Meaningless? No Bearing on Standings, Game 82 Still Carries Tone

Meaningless? No Bearing on Standings, Game 82 Still Carries Tone

Eighty-one games into the season and five games into the season series between the Flyers and Penguins, there's little more we can learn about where these two teams stand as they enter the playoffs. They played a week ago, they'll play again today, and on Wednesday, they'll faceoff for the first game of a best of seven series. If the league or NBC wanted more Flyers-Pens, they certainly got their wish, although perhaps a round or two early.
Today's matchup means absolutely nothing in terms of black and white postseason implications. These teams will meet in Pittsburgh, the fifth seed visiting the fourth. That scenario wasn't finalized until this past week, but it's been on the horizon for the past month. 
HOME ICE ADVANTAGE STILL UP FOR GRABS, KIND OFBut seeding and home ice advantage aren't necessarily the most important factors to establish entering the postseason. Today could still have more bearing on playoff success than either element. 
Why? Well, the Penguins have the home-ice advantage in the series, right? The Flyers have yet to lose in Pittsburgh's new igloo, going 5-0 since opening the building with a win last season. Today's starter for Philadelphia, Sergei Bobrovsky, was in net for each win. 
And yet, today's game could mean more than any of the previous five in terms of establishing the actual advantage of playing in Pittsburgh. If the Flyers win again, it would seem there is little, although the building will surely be more frenzied in a postseason setting. If the Pens win, any swagger the Flyers have based on their previous spoilers likely evaporates, pushing the "advantage" more toward neutral, if not back into Pittsburgh's favor. 
There's also the fact that the Flyers have fared better on the road than at home. The opposite is true for the Pens though, so it's likely a wash. And, no matter what their splits, no team sees starting on the road as an advantage. The Flyers have picked up their game at home, and the splits aren't that disparate to begin with. 
GOALIESPeter Laviolette and his crew have decided to rest Ilya Bryzgalov, who will be the team's starter in the postseason. Bryz played well in their win over Buffalo on Thursday, and certainly wasn't the reason they lost to the Rangers on Tuesday. So why isn't he starting today, with rest on the calendar before the playoffs start? It's a good question, yet not a decision many (including us) are actually questioning. 
With the tangible postseason elements now off the table, why not give a player with a chip fracture in his foot a day off from what could be a battle? It won't see him healed completely when the series begins, but he won't be any worse off, either. 
Resting Bryz also saves the slim chance that the Penguins might light him up. Not something anyone east of State College would want to see. 
And of course, there's the Bob Factor. Since getting his first-ever NHL start on the night Pittsburgh opened the CONSOL Energy Center, Bob has never lost there. I stole the graphic on the right from the Pensblog
Lavvy's stated reason for today's goaltending decision, per Sam Carchidi, is that Bryz looked sharp in his last game, and he wants to give the goalie a breather after a busy March. Works for me. 
Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the Penguins. 
ROUGH STUFF?The way the last meeting ended, coaches standing on the boards, breaking shit, it's reasonable to think there could be some fireworks today. But the teams could keep it close to the vest today, knowing the real show starts in the week ahead. 
Or, they could plan to keep it cool... Then have all hell break loose once the first questionable hit is thrown. Jody Shelley and Zac Rinaldo are both likely be in the lineup, unless Harry Z gets one of their slots. He was called up today.  (Update: See Giroux note below)
The Pens have called up Steve MacIntyre. With Joe Vitale now Flyers' enemy #1, he'll have another wingman in case he's targeted as revenge for his hits on Nick Grossmann and Danny Briere. 
ODDS & ENDSNo Grossmann today (day to day). Same goes for Briere (who knows). 
Claude Giroux has 93 points. An cool 95 would look damn fine on the Year Four line of his career totals.  
An even 40 goals would look pretty nice on Scott Hartnell's total. Especially because that'd mean Scottie racked a hat trick today. 
UPDATE: Looks like no G today. Multiple beats say he's not on the ice for warmups. 
4PM start on NBCSN. 

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).