Friday, May 30, 2008

Surging Phillie offense propels them into first place

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
All the Phillies needed to do to get Brett Myers a win was put up 12 runs. Myers, who hadn't won a game since April 17th, looked like he was on his way to another shaky start when he gave up three runs in the first inning in Friday nights game against the Florida Marlins. Fortunately, Myers settled down, striking out 11 batters and shutting the Fish out in innings 2 through 8 to earn the victory that pushes the Phillies back to the top of the National League East.

Of course the offense was the story of the night. The Phillies, fresh off scoring 48 runs in their last 4 games, put 12 runs on the board tonight with the help of three homers. Homers by Chris Coste and Chase Utley helped the Phillies score 7 runs in the second inning and Ryan Howard added another blast in the 4th inning. For Utley, it was his major league leading 18th homer and it gave him 4 home runs in his last 5 games. We can also officially call Ryan Howard's slump officially over now that he has hit 10 home runs and driven in 29 runs in the month of May. Let's call April a blip and enjoy watching him mash his way to another 40 homer, 100 RBI season.

Tonight's victory was a statement win for the Phils. They needed to come out and show the upstart Marlins who really owns the NL East and they did just that by blowing them out of the water. The offense has been unbelievable lately, shooting all the way up to second in the majors in runs scored behind the Cubs. The bats will cool off eventually and then the pitching staff will be counted on to make their mark. For now, it doesn't matter what the pitchers do because the Phillies are tearing up the opposition.

The Phils look to win their sixth straight game and hold on to the division lead tomorrow when Cole Hamels takes the mound against the Marlins. I think we are due for another Hamels classic after the way he was roughed up by the Astros last time out. Of course, the way the offense is going, the Phils could spot the Marlins 10 runs and still win the game.

Highlights of Friday's big win:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lito Sheppard could line up at wide receiver?

This one comes via 950 ESPN and the700level:

Apparently Lito Sheppard might be lining up at wide receiver next season. That's right, according to Brian Seltzer of 950 ESPN, instead of trying to trade Sheppard for a receiver they might simply convert him into one for certain packages next season. As odd as it sounds, apparently Sheppard has been wanting to play receiver ever since he started playing for the Eagles, so this could be part of an effort to keep him happy. While Lito has never played receiver in the NFL, he apparently experimented with it when he was at Florida.

This news definitely comes at a shock. The Eagles must not feel like they aren't being offered enough from other teams for Lito so they want to appease him so he will stick around. How much of a threat he could really be is unknown, but I haven't seen anything in his game that indicates he would make a good wideout, although he seems to have decent hands.

This certainly isn't the wide receiver that we hoped the Eagles would be adding, but this now has become a very interesting story.

Hear Brian Seltzer discuss the situation with Mike Missanelli here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where was this last year? Phillies continue to own Rockies in 2008

Last October, the Colorado Rockies swept past the Phillies en route to a World Series appearance. This season the Phillies have turned the tables on the Rockies, beating them all five times they have played, including Wednesday's 6-1 win in Philadelphia that earned the Phillies their first 3 game sweep of the season.

The Phillies offense once again supplied a big inning, scorching Rockies starter Greg Reynolds for five runs in the 5th. Three of those runs came on Chase Utley's league leading 17th homer of the season:

The homer was the 3rd for Utley in his last 4 games as he is returning to his MVP pace of earlier in the season. Utley's 17 homers is also the most by any second baseman in major league history through the end of May, although Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla is nipping at his heels with 16 homers this year. The all-time record for most homers in a full season for a second baseman is 42, a record that Utley is on pace to blow past by the end of the year.

Geoff Jenkins also homered for the Phils to drive in two more runs in the 5th inning.

Adam Eaton was surprisingly sharp on the mound tonight, going 6 innings and giving up only 4 hits that lead to one run. Eaton has had some quality outings on the season, but none where better than this performance that gave him his first win of the season.

The Phillies have an off day tomorrow and then the first place Florida Marlins come to Philly for a three game set. The Marlins have been slowly losing their grip on the top spot in the NL East, so the Phillies have a great chance to make their move this weekend. If they can keep putting up the 5 and 6 run innings, it's only a matter of time before they re-gain the division lead.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Phillies get enough early offense to hold off Rockies

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
The Phillies offense, which broke out for 35 combined runs on Sunday and Monday, picked right up were they left off, at least in the first two innings. The Phils tagged Rockies starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez for 4 runs in the first and 3 more in the second but were held off the scoreboard for the rest of the game. Philly did manage to win, holding off a late, rain-soaked comeback by the Rockies to win 7-4.

The Phils got a solid outing from starter Kyle Kendrick who gave up only 2 runs in 7 1/3 innings. That kind of effort coupled with the way the Phillies offense can put numbers on the board will get you a win every time.

Offensively, the Phils played without Pat Burrell who was scratched from the lineup due to stiffness in his neck. Greg Dobbs filled in admirably for Burrell, going 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs on a single in the 1st inning. Pedro Feliz also picked up a pair of RBIs in the first on a double.

The Phillies offense is on a tear for the last three games, totaling 42 runs (15+20+7). That is a ton of runs, but according to Todd Zolecki, it doesn't even come close to the all-time franchise record of 60 runs scored in 3 games back in 1894. The Phils won three consecutive games by scores of 14-4, 17-3 and 29-4 over the Louisville Colonels. Their current total of 42 runs ties the modern-day franchise record of 42 runs in three games, something they did in 1932 and 1999.

One reason why the Phils have been lighting up the scoreboard has a lot to do with the guys at the top of the order, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Both are healthy and finding ways to get on base and use their speed once they get there, which sets the table for the big bats to drive them home. Each got two hits and a steal tonight and Rollins scored twice and Victorino scored once.

Tomorrow the Phillies will look for their first series sweep of the season since the last time they played the Rockies in a 2 game set back in late April. Adam Eaton and his 5.37 ERA and 0-3 record will take on Greg Reynolds (0-1, 4.08) of the Rockies tomorrow night. Let's hope the Phils were saving some runs for tomorrow because they are going to need them.

Highlights of their third straight win via Baseball Tonight:

Phillies offense exploding again!

Here we go again! Through 2 innings the Phillies have already managed 7 runs against the Rockies. Every starter has gotten a hit already except for Carlos Ruiz. This offense is firing on all cylinders now. What's the record for the most runs in a three game stretch?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Phillies put up 20 spot on the Rockies

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
As the weather starts to heat up, we knew that the Phillies offense would start lighting up the scoreboard, but no one expected this. On Sunday the Phillies scored 15 against the Astros, today they managed to out-do themselves and beat the Rockies 20-5.

