Round 2: Flyers Favored, But Jersey's Devil Could Be in Their Dormant Balance

Round 2: Flyers Favored, But Jersey's Devil Could Be in Their Dormant Balance

Once again paired against a divisional rival, the Flyers' second-round matchup with the New Jersey Devils feels very little like the opening round battle against the Penguins. Despite having played the Devils as frequently as the Penguins for years and even facing off in a recent (2010) playoff series, Jersey certainly seems the less familiar foe. 
The flames of the rivalry aren't quite as intense as they were a decade ago, at least not at the moment. Something tells me by this time next week, they'll be rekindled if not roaring. 
If you're entering this series at a bit of a loss for the who these Devils are, you're not alone. Aside from the nearly 40-year-old Martin Brodeur and high-priced sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, they don't have the star power to stand out like the Penguins or Rangers. And yet, they finished right in the thick of the best division in the NHL. 
To beat the Devils, the Flyers will have to shut down an underrated offense anchored by a dominant top line but peppered with scorers throughout. They'll have to beat a goalie who once owned them but can no longer lay claim to their title and deed. And they'll have to sidestep a few agitating landmines who will aim to tilt the special teams seesaw away from the end that would appear to decidedly favor the Flyers. 
Superstitious as we are, we'd never start a series by disrespecting the opponent's ability to win it. But if the Devils do so, it will be as a decided underdog. They are not as good as the Penguins were, and the Flyers topped Pittsburgh in six games while New Jersey needed double OT in game 7 to outlast an artificially weighted Florida Panthers team. Take a look back at the first round though, around the league. Once the puck hits the ice, all bets are off, and being the favorite doesn't mean a damn thing. 
Upset the BalanceA huge reason for the Flyers' ability to advance out of the first round was their silencing of Evgeni Malkin for most of the series. Another series, another Russian to keep off the sheet. Ilya Kovalchuk is the guy whose contract was as laughable as it was illegal, the missing ingredient that ruined the stew, the man deserving of the nickname Kovalchoke. In 2010. He still posted numbers, but they rang hollow, and he disappeared for stretches of the Flyers' five-game series win in the 2010 postseason. 
But in 2012, with the Devils are playing a more attacking style of hockey while also posting a top-10 defense/goals allowed, Kovalchuk fit in better on his way to a 37-goal, 82-point season. Against the Panthers, the dangerous top line trio of Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Zach Parise (18 goals/36 pts in 40 career games vs PHI) combined for eight of the team's 18 goals. (Yes, they scored 18 goals in 7 games and won… Not quite the barn-burner we witnessed at the poles of Pennsylvania, huh?)
Kovalchuk is rumored to be playing hurt, but he still scored three times last series. He's not quite as self-destructive as Malkin proved to be either. We're looking forward to seeing Sean Couturier and Braydon Coburn try to stuff him in a sack over the next week-plus. 
To beat the Flyers, the Devils will need more of the balance they saw in the regular season. David Clarkson had 30 goals, but has yet to light the lamp in the postseason. Patrik Elias (33 goals/75 pts in 76 career games vs PHI) had 26 goals and 78 points, but scored only twice in the opening series, going completely silent in games four through seven. Adam Henrique emerged as a hero in game 7 last round, scoring a pair of goals and could be dangerous in round 2. 
Plus: Poni and ZubrusIn eight games against the Flyers this season (he got two more due to being traded from the Hurricanes), Alexei Ponikarovsky scored four goals. Since being traded away from Philadelphia, Dainius Zubrus has brandished the dagger 12 times against his former team, and while he hasn't been a dangerous threat in the playoffs since 2006, his size can still pose matchup problems. 
In the Flyers' quest to again silence the opposing top line, they'll have to be careful not to let a few dangerous scorers get loose from the Devils' second and third lines. Jersey's balance was somewhat dormant in the opening round, but it's still there. 
Special TeamsThe Devils boasted the league's best penalty killing unit in the regular season, stifling nearly 90% of all opposing power plays. The Flyers scored on more than half of their man advantage opps against a Penguins PK unit that ranked third in the regular season. This will surely be a matchup to watch, although when speaking with WMMR's Preston & Steve, Peter Laviolette warned that the regular season and opening round trends can be thrown out the window once a new series begins. The Devils showed why agains the Panthers, when their PK unit was picked apart by Florida's power play for nine goals on 27 opps. 
Again, they're still the unit that was amazingly stingy for 82 games, and their 15 shorthanded goals should be reason enough to think their first round woes may not continue in round two. We'll see.  
More Like 'Voljerkoff' Amirite?The Devil most likely to send the series into a special teams battle is Anton Volchenkov, who has a long history of agitating the Flyers. Remember the insanity he helped to cause while still a member of the Ottawa Senators in March 2010? 
Volchenkov will likely goad the Flyers into a few penalties, but also give a few of his own. He also checks in as the series favorite to land a suspension for intent to injure a far more talented player. 
Bryz vs BrodeurIn some ways, every playoff matchup comes down to which goaltender is better in the best-of-seven. Ilya Bryzgalov may have some games he wants back from the opening round, but he clamped down in the final two games, when his defense was much better than the previous four. New Jersey may have some serious weapons, but on paper, ice, stone, pavement, and any other surface, their offense is nowhere near as dangerous as the Penguins'. A week off may have helped with the pain of a chip fracture in his toe and a rumored hip injury, too. Plus, Bryz was dominant in three starts against the Devils this season. Small sample size, but it favors my argument, so I'm using it anyway. 
Martin Brodeur… Do we even need to say anything about Marty? He'll hear his name teased, taunts about his weight, and maybe even a few about his sister-in-law. But hopefully he'll also hear the deafening sound of the goal horn. This isn't the Panthers' attack, which gave Marty troubles in the opening round, and he's not the perennial Vezina favorite he once was. But did you see him in game 7? On a game-by-game basis, he can still play like a Hall of Famer, and he may steal a win or two in this series. The Devils will likely need him to. 
Call me crazy but I still like the Flyers' advantage in net for this series. You?
Overall…It's hard not to feel good about the Flyers' chances in this
series. But today, there's a possibility they come out a little flat after a long layoff. Hopefully the Pens series exorcised their afternoon-game demons too. If not, we know a crappy start won't sink the ship. The Flyers are in every game, regardless of the score after the first period. 
I might be trying to convince myself that the Devils are better than they are because I'm uncomfortable with how comfortable I feel. Sure they have more balance than they showed last series. But if you can believe it, so too do the Flyers. What happens if Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell start going off? JVR? 
The Flyers' firepower is among the best, if not the best, left in the playoffs. They clamped down on defense with the series on the line against Pittsburgh, and it appears they'll get Nick Grossmann back today. When it comes down to it, I'm more worried about the generic "anything can happen" nature of the NHL playoffs, regardless of opponent, than I am anything in particular the Devils bring to the table. 
If they lose this series, something will have gone massively wrong. 

