View From the Top: Playoff Hockey From Some of the Best Seats in the House

View From the Top: Playoff Hockey From Some of the Best Seats in the House

When the then-CoreStates Center was built, one thing I often heard was that there wasn't a bad seat in the house. As opposed to the original Spectrum (god rest its soul), which had some obstructed-view areas and generally tough angles from which to see a game, both the upper and lower bowls of the new building were full of great seats and unimpeded vantages. 

Being down in the lower bowl definitely has its advantages. The seats right on the glass provide an amazing in-game experience that will change even the way a lifelong fan views the game, and midway through the section, you get a good mix of the close action and ability to see more of the ice. Upstairs, obviously you'll pay less, and the game is farther away. But the upper deck too has its advantages, particularly the 15th row—the last ring of seats before the rafters. That's where I often find myself when I head down to the now Wells Fargo Center for Flyers games, and where I sat on Saturday night.  

The following are some of my thoughts and recollections from the uppermost reaches of the upper deck. 

Being at the game at all, you miss some of the details, explanations, and extra replay angles. With today's HD telecasts, many cameras, and explanations of game play by guys like Jim Jackson, Bill Clement, and Keith Jones, the fan at home will most often be better able to describe exactly what happened on the ice in a game than the fan in the stands, and sometimes even the media, who are nestled even higher than the highest fan seats. 

For this and other reasons, I was ecstatic to return home Saturday night and see that Rev had put together the recap of the Flyers' 5-4 win to even the series with the Sabres at 1-1. It was a huge game that deserved some specificity, and I didn't feel like watching the DVR'd version right away in order to do it. What follows isn't a recap. More so just a series of small and large experiences from one of my favorite things in life to do—go to a Flyers playoff game. I don't care where I'm sitting. But, I often find myself in the very top row, which has advantages that to me far outweigh the distance from the ice. 

It's probably somewhat appropriate that a writer for a site named after the upper level at Veterans Stadium would feel comfortable in the relative nosebleeds at the Wells Fargo Center. The environment is for the most part entirely different though, and even though you're at the top of the building, you can see a hell of a lot better than the upper deck at the Vet or even Citizens Bank Park (which is also a fine place to catch a game). 

What makes the 15th row feel like home to me is that you can do one thing there that you can't do anywhere else in the building—stand for the whole game. Due in part to some good friends having season tickets up there for the past few seasons, I've been in row 15 for most of the Flyers games I've seen in person lately. Sometimes the faces around us are familiar, others not, but there always seems to be a pretty good bond between the fans up there, especially the standers. I almost don't want to say all this for fear of making it harder for me to get the top row in sold-out games, but if you like to be on your feet the whole game without annoying everyone around you, I highly recommend going all the way up. 

So, on to Saturday night itself. 

WELCOME, SABRES FANS
Although there weren't as many opposing fans as you'd see if a closer geographic rival were in town, there were definitely some Sabres supporters sprinkled among the crowd, wearing some variation of Buffalo's jerseys over the years. It's gotta suck to have that red and black nonsense now, or the Slugres logo as opposed to the classic look they've re-adopted or simply an old Sabres jersey. The interaction was pretty tame in the concourses. Some boos and chants, but no big deal that I saw. 

Our section, however, had a firestarter. A younger guy in a Hasek shirsey was actin' a fool, taunting the people behind him well before the game even started. Needless to say, this resulted in some vocal exchanges. Most of his crew seemed to want nothing to do with it, though they did nothing to stop him from trying to get them all escorted down the steps in some fashion or another. Fortunately, it didn't escalate (ie, no violence etc.), although there maaayyy have been a beer toss that missed its target, and as is often the case, the events on the ice had a certain quieting effect on the visiting fans.

We had a few folks down from Buffalo in our row, and aside from not knowing they were in the wrong section for the first 20 minutes, they were exactly what you'd hope for from visiting fans—silent, polite. Then they left, which was even better. 

GOALS [penalties] GOALS [penalties] GOALS 
Rev's recap noted that the flow of the game was broken up by the ridiculous amount of penalties called in it. Interesting in that the penalties are called for things like obstruction, and what ultimately happened is the game was obstructed by all the stops and starts, which are immediately followed by one team feverishly trying only to clear while the other attempts to take its time and set up the perfect shot.