For the second day in a row, the offense more than made up for a slow start by a starting pitcher. Jamie Moyer gave up a 3-run homer in the first inning to Ryan Spilborghs but settled down from there, fanning a season-high seven batters in seven innings.

Chase Utley belted a 3-run homer of his own in the bottom of the first to tie the game but the Phils didn't really get going until the 4th inning when they put up 6 runs. They took an inning off and then put up 6 more in the 6th, followed by 4 more in the 8th just for good measure. Here is the Phillies box score for the game:

HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
Rollins SS4211113.319
--Bruntlett SS
1110000.241
Victorino CF
2410202.273
Utley 2B
6236003.309
Howard 1B
2313300.207
Burrell LF
4000114.276
--Bohn LF
1011000.400
Feliz 3B
6244010.271
Coste C6234012.341
Taguchi RF
5231010.204
--Condrey P
1000013.000
Moyer P
1100110.158
--Dobbs RF2110013.358
Totals412019208820

As you can tell, every Phillie starter got in on the action except for Pat Burrell who went 0 for 4. Utley managed a career-high 6 RBIs and Chris Coste also homered on the night.

The 20 runs put up by the Phillies was their most since July 3, 1999 when they beat the Cubs 21-8. I guess this gives the Phils some measure of revenge to do this to the team that swept them in the playoffs last year, but the Rockies are hardly the same team that made it to the World Series. They have a slew of injuries, including one that has shelved slugger Matt Holliday, and they are currently 11 games under .500.

So that's 35 runs in two games. I don't care how bad the pitching is, even the Phillies will keep winning if they keep posting ridiculous numbers like that.

Highlights of all the carnage via Baseball Tonight:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phillies offense explodes for 15 runs

(AP Photo/Bob Levey)
Cole Hamels didn't have his best stuff but the offense did more than enough to carry the day for the Phillies in their 15-6 win over the Astros on Sunday. Hamels only lasted 4 innings and gave up 6 runs, including a 3-run shot by Carlos Lee moments after he hit Umpire Jerry Crawford in the head with his bat:

Crawford was taken to the hospital for tests but proved to be fine. Hamels gave up the homer to Lee two pitches after the game was delayed for almost 15 minutes due to the injury.

Fortunately, the Phillies offense, which has been stifled the last two days by the Astros, exploded in the 6th and 7th innings. In the 6th, the Phils batted around and picked up 5 runs and in the 7th the Phils added 6 more runs, punctuated by Chase Utley's 15th homer of the season:

Utley finished the night with 3 RBIs as did Shane Victorino. Pat Burrell and Geoff Jenkins also hit homers on a day where nearly everyone got in on the action. In fact, every Phillie starter got a hit on the night except for Ryan Howard who went 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts.

It's nice to see the Phils offense pick up the slack when their ace is unable to give his usual dominating performance. The Phillies finish up their road trip with a respectable 4-3 record and will now come home to face the Colorado Rockies to start a 10-game homestand that also includes 3 games against the Marlins and 4 against the Reds. It will be the first time the Phils face the first place Marlins this season so it will be a good chance to gain some ground on the pesky Fish.

Pedro Feliz = Slow!

(AP Photo/Bob Levey)
With the bases loaded and one out and the Phillies down a run, Shane Victorino popped the ball up to Astros leftfielder Darin Erstad. The Phillies sent Pedro Feliz home on the play and he promptly got gunned down to end the game:

I have two problems with the play. First of all, Feliz is painfully slow and Victorino's hit was not very deep. Erstad isn't known for having a great arm but you don't have to throw a bullet to beat Feliz to the plate. The other problem I have with sending Feliz is that Chase Utley is left standing in the on-deck circle. By sending Feliz you take away an opportunity for your best hitter to win the game. I know that hindsight is 20/20 and you have to go for the win when you get a chance but you also have to give your best players a shot to win the game for you. It's also pretty pathetic that the Phils couldn't score at all in the 9th considering they had runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody out.

Brett Myers also had another bad outing to help the Phils lose 4-3 for the second day in a row. Myers is just brutal right now.

On a positive note, Ryan Howard hit another homer, his fourth in the last four games. He appears to slowly be pulling himself out of his season-long funk:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Werth to the DL, Bohn called up

Jayson Werth took a big swing in Thursday's game against the Astros and now he finds himself on the 15 day disabled list. Werth swung hard and missed and in the process strained his right abdominal muscle:

Werth has been held hitless in 13 at-bats since his huge 3 homer game on May 16th so the time off might do him good.

Non-prospect T.J. Bohn was called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley to take Werth's place. Bohn was up earlier in the year when Shane Victorino went down and hit a mere .143 although he did hit a homer in 14 at-bats. I would expect So Taguchi to get more playing time until Werth comes back.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Penguins vs. Red Wings: Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

The Stanley Cup Finals will kick off Saturday so it's time for me to weigh in on who I think will take home the Cup. So far in this playoff season, I am 11 for 14 in picking the teams that will advance in each round. Of course, I have rarely been right as to how many games each series will take so I won't be calling myself a hockey genius any time soon. Read on to see who I think will win the Cup.

Stanley Cup Finals
Pittsburgh vs. Detroit

Detroit in 6

As much as it pains me that the Flyers are no longer playing, this should be a very entertaining series between two evenly matched teams. You have the Penguins with all their young guns and stellar team defense going against the Red Wings and all their older guns and stellar team defense. You have two goalies who aren't spectacular but they manage to make all the necessary saves. You also have a ton of superstars on both teams that have won numerous individual awards but are looking to take home the one trophy that matters the most.

Pittsburgh proved they were better than the Flyers in all aspects of the game. Their offense is loaded with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby getting all the attention from the other team, opening things up for studs like Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone. Their defense lacks one true standout but they benefit from an entire team approach to shutting down the opposition. Marc-Andre Fleury also appears to have overcome his playoff demons and elevated his game to be just good enough to always be in the right place at the right time. The Pens will not look as fast against a team like Detroit because the Red Wings can match them stride for stride, but they are still a very dangerous team with a ton of weapons.

The same can be said of the Red Wings. Even without Johan Franzen, the star of the first two rounds of the playoffs who is still out with concussion symptoms, Detroit has a bevy of players who can light up the scoreboard. Most of the Wings offensive punch is found on their first line in Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom, but they have plenty of role players who find ways to score when the team really needs it. If Franzen comes back at some point in the series, the Red Wings would have a big advantage offensively, but for now, the Penguins depth makes them the slightly better group of forwards.

