Voracek and Couturier Shine as Flyers Top Blue Jackets in Jeff Carter Bowl, 9-2

Voracek and Couturier Shine as Flyers Top Blue Jackets in Jeff Carter Bowl, 9-2

The talk heading into Saturday night's matchup between the Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jackets naturally focused on the big off-season trade that sent Jeff Carter to Ohio in exchange for winger Jakub Voracek and a pair of draft picks, one of which was the eighth overall. Sean Couturier was selected with that high pick, and he made the club out of training camp. Voracek was off to a quiet start heading into the game, which Jeff Carter would watch from a suite, still recovering from a broken foot.

Trades aren't won and lost based solely on what each set of players does for their new team, and they especially aren't won based on a single head-to-head matchup. But damn if this didn't at least feel like a statement game as to which side is currently holding the better cards. Voracek, who was criticized by his former coach upon his exit from Columbus, took advantage of the opportunity to not only prove Scott Arniel wrong, but also put a few nails in his coffin. With the Blue Jackets now 2-11-1 after being throttled 9-2 by the Flyers, Arniel might not make it out of the Wells Fargo Center with a job.

Voracek was joined in the scoring by Couturier and a full six other Flyers. Fifteen Philadelphia players would register points in this summary ass kicking.

Below, a look at what went so right for the Flyers, complete with video highlights. So much awesome...

JVRtwork
The home team got off to a fast start, scoring a pair of goals before the 3:10 mark, then added three more to enter the intermission up 5-0. The game had gotten off to a staccato start, with a near goal by Scott Hartnell and three whistles in the first minute of play. Both teams were down a man when James van Riemsdyk, subject of a reported—and emphatically disputed—benching earlier in the week, opened the scoring. The Flyers cycled well with the puck, using the space opened up with two men off the ice, and rookie Erik Gustafsson found JVR with a sneaky pass.

JVR commented after the game that whatever lower-body injury is affecting him is something he'll have to deal with for awhile. The mystery continues, but after watching him play 13:30, scoring a goal and assisting two others, I don't remember seeing it affecting him.

SO CYUT
After the opening goal, Columbus was clearly reeling, and they took another penalty. With the Flyers on the powerplay, Hartnell camped out in front of the net, and Jaromir Jagr threw a pass toward his feet. It didn't make it through to Hartnell, but it did still find the net, as it deflected off of Fedor Tyutin's stick and past a hapless Steve Mason.

MAXIMUS
Max Talbot claimed the Flyers third goal, scoring on a sweet exchange with Voracek. With both forwards coming into the zone hot, Talbot found Voracek with a pass across the slot, and Jake returned the favor with a perfect pass through the defense. Notching his fifth of the season and fourth in five games, Talbot put a nice move on Mason, and temporarily ended the goalie's night.

JAGRESSIVE
The Flyers' fourth goal of the first period came on the strength of some great forechecking by Jagr, who again made Tyutin his bitch, stealing the puck away from him in the corner before throwing it to an open Claude Giroux. G made a fast turn toward the net and put a laser past Allen York.

FIGHTS!
With no legal answer at either end of the ice, the Blue Jackets tried to swing the momentum by dropping the gloves. Derek Dorsett was picking at JVR, and on his next shift, Wayne Simmonds answered the call and gave Dorsett a pretty good beat. A moment later, Cody Bass asked Zac Rinaldo for a go, and the two battled briefly before Bass slammed a half-nekkid Rinaldo to the ice and skated around like he'd just taken down George Foreman.

VORACEK'S REVENGE
Once everyone had their clothes back on, the Flyers put out any fire the Blue Jackets thought they'd ignited with the pair of fights, with Voracek scoring their fifth goal of the period. He sent a floater on goal from the point and it snuck by a screening Eric Wellwood.

Had to feel good to light the lamp and put another nail in the coffin of the coach who had some unflattering words for him after last season. I for one would like to thank Scott Arniel for any fire he may have lit under Voracek's ass. Especially if what we saw tonight ends up being exactly what the Czech winger needed to get going this season.

