Tonight's game in New York against rival Rangers a must-win for Flyers

Tonight's game in New York against rival Rangers a must-win for Flyers

Don’t touch the Philadelphia Flyers, because they’ve been on fire.

It’s no secret around town and, more importantly, around the NHL how well the Flyers have been playing in recent weeks. As a matter of fact, to say they are playing well could be an understatement.

Since March 1, the Flyers have posted an impressive 8-2-1 record and have been the hottest team in the league this side of the Boston Bruins, who just had a 12-game winning streak snapped this past Monday.

You don’t have to look back too far to notice the Flyers have won five of their last six games, all against some of the NHL’s best in the Pittsburgh Penguins (twice), Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues. The only blemish in that stretch was this past Monday’s hard-fought, 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings that the Flyers should feel no shame about.

Their torrid run throughout this month has put the Flyers in prime playoff positioning in the Metropolitan Division and given them some cushion in the Eastern Conference wild-card race in case they do fall off a bit down the stretch.

But crumple all those joyful, good feelings about the hometown team into one big paper ball and throw it in the trashcan because the Flyers’ game tonight in Manhattan against the New York Rangers is a must-win game.

Say what?  A must-win for a team that comes in on that kind of a roll?

Yep. You read that right.

Not only is it a must-win, it very well may be the Flyers’ biggest game of the season.

If the season ended before Wednesday night’s games, the Flyers and Rangers would meet in the first round of the playoffs with the Rangers having home ice since they currently have a one-point advantage over the Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan.

As the season winds down, the odds of a first-round matchup between the two longtime rivals grows increasingly likely by the day. Don’t discount the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets or the desperate Washington Capitals, both of whom sit three points behind the Flyers in the Metropolitan, from throwing a wrench into those plans, but a Flyers-Rangers opening-round series looks like a distinct possibility.

The teams haven’t met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the 1997 Eastern Conference Final, which the Flyers won four games to one.

It sounds like an enticing matchup until you realize the Flyers have lost seven straight games at Madison Square Garden and haven’t won there since Feb. 20, 2011. For those not well-inclined in the field of mathematics, that’s a stretch of over three years.

To make things worse, many of the games haven’t been close. The Flyers have been outscored 28-8 during their seven-game losing streak at the World’s Most Famous Arena and only one of those games was decided by less than two goals.

Tonight’s game in The Garden is must-win for the Flyers’ psyche. They don’t want to go into a playoff series knowing they haven’t won in the opponent’s building in over three years, especially a hated rival’s building.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are tough enough. The last thing the Flyers will need is a mental obstacle to hurdle and something to have to constantly answer questions about.

Tonight’s game is one the Flyers need to get under their collective belt and get out of the way now. If for nothing else, they need it to erase any lingering doubts they may have about winning in New York.

As for something a bit more tangible, this is a huge game in the race for home-ice advantage.

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As mentioned above, the Rangers would currently have the home ice but they only lead the Flyers by a point in the standings. The Flyers obviously want that home-ice advantage in the playoffs so what better way to get it than to snatch it with a win against the team directly ahead of them?

A regulation win tonight would put the Flyers one point ahead of the Rangers with two games in hand. That would be one point ahead and two extra games to lock up that home-ice advantage for the first round.

So, needless to say, tonight’s game may very well be the biggest of the season for the Flyers.

They’ll catch a bit of a break as winger Chris Krieder, who is tied for third on the Rangers with 17 goals and plays on their top line with fellow winger Rick Nash and center Derek Stepan, will miss the game with a hand injury.

Known Flyers tormentor Henrik Lundqvist will start between the pipes for the Rangers. In 44 career games against the Flyers, Lundqvist has a 26-13-3 record along with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. But the Flyers did get four past him in a 4-2 win when the teams last met on March 1 in South Philly.

After getting the night off this past Monday, Steve Mason returns to the net tonight for the Flyers. No surprise there with what is riding on this game.

Philadelphia holds a 2-1 lead in the season series but, as you may have been able to decipher earlier in this article, both wins came at Wells Fargo Center.

That’s cool and all but now’s the time for the Flyers to get that MSG monkey off their backs, especially since some more important visits to The Garden could be looming on the horizon.

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

As expected, the Phillies on Saturday optioned prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading after a one game stint with the big club.

Alfaro was called up for Friday's series opener in New York against the Mets because newly acquired veteran backstop A.J. Ellis had yet to arrive with the team. Ellis was acquired Thursday from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the trade that sent Carlos Ruiz to L.A.

The 23-year-old Alfaro is expected to return to the Phillies once Reading's season is over and MLB rosters expand in September. The Fightin Phils, at 83-48, are the Eastern League's top team and very much could make it to the championship series.

Alfaro, acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last summer, has a .279 average with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in 90 games with Reading this season. He did not get play Friday night against the Mets.

Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for anthem in protest

Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for anthem in protest

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the national anthem before games because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Kaepernick sat on the team's bench Friday night during the anthem before the Niners played host to the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition game. He later explained his reasoning in an interview with NFL Media .

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Saturday that "players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem."

The 49ers issued a statement after Pro Football Talk initially reported on Kaepernick's stand, saying that Americans have the right to protest or support the anthem.

"The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pregame ceremony," the team said. "It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."

Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents. He has been outspoken on his Twitter account on civil rights issues and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Kaepernick is not the first U.S.-based athlete to use the anthem for protest. In 1996, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem, saying the United States had a history of tyranny and doing so would conflict with his Islamist beliefs. The NBA initially suspended Abdul-Rauf for his stance before it was lifted when he said he would stand and pray silently during the song.

Kaepernick said he is not worried about any potential fallout from his protest.

"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he told NFL Media. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."

Kaepernick's agent did not immediately return a request for comment.

Kaepernick is in competition to win back the starting quarterback job in San Francisco that he lost to Blaine Gabbert last season. He made his first appearance of the preseason on Friday night after missing two games with a tired shoulder. He finished 2 for 6 for 14 yards and added 18 yards on four runs.

Dorial Green-Beckham out to prove to Eagles he's the gamebreaking WR they need

Dorial Green-Beckham out to prove to Eagles he's the gamebreaking WR they need

He knows how desperate Eagles fans are for a breakaway wide receiver, a gamebreaker, a big-play down-the-field speedster.
 
He knows that a fan base robbed of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin wants nothing more than to see him take advantage of this second chance and become the playmaker they all crave.
 
Dorial Green-Beckham knows how much Eagles fans want this to work.
 
“Yeah, I get a lot of stuff every day from the fans,” Green-Beckham said. “They look forward to seeing what I can do on the field and they look forward to seeing what I can do in this offense.
 
“I just want to go out there and impress everybody and show why I’m here.”
 
Green-Beckham, who joined the Eagles 11 days ago, played a few snaps last Thursday night against the Steelers, but he hadn’t even practiced yet.
 
Now he has a week of practices behind him, he’s learned a good chunk of the playbook and he even knows some of his teammates’ names.
 
And he’s hoping to show Saturday night what Eagles fans have been waiting to see for a couple years now.
 
DGB is expected to get a generous helping of work with the first offense Saturday night when the Eagles and Colts meet in a preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (see 10 players to watch).

The first group is expected to play into the third quarter, which will be their most playing time this summer.
 
Green-Beckham says he's ready.
 
“Whatever is called, I’ve been through the playbook, I should be able to know what to do, where to line up, things like that,” he said.
 
“It’s just playing football. We’ve been doing it for a long time. Coming from a different organization, you hear different calls. You come here and everything is different. But it’s up to you to putting in the effort and making sure you’re accountable.”
 
Still seems odd the Titans would give up on the 40th pick in the draft after just one year. A year in which Green-Beckham caught 32 passes for 549 yards, sixth-most among rookie wide outs.
 
But here he is, trying to jumpstart a moribund Eagles wide receiver group.
 
It can’t be easy forgetting one playbook and learning another. But that’s his job right now.
 
“I just have to erase those memories from there and put a whole new playbook in my head and try to pick up as fast as I can to be able to help my team,” he said. “And I feel like that’s one thing I’ve done as a young guy, erase the memories that I had there and put in the extra time (here).
 
“Right now, I feel comfortable being around those guys. Using the older guys as a resource. Asking them questions, trying to figure out what I need to do.”
 
With his size and speed, it’s hard to imagine Green-Beckham not helping the Eagles.
 
Then again … the Titans didn’t want anything to do with him just a year after making him the 40th pick in the draft.
 
“He looks good,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Just continue to build, build, continue to build.
 
“He's an impressive, physical specimen, obviously. It’s funny. You stand out there as a coach, and they're running routes on air and sometimes as a coach you stand across from the receivers that are running at you. And when he runs at you, his size and speed, it just kind of grabs you.
 
“So really excited about having him here. Just like anybody else though, it's a process. It's a process and we keep giving them little chunks at a time to allow him to play fast and use his ability.
”
 
At 6-foot-5, Green-Beckham becomes the Eagles’ second-tallest wide receiver ever, behind the great Harold Carmichael, who was 6-8. Don Luft, who was with the Eagles in 1954, and Brian Finnegan — who had a drop that cost the Eagles a win in Doug Pederson's first start in an Eagles uniform — were also 6-5.
 
So he’s an obvious candidate to run the fade, which we saw in Pittsburgh.
 
But he wants it to be known he’s more than just a tall receiver who can catch a jump ball.
 
“It starts with being physical, showing that you’re a physical player, showing that you can play other positions besides just having jump balls thrown to you,” he said.
 
“Catching slants, being physical. Looking at the Calvin Johnsons, the Dez Bryants, all those type guys … trying to (base) my game based on what they do.”
 
You try to think of a similar instance of a team giving up on a player so quickly and that player becoming a force with the Eagles.
 
And there really isn’t a parallel.
 
So who knows?
 
Maybe Green-Beckham won’t pan out here either. But maybe he’ll take advantage of this second opportunity and give the Eagles something they’re sorely lacking.
 
“I feel like it’s a great opportunity, especially for me to move from one team to another and me being here a short period of time an being able to play with the 1's (Saturday night), it’s a big opportunity for me to just go out there and show them why I’m here, what I came here to do," Green-Beckham said.
 
“That’s my mindset, just stay focused and try to do those little things and try to impress my teammates.
 
“I feel like the whole team accepted me since I got here, since Day 1. Everybody was glad that I was here, everybody accepted me. They treated me like a brother. For me, that’s big. I feel more like it’s more of a family atmosphere and we all have each others’ backs.”