Season Swept: Rangers Again Too Strong for Flyers

Season Swept: Rangers Again Too Strong for Flyers

Mash up that bitter pill and gum it down with some apple sauce. The Rangers own the Flyers this season. For the first time since the 70s, New York swept the season series, and they did so in dominant fashion.
The Flyers have made a habit of conceding goals early but have also dug their way out of those holes. After allowing the game's first two goals for the seventh time in 10 outings, Thursday night's hole became a pit, expanding to a four-goal deficit before the first intermission. 
If there's a silver lining here, it's that once again the Flyers did not give up despite getting blown out in the first 20. They clawed their way to a semi-respectable 5-3 loss, playing better hockey as the game wore on. They simply couldn't beat Henrik Lundqvist though, who was amazing. 
The Rangers were the better team in just about every way, and even when the Flyers were playing very well, Lundqvist was unbeatable. 
Regulated EnergyThe action was dominated by power plays for both sides, with mind-numbingly bad officiating shattering any rhythm the game might have developed on its own. The Rangers scored three of their goals on the man advantage; the Flyers converted only once. One killing stretch in particular damned the orange & black. With Jaromir Jagr in the box, Artem Anisimov sliced his way through the Flyers' defense and scored with an impressive move. On his way to the goal, Anisimov was hooked, and as he scored it, high-sticked, drawing blood. The goal released Jagr from the box with the Rangers up 3-0, but two Flyers headed to the box. With a two-man advantage (including a double-minor to Pavel Kubina), the Rangers had no problem stretching the lead to 4-0. 
The Flyers earned each of those, but some of the calls in this seemed to be made at random. You may have picked up on my bias over the years, but while both teams were burned, the Flyers had the worst of it. Brayden Schenn was called for a charge on a check he clearly pulled up on. Max Talbot drew a high-sticking during a scrum that saw three Rangers on him, none of whom joined him in the bin. 
Claim to the ThroneHenrik Lundqvist has a legit shot at the Vezina this season, and his domain over the Flyers is undisputed. This game may have been lopsided at times, but the Flyers had some outstanding opportunities thwarted by jaw-dropping saves. (<—hyperbole but kinda true). Lunger was peppered with 40 shots, and the Flyers missed a good bit too, trying hard for the corners knowing full well he'd get everything else. 
It took some kitchen-sink offense to finally beat Lundqvist. The Flyers' first goal was credited to Jake Voracek, and while he certainly earned it, it wasn't clean by any stretch. Vorch followed up his own second effort with a pass attempt to Scott Hartnell in front of the net, but the puck never got there, deflecting through Henrik's pads off the skate of his defenseman. 
Their second goal also can't be pinned on Lundqvist. After a diving effort to stop a Claude Giroux one-timer on the power play, Wayne Simmonds dunked an easy goal on the empty net. Importantly for the Rangers going forward, Lundqvist hurt his arm on the play, though he didn't come out or show signs of any issues the rest of the way. He did have ice on it afterward, per Adam Kimelman. 
G SpotsAndreas Lilja appeared to score his first goal as a Flyer in the third period, but after the game it was credited to Scott Hartnell. Lilja was on the receiving end of a nice play-make by Claude Giroux, and he burned a wrister in on goal. 
Speaking of playmaking by G, his two-way effort was a huge reason for the Flyers' first goal. He made a check in the open ice, then relayed an outlet from Kimmo Timonen, who was also key in the takeaway. 
Giroux's back on the full-time clock with Danny Briere out, notching a team-high 27:13. Nearly 10 minutes of that came on the power play. 
With three assists on the night, Giroux now has 92 points. That's the most since Eric Lindros had 93 in '98-'99. 
Needs Work...Credit the Rags for taking advantage of their opportunities offensively, playing some frustratingly stifling defense, and getting top-notch goaltending. But the Flyers were a mess on a few key sequences early, failing to properly mark in front of their own net. Forwards and defenders alike were a step behind. Matt Carle had a few rough moments... Hopefully Nick Grossmann can return sooner rather than later. His size has been key. 
Bryz's ReturnBryzgalov was solid in net, hung out to dry too often in the first period of his first game after an injury layoff. He wouldn't talk about his foot after the game, but clearly didn't say that everything's fine. That might not be true until sometime after the postseason, but it didn't appear to affect his game in the loss. 
Relative RelevanceWith Briere out, Jody Shelley was back in the lineup. What timing. More often than not a healthy scratch this season, Shelley's most visible moment might have been when Mike Rupp called him irrelevant as the Ranger refused to take mutual majors with Shelley. The exchange was caught by the mics and cameras of HBO's 24/7, and to his credit, Rupp was contrite when that went public. But Rupp's also the guy who mocked Jagr by doing his trademark salute after scoring in the Winter Classic. 
One highlight, while ultimately meaningless to the game, was a first period fight in which Shelley gave Rupp some pretty relevant right hands... Both in the form of punches and a Jagr Salute of his own... 
And the salute:
Above videos by HockeyFights.com and DropThePuck.org
Highlights

