Shorthanded Flyers Host Bruins

Shorthanded Flyers Host Bruins

In recent games against the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, the Flyers have given reason for doubt that they're among the Eastern Conference elite. True, they did beat the Bruins and spoil the Garden's Stanley Cup raising banner, but a 6-0 loss in mid December and three losses to the Rangers have left the Flyers with plenty to prove.

Unfortunately, they'll be shorthanded as hell when they try. Already without their towering defensive foil to Boston's Zdeno Chara, the Flyers lost Jaromir Jagr and Danny Briere yesterday, and James van Riemsdyk was already on the shelf. Will they have enough firepower without them to crack one of the league's stingiest defenses and its unquestioned top goaltender?

There are a few things in the Flyers favor, and a few factors decidedly against them…

First, defenseman Andrew Ference has been suspended for his hit on Ryan McDonagh yesterday. That hit came at 1:50 of overtime, and the Rangers scored the winner on the ensuing power play.

Second, the Flyers played a hell of a game yesterday, defying expectations in more ways than one. In particular, they struck twice against the league's best penalty killing unit. Their defense was also on point, allowing shots but not necessarily a multitude of dangerous chances. Ilya Bryzagalov turned in his second straight outstanding performance, and he'll get the opportunity to further solidify his role as the team's number one goaltender. To date, he has that role only because of the contract he's signed. A week shy of February, he has some time to establish it on merit as well.

We'll see some line juggling today, with three top-six forwards out of the lineup. The talented rookie trio of Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Brayden Schenn will see their minutes increase, with the first two likely on the same line and Schenn possibly skating with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.

Hartnell grabbed the goal glory yesterday, but Wayne Simmonds may have been the best player on the ice. His hard work along the boards and in front of the net needs to continue today, a matchup that could require some dirty goals and certainly will take some toughness.

The defense will have to look a lot more like it did yesterday than it did on Thursday. Boston can flat out fly, leading the league in goals per game with 3.5.

Ben Holmstrom and Tom Sestito have been called up. Tim Thomas is expected to draw the start after talented understudy Tuukka Rask played yesterday.

The Bruins are no joke. They're the team the Flyers need to be, and beat, in order to emerge from the "just shy of greatness" yoke. With any luck, today will look more like the season opener than the December 17th massacre.

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).