Where the Red Wings have an advantage is all the star power along the backline, starting with multiple-time defensive player of the year Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom will be the best player on the ice and it will be up to him to shut down one of the Penguins dynamic forwards, Crosby or Malkin. Fortunately for Detroit, they have several other defenseman who will also be up to the task of shutting down the Pens, including Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and the ancient Chris Chelios (when he is healthy enough to play). Where the Flyers lacked the defensive depth to keep up with the Penguins' horses, the Red Wings have an abundance of blueliners who can shadow and disrupt the Pens attack.

The Red Wings are my pick to win the Stanley Cup because while these teams are pretty even across the board, I give Detroit the advantage on defense. The way these two teams play, it won't be the goaltenders that will win the games, it will be whichever team plays better defensively. Because the Red Wings have the experience, skill and depth to slow down the Penguins attack, the will be the ones bringing home the Stanley Cup this year. Now if only they could find a way to fill all of those empty seats in Hockeytown......

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Howard's heating up!

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Can we officially call Ryan Howard's slump over? Howard went 3 for 5 with a double, a monster homer, 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored to lead the Phillies over the Astros, 7-5. Howard did strike out two more times, but he hit his 3rd homer in his last two games and rose his batting average above .200 for the first time since April 21st. He now has 37 hits on the season to go with his 71 strikeouts. Howard may never cut down the strikeout totals but if he can keep killing the ball like he did tonight, then we will still be able to put up some massive numbers.

Brad Lidge also pitched well in his return to Houston, earning his 12th save on the season. Lidge will forever be remembered for giving up a towering shot to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS that supposedly killed his confidence, but he didn't appear rattled at all tonight as he lowered his season ERA to 0.43

Ryan Howard's opposite field blast:

Flyers rumors: Carter set to sign, Umberger trade?

A few interesting rumors as the Flyers offseason has begun:

*Carter to sign long term deal According to Hockeybuzz.com, the Flyers are ready to sign restricted free agent Jeff Carter to a long-term deal. The deal could happen as soon as this weekend. Carter has expressed that he wants to remain with the Flyers, so it makes sense that he would want to sign early so he can focus on preparing for next season. If the Flyers fail to sign him now, they risk letting another team sign him to a huge contract that they couldn't match. I would expect the Flyers to give him a really long deal in the 6 to 8 year range that might be for slightly less than he could make with another team over a shorter period. Hopefully Carter will enjoy the security of knowing he will be with a solid, up-and-coming team for the prime of his career instead of trying to take the big bucks on a lesser team.

*Umberger could be traded? When/if the Flyers sign Carter, their next order of business will be to figure out what they will do with another restricted free agent, R.J. Umberger. Umberger could get a big contract offer from a team that watched him be a superstar against the Canadiens in the second round and that could price him out of Philly. The Flyers likely aren't going to shell out huge dollars to retain Umberger because he figures to be a third liner at best next season. Umberger may opt to go to another team where he can have a scoring role, so there is a chance he won't be back next season. Hockeybuzz.com proposes that a trade of Umberger to Nashville for Ryan Suter would make sense for both teams. The Flyers get the puck moving defenseman they need badly and the Predators get a winger who can score.

While that deal is highly speculative, it makes sense on a few levels. The Flyers and Predators have made plenty of deals over the last few years, so there is certainly a relationship there. The Predators also have plenty of young defensemen so losing Suter might not be a big hindrance. Finally, the Flyers would be able to avoid overpaying for Umberger who is certainly not worth the money his playoff goal scoring spree might get him.

Both of those rumors are from Hockeybuzz.com which isn't always a reliable source, but both make sense for the Flyers. Whatever happens with this team in the offseason, it's nice to have a GM like Paul Holmgren in charge. Holmgren has proven he will do what it takes to make the Flyers a better team even if he has to be creative to get it done. The Flyers are in good hands with Homer at the helm.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Phillies offense awakens with 8-run inning

(AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
Save some runs for the next game! After tallying only one total run in their previous two games, the Phillies offense arose from their slumber in a huge 8-run 6th inning and went on to demolish the Washington Nationals 12-2.

The man everyone in Philadelphia has been worried about, Ryan Howard, led the resurgence. Howard got three hits on the night, including two homers, and drove in four runs. He also managed to strike out only one time and rose his batting average to .195, the highest it has been since April 21st.

Also hitting homers for the Phils were Pedro Feliz and Shane Victorino. The Phillies got their 8 runs in the sixth inning on 8 hits and 2 walks. The only two starters that didn't get in on the action were Pat Burrell, who went 0 for 4 and struck out twice, and Jayson Werth who also went 0 for 4 and left six runners stranded.

Jamie Moyer gave the Phils a solid game on the mound, shutting out the Nationals in six innings of work. Moyer was his usual self, nibbling the corners and pitching himself out of jams. Clay Condrey pitched the last three innings of the game to earn an unconventional save.

Highlights of the offensive outburst and a postgame interview with Ryan Howard:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No offense, no problem for Hamels

(AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
Leave it to Cole Hamels to lead the Phillies to a win even when the offense doesn't show up. One day after being shut-out by Tim Redding and the Nationals, the struggling Phillies offense was once again shut down by Washington for 8 innings. Luckily, the Phils got another monster performance from Hamels and a timely hit by Greg Dobbs to salvage a 1-0 win.

Hamels dominated the Nationals for 7 innings, striking out 11 batters and giving up only 4 hits. This is the second brilliant performance in a row for Hamels who earned the first shutout of his career last week when he beat the Braves 4-0. Today's outing lowered his ERA to 2.61, and while he didn't earn the win, he still has to be in the early discussion for the NL Cy Young. With the way every other starting pitcher is struggling for the Phils, Hamels will need to make games like tonight the routine if the team wants to stay competitive.

The offense came up small tonight, managing only one run when they absolutely needed it. After being shut down by Redding yesterday, a pitcher with a career ERA of 4.74, the Phils made Jason Bergmann, who had an ERA over 7 this season entering the game, look like an All-Star. They scored their only run when Greg Dobbs singled off Jon Rauch to bring in Eric Bruntlett in the 9th inning.

The Ryan Howard strikeout watch hit 68 for the season after he struck out 3 more times tonight, lowering his batting average to .183. Howard had been swinging a hot bat lately so I will let him pass for now, but he may be falling back into another slump. I have said all along that we can live with his strikeouts if he still gets a hit a game, but the longer his average hovers below the Mendoza Line, the more worried I get.

