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

MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

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MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins is worried David Wright may wind up on the disabled list because of a neck injury.

New York's captain and third baseman was out of the starting lineup for the third straight day Monday because of his neck. He was given anti-inflammatory medicine over the weekend.

Now 33, Wright was on the disabled list from April 15 to Aug. 24 last year when he strained his right hamstring and then developed spinal stenosis. He has a lengthy physical therapy routine he must go through before each game.

Wright homered in three straight games last week before getting hurt. He is batting .226 with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 55 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.

White Sox: Shuck called up with Jackson injured
NEW YORK -- With Austin Jackson bothered by turf toe, the Chicago White Sox recalled outfielder J.B. Shuck from Charlotte and optioned right-hander Tommy Kahnle to the Triple-A farm team.

Jackson left Sunday's game in the eighth inning because of his left foot.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before Monday's series opener against the New York Mets that he doesn't think Jackson's injury at this point merits a move to the disabled list. He adds that the team does not "necessarily want to lose him for two weeks right away."

Shuck was batting fifth and playing center field Monday. He was 0 for 9 with the White Sox before he was sent down April 18 when Chicago needed to add a pitcher. He is hitting .299 at Charlotte with two homers and 17 RBIs.

Kahnle is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four games over three stints with Chicago this season.

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

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NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Strengths
Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Weaknesses
Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as the No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

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Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."