Slow and Painful: The 10-11 Flyers Story?

Slow and Painful: The 10-11 Flyers Story?

Think, if you can, back to February 24. The Sixers were rising in the standings, and the Phillies were soaking up the sun in Clearwater, but the Flyers were the toast of the town. Andrej Meszaros had just lifted the orange and black past the Islanders in overtime, and with three quarters of the season completed, the club held a nine point lead in the Eastern Conference.

Might as well have been a whole other team. From that point on, the Flyers have been falling like a meteor, and it's oh-so-close to impact.

They finished the regular season 7-8-6, losing their top playoff seeding in the process, and very nearly the Atlantic Division too. "Don't panic, they'll turn it on," many of us argued, perhaps trying to convince ourselves. And they did... sort of. Let's face it, even though they overwhelmed the Buffalo Sabres for long stretches at a time, the Flyers barely escaped Round 1 with a 4-3 series win. "They dominated the final three games though. They're ready now."

Only they weren't ready, and now we have to act all shocked and what not because their season could be coming to an end tonight.

It's one of the worst feelings you can have watching sports. This isn't a case where the Flyers are just plain overmatched, at least not on paper. Nor did they simply run into a hot goalie, which is not to say Tim Thomas has been anything other than just that, but he's not stealing this series right now. The Flyers aren't lucky to be here, haven't been completely ravaged by injuries, and aren't on the wrong end of a bunch of bad bounces or poor officiating.

They are, and have been, collapsing before our eyes. Worse, nobody can really explain why. It's Chris Pronger's injury. It's the Kris Versteeg trade. It's the lack of a true number one goaltender. It's because this team has no heart. It's everything. It's nothing.

I don't know what's going to happen tonight. My fear is the Flyers are headed for sweep-land. Games 1 and 3 were absolutely brutal, and if it weren't for two quick goals in Game 2, maybe that wouldn't have been any different either. As it is, that's the only time I can remember being excited during this series, the 10 minutes or so that they actually held a lead through those first 180.

Even if they win tonight, then the question becomes whether it merely prolongs the inevitable. Everybody remembers what happened last year, including the Bruins. Does anyone honestly believe it can happen again? Not just based on the historical nature of such an accomplishment, but going solely on the way they've played in this series.

I'll come out and say it--if you believe that, you're stronger than I am. Me, I can't stop thinking about the slow, painful way the Flyers appear to be closing out this season.

Still, here's hoping they don't let the Bruins finish them quick and easy.

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).