Highlights of the Cole Hamels gem:

100 seasons of losing

Just a few links to pass along regarding all this 100 seasons of Philadelphia sports without a champion:

*SI.com shares a countdown of the Top 100 heartbreaks in the last 100 seasons.
I definitely agree with their number one choice:

1. 2002 NFC Championship Game | Jan. 19, 2003

The blindside factor makes the NFC title game between the Eagles and the Bucs the choice as the definitive Philly sports tragedy of the drought era. The idea of losing to Tampa Bay in the final game in Veterans Stadium history was unthinkable. Consider these facts:

- In the three most recent meetings between the teams -- including wild-card showdowns in 2000 and 2001 -- the Eagles had outscored the Bucs by a 72-22 margin.

- The Bucs entered the game 1-21 all-time when the temperature was under 40 degrees (with the lone win coming in Week 17 against the hapless Bears). The gametime temperature in South Philadelphia: 22 degrees and windy.

-Tampa Bay had never won a road playoff game in franchise history.

When Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 70 yards -- followed by Duce Staley's touchdown in the first minute -- victory seemed a foregone conclusion. Alas, the Eagles lost the game, 27-10. After sucking the energy out of the Vet with two lengthy touchdown drives during the first half, Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber's sealed the outcome with a 92-yard interception with 3:12 left. It sent 66,713 salty fans to the aisles, an appropriate tribute to a building which provided the stage for 33 years of disappointment and heartbreak.

*Technically, it's only been 98 seasons of losing As Philly.com shares, all this talk about 100 seasons of losing is a little premature. There was no World Series champion in 1994 and there was no Stanley Cup awarded in 2004 due to strikes. I guess we will have to wait until after the Phillies and Eagles seasons this year for all this "100 seasons" talk.

*Who will finally break the streak? Back when I first started this blog, I wrote about who I thought would be the next Philly sports champion. I still agree with everything I have written there.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Charles Barkley gives up gambling

After the news came out last week that he owed $400,000 to a Vegas casino, Charles Barkley has decided to quit gambling, at least for now. During the pregame show for the TNT broadcast of Monday's game between the Spurs and Hornets, Barkley announced that he was "not going to gamble anymore. For right now, the next year or two, I'm not going to gamble." Barkley said that he doesn't have any money problems and that he has payed back the debt he owes, but he wants to take a break from gambling.

Sounds like a smart plan to me, considering how many millions of dollars Barkley has likely lost over the years. The man definitely has a gambling problem, so I wonder how long he can really stay away. He's a rich man so he probably isn't going to face any financial hardships, but as Barkley himself said, "Just because I can afford to lose money doesn't mean I should do it."

I'll set the over/under at 1 month before Barkley is going to gamble again. Wanna take the under, Charles?

Here's the video of the TNT segment:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Orange Crushed: Embarassing end to the Flyers' season

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
So much for a miracle comeback. The Penguins dominated the Flyers in every facet of play, beating them 6-0 in Game 5 to win the Eastern Conference Finals 4 games to 1. The Flyers season ends on a sour note but we shouldn't forget how far they have come since last season. From the worst team in hockey to a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals is an amazing turnaround, it was just too bad it had to end the way it did today.

Pittsburgh scored early and often in the rout. Despite the return of Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers defense looked slow and couldn't keep up with the Penguins forwards. The Pens were allowed to build up a head of steam heading into the Flyers zone and they used it to set up a ton of scoring chances.

Martin Biron also picked a bad time to play his worst game of the playoffs. Biron made a couple of head-scratching plays that led to goals and let in a few softies. Things got so bad for him in the second period I expected him to get pulled, but John Stevens allowed Biron to finish out the game. He managed just 19 saves on 25 shots.

The Penguins played a complete game of hockey. They got strong defensive play, great goaltending and solid offensive contributions from their forwards. They were the better team throughout this series and deserve to be representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. They will be a tough team to beat for whichever team makes it out of the West.

So the Flyers season ends with them playing poorly. It was a bad way to go out, but it certainly didn't represent how they played all season. The Flyers showed a ton of grit and determination to get as far as they did, especially considering they were the 6th seed in the East. This team was not expected to get as far as it did this year, they are built to be a contender down the road. They have a ton of young talent in Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger who got great playoff experience this year and they still have Claude Giroux and first round pick John vanRiemsdyk coming down the road. This team is still a few years away from hitting its peak, so we should have plenty of deep Stanley Cup runs in our future.

I will have much more to say about the Flyers and what they need to do this off-season in the coming weeks, but for now we should celebrate how far they came this season. We can be pissed off with the way it ended, but every Flyer fan needs to look at the big picture and understand how good this team will be. It's the worst saying for fans of Philadelphia sports, but it's true: There's always next year. Of course, there is always the Phillies this year, too.

Game Five Flyers vs. Penguins Live Game Blog: Timonen in, Coburn out

The Live Blog is back! After changing things up for Game Four, the Live Blog is back to it's original form for Game Five. Come discuss the game with fellow Flyer fans as we see if the Flyers can stave off elimination again. Check back right here at 3:00 to participate in the Live Blog!

Rod Barajas? Seriously?

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Rod Barajas hit two home runs, one of them a grand slam, for the Blue Jays to lead them to a 6-3 victory over the Phillies. No, that's not a typo, that's the same Rod Barajas who stunk it up as a catcher for the Phillies last season. He finished with 5 RBIs on the game, just three shy of what Jayson Werth did on Friday. I guess Barajas didn't like getting booed by the Philly crowd.

Highlights of Barajas' ridiculous game via Comcast SportsNet:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Werth his weight in gold

(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.)
A little over a year ago myself and most of Philadelphia had a nickname for Jayson Werth: Werthless. After his effort Friday night in the Phils 10-3 win over the Blue Jays, I will never call him that name again.

Werth had a record breaking night, hitting a home run in each of his first three at-bats in the game. He hit a 3-run homer in the 2nd, a grand slam in the 3rd and a solo shot in the 5th to give him 8 RBIs on the night, a number that ties the Phillie franchise record for RBI in a game. Werth missed a chance to add a fourth homer in the 7th inning when he fouled out. It was an absolutely amazing effort, just look at his stat line for the game:


ABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
J Werth CF4338000.288

Four Phillies have had 8 RBI games in their history: Kitty Bransfeld (1910), Gavvy Cravath (1915), Willie Jones (1958) and most recently Mike Schmidt (1976). While I have never heard of the other three, Werth has to feel pretty special to share a record with Schmidt.