From high atop the building with a few beers flowing, I wasn't quite as bothered by the intrusiveness of all the calls. We noticed them for sure, and the replays definitely reinforced the ticky-tackiness, but it was a very entertaining game, particularly that six-goal first period. 

How about that JVR? No matter where you were sitting in the tri-state area, you could see this kid becoming a man out there. Overall I liked the intensity I saw from the Flyers. Lots of bodies on the ice going for blocks and selling out to get a poke check. This is what the team was missing down the stretch, and they seem to have found it. Giroux's huge hit was topped only by his sick moves through four guys to beat Ryan Miller.

This after I bemoaned him trying to do too much with the puck… I was happy to be wrong. The place was going nuts and the players seemed to be responding. 

At one point a bird was flying above the ice, and I swore it was the reincarnation of the bat from the Fog Game at the Aud in 1975. 

DOOP
We mentioned on Thursday that there was a good chance the Flyers would be changing their goal song from Bro Hymn to the Doop Song. Unfortunately, we didn't get to hear it in game 1 because they got shut out. But on Saturday, the song rang out early and often. Knowing in advance that it was coming, I was watching and listening for fan reactions to what I consider a pretty substantial change for a crowd with a lot of season ticket holders and regulars. Maybe it was the elation of the Flyers scoring a goal for the first time in the series, but I didn't actually see anyone notice there was different goal music. Then, the same was true for the next goal. And the next after that. 

At the intermission, I asked a few fans what they thought of the new goal song. Not one had noticed. I did the same at the second intermission with the same result. The song seemed to be played a bit quietly compared to Bro Hymn, and without the crowd knowing their role in the celebratory song, I guess it could easily go unnoticed the first few times it's played amidst the hysteria of a Flyers playoff goal. Later though, it seemed a b
it louder, and at least in my memory, they played an extra cut of it following the Flyers' fifth goal after things had settled a bit. 

I'd say it went pretty well all things considered. Changes to things like the goal song can be met with disapproval, especially a change to something the crowd doesn't already love or at least know very well. Doop seemed to be introduced pretty cleanly and without too jarring an effect. Hopefully, as the crowd learns the cadence of the chant, the response will be loud and in unison. Check this one out.

ON TO THE NEXT ONE
With any luck, I'll be in row 15 of some 200-level section this Friday night. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you're on the fence about getting down to a playoff game, I for one have never regretted it, even after a loss. At least that's the way I remember it after walking the concourses amidst a proper post-game celebration.  

No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

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No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

SEATTLE -- Jake Browning threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, Myles Gaskin added 100 yards and two scores, and No. 10 Washington was dominant on both sides, overwhelming No. 7 Stanford 44-6 on Friday night.

After months of hype that Washington (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) was on the verge of a breakout, the Huskies showed they were ready for their return to the national stage.

And they did it emphatically, handing Stanford (3-1, 2-1) its worst loss since a 41-3 setback against Arizona State in 2007.

The Huskies raced to a 23-0 halftime lead, scored early in the second half to go up 30-0 and coasted to their biggest victory over an AP Top 10 team since beating No. 5 Southern California 31-0 in 1990. That game 26 years ago announced Washington as a national contender and the Huskies went on to share the national title a year later with Miami -- taking the coaches' version while Miami topped the AP media poll.

Browning was the leader of an efficient offense that scored on six of its eight drives. He threw touchdowns of 3 yards to Dante Pettis, 19 yards to John Ross and capped the night with a 3-yarder to Aaron Fuller with 5:30 remaining. Browning was 15 of 21 and did not commit a turnover.

Equally important was Washington's ability to establish a running game. The Huskies rushed for 214 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, Stanford star Christian McCaffrey saw his Heisman Trophy aspirations hit a major speed bump. McCaffrey was held to 49 yards rushing on 12 carries, five catches for 30 yards and continued his streak of never scoring an offensive touchdown in a road game.

It was McCaffrey's fewest yards rushing since 2014 at California when he had 19 yards on three carries.

Stanford's only TD came late in the third quarter on a 19-yard pass from Ryan Burns to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Burns was 15 of 22 for 151 yards, but Washington controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides. Stanford quarterbacks were sacked eight times, six in the first half. Stanford had allowed only four total sacks in the first three games combined.

