Keys to Game 4: Stop Playing Like You Just Drank the Blood of Kali Ma, Find New-Line Chemistry

Keys to Game 4: Stop Playing Like You Just Drank the Blood of Kali Ma, Find New-Line Chemistry

EDITOR'S UPDATE, 05/13/12: Recently it was brought to our attention that we may have offended some readers when we made a reference in the post below from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." For that we humbly apologize. The700Level acts as a separate independent voice from our parent company and often uses movie and other pop culture references. The author was focusing entirely on the scene from the "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" movie that is linked to in the post and never intended to offend anyone or any group. He was previously unaware of the actual religious significance. Steps have been taken to prevent this in the future. We want to ensure our readers that we hold all religions and all views with the utmost respect and would never intentionally be insensitive to their beliefs. We hope you understand and continue to frequent The700Level. Watching game 3 between the Flyers and the Devils in a New York bar that didn't have the telecast's audio was a surreal experience. The Knicks were playing, so the best we could do was get one of the TVs set to Flyers-Devils. Sometimes we say we'd rather not have announcers distracting from game action, and the sounds of the game alone would be ideal. But in this one, I really could have used a few outside opinions on just what the hell the Flyers were trying to do. 
They seemed to be in slow motion at times. They looked stunned, dazed. Like they'd been forced to drink blood of Kali Ma out of a skull chalice and whipped into a lifetime of Thugee service in the dark underground bowels of Pankot Palace. The Black Sleep of Kali Ma… Alive… but… like a nightmare. 
The important question today is, on the brink of lowering themselves into a swirling, fiery pit, will the Flyers feel the flames and suddenly come to life in time to salvage the series?
Storylines including new-look forward lines and the probable return of Sean Couturier, below. 
LINESIn an attempt to jumpstart the offense and get more out of his top line players, Peter Laviolette has broken up the trio of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr. Hartnell moves back alongside Danny Briere with Jake Voracek on the other wing. Giroux will center JVR and Wayne Simmonds. Brayden Schenn and Matt Read will have the 40 Year Old Veteran, Jagr. Tim Panaccio bets the house that Sean Couturier will play tonight, which is great news given the scare of an injury last game. If so, he'll stay with Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood. (Lines courtesy of Adam Kimelman)
Hopefully JVR's jump will help get the best out of Giroux again, and/or get the Wayne Train back on track. G looked ready to rock when he started the game with a big hit on the faceoff, but struggled to generate much in the way of dangerous attacks. He needs to play with the confidence of being the best player on the ice while resisting the idea that he must carry the team if they're going to win. 
Now, with these new lines... Let's not forget when and how to change on the fly...
WIN THE PUCK BATTLESThe Flyers beat the Penguins in part by being very effective in getting behind their defense, dumping pucks deep and winning the battles along the boards or behind the net. It's not that they haven't tried against the Devils, but Jersey has been much more successful in peeling away pucks either in the neutral zone before the Flyers can get through, or in the battles along the boards. Winning those is obviously an advantage the Flyers need to gain, but there's no simple answer as to how they can. 
GET THE POWER PLAY MOJO BACKAgain, obvious, and far easier said than done. Why isn't the power play clicking anywhere near the historic pace it set in the first round? Why couldn't the Flyers score on either of two man advantage opportunities in the overtime period of game 3. Unfortunately, the answer isn't necessarily fixable. The Devils are outstanding on the kill, stifling nearly 90% of all opposing power plays in the regular season while scoring 15 shorthanded goals. They're tenacious against the puck carrier, and they force mistakes that range in costliness from a simple clear to a shorty. 
The coaches have no doubt popped in the game tape from the Devils' first round series, when the Florida Panthers were surprisingly effective when up a man. The Flyers did tally once on the power play in game 3, but they may need to double up if they want to get out of the Rock with a win tonight. 
What would you do differently if you had to draw up the PP for tonight?
BLOW OUT MARTY'S CANDLESMartin Brodeur turned 40 years old today. Rather than letting him celebrate with a win, let's see if he'll cry at his own party. The Flyers can get bodies in front and frustrate Marty. Arming Giroux with a Simmonds or JVR screen could be lethal. 
Brodeur is another reason the dump-in isn't working. Acting like a third defenseman, cutting off wheel-arounds and firing crisp passes, he can nullify the tactic entirely. The game 1 puckhandling jitters could be over, meaning the Flyers will have to be more effective gaining the zone and setting up from the top down, rather than from behind the goal line. Either way, it'll take strength along the boards and some ownership of the low slot. 
DON'T RUIN SUNDAY NIGHT FOR EVERYONEIf I'm going to have to watch Game Of Thrones on DVR at like a million o'clock on a school night, it had better be after tossing up a celebratory recap and not some head-hanging, brink-of-elimination sob story. Ya better show up on your dire wolves and quit acting like you're up against the White Walkers. 
The Devils have made it clear that they're no underdogs. But despite the lackluster efforts of the Flyers in games 2 and 3, I find it hard to believe that Jersey is the better overall team. That doesn't mean they won't still advance. The Flyers have played well below their potential, and they need to adapt their game to a completely different opponent than the one they beat in the opening series. 

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski lead Sharks past rival LA Kings, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in overtime to lead Oilers past Panthers 4-3
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."