The night belonged to Werth offensively and Jamie Moyer put together a decent start on the mound. Moyer had just one bad inning in the 4th but otherwise he gave up several hits that led to little damage on the scoreboard.

Highlights of Werth's historic night:

Flyers Prospect Claude Giroux named MVP of QMJHL Playoffs

The future looks bright for the Philadelphia Flyers. Not only do they have several young stars on their final four NHL team but they have a bunch of young prospects who will be joining the big club in the next few years.

One of their top forward prospects, Claude Giroux, who you might remember from a brief stint with the Flyers earlier in the year, absolutely tore up the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) this season. Giroux was just named the MVP of the QMJHL Playoffs after his Gatineau Olympiques team won the championship. Giroux dominated the league, setting an Olympiques franchise record with 51 points in 19 games. The next closest player in scoring in the entire playoffs was his teammate, Paul Byron, who finished with 32 points.

With players like Giroux still in the pipeline, the Flyers are set up to be a contending team for the next decade. The final four finish this season is just the beginning of what should be a long and promising run for the Flyers.

Coburn and Timonen back for Game Five?

All of the sudden, things are looking a whole lot better for the Flyers. Fresh off their Game Four win last night the Flyers announced that they might have their top two defensemen back in the line-up on Sunday for Game Five.

Braydon Coburn, who missed the last two games after he took a puck to the face, was already likely to return once the swelling around his left eye subsided. As long as he continues to progress you can bet he will be back Sunday.

The surprising news is that Kimmo Timonen might also be available to play in Game Five. Timonen has missed the entire series with the Penguins with a blood clot in his ankle but will attempt to skate on it today. If the ankle feels well enough he could find his way back to the ice on Sunday. This is great news for a Flyers team that thought they had lost Timonen for the entire playoffs but now it appears that the blood clots have improved enough that he can make a comeback attempt.

If the Flyers get their top two defensemen back and can play with the same passion and intensity they showed last night, this series is going to get interesting. It's amazing what a little good news and a win can do for the confidence of a team, there's a chance they could build on it and pull off the unlikely.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It ain't over yet: Flyers hold off Penguins to stave off elimination

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Flyers of the first two rounds showed up tonight when they absolutely had to. Down 3-0 in the series and facing elimination at the hands of their cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers played inspired hockey and pulled out a 4-2 win to keep their slim Stanley Cup hopes alive.

The Flyers jumped out in the first period and absolutely dominated the Penguins. Feeding off the booming home crowd, the Flyers scored three goals in the first period. Joffrey Lupul started off the scoring and Danny Briere and Jeff Carter both added power play goals as the Flyers offense showed more energy and intensity than it had all series. Philly looked like they were going to steamroll the Penguins as Pittsburgh could do little else but sit back and withstand the onslaught of the Flyers.

The second period featured no goals and very few penalties but the Flyers continued to control the play. The Penguins got a fair number of shots on Martin Biron who made some of the great stops we saw from him in the Capitals and Canadiens series.

Pittsburgh made their comeback in the third period. Jordan Staal played like a man possessed as he tallied two goals and was all over the ice making plays. His second goal came with just under 6 minutes left to play and things got interesting from there. With some timely saves by Biron, the Flyers managed to hold off the Pens attack until Joffrey Lupul scored an empty net goal with 30 seconds left to play to seal the victory.

The fireworks really began after the empty net goal. The Flyers and Penguins tangled up twice in the final seconds as both teams showed just how much they hate one another. First, Derian Hatcher and Ryan Malone met up for a fight, then Mike Richards and Sidney Crosby shared slashes and a few shoves. The Penguins showed their frustration in getting whipped for most of the night and the Flyers were doing what they do best: getting under the oppositions' skin.

With the way the Flyers played tonight and all the bad blood at the end of the game, Game 5 is setting up to be a great battle. The Flyers remain alive and see the door open a little bit to the possibility of pulling off a miracle. If Philly can play the way they did tonight, full of energy and toughness, then we may yet see a few more games from this team.

The Flyers showed an effort tonight that they lacked in Games 1-3. They have proven that when they play at the top of their game, they can beat anyone. The only question now is which team will show up in Game 5? Things could get interesting if they play anything like they did tonight.

Highlights of the game via Comcast SportsNet:

King Cole mows down the Braves

(AP Photo/H. Rumph, Jr.)
Cole Hamels showed Brett Myers how it's done. Hamels pitched his first career shutout to lead the Phillies to a 5-0 win over the Braves. King Cole went 9 innings, gave up only 4 hits and struck out 6 batters in a 120-pitch complete game shutout. He was simply dominant from the beginning, turning aside 15 straight batters at one point. At a time when Phillies fans are questioning their starting pitching, it's nice to have a guarantee like Hamels. We know that every time he goes out there, the Phillies will have an excellent chance of winning.

Offensively, the Phillies relied on the homer, belting three in the game. Pedro Feliz, Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino each hit one out of the park. Howard has hit 3 homers in his last 5 games, can we finally say his slump is over? The batting average still sits at .185 but at least he is driving in some runs.

Interleague play begins tomorrow as the Phils' World Series nemesis Toronto Blue Jays come to town for a three game set. Call me bitter but I still want revenge for what Joe Carter did!

Highlights of the game via Comcast SportsNet:

Game 4 Flyers vs. Penguins Live Game Blog

Unfortunately, I won't be able to do the usual live blog tonight for Game Four. Let's hope the Flyers find a way to continue their season so I can have a Game Five Live Blog on Sunday! Go Flyers!

I will post some updates here as the game goes on for those of you following the game. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section below!

Refresh your browser to see the latest updates.

10:14 pm GAME OVER: FLYERS WIN 4-2, PENGUINS LEAD SERIES 3-1
Check back soon for my postgame blog post!

10:12 pmANOTHER BRAWL!!
Richards and Crosby go at it and then everyone bunches up again! This is Flyers hockey!

10:09 pm BRAWL!!
Hatcher and Malone are fighting, everyone on the ice is pushing each other....Penguins are frustrated, love it!

10:08 pm FLYERS 4, PENGUINS 2 GOAL: Lupul J
offrey Lupul punches in an empty netter to seal the victory for the Flyers!

10:06 pm (1 min left)
Fleury to the bench! Here come the Penguins!

10:04 pm (1:22 left)
Penguins call a timeout. Expect Fleury to go to the bench soon for a 6 on 5.

