Hart Attack! Flyers Down Pens on OT Buzzer Beater

Hart Attack! Flyers Down Pens on OT Buzzer Beater

Scott Hartnell's amazing All-Star season rolls on.

With one goal already under his belt to knot the score at two in the third period, Hartsy would go on to play the hero. His 35th goal of the season sailed past Marc-Andre Fleury as the final seconds ticked off the clock in overtime, boosting the resilient Flyers to a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over a white-hot Penguins club that came to Philadelphia winners of their last 11.

Various pieces of hockey equipment were mistreated as the Pens vacated the bench area, but not merely out of frustration over dropping a two-goal lead in a game they dominated for the first 40 minutes. Tempers flared increasingly during this intense meeting between division rivals jockeying for playoff positioning, and emotions finally boiled over when one of the main antagonists netted the game winner.

There was a point where the Flyers walking away with two points seemed improbable though. Orange and Black stumbled out of the gate, and appeared to be headed for a dull effort. Thankfully, Ilya Bryzgalov steadied the team until they made a late rally, stopping 38 shots in yet another strong showing for the redeemed netminder.

Bryz survived a pair of dangerous-looking power plays late in the first period, but not before the Penguins had already lit the lamp. Craig Adams made Wayne Simmonds pay for a rare miscue, putting the Flyers' forward on his butt before he could clear the puck. The veteran Adams went back to work in front of the net, redirecting a Kris Letang slap shot off of young Brandon Manning's leg, and past a guessing Bryzgalov.

It was a quality deflection, but Manning maybe could have been stronger on the body in front of his net.

Things went from bad to worse in the second frame. After getting outshot 17-8 in period one, the Flyers offense disappeared entirely, completing an 18-minute stretch without a shot on goal. It took a five-on-four to break out of the funk, but they never really threatened.

Despite the offensive ineptitude, the Flyers almost made it to the locker room unscathed. Evgeni Malkin had something to say about that however, victimizing Philly's defense with a late goal that increased the deficit to two.

The NHL's points leader skated around Claude Giroux out of the corner, then went for a walk in Bryzgalov's crease. Basically uncontested, Malkin had time to maneuver across the mouth of the goal, and slip the biscuit under the sprawling goaltender's pad on the opposite side. Impossible play for Bryz, and difficult for Kimmo Timonen and Brayden Coburn as well, both of them opting to stick with their man while Malkin dazzled.

Things began to turn around for the Flyers shortly thereafter. Zbynek Michalek took a slashing penalty following Malikn's goal, and Philly began the third period on the power play. They responded 31 seconds in with a Timonen blast from the point. Fleury was playing peek-a-boo behind Simmonds, and never saw the puck as it sailed into the net, cutting Pittsburgh's lead to one.

The win was Philadelphia's fourth this season when trailing after two periods. More importantly, it was two points. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, they are two points back of Pittsburgh, and three points back of the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers, though the Flyers have played one more game than each of those clubs.

Notes

- Hartnell had quite a raspberry on his face after the game, stemming from a third-period scrum with Chris Kunitz.

An incensed Hartnell wanted a piece of anybody wearing a white sweater, long after whistles had blown and referees had separated him from the initial brouhaha. Kunitz eventually wound up on top of Hartnell in a dog pile, and as Keith
Jones put it, was really giving him the business. The Flyers and Pens meet two more times this season, so this feud probably isn't over.

- Unfortunately, Hartnell also wound up taking out one of his own guys. Hartnell and Zac Rinaldo each wanted to have words with Letang, but Rinaldo probably isn't speaking to anybody right now. Letang gave Hartnell a shove, and his stick wound up clipping Rinaldo right inside the mouth. Nasty.

- What we're trying to say is Scott Hartnell was really gooning it up out there today. He amassed six penalty minutes to go along with his two scores.

- Next meeting: Sunday, April 1 in NBC's Game of the Week from Pittsburgh.

NFL Notes: Texans place J.J. Watt on IR; Dez Bryant misses practice

NFL Notes: Texans place J.J. Watt on IR; Dez Bryant misses practice

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans placed star defensive end J.J. Watt on injured reserve on Wednesday.

The move came one day after a person familiar with Watt's condition told The Associated Press he had re-injured his back and that the Texans expect him to be sidelined until at least December — and possibly the entire season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hasn't discussed his injury.

Watt, who has won Defensive Player of the Year for the past two seasons, missed training camp and Houston's four preseason games after surgery in July to repair a herniated disk in his back. He started each of the team's three regular-season games and got hurt again Thursday against the Patriots.

The Texans signed veteran defensive end Antonio Smith to take his spot on the roster.

The team was still exploring the injury and it's unclear if it will require surgery.

It's a major blow for Houston, which selected Watt with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Watt has played 83 consecutive games for the Texans despite various injuries, including torn core muscles and a broken hand last season.

This was a tough offseason for Watt, who had surgery in January to repair five torn core muscles before going under the knife again in July to repair his back.

Watt, who led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks last season, has 1 1/2 sacks this season to give him 76 for his career.

The 27-year-old is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and a four-time Pro Bowler. He's been a force since entering the league not only because of his pass-rushing prowess, but also because of his uncanny ability to swat down passes. He has 45 passes defended in his six-year career. He has forced 15 fumbles and recovered 13.

Cowboys: Dez Bryant (knee) misses practice
FRISCO, Texas — Dallas receiver Dez Bryant won't practice Wednesday after injuring his right knee in last week's win over Chicago.

Bryant injured the knee on his first catch early in the game but came back in the first quarter. He caught his first touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter of the 31-17 win.

