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.

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – They won the battle inside the faceoff circle. Outshot their opponent badly. Blocked more shots, too.

And the Flyers still lost. Sound familiar?

Saturday's 4-2 defeat (see Instant Replay) to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series outdoor game likely confirms for general manager Ron Hextall it’s time to be a seller at the trade deadline with a playoff berth seemingly out of sight.

"We gotta score goals. We got good opportunities, but it’s getting old," Jakub Voracek lamented. "If we don’t find a way to win a game, nobody cares."

Not enough scoring from their pop-gun offense, which now has just 25 goals over their last 16 games. Which is a major reason why they've lost seven of their last nine.

"It's that cliché, gripping your stick and I don’t like to use that," Voracek said. "The bottom line, if we want to make the playoffs we got to score the goals. We're not scoring."

It was 36 degrees at puck drop and there were swirling wind gusts. Players said the first period was tough, but they adjusted as the game went on.

"It feels good. It feels awesome," Wayne Simmonds said. "It's the way ice hockey should be played."

So should a few wins with this club and it's not happening. They play well enough to win but ...

"We got to get going here," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We're [five] points back and that's the biggest thing and it's in all of our heads now. It's getting down to not a lot of games left and we've got to get two points."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth did not have a strong game facing 29 shots.

"We walk away with the wrong result," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a day in-between to turn the page and get back at it."

Things began Pittsburgh's way with Sidney Crosby scoring at 11:18, sneaking to the low right slot near the goal line to take a perfect pass from Jake Guentzel and one-time into the far side on Neuvirth for his 34th goal.

Brayden Schenn, centering a new line with Nick Cousins and Jakub Voracek, had a solid scoring chance in the final minute of the period, but Pens goalie Matt Murray turned his shot aside. Murray also had two good saves on Sean Couturier earlier from in-tight.

Nick Bonino, one of the heroes from the Stanley Cup Final last season, made it 2-0 at 6:44 of the second period on the power play. He scored almost from the same spot where Crosby scored.

Minutes earlier, Guenztel took a questionable hit to the head area from Brandon Manning which the Penguins felt was illegal (see video). Pittsburgh came back with Chris Kunitz rocking Ivan Provorov two shifts later.

Manning’s hit energized the Flyers, who owned the second period.

Hours before the game, Voracek said what most people were already thinking.

"I would expect this to be the biggest game of the year," he said. "You look at the standings. We can’t afford to lose."

Voracek wasn't kidding when he said the Flyers needed to do something here. He went behind the net 4-on-4 with Justin Schultz and came around the front with the puck to muscle it past Murray at 11:14, cutting the Flyers deficit in half.

Voracek's goal, his second in three games, gave the Flyers even more of a lift and they made a strong push to tie the game before the period ended.

"We spent a lot of time in their zone and we were very strong on the forecheck," Voracek said. "We had comebacks early in the season … but two penalties in the end, it's tough … How do you rebound? You have no choice. We're not out. We have to start winning."

The Flyers killed off a carryover penalty to start the third but immediately after, the Pens got a strong forecheck with Eric Fehr behind the net, getting the puck over to 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who snuck up on Neuvirth and stunned him with a wraparound.

That was a terribly costly goal and made it 3-1 but Gostisbehere got it right back minutes later with his first goal in 34 games off a point shot during the power play.

It was as close as the Flyers got. Pittsburgh scored off a faceoff to make it 4-2 in the final six minutes. Sean Couturier lost a draw to Evgeni Malkin and the Pens scored off a point drive Neuvirth couldn't find.

"That was deflating," Gostisbehere said. "We can be sad for ourselves all we want … bad bounces or we can say, 'well, it's lucky.' But you know, it keeps happening for a reason."

Penn fails to clinch Ivy tournament spot in 70-67 loss at Columbia

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Penn fails to clinch Ivy tournament spot in 70-67 loss at Columbia

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Mike Smith scored 20 points, including a key 3-pointer with a minute left, Luke Petrasek added 17 with a blocked shot as time ran out, and Columbia edged Penn 70-67 in a critical Ivy League game on Saturday night.

The Lions (11-14) and Quakers (12-13) are both 5-7 and tied for fourth in league play with a week to go. This is the first season the Ivy League has a postseason tournament with the top four teams qualifying.

Neither team led by double figures, their statistics were almost identical and there were 11 ties and 10 lead changes, although Columbia took the lead for good on a Nate Hickman's free throws with 10:27 remaining during an 8-0 run.

Hickman gave Columbia a 67-60 lead -- the largest of the second half -- on a 3-pointer with 5:37 to go. The Lions then went 4:11 without a basket, missing seven-straight shots. Ryan Betley's free throws pulled the Quakers within 2 before Smith hit is trey at 1:04.

Betley made two free throws and after a Columbia miss the Quakers had two 3 attempts with Petrasek saving the day.

AJ Brodeur and Jackson Donahue had 16 each for Penn.