10:03 pm
Staal is playing well, if the Flyers don't slow him down he's gonna tie this up! (1:30 left)

10:01 pm
Still 3-2, the Penguins have all the momentum now. The Flyers have gone back into a shell and are just hoping to withstand the rush. (3:20 left)

9:56 pm FLYERS 3, PENGUINS 2 GOAL: Staal
Penguins cut the gap to one..... we're in for a frantic finish here! (Under 6 mins left)

9:36 pm FLYERS 3, PENGUINS 1 GOAL: Staal
Good hustle goal there for Staal cuts the lead down to 2. No shutout for Biron!

9:31 pm THIRD PERIOD UNDER WAY
You can bet the game is going to get chippy now with the way these two teams feel about each other.

9:14 pm SECOND PERIOD OVER, Flyers still lead 3-0.
Philly is 20 minutes away from forcing a return trip to Pittsburgh for Game Five!

9:11 pm
Briere is slashed by Sykora. Another PEEEEECOOOOO Power play!

9:06 pm
This is the Biron we saw in rounds 1 and 2. He is piling up the saves and making it look easy.

9:02 pm
Penguins go on the power play now with Carter going to the box for tripping. Gotta keep the Penguins off the board, there is still plenty of time for them to come back.

8:59 pm
Crowd is really having an impact tonight. Flyers feeding off it and continuing to make big hits. Wonder if this can continue back in Pittsburgh in Game Five.

8:52 pm
Prospal looks like a new man tonight. He makes a few great plays from the seat of his pants. These new lines have certainly lit a fire under the Flyers. (10 minutes left in the 2nd)

8:45 pm
Fleury ROBS Briere. Love Briere's jump tonight.

8:44 pm
Upshall looks PISSED. He goes after Sykora with a vengeance after Sykora gives him a cheap shot to the head. 4 on 4 for two minutes.

8:43 pm
Flyers piling up the shots today, already accumulating 18 shots. This is a completely different team than the one that looked defeated in Game Three.

8:38 pm SECOND PERIOD UNDER WAY
As NJFlyer says in the comment section, it's time to step on the throats of the Penguins!

8:20 pm END OF THE FIRST PERIOD
By far the best period the Flyers have had against the Penguins. Tons of jump and hustle has led to a dominant effort over the Penguins so far. Where was this in Games 1-3?

8:17 pm FLYERS 3, PENGUINS 0 GOAL: Carter
Flyers capitalize with another power play goal. Carter get the puck past Fleury after a rebound. Looks like the Penguins decided not to show up tonight.

8:14 pm
Thoreson back in the line-up tonight, thankfully Downie is out. Players going at it again after the whistle. Flyers back on the power play AGAIN! (Under 3 minutes left)

8:05 pm
Flyers get a TON of chances, nothing doing yet on this power play. Tons of hitting and pushing after the whistle, looks like the Penguins are getting frustrated. This is exactly the type of game the Flyers wanted.

8:04 pm
Flyers back on the power play. They're gonna bury the Pens at this rate!

7:59 pm: FLYERS 2, PENGUINS 0 GOAL: Briere
Flyers take a 2 goal lead on Briere's power play goal. The offense is clicking tonight!

7:56 pm:
Flyers get their own powerplay. They look like a completely different team right now, much more like the team that dominated the Canadiens.

7:53 pm: FLYERS 1, PENGUINS 0 GOAL: Lupul
Joffrey Lupul scores after the Flyers keep the pressure on. The shot deflected past Fleury to give the Flyers an early lead. This is the best the offense has looked all series. (11 mins left in the first)

7:51 pm:
Best chance on the power play is a Mike Richards shorthanded breakaway, unfortunately he didn't score. Richards is such an opportunist on when on the penalty kill.

7:49 pm:
Penguins get the first power play of the night. Briere goes off for tripping. It looked to me that he was just playing the puck.

7:46 pm:
Biron is on early making big stops on Malkin and Crosby.

7:42 pm:
Briere with a great early chance... love the new line of Richards/Briere/Hartnell

7:41 pm: Game is under way!

With the season on the line, Flyers shake up lines, sit Coburn

The Flyers may be playing their last game of the season tonight. In an effort to shake things up and get a spark, Coach John Stevens has rearranged the Flyers forward lines to look like this:

Richards - Briere - Hartnell
Umberger - Prospal - Lupul
Upshall - Carter - Knuble
Thoresen - Dowd - Kapanen

Basically Mike Richards has moved up to the wing on the top line and Vaclav Prospal has moved down to center the second line. Prospal has been MIA for the entire series against the Penguins so maybe this is a move to get him going. All the great chemistry we had seen between him and Danny Briere seems to have disappeared so it makes sense to split them up.

Coburn Out: Braydon Coburn will not play tonight. He practiced yesterday and felt like he could play if the swelling on his left eye subsided, but the decision was made today to sit him down for Game Four. As I said yesterday, this is the right decision. There is no need to rush Coburn back and risk injury with the very real possibility that the season will be over today anyway.

Phillies come up short in late comeback, lose 8-6 to Braves

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Brett Myers dug the Phillies a hole they couldn't quite find their way out of. Myers pitched one of his worst games in recent memory, allowing 8 runs in just 4 and 1/3 innings. Things started off terrible for Myers, who gave up a lead-off home run to Yunel Escobar and then let up another homer to Chipper Jones two batters later. In all, the Braves tagged Myers for 9 hits and 3 home runs en route to an 8-6 win over the Phillies.

Once Myers left the game, the Phillies bullpen did what it does best: shut the opposition down. Ryan Madsen, Clay Condrey and Rudy Seanez combined to shut out the Braves the rest of the way and opened the door to a Phillies comeback.

Tom Glavine started for the Braves and put forth a vintage Glavine effort until the Phils offense woke up in the 6th inning. Led by Chase Utley's 14th homer of the season, the Phillies cut the Braves lead in half down to 8-4 in the 6th. From there, a Ryan Howard homer in the 8th pulled Philadelphia within 3 runs and then things got interesting in the 9th. The Phillies managed to get two guys on base for Jimmy Rollins, who hit one run in to cut the lead down to two. Shane Victorino then had a chance at glory and hit a long out to right field to end the game.

Brett Myers needs to shape up. He took the loss tonight, dropping his record to 2-4 and raising his ERA to 5.91. For a guy who is supposedly the Phillies second best starter, he has yet to put together two solid starts in a row. His struggles bring the entire rotation down and make it so the only guy the Phils can rely on is Cole Hamels. Perhaps Myers is having problems adjusting back into the starting role. Whatever the issue is, he better figure things out quickly.