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina hit a disputed double that drove in the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night, sending the St. Louis Cardinals over the Cincinnati Reds 4-3.

The Cardinals began the day one game behind San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.

Matt Carpenter drew a one-out walk from Blake Wood (6-5). With two outs, Molina's one-hop hit appeared to bounce off a sign above the left-field wall and carom back into play.

Carpenter kept running and scored from first. Reds manager Bryan Price ran after the umpires, who left the field as soon as Carpenter touched the plate.

Price later said umpire crew chief Bill Miller told him that teams have 10 seconds to appeal on a game-ending play, and that the complaint wasn't made in time.

"I'm not blaming the umpires. I'm blaming the system," Price said.

Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers for the Cardinals.

Seung Hwan Oh (6-3) wound up with the win (see full recap).

Jimenez delivers strong start, Orioles blank Blue Jays 4-0
TORONTO -- Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hitter and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Blue Jays 4-0 on Thursday night, moving into a tie with Toronto in the AL wild card race with three games remaining.

When he started at Toronto on June 12, Jimenez allowed five runs and six hits in 1/3 of an inning, the shortest start of his career.

The right-hander returned Thursday and carved up the Blue Jays. The only hit he allowed was Ezequiel Carrera's single to begin the first. Josh Donaldson followed with a walk but Jimenez retired the next six batters in order.

Devon Travis walked to open the third and advanced on Carrera's sacrifice, but that was the first of 11 consecutive outs for Jimenez, a streak that ended with Edwin Encarnacion's two-out walk in the sixth. Jose Bautista flied out to end the inning.

Jimenez (8-12) allowed one hit in 6 2/3 innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in five September starts. He walked three and struck out five (see full recap).

Cubs, Pirates play to rare MLB tie
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates played a rare major league tie on Thursday night when their game was called off due to rain with scores level at 1-all in the sixth inning.

With the Cubs and Pirates not scheduled to play again this season, officials decided the game would not be made up, since its outcome will not affect postseason positioning. Chicago long ago clinched the National League Central, while Pittsburgh is out of playoff reckoning, sitting third in that division.

