Season Swept: Rangers Again Too Strong for Flyers

Season Swept: Rangers Again Too Strong for Flyers

Mash up that bitter pill and gum it down with some apple sauce. The Rangers own the Flyers this season. For the first time since the 70s, New York swept the season series, and they did so in dominant fashion.
The Flyers have made a habit of conceding goals early but have also dug their way out of those holes. After allowing the game's first two goals for the seventh time in 10 outings, Thursday night's hole became a pit, expanding to a four-goal deficit before the first intermission. 
If there's a silver lining here, it's that once again the Flyers did not give up despite getting blown out in the first 20. They clawed their way to a semi-respectable 5-3 loss, playing better hockey as the game wore on. They simply couldn't beat Henrik Lundqvist though, who was amazing. 
The Rangers were the better team in just about every way, and even when the Flyers were playing very well, Lundqvist was unbeatable. 
Regulated EnergyThe action was dominated by power plays for both sides, with mind-numbingly bad officiating shattering any rhythm the game might have developed on its own. The Rangers scored three of their goals on the man advantage; the Flyers converted only once. One killing stretch in particular damned the orange & black. With Jaromir Jagr in the box, Artem Anisimov sliced his way through the Flyers' defense and scored with an impressive move. On his way to the goal, Anisimov was hooked, and as he scored it, high-sticked, drawing blood. The goal released Jagr from the box with the Rangers up 3-0, but two Flyers headed to the box. With a two-man advantage (including a double-minor to Pavel Kubina), the Rangers had no problem stretching the lead to 4-0. 
The Flyers earned each of those, but some of the calls in this seemed to be made at random. You may have picked up on my bias over the years, but while both teams were burned, the Flyers had the worst of it. Brayden Schenn was called for a charge on a check he clearly pulled up on. Max Talbot drew a high-sticking during a scrum that saw three Rangers on him, none of whom joined him in the bin. 
Claim to the ThroneHenrik Lundqvist has a legit shot at the Vezina this season, and his domain over the Flyers is undisputed. This game may have been lopsided at times, but the Flyers had some outstanding opportunities thwarted by jaw-dropping saves. (<—hyperbole but kinda true). Lunger was peppered with 40 shots, and the Flyers missed a good bit too, trying hard for the corners knowing full well he'd get everything else. 
It took some kitchen-sink offense to finally beat Lundqvist. The Flyers' first goal was credited to Jake Voracek, and while he certainly earned it, it wasn't clean by any stretch. Vorch followed up his own second effort with a pass attempt to Scott Hartnell in front of the net, but the puck never got there, deflecting through Henrik's pads off the skate of his defenseman. 
Their second goal also can't be pinned on Lundqvist. After a diving effort to stop a Claude Giroux one-timer on the power play, Wayne Simmonds dunked an easy goal on the empty net. Importantly for the Rangers going forward, Lundqvist hurt his arm on the play, though he didn't come out or show signs of any issues the rest of the way. He did have ice on it afterward, per Adam Kimelman. 
G SpotsAndreas Lilja appeared to score his first goal as a Flyer in the third period, but after the game it was credited to Scott Hartnell. Lilja was on the receiving end of a nice play-make by Claude Giroux, and he burned a wrister in on goal. 
Speaking of playmaking by G, his two-way effort was a huge reason for the Flyers' first goal. He made a check in the open ice, then relayed an outlet from Kimmo Timonen, who was also key in the takeaway. 
Giroux's back on the full-time clock with Danny Briere out, notching a team-high 27:13. Nearly 10 minutes of that came on the power play. 
With three assists on the night, Giroux now has 92 points. That's the most since Eric Lindros had 93 in '98-'99. 
Needs Work...Credit the Rags for taking advantage of their opportunities offensively, playing some frustratingly stifling defense, and getting top-notch goaltending. But the Flyers were a mess on a few key sequences early, failing to properly mark in front of their own net. Forwards and defenders alike were a step behind. Matt Carle had a few rough moments... Hopefully Nick Grossmann can return sooner rather than later. His size has been key. 
Bryz's ReturnBryzgalov was solid in net, hung out to dry too often in the first period of his first game after an injury layoff. He wouldn't talk about his foot after the game, but clearly didn't say that everything's fine. That might not be true until sometime after the postseason, but it didn't appear to affect his game in the loss. 
Relative RelevanceWith Briere out, Jody Shelley was back in the lineup. What timing. More often than not a healthy scratch this season, Shelley's most visible moment might have been when Mike Rupp called him irrelevant as the Ranger refused to take mutual majors with Shelley. The exchange was caught by the mics and cameras of HBO's 24/7, and to his credit, Rupp was contrite when that went public. But Rupp's also the guy who mocked Jagr by doing his trademark salute after scoring in the Winter Classic. 
One highlight, while ultimately meaningless to the game, was a first period fight in which Shelley gave Rupp some pretty relevant right hands... Both in the form of punches and a Jagr Salute of his own... 
And the salute:
Above videos by HockeyFights.com and DropThePuck.org
Highlights

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.