The Phillies wrap up their series with the Braves tomorrow night when Cole Hamels takes the mound against Chuck James. After that, interleague play begins with the Phillies taking on the Blue Jays in a three game set this weekend. I am getting sick of seeing the Florida Marlins sitting atop the NL East. The Phillies have everything in place offensively and in the bullpen and it's up to the starting pitchers to pull themselves together so the Phils can reclaim their spot at the top of the division.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Braydon Coburn returns to practice

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Braydon Coburn returned to practice today for the Flyers in hopes of taking the ice for Game 4 tomorrow night. Coburn missed Game 3 because his eye was swollen shut following the puck to the face he took in Game 2. Coburn will wear a visor to protect his eye, which, as you can see above, looks better but still has a ways to go to fully open back up.

While it would be a great story and a true test of toughness if Coburn returns for Game 4, there is really no point in rushing him back to the ice. With the Flyers on the brink of elimination, if his vision is impaired in any way and there is any chance he could hurt himself worse, he should sit out. Even if he plays well and the Flyers win the game, they have a huge uphill battle ahead of them if they are going to win the series. It is likely there is a greater chance of Braydon Coburn getting injured worse than the Flyers have of winning four straight against the Penguins.

Eagles sign three more rookies

The Eagles signed three more free agent rookies to contracts today and, no, Adarius Bowman was not one of them. The Eagles added a quarterback, Casey Hansen from Norfolk State, and two linebackers, Gary Butler from California (Pa) and Mark Staffieri from BYU. All three are longshots to make the team.

Hansen is an interesting prospect given his 6 foot 5 size and his decent passing numbers at Norfolk State. Hansen was a two year starter who led the entire MEAC in passing in 2006, throwing for 2166 yards and amassing a QB rating of 116.9. In 2007, Hansen saw a slight dip in those numbers, passing for 2111 yards and finishing with a QB rating of 114.5. Despite those numbers, I see little chance of him overtaking A.J. Feeley for the third string role, although he could be a practice squad player.

Butler put up big numbers at California (Pa) last season, notching 12 sacks and forcing four fumbles. He was also named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Defensive Player of the Year. Staffieri finished his college career with 2 total sacks and 132 tackles.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Penguins on verge of sweep after 4-1 Game 3 win

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Keystone Clash crossed the state to Philadelphia on Tuesday night, but the game looked very similar to the previous two. The Penguins looked better in nearly every facet of the game, dominating the Flyers 4-1 in Game 3 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.

The Flyers were over-matched from the beginning when the Penguins got two quick goals in the first 8 minutes. The goals were a bit fluky with the first going in off a Jason Smith's foot and the second coming when Martin Biron was screened, but the Penguins managed to take the Flyers right out of the game. Philly responded with a goal by R.J. Umberger, but from there on they barely challenged Marc-Andre Fleury, finishing with a mere 18 shots. The Penguins sealed the victory with a goal halfway through the third period and an empty netter at the end of regulation.

It was a strange game that lacked any flow. The first period was a penalty-fest, with the refs calling four hooking penalties and handing out powerplays left and right. From then on, the refs swallowed the whistle, only choosing to call the Flyers for one more penalty for the rest of the game. The Flyers couldn't get anything going 5 on 5 and seemed to be waiting for another powerplay chance to get their offense going. That chance never came and by the time the Flyers tried to get anything going, it was too late.

Steve Downie will take much of the blame for making another terrible play tonight that led to the Penguins third goal. Downie made an ill-advised pass that was picked off by the Pens and they took it the other way for the back-breaking goal. Downie made a poor play in Game 2 that led to a Penguins goal but he can't totally be blamed for this loss. Granted, Downie screwed up, but it was a total team effort in losing tonight. Downie should find a seat in the stands for the next game, though, because there is no way he suits up.

Game Four is Thursday in Philadelphia. Teams have very rarely come back when down 0-3 in a series and there is nothing the Flyers are showing me that makes me think they will pull off the miracle. Losing Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn was simply too much for this team. Let's just hope they can avoid a sweep by winning the next one.

We can stick a fork in the Flyers and set our sights on the Phillies chances. The Flyers made a valiant effort this season which I will talk more about later, but they simply don't have the horses to compete with the Penguins.

Video highlights of the game, plus reactions from John Stevens and Mike Richards:

Werth's 4 RBI lead Phillies over Braves

(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.)
I spent most of the night watching the Flyers, but there were some interesting things to come out of the Phillies 5-4 win over the Braves:

*Jayson Werth leads the offense Werth had been struggling for the last few weeks, but he busted out tonight with a 3 hit, 4 RBI night. All 3 of his hits were singles with runners in scoring position. Werth should continue to have a big role in this series with Atlanta as the Braves are starting lefties in each of the remaining games.

*Kyle Kendrick bounces back After giving up 3 runs in the first inning it looked like a typical Kyle Kendrick start, but he rebounded to have a solid outing. Kendrick didn't allow another run after his first inning shakiness, going 6 innings in all. Kendrick allowed 6 hits in the game and walked 4 batters. It was the type of good but not great effort that earned him ten wins last year.

*Brad Lidge is human Brad Lidge finally gave up an earned run this season, sending his ERA soaring all the way to 0.50. Lidge came into the ninth inning with a two run lead and ran into a bunch of trouble, walking a pair of batters and giving up a double that scored a run. Jayson Werth was playing center and made a bad jump on the double so really even this earned run wasn't Lidge's fault. If Shane Victorino was out there the game would have been over. Despite the bad defense, Lidge settled down and got his 10th save of the season. He's not perfect anymore, but he still manages to get the job done.

*Ryan Howard slump watch Ryan Howard had a so-so effort tonight, going 2 for 4 with an RBI, 2 runs scored and 2 strikeouts. The Phillies will take the strikeouts if he can get on base more often. Howard's batting average has now soared up to .181.

Highlights of the game via Comcast SportsNet:

Game 3 Flyers vs. Penguins Live Game Blog

After another tough loss for the Flyers, the Live Blog will be back on tonight at 7:15 for Game Three in the Battle of Pennsylvania. Come and discuss the game as it happens with fellow Flyer fans as Philly looks to get back into the series.

Ridiculously early NFL Power Rankings

It's mid-May, so obviously it's time for NFL Power Rankings! Both ESPN.com and SI.com have released their incredibly early preseason power rankings, and both of them have the Eagles just outside the top ten. Here are their rankings and their thoughts on the Eagles:

ESPN:
Rank: 13
Comments: Last season, they hit their stride when it was too late. With a fully healed Donovan McNabb and an improved secondary, the Eagles could be dangerous.

