Gut It Out: JVR, Flyers Win Nail-biter, But Timonen Leaves With UBI

Gut It Out: JVR, Flyers Win Nail-biter, But Timonen Leaves With UBI

Flyers fans in need of a win over an elite opponent to wash away the memory of a heartbreaking Winter Classic third period got just that on Thursday night. It looked for a moment like the Classic's third would happen all over again, but the Flyers didn't wilt despite some lapses in their own end (and crease) and finished strong for a 5-4 win. The Blackhawks were in town for the first time since they left the building with the Stanley Cup in June 2010, but they left with only their chins on their chests after this one.

The rookies played well, and James van Riemsdyk scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner. It was a fast-paced game between two of the best teams in the league, as entertaining as it was enervating.

Unfortunately, the Flyers may be dealing with an injury to the defenseman they can least afford to lose, especially considering the goaltending was once again shaky despite the win.

GAME ACTION
Chicago struck just three minutes in, forcing a turnover with some pressure on Zac Rinaldo as he tried to clear the zone. Jamal Mayers flipped a quick pass to rookie Jimmy Hayes, who redirected it past Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz tried to go for a poke check, but got caught between the poke and the save attempt.  

Rinaldo must have felt inclined to make amends, because he threw down with fellow rookie Andrew Shaw on the ensuing face-off. Say what you will about fighting in the NHL, but it often still serves a purpose, for better or worse. [Video and some great pics from that scrap here.]

But Rinaldo didn't stop there. Along with linemates Sean Couturier and Harry Zolnierczyk—all rookies—the Flyers fourth line played its ass off in this one. The momentum they helped create got the Flyers back in the game quickly and kept them there.

Jake Voracek opened the scoring for the Flyers, collecting a long bounce after a Braydon Coburn shot caromed off the end boards and putting it into a fairly open net. Voracek has been playing some good hockey, so it was nice to see him get on the G board. The first period ended with the teams knotted at one.

Blown Wide Open
Indecorous guests that they are, Chicago opened the scoring in the second as well.     
After fighting Rinaldo in the first, Shaw scored in the second. The Flyers didn't wait long to even it up again though, with Scott Hartnell scoring on a golf shot, picking a floated pass out of midair with a swipe toward the net. The goal came on the very next shift after the Shaw goal, and featured great work behind the net and along the boards by the Flyers. Matt Read, playing with G and Hartnell while Jagr is out, worked a a give-and-go with Giroux, who flipped it in front of the crease to Hartnell. Harts was absolutely surrounded by Blackhawks but still managed to get enough wood on it to beat Emery.

Just under four minutes later, the fourth line struck with their contribution. This one was something else too, featuring a great setup by Couturier, some acrobatics by Rinaldo, and a nice finish by Harry Z. Rinaldo went absolutely skates up in his effort to crash the net (legally mind you) and make the goal happen. Twenty-five seconds later, JVR found the net to put the Flyers up 4-2. Both goals in the video below:

Winter Classic Flashbacks...
Heading into the second intermission, the Flyers seemed to have complete control of the game. The Blackhawks stars hadn't really been a big factor in the game, and the Flyer were winning battles and skating hard. This is of course when the wheels came off.

Brent Seabrook beat Bryzgalov on an uncontested shot, nearly freezing him in place. Some goals, including the first two in this game, can be blamed at least in significant part on what's going on outside of the crease. Not this one. Whats worse, it seemed to deflate the Flyers, and 25 seconds later, Patrick Kane scored after the Blackhawks forced a turnover with some hard forechecking. This one we won't blame on Bryz. Kane was all alone in the slot, and despite his struggles this season, he's more than likely going to make that shot.

However, with the game tied at 4, Kane did his best to make amends for once again putting Flyers fans hearts in their throats. He committed the 'Hawks' second high-sticking penalty of the period, and the Flyers went on the power play with less than 2 minutes to go.