COOTER TOO
The second period was much like the first, only without quite as much scoring. Couturier scored the Flyers' 6th goal of the night 7 minutes into the frame. Skating up the right circle on a 3-on-1—during a penalty kill—Cooter unselfishly fed the puck back to the trailer Braydon Coburn, who one-touched it right back for the rookie to deposit one past Mason, who had returned for the second period. Amazing finish by Couturier, who had very little angle but played the puck perfectly.

POOR CARTER...
Voracek to end the first, Couturier to start the second… annnnd pan to Carter in a smart suit up in the suite. I don't wish Carter anything but the best, and it was honestly a little painful to see him sitting there watching this. He truly was traded out of a hockey haven to a terrible franchise that could finish with the league's worst record this year. Only a decade left on that deal, too.  

RAPID SUCCESSION
Simmonds joined the scoring party on a brilliant play in tight, going forehand to backhand to beat Mason despite having defensive pressure and not much space.

Moments later, with Lou Nolan still announcing the Simmonds goal, JVR slipped a pass to Matt Carle, who put a shot high over Mason's opposite shoulder. 8-0 Flyers through 40 minutes of play. Riots in the streets of Columbus.

PARADISE LOST, REGAINED
Columbus would unfortunately erase the Flyers' bid for a perfect game, narrowing their lead to a mere touchdown on a Derek Dorsett goal 13 minutes into the third period. That seemed to wake the Flyers out of grind-out-the-game mode for a bit, and Couturier netted his second of the game, fifth of the season, three minutes later. The goal came on a deflected pass from none other than Voracek.

Grant Clitsome (yes, actual real name) was credited with a late Columbus goal, but there wasn't much Bryzgalov could do, as the shot deflected off the stick of Andrej Meszaros and in.

All in all, quite the decisive victory for the Flyers, who thrashed an inferior team for 60 minutes. It as a great response to a lackluster effort against the Devils on Thursday, and everyone contributed.

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

NOTES

  • Jake Voracek was named the Bud Light Player of the Game by the CSN telecast, and he certainly had a great night with a goal and two assists. But, with 9 goals on the board for the good guys, you could've thrown a dart at the roster to pick the POG.
  • This was the second time in the last five games that the Flyers have scored eight goals. Fortunately, they weren't woefully bad on defense this time and we got to celebrate the total.
  • Hard to believe, but five of the Flyers skaters were rookies. And, neither were named Brayden Schenn or Matt Read. 
  • One of those rookies, defenseman Erik Gustafsson, was a +6 on the night. Flyers PR notes that the last time a Flyers rookie was plus-6 or ether was in 1984, when both Rich and Ron Sutter were +6 and Thomas Ericsson was a +8. That had to be a hell of a game. Matt Carle narrowly missed equalling Gustafsson's +6, but he was on the ice for the game's final goal.
  • Gus also led all Flyers in ice time with 23 minutes.
  • Jagr's goal in the first increased his streak of seven straight games with a point.
  • Does it seem like I'm frequently apologizing for Bryzgalov on his goals allowed? With all the bounces, deflections, etc. that get on those pucks before they cross the line, it's hard not to.
  • Despite the lopsided score, the Flyers were actually outshot in this one by a 35-33 count. Chalk that up to a similar effect to an NFL team's passing attempts going up when they're down in the second half.
  • In the intro, we mentioned Voracek possibly playing with something to prove. It should be noted that in interviews before and after the game, he dismissed the idea of his harboring ill feelings toward Arniel. He had no interest in addressing the comments, but he was respectful in his words toward the Columbus coach. Stand-up guy.
  • The schedule is quiet this week, which stinks because we want to see some more hockey very soon after that tilt, but with all the injuries, the Flyers could use some recovery time. Next up is the Lightning in Tampa on Wednesday, followed by a trip up to Sunrise, Florida, where they'll play the Panthers on Sunday. I expect those Movember mustaches might be accompanied by a solid tan.

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)