Stanford was playing short-handed without starting cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, starting wide receiver Francis Owusu and starting fullback Daniel Marx. Starting right tackle Casey Tucker limped off with an apparent leg injury late in the fourth quarter.

Takeaways
Stanford: The Cardinal were unexpectedly sloppy. Stanford committed 11 penalties after entering the week as the least penalized team in the Pac-12. There were communication issues in part due to the roaring Washington crowd, but also a lack of sharpness not normally seen from David Shaw's team.

Washington: The defense was up to the task of keeping McCaffrey under control and forcing Burns to beat them through the air. McCaffrey had 34 yards on 10 carries in the first half and forced the Cardinal into numerous long third-down situations. That allowed Washington to bring extra pass rushers to get to Burns.

Up Next
Stanford: The Cardinal head home after two straight weeks on the road to host Washington State.

Washington: The Huskies travel to Oregon looking to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks.

Best of MLB: Darvish stars as Rangers beat Rays 3-1 and clinch home field

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Best of MLB: Darvish stars as Rangers beat Rays 3-1 and clinch home field

ARLINGLTON, Texas -- Yu Darvish looked playoff-ready with a season-high 12 strikeouts in six innings as the Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 on Friday night and clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

The Rangers can be tied by only the Cleveland Indians and they own the tie-breaker by winning the teams' season series. The AL owns home-field advantage in the World Series thanks to its win in the All-Star Game.

Darvish (7-5) allowed one run, three hits and one walk. His 28th career game of double-digit strikeouts is the second-most in a pitcher's first 100 major league starts, topped only by Dwight Gooden (31). Darvish will likely start Game 2 of the Division Series following Cole Hamels.

Shin-Soo Choo returned to Texas' lineup after missing 39 games with a fractured left forearm. Choo pulled a single to right in his first plate appearance since Aug. 15 and went 1 for 4.

Matt Andriese (8-8) gave up three runs and seven hits, including solo home runs to Carlos Beltran and Rougned Odor (see full story). 

Cabrera hits 2 HRs, Tigers move up in playoff race, beat Braves
ATLANTA -- Miguel Cabrera hit two home runs, Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton also connected and the Detroit Tigers moved up in the playoff race, beating the Atlanta Braves 6-2 Friday night.

The Tigers won their third straight and pulled within a half-game of Toronto for the second AL wild-card spot. The Blue Jays lost at Boston 5-3.

The regular season is scheduled to end Sunday, but the Tigers might need to play beyond that. They were rained out against Cleveland this week and would have to make up that game if it impacts their playoff chances.

Daniel Norris (4-2) gave up one run, five hits, two walks and struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings.

The Braves, playing their final series at Turner Field before moving north to the suburbs next year, had won 10 of 11. Matt Wisler (7-13) was chased in the fifth when James McCann's RBI single made it 5-0 (see full story).

Trumbo hits 47th, Schoop 5 RBIs as Orioles top Yankees 8-1
NEW YORK -- Mark Trumbo hit his major league-leading 47th home run, Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones also went deep in a six-run fifth inning and the Baltimore Orioles beat the New York Yankees 8-1 in steady rain Friday night to maintain their AL wild-card lead.

Baltimore began the night tied with Toronto for the AL's two wild cards at 87-72, with Detroit 1 1/2 games back and Seattle trailing the Tigers by a half-game.

Trumbo and Jones homered off Michael Pineda (6-12), who started with 3 2/3 hitless innings and suddenly became ineffective.

Schoop tied his career high with five RBIs, hitting a go-ahead, two-run double in the fourth and adding a three-run homer in the fifth against James Pazos -- Baltimore's big league-high 250th home run this season.

Yovani Gallardo (6-8) won for just the second time in nine starts since Aug. 5, allowing two hits, three walks and Mark Teixeira's sacrifice fly in six innings (see full story). 

Ortiz delivers another HR, Red Sox beat Blue Jays 5-3
BOSTON -- Opening his final weekend with yet another game-winning homer, David Ortiz lined a two-run shot into the right-field stands to break a seventh-inning tie and help the Boston Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 on Friday night.

The AL East champion Red Sox snapped a three-game losing streak and stayed one game ahead of Cleveland in the race for home-field advantage for the playoffs.

The Blue Jays fell one game behind Baltimore in the wild-card race and are now within range of Detroit and Seattle in the fight for the AL's final postseason berth (see full story).