Sports Illustrated:
Rank: 11
Comments: The story's the same as ever in Reid-land: Donovan McNabb has to stay upright for 16 games for this team to have a chance to play deep into January. He's missed two, four and seven starts in the last three years. That's partly why the Eagles have fallen considerably short of their second Super Bowl appearance in the McNabb era.

Two assists for him this year. Lorenzo Booker's a better alter-ego to Brian Westbrook than Correll Buckhalter has been. And DeSean Jackson, even at 170 pounds soaking wet, should be a bit more of a stretch-the-defense third or fourth receiver than McNabb has had. If Jackson does nothing else, at least he'll spice up the blah return game (8.1 yards per punt return and 21.7 on kickoffs is no way to win ball games). Oh, and it would be nice if McNabb's tackles could block the Giants.

My thoughts: Those rankings seem about right for the Eagles, although I was very surprised to see the Minnesota Vikings ranked higher than the Eagles in both rankings, they don't even have a quarterback. Both ESPN and SI make the obvious statement that McNabb has to stay healthy if the Eagles want to make any noise this year. SI thinks McNabb has plenty of new weapons to keep him happy, although most Eagle fans would still prefer a true number one receiver. I am excited to see some offensive plays with both Booker and Westbrook in the backfield; they will make a dangerous combination.

I like the make-up of this Eagles team, they should be very competitive in a difficult NFC East. It's way to early to tell, but a return to the playoffs looks likely. Their defense appears to be above average again so it may simply come down to how effective McNabb and the offense can be. Of course, we are still about 4 months away from the season, so no one really knows anything yet.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Braydon Coburn out for Game Three

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Flyers playoff hopes continue to dim today. After losing to the Penguins yesterday to fall into a 2-0 hole in the series, the Flyers learned today that they will play Game 3 without defenseman Braydon Coburn. Coburn took a puck to the face in the first period of Game 2 and had to leave the game. He got 50 stitches on his face around his left eye and lost a lot of blood, making him feel lightheaded. The Flyers have already ruled him out for Game 3, although there is a chance he could return for Game 4 on Thursday. Ryan Parent will suit up in Coburn's place.

The Flyers were already playing without their best defenseman Kimmo Timonen, and now they lose their second best d-man in Coburn. It's another big loss, one that might be too much to overcome. Derian Hatcher, who played well in Game 2, will have to continue to play a huge role for the Flyers. The Flyers lack depth on the blue line, so guys like Lasse Kukkonen and Jaroslav Modry will have to step up and play key roles.

The Penguins offense would be tough enough to stop even if the Flyers were at full strength. The mounting injuries might make beating their cross-state rivals nearly impossible.

"Highlights" of Coburn's injury:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Flyers lose 4-2 to Penguins.....again

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
The Flyers lost Game Two by the same score as they lost Game One, 4-2, but Sunday's contest was a completely different story in terms of effort. In Game One, the Flyers looked flat-footed and played most of the game back on their heels, while in Game Two they showed more of the effort and intensity that we have grown accustomed to seeing in this playoff run. The Flyers simply took too many penalties that allowed the Penguins to get their offense going and couldn't generate enough offense of their own.

The night started off terrible for the Flyers when Braydon Coburn took a puck to the nose and collapsed to the ice. Coburn was bleeding badly and was taken to the locker room to get stitches and he was unable to return to the game. The Flyers, who were already without Kimmo Timonen, were then forced to play the rest of the game without their best two defensemen, something that spells certain doom against the Penguins attack. Philly did not back down defensively, however, with Derian Hatcher playing an amazing game, logging nearly 30 minutes of ice time and making big hit after big hit. If it wasn't for Hatcher, the Flyers would have been blown out in the game.

There were several questionable calls made by the refs throughout the game that went against both teams. The Penguins had a goal that didn't count because replays didn't show a clear shot of the puck going in. Sidney Crosby shut a puck that appeared to inch past the line and into the goal, but in every camera angle Martin Biron's glove was in the way so it was difficult to tell if it went in. By the laws of physics, the puck probably had to be past the line, but with no good video proof, it was no goal. The Flyers were on the short end of several bad calls, including one that directly set up a powerplay goal by the Penguins. Derian Hatcher made a play on Evgeni Malkin to slow him down and the refs called him for hooking. Replays showed that Hatcher's stick was between Malkin's legs, but the call was questionable at best. Nine seconds after Hatcher goes in the box, the Penguins scored a goal to give them a 2-1 lead. Danny Briere was also called for goalie interference later in the game when he was clearly pushed into Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury by a Pens player. Luckily that call did not result in a goal.

Tonight's contest was a close game throughout. The Penguins scored first on a power play goal by Sidney Crosby in the first period. The Flyers responded with a power play goal of their own early in the second period. Joffrey Lupul fed Jeff Carter for a nice shot to tie the game. The Penguins pulled ahead 2-1 on a goal by Marian Hossa during the Hatcher phantom penalty call, and then the Flyers evened things right back up at the end of the second period on a short handed goal by Mike Richards. Malkin tried to be too fancy with the puck on the power play and Richards took it from him, skated in all alone, and fired the puck past Fleury. The Penguins later added the game winning goal when Max Talbot was fed a nice pass by Gary Roberts and shot the puck past Martin Biron. It was a nice goal by the Penguins fourth line. Pittsburgh later added an empty net goal to make it a 4-2 win.

The effort was better tonight for the Flyers. They played a more physical game, got better goaltending from Martin Biron and managed to get more shots on net. Unfortunately the Penguins proved to be too good and the loss of Coburn proved to be too much to overcome.

Game Three is back in Philadelphia on Tuesday. The Wachovia Center will be rocking so expect the Flyers to come out and play their best hockey. There is a saying in the NBA playoffs that a series doesn't start until someone loses a home game. Home ice isn't quite as important in hockey, but I think it still has some merit. All the Flyers have to do is protect their home ice and they can get right back in this series. However, if they lose either one of the next two at home it will probably end their season. It will be tough, especially if the Flyers lose Coburn for another game, but this team has overcome so many difficult obstacles that I am not ready to write them off yet. There is still a lot of hockey left to be played and you can bet the Flyers won't simply sit back and let the Penguins coast into the Stanley Cup Finals. As the Keystone Clash moves across the state, expect the Flyers and their fans to have a lot more to say about this series.

Highlights of the game via Comcast SportsNet: