Game 4: Can Flyers Complete the Let's Just Watch the Game.

Game 4: Can Flyers Complete the Let's Just Watch the Game.

I'm
usually someone who demands a reasonable amount of evidence before I
believe something. I don't consider myself a cynic, but I ordinarily
think there is more to a story than is presented, or less. And yet, when
it comes to sports in particular, I find that I'm entirely
superstitious. 

I shouldn't be anywhere near the internet today. Any
mention of the action one does with a broom makes me want to slam my
laptop shut. The cashier saw my shirt and asked for my prediction on the
game tonight, and I gave him my best Peter Laviolette deflection. I
refuse to think about the outcome of this game, and it pisses me off
that you're not all on board with me. 

Do the Flyers have the decided edge in this series?
Would it take a monumental, historic comeback for it not to end with
them advancing? Do the Penguins appear to be regressing rather than
getting back to elite standing? Yes, to all of that. 

But if the Flyers themselves are treating tonight
like anywhere near what I'm reading, hearing and doing my best not to
think… We'll be in for a game 5, at least. This series didn't end on
Sunday. Some pretty tough obstacles stand between the Flyers and a
celebration tonight. Let's take a look. 

The Other Team on the Ice (No, Not the Penguins)Thankfully,
although the Penguins' power play has recently started scoring on the
Flyers after a regular season of futility and a sluggish start in the
postseason, the Flyers' PK has been just about as productive. Tonight,
they may need to be again. The NHL is under the microscope after
suspensions 6, 7, and 8 were handed out last night, and #9 will likely
come tomorrow. The officials from game 3 of this series were criticized
for letting the game get out of hand. If either side wants to bring the
rough stuff, will the refs treat it like that final game of the season,
when run-of-the-mill rule-breaking resulted in ejections?

If so, who will it favor? Who does it usually favor?
To
add fuel to the fire, Hockey Buzz's Bill Meltzer points out a very
curious choice in the refereeing assignment tonight. I have a ton of
respect for Bill, and following him on twitter is highly recommended for
any Flyers fan.
He's a wealth of knowledge on factors that exceed the range of most
fans and many in the media. Today, he pointed out that the refs tonight
will be Chris Lee and Wes McCauley. Lee isn't a household name, which
can be a good thing, but in this case, Meltzer indicates it is in part
because Lee is one of the worst refs in the league and rarely gets the
call in the postseason. 

Tonight, a deciding contest between two teams that
have amassed as many penalty minutes as they have played, the calls will
be at the whim of a man whistling his fifth NHL postseason game despite
being in the league for 10 seasons. 
Poking the LionI don't
lose sleep over whether anyone's opinion regarding the Daily News'
coverage changes based on a joke they run on their cover. I don't
discredit anyone whose opinion is adversely affected, though my own was
not. I do, however, hate the fact that one of the greatest-ever Flyer
killers has a new decoration for his bulletin board. 

Again, my superstition getting in the way of reason? 
Reason
would dictate that the gauntlet was thrown down on Sidney Crosby well
before the paper was printed and handed to him by Lisa Hillary. Although
he's seen some success in spurts this series, he's made headlines for
all the wrong reasons. In fact, he's damn lucky the league's justice
system is based on punishing acts more so than preventing them, because
he was throwing gasoline on a powder keg in game 3, ultimately leading
to several explosions.

Does the all-world talent take over tonight, or will
his demons get the better of him again, forcing his teammates to focus
on protecting the star rather than passing to him?
Speaking
of his teammates… Man… I almost don't even want to mention #71. The
odds-on favorite for MVP has been locked in Sean Couturier's trunk for the past week. It's appeared as if Cooter is winning the matchup,
but Malkin is also in a slump. He's shooting wide, sloppily, and without
his usual precision. Is he frustrated by his competition, or just a
little off? 

Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed a historic amount of
goals through three games. The defense in front of him will be even more
banged up tonight, and the forward ranks a little thinner without the
three suspension recipients. But can he really be flogged this badly
four games in a row?

By now, I hope I've shaken all the black cats you
people have been throwing in my path to the game tonight. I'll be in the
building with a ticket, top row of the upper deck. I want to be SINGING
on my way out. But not til then… There's at least 60 more minutes of hockey
the Flyers need to treat like they did the last 60 minutes. Despite the
series record, this is not an opponent we want getting even a whiff of
its passion back…

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”