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver. 

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

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The Associated Press

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State got bullied a bit Saturday, but never gave up its lunch money. 

It spent the second half taking control of the schoolyard.

After getting pushed around for much of Saturday night’s first half, the Nittany Lions were anything but punchy after the break. Penn State (No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings) got its high-powered offense into gear in the second and roared back for the school’s first victory in the Big Ten Championship game, 38-31, over No. 6 Wisconsin.

The Nittany Lions (11-2) are bound for the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season and are outright conference champions for the first time in 22 years.  

Penn State trailed by three touchdowns midway through the second quarter but allowed just three points the rest of the night. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and a title-game record four touchdowns to spark a comeback that saw the Nittany Lions outscore the Badgers 24-3 in the second half. McSorley was named Big Ten Championship game MVP.

Wisconsin missed a 48-yard field goal early in the second half and Penn State needed just 11 seconds to take advantage. McSorley (22 for 31) hit Saeed Blacknall with a 70-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to a touchdown. Saquon Barkley tied it at 28 later in the third with a 1-yard scoring run.

Blacknall ended the night with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns while DaeSean Hamilton had eight grabs for 118. 

Wisconsin retook the lead with a short field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter but Penn State went ahead for good on the ensuing drive, which ended with McSorley’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Barkley.

Tyler Davis added a 24-yard field goal later in the fourth and the Penn State defense sealed the victory when Grant Haley stuffed Wisconsin’s Corey Clement on fourth-and-1 with 1:01 to play.

The Nittany Lions fumbled the ball away twice in the opening half — one was returned for a short Badgers touchdown — but only trailed 28-14 at intermission after McSorley hit Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown with under a minute to play in the half. 

Mike Gesicki caught McSorley’s first scoring pass, a 33-yarder, late in the first quarter.

Clement finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Badgers (10-3), who also got scoring runs from Bradrick Shaw and Dare Ogunbowale. Bart Houston was 16 for 21 for 174 yards. 

Smelling the roses?
Penn State is likely off to Pasadena for the fourth time in school history and is seeking to reach .500 in college football’s longest running postseason game. The Nittany Lions defeated Oregon 38-20 in the 1995 game but fell to Southern California in their other two trips, in 2009 and 1923.

It appears the Trojans might be their opponents once more; No. 4 Washington won the Pac-12 championship Friday night but appears headed for the playoff. The Rose Bowl gets its choice of Pac-12 runner-up Colorado (10-3) or 9-3 USC.

There is a chance Penn State could be selected to the College Football Playoff, but No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all won this weekend, while No. 2 Ohio State was idle. The playoff will be announced at noon on Sunday.

He’s fine
Sophomore running back running back Saquon Barkley showed no ill effects of a right foot injury suffered during a Nov. 26 win over Michigan State. He added the go-ahead touchdown — and another mention in Penn State’s record book — for good measure.

Barkley, who left in the third quarter of Nittany Lions’ penultimate victory, hauled in a touchdown pass from McSorley in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to give Penn State the lead for good. He had a short scoring run earlier in the period.

Barkley broke Evan Royster’s sophomore rushing record with a 19-carry, 83-yard night to push his season total to 1,302 yards. He set the mark for Penn State freshman (1,076) last fall.

Nice run
Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott’s 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter snapped a shutout streak that had seen Penn State outscore its opponents 82-0 in the second halves of games. The last scoring play before Endicott’s boot came in the second half of a 45-31 win over Indiana on Nov. 12.