So instead of becoming a suspended game, the match was declared a tie -- the first since Houston and Cincinnati went seven innings on June 30, 2005, before rain halted them.

Willson Contreras had two hits and scored for the NL Central champion Cubs, who have already clinched the best record in the majors. Josh Bell hit a sacrifice fly for the Pirates.

The game was called in the top of the sixth after a delay of 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Tim Federowicz hit a sacrifice fly in the Cubs second. Pittsburgh tied it in the third.

Cubs rookie Rob Zastryzny gave up one unearned run in 3 2/3 innings in his first major league start after beginning his career with seven relief appearances (see full recap).

Buxton doubles, triples in Twins' 7-6 victory over Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Byron Buxton tripled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored twice as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Kansas City Royals 7-6 on Thursday night.

After Salvador Perez's pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the ninth pulled the Royals within a run, Terrance Gore ran for him. With Paulo Orlando, who had four hits to match his career high, hitting, Brandon Kintzler picked Gore off first base.

Gore was initially called safe, but after a 1 minute, 15 second review, the call was reversed to end the game.

Buxton's one-out double triggered a three-run ninth off Kelvin Herrera (2-6). Robbie Grossman, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler contributed run-scoring singles in the ninth.

The Twins won for the first time in 10 games this season at Kauffman Stadium (see full recap).

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe 2-1

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe 2-1

TORONTO -- Brad Marchand scored a short-handed goal with 43.1 seconds left and Canada beat Team Europe 2-1 on Thursday night to win the World Cup of Hockey.

The Canadians won the best-of-three finals 2-0.

Patrice Bergeron tied it with a power-play goal with 2:53 left in the third, and Marchand won it with a shot from the slot.

Canada has won 16 straight games, including two Olympic gold medals, since losing to the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics.

Carey Price made 32 saves for the Canadians, who started slow before ending the tournament with a furious rally that fired up a once-quiet crowd.

Zdeno Chara scored early for Europe, and Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves for the eight-nation team.

Sidney Crosby was named MVP of the tournament with three goals and a World Cup-high 10 points.

After getting that award, he was presented with a silver World Cup of Hockey trophy and he skated with it around the ice just months after hosting the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career.

He set up the tying goal, passing the puck off the boards to Brent Burns, whose shot just inside the blue line was redirected by Bergeron's raised stick.

Crosby was stewing after each of the first two periods.

When the game was over, he was sporting an ear-to-ear smile.

The Canadians closed the game in impressive fashion after a lackluster start.

In front of an unenthusiastic crowd and a lot of empty seats in the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadians started flat and the Europeans made them pay for their apparent apathy.

Unlike the last two times Canada trailed briefly to the U.S. and Russia, it could not come back against Europe quickly.

It looked as if it wasn't going to be Canada's night when John Tavares had a wide-open net to shoot into, but hit the right post from the bottom of the right circle. Earlier in the same shift, the New York Islanders forward missed the net on a one-timer opportunity.

Canada averaged 4.4 goals over the first five games of the tournament, giving Price plenty of support. It didn't score as much in the final game of the tournament, but two goals were enough to win thanks to Price.

Chara, a Slovakian and Boston Bruins defenseman, scored from the left circle with a wrist shot through traffic two teammates created in front of the net off a short, soft pass from Andrej Sekera in the slot.

Crosby was part of a scrum at the end of the first period in which his helmet was knocked off near Europe's net at the end of the first period. After the horn sounded to end the second, Crosby lingered on the ice to shot at Swiss defenseman Roman Josi.

Crosby was clearly frustrated, playing with a pair of Boston Bruins, Marchand and Bergeron, who had combined for 22 points through the first five games.

Europe outshot the Canadians 12-8 after the first period and 27-21 after the second.

The Canadians had three power plays over the first two periods and failed to take advantage, falling to 2 for 17 with an extra skater. On one of their power plays, they needed Price to make stops on breakaways.

Canada had a man advantage again early in the third period, but only got one shot on Halak, a Slovak and Islanders standout, on the possibly pivotal power play.

Crosby had a chance to score with 7-plus minutes left, but Halak kicked the shot away with his right skate.

Europe seemed as if it had a chance to score late when Drew Doughty was called for high-sticking with just under 2 minutes left, but Canada was the team that took advantage when Marchand got the puck into open space and beat Halak with a shot to win the first World Cup since 2004.