According to Peter Laviolette after the game, Giroux was yelling on the bench, "It's not going to happen again!" in reference to the Flyers' handing over a third period win to the Rangers in the Winter Classic. On the power play, G, Hartnell and JVR created one hell of a gorgeous opportunity, with Giroux passing down low to Hartnell, who found JVR streaking toward the goal. Once again he potted it, taking advantage of the penalty taken by the player he'll always be linked to.

More on JVR to come. Great to see him finding chemistry tonight, working with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The RSS Line?

OH NO KIMMO
Kimmo Timonen hurt his wrist in the first period, missing much of it while getting tended to by the trainers. He returned for the start of the second, but quickly disappeared again. The Flyers will probably give an update tomorrow, but for now, they're just calling it an upper-body injury.

SUMMING UP…
It wasn't all hearts and flowers out there, but a win's a win, and the Flyers beat one of the top teams in the league without a top line
winger and losing their best defenseman early in the game. They pummeled Ray Emery with barrages and played one of the fastest-paced games we've seen all season. The goals they let up weren't the end of the world given the quality of the opponent and end-to-end action, but we're still waiting to see Bryzgalov get his game back. He made some pretty huge stops tonight, so there's hope it could be soon, but on the goals, he just looked frozen. Once he commits, he has trouble readjusting. Ya got some work to do with this one, Coach Reese.

Hey, at least Bryz got to wear his Winter Classic mask and pads at least once. The Drummond Custom mask looked pretty outstanding, wouldn't mind seeing it more often.

The Rangers topped Florida again, so the Flyers are still four points behind them. They'll get a chance at two more points on Saturday, when they host the Eastern Conference All-Star Senators.

FULL VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova to face pesky Providence Friars

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova to face pesky Providence Friars

CSN anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and producer Sean Kane get you set for all of the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Providence (13-7, 3-4 Big East) at No. 1 Villanova (18-1, 6-1 Big East), Saturday at noon

AF: This is a first. In the three seasons that I have been privileged to co-author this column, I've never written about Villanova. Today, that drought ends. Thank you to all who made this possible, which really is just one person: Sean Kane. 

I think one of the reasons that he relinquished his iron grip, just for one week, is that a new, young fan is now on board with this Villanova team and will be attending his first Wildcats game this weekend. When I say that our 2-year-old son is a fan, that may be understating it a little bit. He knows the entire roster, from Josh Hart, to Donte Divincenzo, and every player in between. He knows the fight song, and proudly belts out V for Villanova. Of course, I'm proud of my son. I do wish he could sneak in a few bars of "On, On U of K" or know one other Kentucky player besides Malik Monk. But that's enough on the background of why I finally broke through and am writing about Villanova this week.

The Wildcats returned the No. 1 ranking this week as they welcome Providence to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday. The Friars have given Jay Wright's teams fits over the past few seasons. You don't need to look much further than last year when you check the numbers of a Ben Bentil or Kris Dunn. In fact, in the last three seasons, Villanova has lost one home game, and almost a year ago exactly that loss came courtesy Providence. On Jan. 24, 2016, Bentil owned the low post and poured in 31 points, while the high-low game was working to perfection because Dunn racked up 14 assists. Of course, neither Dunn nor Bentil are on this year's Providence squad and that is a good thing for Nova.

The Friars come into this game on a short two-game winning streak, but that's bigger than it may seem. Before that, they dropped five of their previous six games, including a heart-breaking one-point loss to DePaul. Nothing seems to get Providence back on track better than Georgetown, already sweeping the season series with the Hoyas. Ed Cooley's team seems to do this every year, have a lull only to explode in March. They did it three years ago, when Villanova crushed them by 30 in January, only to see Providence steam roll it's way through the Big East Tournament.  So I'm never ready to count out a Cooley team. 

But Villanova is rolling after it's lone loss of the year, falling to Butler on the road after a spectacular performance at Creighton. Sean Kane wrote in this very column last week that the Wildcats needed to get more from their bench, specifically Divincenzo. No, I don't think Donte reads this (though he should; it's fun!), but it was as if he did. In the decisive victory over Seton Hall this week, Divincenzo posted 10 points, two rebounds and a monster block in 29 minutes of work, a solid effort off the bench. 

In the game before, at St. John's last weekend, Divincenzo had starter-like numbers in a two-man bench effort with he and Eric Paschall. Divincenzo tallied a career-high 19 points in the win at the Garden. And if the Wildcats are getting numbers near that from him, they should start thinking about a return trip to the Final Four. 

March is all about depth. Josh Hart is going to get his. But you need other players to step up (see: Phil Booth in the title game). Divincenzo could be that guy for Wright this year. This team certainly looks primed to go far in March. Seniors who are not only the team's best players but also providing leadership combined with young players stepping into the spotlight. 

The spotlight on the Wells Fargo Center will shine on the Wildcats and another win. 

Villanova 80, Providence 66

La Salle (11-5, 5-1 A-10) at VCU (14-5, 4-2 A-10), Sunday at 2 p.m.

SK: Which city team has the longest winning streak? It's not top-ranked Villanova. The correct answer would be the La Salle Explorers, winners of five straight games and seven of their last nine. The good times kept rolling Thursday night with a 91-83 victory over Davidson at Tom Gola Arena. 

Four different Explorers scored 12 or more points in the win, and the one starter who didn't - junior Demetrius Henry - provided three critical baskets in the closing minutes. Henry's contributions aside, the night belonged to Jordan Price. The senior guard scored 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Price knocked down 4 of 6 three-point attempts and went 7 of 8 from the foul line. The Explorers' leader is hitting his stride, averaging 26 points in the last two games while shooting 72 percent from the field.

La Salle now sets its sights on a Sunday showdown at VCU, which has a 14-5 record under second-year head coach Will Wade. The Rams will be hungry for a win, having dropped back-to-back road games at Davidson and Fordham. Wade has done an admirable job maintaining the success of the VCU program following the departure of Shaka Smart to Texas following the 2014-15 season. The Rams advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament a year ago and have a good shot at making their way into the Field of 68 again this season.

The Explorers shouldn't be phased by VCU's raucous homecourt advantage. La Salle won in double overtime in its last trip to Richmond to take on VCU two years ago. I can honestly see this game going either way and would be surprised if things weren't decided in the final minutes. But I'm riding the hot hand with the Explorers and Price. La Salle is a confident team right now, look for them to figure out a way to win a sixth straight game on Sunday.

La Salle 81, VCU 78

Pennsylvania (6-8, 0-3 Ivy League) at St. Joseph's (8-9, 2-4 A-10), Saturday at 7 p.m.

AF: The Quakers are in the midst of a tough stretch. They opened up Ivy League play with rival Princeton two weeks ago, and it started a three-game losing streak; first to the Tigers, then home losses to Yale and Brown. But it's not as if Penn hasn't been in these games. In the loss to Brown, the Quakers cut it to just a two-point deficit with under eight minutes to play, but a great defensive stand by the Bears led to Penn missing it's next seven shots. 

Next up for Steve Donahue, a Big Five matchup with St. Joseph's, a team also reeling a bit. Both of these teams struggle to find offense, especially when the game is still undecided. The bright side is that this game could be a remedy for one of those offenses. Of course, the downside, it would be more of the same for the other.

In the loss to Yale, Penn shot only 35 percent. The Quakers did improve upon that in the loss to Brown that same weekend, but even at 45 percent from the field, failed to capitalize on the opportunity the Bears gave them by going cold for seven straight shots. In it's most recent game, a five-point loss at UMass, St. Joseph's shot 32 percent overall, but an abysmal 26 percent in the second half. 

Once again, the Hawks did get a solid effort from James Demery. The junior had a career-high 11 rebounds to go with his team-high 19 points in the loss. One would think that if Phil Martelli keeps getting efforts like that from him, they will break through on a win soon. They are just short-handed with injuries right now.