Coach Jason Garrett said the team didn't have results of an MRI, and Bryant tweeted, "We'll find out today," to a fan who asked about his status.

Bryant missed seven games last year after breaking his foot in the opener. He also dealt with ankle injuries last season.

The Cowboys visit San Francisco on Sunday.

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Ryan Howard's earned a job somewhere

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Ryan Howard's earned a job somewhere

Phillies (70-87) at Braves (64-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The last two games for the Phillies have been about as ugly as it gets. After losing 17-0 on Sunday, they blew a six-run lead Tuesday as the bullpen continued to stumble toward the finish line.

1. No relief in sight
Pete Mackanin was peeved after last night's game and rightfully so. His relievers have an 8.03 ERA this month. Who can he even trust at this point?

The Phils have used 12 different relievers this month and only three — David Hernandez, Michael Mariot and Joely Rodriguez — have an ERA below 4.76. And even Hernandez, who has a 1.08 ERA in September, has allowed 16 baserunners in 8⅓ innings. 

Hector Neris, who Mackanin was saving last night for a save situation, is the most trustworthy option in the current bullpen. He's gotten outs most of the year, posting a 2.53 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with 100 strikeouts in 78⅓ innings. But even he has struggled lately, allowing runs in five of his last 10 appearances and walking 10 batters in his last 10 innings.

The Phillies will have money to spend this offseason and even if they don't spend it on A-list names, they could allocate some of it toward relievers who have better stuff than this bunch. Excluding closers like Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon, the free-agent reliever class includes decent veteran options like Brad Ziegler, Sergio Romo, Jim Johnson, Neftali Feliz, Fernando Rodney, Joe Smith and Brett Cecil, among others.

Giving one of those guys $6-8 million wouldn't stunt anyone else's development.

2. Stay a while
With the way these relievers have been batted around the last two games — 20 earned runs allowed in eight innings — the Phillies badly need some length out of Adam Morgan tonight. He hasn't given it to them in his last two starts, going just 9⅓ innings combined because of high pitch counts.

Morgan has been pretty good lately, though. Since returning to the majors on Aug. 14, he's allowed more than three runs only once in eight starts. He has a 3.86 ERA over that span, and if you exclude his poor outing against the Mets on Aug. 26, it's 2.92.

Morgan has missed more bats lately than we're accustomed to seeing. He matched a career-high with eight strikeouts in his last start, five starts after K'ing eight Mets. He's induced 25 swinging strikes in his last two starts. Over his last six outings, Morgan has a swinging strike rate of 12 percent; the MLB average for starting pitchers is 9.5 percent.

Morgan has faced the Braves twice this season. Both games were in May and he pitched well in each of them, allowing one run over seven innings and two over six. 

Morgan's season numbers are still ugly (2-10, 5.57 ERA), but it's pretty clear he's been a different pitcher since learning a two-seam fastball and coming back to the majors. Whether that holds up long-term remains to be seen, but Morgan is the rare Phillies pitcher finishing 2016 better than he started it.

3. Piece of the action
Ryan Howard continues to produce in his final days with the Phillies. He hit a grand slam last night for his 24th homer of the season and third in his last five games. 

Howard has homered 12 times since the All-Star break, equaling his output from the first half. And look at his numbers since July 7, a span of 44 games and 136 plate appearances: .266/.331/.621, 13 homers, 31 RBIs. He's locked in.

Howard can still do damage against right-handed pitching. He has 23 homers off of them in 313 plate appearances. Over the last 11 seasons, the only other player in baseball with that many homers off righties in so few plate appearances was Mark Teixeira in 2015. 

You mean to tell me an American League team can't use him next season in a role that only accentuates his strengths and mitigates his weaknesses?

Howard will play again tonight and likely in all of five of the Phils' remaining games. He's 3 for 4 with a homer off tonight's opponent, Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz.

4. Scouting Folty
Foltynewicz, a power-armed 24-year-old, was the Braves' return in the Evan Gattis-to-Houston trade prior to 2015. He's a classic case of a big, straight fastball not translating to success.

In 223⅔ innings in the majors, Foltynewicz has a 4.99 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. He's allowed 1.5 homers per nine innings (bad) and his opponents have hit .289.

Foltynewicz has a 7.62 ERA in three career meetings with the Phillies. They jumped him the last time they saw him, July 5, homering four times in his 5⅔ innings. 

Current Phillies are 15 for 43 (.396) off Foltynewicz. Howard, Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco, Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos have all taken him deep.

Foltynewicz (8-5, 4.41) hasn't pitched since Sept. 12, when he allowed five runs on 11 hits to the Marlins in just 3⅔ innings.

5. This and that
• Roman Quinn's season is almost certainly over after he suffered an oblique strain last night. If that's the case, he'll finish his first taste of the majors with a .263/.373/.333 batting line, five steals and four doubles in 69 plate appearances. Quinn looks like a significant part of their future, but the Phillies really can't move other pieces around for him because of his lengthy injury history.

• Freddie Freeman in 17 games against the Phillies this season: .381 BA, five doubles, six homers, 11 RBIs, 17 runs, 10 walks. He's had a tremendous season in all aspects, but the most impressive stat might be that he's hitting .307 against righties and .307 against lefties. Prior to this season he was a .300 hitter vs. righties and a .260 hitter vs. lefties.

• Last night's two-hour rain delay probably cost Jerad Eickhoff a chance at reaching 200 innings. He's scheduled to start the final game of the season but would need to pitch 8⅔ innings to reach that plateau.

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