over the side to keep some glimmer of hope alive.

Carter played in only five games before suffering a broken foot, during which time he tallied three assists but no goals. Meanwhile, although the focus tonight will be on the player directly traded for him as he faces his old team tonight, the better story so far has been Sean Couturier. Cooter was selected with the high draft pick Columbus sent over along with Jake Voracek, and he's been impressive in a variety of game scenarios. Through 13 games, the 18-year-old has one goal more than Voracek despite playing over a minute and a half less per game, with more time in checking and penalty killing roles.

We're still waiting to see a little more from Voracek, who hasn't fully settled in just yet. Will tonight's matchup with the club that shipped him off be a boost? Here's what he had to say about facing the BJs, plus notes on Andreas Nodl, James van Riemsdyk, and the Blue Jackets' struggles.

The Flyers on the whole aren't entirely comfortable in their new skin. No one expected they would immediately gel, not with all the changes. But they've shown some spots of brilliance and certainly an ability to put the puck in the net. They have yet to solidify their lines after the top unit of Hartnell-Giroux-Jagr, in part due to injuries, which continue to mount.

Andreas Nodl has reportedly joined the skating wounded, and he's out for tonight. Eric Wellwood was called up yesterday, joining Zac Rinaldo and Harry Z as recent AHL refugees.

Unfortunately, James van Riemsdyk is also said to still be slowed by an injury, with Tim Panaccio reporting that he was out tonight about 90 minutes before gametime, only to find out that JVR actually will suit up. Frank Seravalli yesterday quoted a Flyers source saying that JVR's scratching against the Devils was a healthy one, and that Peter Laviolette had lit into him for a lackluster performance in Buffalo. The coach, GM, and player have since denied that, instead citing an unspecified injury.

It's been an interesting first 13 games between the Flyers and the local hockey scribes, to say the least.

Back to the BJ's for a minute. Another former Flyer currently leads the team in goals (5) and points (10), a fella by the name of Vinny Prospal. The talented Rick Nash has four goals and shares the points lead with Prospal. Another familiar face, RJ Umberger, has a goal and four assists. Wisniewski leads the team in ice time, logging just over 28 minutes a game. The Blue Jackets are damn near the bottom in goals per game (24th), goals against (29th), power play efficiency (29th), and penalty killing (28th).

The goalies tonight are Ilya Bryzgalov and Steve Mason.

Are the Blue Jackets the dangerous team that's been backed into an early season corner, or a Western Conference weakling that will be picked on from now through May?

Photo by Christopher Szagola-US PRESSWIRE

NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry scored 31 points, raising his arms in the early moments to awaken Golden State's raucous crowd, and the defending champion Warriors staved off elimination with a 120-111 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

The MVP made a snazzy layup late and dished out six assists, while Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. Golden State trails 3-2 and is trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

"We're not going home! We're not going home!" Curry yelled at the top of his lungs in the waning moments.

Kevin Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook added 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, trying for the fifth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and chasing just the second championship after the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics won it all.

The record-setting, 73-win Warriors, coming off their first back-to-back defeats all season, had been blown out in two losses at Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points.

Durant's 3-pointer with 4:34 left got the Thunder within 103-98, then Curry answered with a three-point play.

Curry scored seven points in a 58-second stretch of the second quarter, but the Thunder didn't go away easily.

Trailing 58-50 at halftime, Oklahoma City came out of the break with a 9-2 run. Westbrook's 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the third put Oklahoma City ahead 68-67 for its first lead of the night. But Golden State led 81-77 going into the fourth and began the final period by scoring five unanswered points.

Curry shot 9 for 20 and also had five steals, while Thompson had his 11th 20-point game for the second straight postseason despite shooting 2 for 9 from 3-point range. Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Steve Kerr thought his Warriors might have an edge against the percentages of teams having trailed 3-1 because they're the defending champs and were playing at home, where they have been nearly unbeatable.

Kerr called for center Andrew Bogut to do more and the 7-footer delivered with a playoff career-high 15 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double this postseason and seventh of his career.

Marreese Speights had a pair of three-point plays on follow shots and a 3 in the second quarter to give Golden State a nice lift off the bench. He had nine points in four minutes during that stretch and 14 points overall for his fifth double-digit scoring game this postseason.

With his 1,248th career postseason point in the third, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for second place on the franchise's playoff scoring list.

Kerr's message
Coach of the Year Kerr sent a message to Warriors fans Wednesday on social media requesting they arrive on time Thursday and bring their best.