This game will be played at the Palestra, which contrary to a silly Duke tweet this week, is the greatest home court in college basketball. Fun fact, Penn has enjoyed more success against Saint Joseph’s than any other Big 5 opponent in recent years, with three wins over the last six meetings.

But I don't know if that fun fact continues this weekend. Both teams are playing with a little desperation, and I think that the shooters for the Hawks will step up in this one with their backs against the wall.

St. Joseph's 62, Penn 60

Drexel (7-12, 1-5 CAA) at UNC Wilmington (18-2, 7-0 CAA), Sunday at 4 p.m.

SK: To say this is a tall order for Drexel would be an understatement. The Dragons have dropped six of their last seven games, including a 20-point loss at Elon Thursday night. Meanwhile, UNC Wilmington enters Sunday's game with a 18-2 record and a perfect 7-0 mark in CAA play. The Seahawks' two losses this season came at Clemson and against a very good Middle Tennessee State team.

The UNC Wilmington program has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround under third-year head coach Kevin Keatts, who previously served as Rick Pitino's assistant at Louisville. The Seahawks won 25 games and made it to the NCAA tournament last year, losing a tightly contested game to Duke in the first round. After establishing themselves as the class of the CAA once again this season, it would come as a major surprise if they're not back in the Big Dance this March. 

UNC Wilmington has three players averaging 15 points or more -- C.J. Bryce (17.5), Chris Flemmings (15.9) and Denzel Ingram (15.5). The Seahawks simply have too much firepower for a Drexel team struggling to find its way under first year head coach Zach Spiker. For the Dragons' sake, I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see this being much of a contest.

UNC Wilmington 77, Drexel 59

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 18-4
Amy Fadool: 13-7

Joel Embiid: All-Star voting 'shows fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad'

Joel Embiid: All-Star voting 'shows fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid didn’t earn enough overall votes to be named an All-Star starter, but he has no disappointment about the outpour of fan appreciation he received during the campaign.

“It shows that the fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad,” Embiid said after shootaround on Friday. “The fans are going stick up for who they love, and I love that.”

Embiid finished third among frontcourt players in fan votes behind only LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, which counted for 50 percent of the votes this season. He made a late push after trailing Kevin Love for third place in the second return of votes last week.

“They’re behind me and they want me to succeed,” Embiid said. “That’s what I took from it.”

Embiid ranked fifth in media votes (25 percent), but there was a drop-off in the player votes (25 percent). Embiid was eighth among players, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony and Love.

Embiid is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. He is under a 28-minute restriction this season and sits out one matchup of each back-to-back series. Veteran Gerald Henderson believes Embiid’s lack of games was a factor the player votes.

“I feel like since all the players vote, it’s probably important for you to play consistent and let all the players see night to night how good you are,” Henderson said. “I think that’s the difference. You’ll see Joel’s numbers are better than a lot of guys, but because some guys have been doing it year after year consistently and guys have seen how good they are, it helps them. I think if Joel continues to play like he’s been playing, he’ll earn everybody’s respect.” 

Embiid saw the competitiveness of the frontcourt race as a sign the league should revert back to the previous voting format which included centers. He has been advocating for that the entire season as he’s faced high-caliber players on the court.

“There’s a lot of talented big men in the league, especially at the center position,” Embiid said. “That’s something the NBA should think about, putting the center back on the All-Star ballot.”

Part of Embiid’s All-Star push centered around his opportunity to land a date with an unnamed celebrity if named a starter. So what happens now if he gets in as a reserve next week from the coach’s votes?

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure that out.”

In spite of battling illness, Embiid plans to play Friday in front of the home crowd that was behind him during the voting process.

"I feel pretty sick still but I’ll be fine," he said. "I've been coughing a lot, sneezing, headaches, sinuses, can’t really breathe. But I'm fine."