Random Observations, Pics, and Video From a Great Night at the Wach

Random Observations, Pics, and Video From a Great Night at the Wach

Walking from FDR Park to the Wachovia Center last night, I was hit with a wave of nervous energy. It was mostly some positive excitement about going to see a crucial Flyers playoff game, but there was also just that moment where you think, man, this same walk out of here is either going to be a chanting celebration or head-hanging pity party. 

FDR was packed, and I really wished I'd been able to get there earlier. The mix of slightly improving weather, tailgate games, and the occasional amateur fireworks are something you don't get to see as often for Flyers games, most of which are played in cold weather months. After heading back to the car to get the tickets we'd left in the cup holder and making the whole trek ah-gain, we walked inside and were greeted by the customary XL orange t-shirts and a few stars of the Broad Street Bullies documentary I've seen four times in the past week. 

The late start and lack of a Phillies game helped with the traffic situation some (although the traffic on the Blue Route was like cruel punishment), and the fans packed the concourses earlier than usual. Everyone was jumping out of their skin ready for this game. 

We got a few pints of Grolsch at that one little stand with good beer on the upstairs concourse (directly next to the big standalone bar), grabbed a few hot dogs and some of the... oh how should I phrase this... GREATEST PRETZELS EVER, and made for our seats in the top row of the Wach.

On our way up, I saw the early candidate for Jersey of the Night—a Ville Leino Flyers sweater. Now that's some threadication, sir. Sadly, he would be dethroned by another jersey on the way out. An older fan was rocking an Ilka Sinisalo jersey with the Pelle Lindbergh number patches on the sleeve. I don't know if anyone's taking down that champion this year. 

The seats filled up early, a sea of dimly lit orange around the pristine ice before the teams came back out.

The game action was pretty intense, with the Flyers owning the first period and Bruins taking much of the swing in the second despite the Flyers scoring the only goals in either frame. When Richie found that rebound in the first, I nearly went deaf. After the exaltation, the Tuuu-kkaaaa chants started, although Rask was playing pretty well. The defense that helped him out so much in the first three games was nonexistent in the first period, and the shot that beat him wasn't remotely his fault. But this wasn't a court of law, so we serenaded the sorry bastard throughout the night.

All the energy from the first seemed to be lost for stretches of the second. The Flyers were sluggish, and they couldn't clear the zone to save their lives. Fortunately, they were able to stifle the dangerousness of the scoring attempts, and Michael Leighton's first playoff start was a thing of beauty. During a stoppage mid-way through the second period, the video board started playing some highlights of Brian Boucher in action. A BOOOSH chant started to emerge, picking up steam as the video panned Boucher in a suit and tie, out for the foreseeable future with injuries to both knees. The crowd went nuts. 

The emotion in his face says so much. Sometimes "It's just a game" is just a bunch of bull. Much respect, Boosh. In game 3, Ian Laperriere got the same treatment, but this was no crowd-hyping gimmick. 

One of the amazing things about this team has been its ability to show up just when everyone is ready to count them out, whether due to poor play or an insane amount of key injuries. Whatever happens next, they've earned a lot of respect for stepping up when it's really mattered, and picking up for their injured teammates. 

A few player notes, observed from the top row of the building. If you watched from home, you probably saw more details and had a lot of replays and commentary, so I'll keep this part short. 

Scott Hartnell looked every bit the player who'd regained his swagger. He rifled big shots on Rask and played some physical hockey. Danny Briere is a playoff monster. His goal deflated the Bruins, and the crowd went nuts every time the replay showed him crippling Rask's glove hand with his top-shelf licker. Michael Leighton made saves on everything from equipment testers to all-alone breakaways. All that time off, and not a speck of rust on his game. Seeing the birds-eye view of the ice gave a great reminder to how important Simon Gagne's two-way play is to this team's success. Their record with and without him in this series can attest to that too, but he was a beast in the neutral zone. Richie too, what an amazing game from the Captain. Ville Leino was awarded a penalty shot, and although he made some pretty moves, he couldn't get Rask to move laterally enough to find a hole. Leino, Briere, and Hartnell were a force together, with the Finnish newcomer showing some jaw-dropping moves with the puck. Claude Giroux had a few of his own, which was no surprise, but still had me catching flies. JVR seems to have walled out, which really shouldn't be much of a surprise. 

Both sides had huge hits, and the Bruins played a physical game without the level of dirtiness we saw in game 5. Playoff freakin' hockey out there. 

Forget Sidney Crosby (should be easy after last night!). He's cleaned up his diving act some, and anyway, it's nothing compared to Zdeno Chara's. I counted three times when the ogre just flopped to the ice, one of which drew a call on Chris Pronger (okay maybe the call was legit, but it still looked like a dive as well), who had been exchanging some light stuff with Chara in front of the net. After that though, the refs didn't take the bait. 

Thy Name Is Schadenfreude
Some of the biggest cheers on the night came with each score update from the Canadiens' elimination of the Penguins. Should the Flyers win on Friday, they'll actually host the 8th seeded Habs in the Eastern Conference Finals. You ALWAYS want your NHL team to make the playoffs. 

Standout Fans
Here's that guy again.

I'm still a sucker for Green Man, even with the oversaturation that's seen him at pretty much every sporting event these days.

At one point, security was talking to him though, and he had his head thing off. Creeped me out, like I was on the train in Spiderman. 

Dancing Shawny was in rare form, even for him. He seems to have added a new move to his repertoire to play up the playoff beard.


There were very few Bruins fans that I could see—just one guy sitting quietly other than to occasionally cheer, and a young couple who walked up the aisle toward the top of the section just begging for it. Arms raised, Bruins and Red Sox gear, plenty of pluck, mostly from the girl. I leaned over to my friend and said, "She's going to get him beat up." 

Wouldn't ya know it? They got real quiet after the Flyers scored a pair of goals. That wouldn't last though. I couldn't hear what she was saying, only the several voices telling her to just shut up already. A fracas did in fact ensue after the last seconds of the game ticked off, but the Flyers fans policed themselves pretty well from what I saw, just a few pushes and a couple of spilled drinks. Finally, dragged away by her boyfriend, she got to the bottom of the stairs and flipped everyone off, screaming the whole way. 

Pretty rough week for Bruins fans everywhere—so far. 

Struttin
I think my favorite part about Flyers' home playoff games is the walk out of the building after a win. The concourse erupts with LET'S GO FLYERS chants that don't stop until you're outside, and even then they only dissipate. 

Game 7 can't come soon enough. 

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

Draisaitl leads Oilers to Game 1 win over Ducks
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Larsson scored his second goal of the third period with 4:40 to play, and the Edmonton Oilers blew a two-goal lead in a wild third period before beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Wednesday night in their second-round playoff series opener.

Mark Letestu scored two power-play goals and Cam Talbot made 33 saves for the upstart Oilers, who seized home-ice advantage from the Ducks with a four-goal final period.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the tying goal with 9:13 to play in regulation for the Ducks, who lost in regulation for the first time in 19 games since March 10.

Larsson scored just four goals in his first 85 games this season, but the Swedish defenseman improbably got two goals in 7 1/2 minutes.

Game 2 is Friday night in Anaheim (see full recap).

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.