No Losing Streak: Sixers Look to Protect Home Court Against Atlanta

No Losing Streak: Sixers Look to Protect Home Court Against Atlanta

Last year, the Philadelphia 76ers had a mantra of sorts under then-new
coach Doug Collins: "We don't lose two in a row at home." Humble
ambitions, maybe, but for a team that won less than 30 games the year
before, it was a definite point of pride. And indeed, the team only lost
consecutive games at home twice all year—the first two and the last
two. We can only guess that the '11-'12 Sixers, with their 10-4 record
and unexpected Atlantic division supremacy, hold themselves to similar,
if not higher standards this year—one of the many reasons we hope they
can pull off a W at the WFC tonight against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks have been something of a surprise team this year in the
East—not as surprising as the Sixers, perhaps, since the Hawks have made
the playoffs the last four years and won a first-round series each of
the last three—but many expected Atlanta to regress without sixth man
Jamal Crawford and an injured Kirk Hinrich (and now Al Horford). But the
Hawks have flown high, a half-game better than the Sixers at 11-4,
including an impressive 4-0 record since losing the two-time All-Star
big man Horford to a torn pec muscle. The play of Josh Smith is a
primary reason why, having a career year with his 17 and 9 on 50%
shooting, but the team's bench has also been better than expected, with
vets like Tracy McGrady and one-time Sixer Willie Green making solid
contributions, along with rookie scrapper (and Barkley favorite) Ivan
Johnson.

The Sixers will need to face their conference foe again without the
services of starting center Spencer Hawes, who sits again with a
strained Achilles. Luckily, unlike the first two games the Sixers played
without Hawes (against the Knicks and Nuggets, both losses), they don't
face any dominant big men in this game—undersized power forward Smith
can likely be checked by Andre Iguodala, and without Horford, the only
other real bigs the Hawks have are defense-first types like Jason
Collins and Zaza Pachulia. Spencer will still be missed, especially if
rookie Nik Vucevic can't stay on the court, but hopefully his absence
won't be quite the killer it was against New York and Denver.

7:00 tip from the WFC. By the way, even if Spencer can't make it on the
court tonight (or tomorrow against Miami, in all likelihood), you should
all know that he's at least remaining productive off the court—who else
is crazy excited for the Hawes/Turner dual podcast??

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).