The always-raucous supporters obliged.

"It's a big game. We need our crowd behind us," Kerr said beforehand. "We know they'll be here, and the 6 o'clock start makes things difficult for a lot of people to get here on time. So the first couple games we had a pretty late-arriving crowd. So it's kind of a reminder to be here early, if possible."

Tip-ins
Thunder: The franchise lost in the finals in 1977-78, 1995-96 to Kerr and the Chicago Bulls and in `12. ... Steven Adams sat down with his second foul at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder had seven fouls to Golden State's one after the first. ... Oklahoma City took Game 1 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost only three times all season. ... The Thunder started the game 3 for 14.

Warriors: Green picked up his fifth technical of the postseason. He also has at least one steal in 16 straight playoff games. ... Golden State missed six of its first seven 3s. ... The Warriors supported Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager with "Sager Strong" T-shirts for sale to support awareness and research for leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers. ... Curry became the fifth player in franchise history with 200 postseason free throws.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).

NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

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NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Bryan Rust scored a pair of second-period goals and Matt Murray stopped 16 shots to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night to send the franchise to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009.

Pittsburgh will host Western Conference champion San Jose in Game 1 of the final Monday night.

Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the playoffs for the Lightning and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves, but it wasn't enough to send Tampa Bay back to the Cup Final for a second straight year. Captain Steven Stamkos had two shots in his return from a two-month layoff while dealing with a blood clot.

The Penguins avoided elimination with a borderline dominant 5-2 victory in Game 6 that provided a snapshot of the formula that fueled their rise through the Eastern Conference standings shortly after coach Mike Sullivan's arrival in mid-December. Sullivan calls it "playing the right way," a way abetted by the influx of speed brought in by general manager Jim Rutherford. That group includes Rust, who forced his way onto the roster thanks to feverish skating and a relentlessness that belies his nondescript 5-foot-11 frame.

That effort -- or "desperation level" as captain Sidney Crosby calls it -- provided the Penguins with the boost they needed to overcome a bit of unfortunate history and the return of Stamkos. Pittsburgh had dropped five straight Game 7s at home, including a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay in 2011 in a series in which both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed due to injury. That loss had become symbolic of the franchise's postseason shortcomings following that gritty run to the Cup in 2009 that culminated with a Game 7 win in Detroit that was supposed to be the launching pad of a dynasty.

Seven long years later, with an entirely new cast around mainstays Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins are finally heading back.

It hardly came easy. Vasilevskiy, a revelation while filling in for injured Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, spent most of the night facing barrage after barrage as Pittsburgh controlled the puck and the pace of play for long stretches. Not even the return of Stamkos, who missed eight weeks while recovering from surgery to fix a blood clot near his right collarbone, could give Tampa Bay a boost as it sought a second straight appearance in the final round.

The 26-year-old practically chased Vasilevskiy onto the ice and played 11:55, his best chance coming on a breakaway in the second period in which his slap shot from the right circle hit Murray and trickled wide.

Yet he was outshone -- as was everyone else inside an electric Consol Energy Center -- by a 24-year-old who managed all of five goals in 55 regular season games, a total he's matched in just 17 games during the postseason. And perhaps even more surprising than the amount of success Rust has enjoyed during the playoffs is when he's done the most damage. He collected two goals and an assist in a series closeout win over the New York Rangers in the opening round.

Just over a month later, Rust was at it again.

He gave the Penguins the lead 1:55 into the second when he raced down the slot, took a feed from Kunitz and beat Vasilevskiy over his glove. Drouin's fourth goal of the series tied it at 9:36 of the second, a wicked wrist shot from the circle that zipped by Murray and seemed to blunt Pittsburgh's momentum.

Only it didn't.

All of 30 seconds later, the Penguins were back in front. Ben Lovejoy's slap shot from the point caromed off the end boards to the right of the net. Rust jabbed at it, squeezing it between Vasilevskiy's left arm and his body.

The Penguins kept coming. Only the spectacular play of the 21-year-old Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in it. Pittsburgh outshot Tampa Bay 21-5 in the second period alone, yet couldn't extend its advantage.

Their season on the brink, the Lightning recovered but Murray never wavered. His teammates in front of him kept Tampa Bay from getting in his way and when the final horn blared, Pittsburgh's metamorphosis from the blahs of December to the madness of May was complete.

Notes
The Penguins went 0 for 5 on the power play. The Lightning were 0 for 1. ... The team that scores first is now 124-42 all-time in Game 7s, including 5-0 this year.