Represent: Flyers All-Stars Set to Rock in Ottawa at 4

Represent: Flyers All-Stars Set to Rock in Ottawa at 4

I don't know if it's my age or something going on in the sports themselves, but it feels like all-star games have taken a sharp downturn in terms of importance to fans in recent years. The NFL's Pro Bowl has long been somewhat laughable. The NBA All-Star Game is more spectacle than sport. Major League Baseball's Midsummer Classic attempted to inject relevance and competition by tying its outcome to a significant postseason element, and in so doing, pissed off the purists in its ranks.

Like the sport itself, the NHL's All-Star Game is something seemingly strictly for its own diehard fans, with little attention from outside media outlets or casual fans. Adding the element of a pair of captains choosing the sides gave it some new life last season though, and new media have also shown us more of how much the players enjoy the weekend. The league and the team have done a great job of posting videos and first-hand accounts to their own sites, which is fitting because the All-Star Game is a celebration of the simple fact that there is a league at all. No score is settled, no permanent rivalry revisited. Just players playing the game.

This season's game is a pretty special one for Flyers fans though, with three veterans and a pair of rookies representing Philadelphia up in Ottawa. So far, it's been a perfect representation, too.

Claude Giroux's presence is that of one of the league's truly elite forwards. The Flyers have had scoring depth in season after season, but it's been a long time since they had this kind of star power at the top. Scott Hartnell's All-Star story may trump G's though.

Philly loves an underdog, and to say Hartnell was a long shot for playing in this weekend when the season started is a bit of an understatement. But I think just about everyone would agree that since that time, he's flat out earned the opportunity to be recognized among the league's best players in the first half. And it certainly seems like he's enjoying it.

Harts has, unsurprisingly, had a life-of-the-party presence in Ottawa, tweeting his self-deprecation and appreciation throughout the weekend. And, in the skills competition, he showed that he's here because he is in fact skilled, not just a skilled pest. He and Giroux made sure to salute the linemate that helped them both get to Ottawa (see that, plus Hartnell's skill on the one-timers and a sweet breakway move by Sean Couturier in the video below).

Earlier this season, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun called Kimmo Timonen underappreciated. I'm not sure I'd agree with that being the case in Philly. It's nearly impossible to find a fan who has anything but appreciation for the Finnish veteran. We all know how much trouble the team would be in without him, and we're proud to see him still among the league's elite. Most of the All-Stars are pretty young, and Kimmo can still skate with them in any game.

After old man Timonen, the veteran Hartnell, and rising star Giroux, there are two very talented rookies showing the league that the future is bright in Philly. Couturier has played his ass off as a rookie, filling every role asked of him from checking line and PK duties to high lining and power plays. Matt Read finally found an NHL home, and a bunch of other franchises are kicking themselves for passing him up both in the draft and a handful of training camps.

SOME WTF IN THE LINES
At 4PM today, Giroux and Hartnell will be on one side, with Timonen on another, a fun if somewhat awkward twist. G's line will be centering Logan Couture and Steven Stamkos. Hartnell will skate with the Sedin twins. Goalies will rotate every period. Defense will lay off to the degree that "checks" should be listed in drinking games.

A LITTLE MAGIC LEFT IN THE TANK
Growing up, I loved All-Star weekend. I was a big NHL fan, loving the Flyers first and foremost, but having plenty of favorites in other cities as well. The Winter Classic and 24/7 have been a good reminder of the fact that their guys are human too, and Hartnell acknowledged the same effect hitting him as he had a blast with some rival Rangers up in Ottawa.

The score won't matter today, but we'll still be rooting for the Flyers to show 'em well. And for a #hartnelldown or two...

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."