Monday, May 31, 2010

Niemi turns Flyers aside in Game 2

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Sometimes you can do just about everything right in hockey and simply get beat by a red-hot goaltender. While the Flyers weren't perfet in Game 2, they showed quite an improvement over their play Game 1 yet it wasn't enough to beat Antii Niemi and the Blackhawks, who won 2-1. The loss puts the Flyers in a 2-0 hole in the Stanley Cup Finals, a disappointing circumstance but nothing the Flyers aren't equipped to fight their way out of (see: Round 2 vs. Boston).

Niemi was the story in Game 2, stopping 33 of the 34 shots he faced. While he was solid all game long, Niemi came up huge in the third period as he stopped 15 shots when the Flyers kicked things into high gear in an attempt to tie the game. When a goaltender is seeing the puck as well as Niemi was tonight, it usually takes some kind of funny bounce or crazy play to get a goal, something the Flyers only managed once on the power play when Simon Gagne buried a bouncing puck.

The Flyers now come home to Philly staring a two game deficit in the face. Many of the same things that were said in the Boston series apply here as well: nothing is done yet, the Flyers just have to protect their home ice, Game 3 becomes a must win, etc. While we can all point to the Bruins series as evidence that the Flyers are never out of it until they actually lose 4 games in a series, it's easier said than done for them to come back against this very solid Blackhawks team. Not to take anything away from their amazing comeback but Boston didn't have the firepower or the defensive prowess that the Blackhawks possess, making getting back into this series an extremely difficult task.

Not that it can't be done. The Flyers have shown us time and time again that they will not go down easily. Given how close the first two games have been, there is no reason anyone should lose faith in the Flyers. All they need is a few good bounces and the best fans in hockey to get behind them in Game 3 to turn the momentum of the series back in their favor. Winning 4 out of the next 5 sounds daunting when you look at the big picture but you can bet the Flyers will be taking it one game at a time. Besides, when you've overcome an 0-3 deficit, an 0-2 deficit is almost laughable.

Keep the faith, Flyers fans. I guarantee you this team isn't even close to giving up.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Video Perfection: all 27 outs of Halladay's gem

In case you were like me and you watched the Flyers game for most of the night, here's a look at all 27 outs in Roy Halladay's perfect game:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Flyers lose wild Game 1 to the Blackhawks

(Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)
I'm pretty sure Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals didn't go how either team planned it, with goals came early and often in this one as both teams played sloppy hockey in the first two periods. After trading one goal leads back and forth all game long, the Blackhawks eventually scored last and then held on to beat the Flyers 6-5 and take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Whether it was the long layoff or the unfamiliarity with their opponents, the Flyers didn't play with the same focused intensity that they had against the Canadiens. Sure, the Flyers made things happen in the offensive end in the first two periods, but they weren't the same team defensively as they made bad turnovers and spent a lot of time watching the Blackhawks rather than playing the puck. The Flyers must play better than that against a Chicago team that will make you pay for all of your mistakes.

On top of losing the game, we now may have another goaltending controversy in Philadelphia. After giving up 5 goals in 20 shots, Michael Leighton was pulled from the game and replaced with the returning Brian Boucher. While Boosh wasn't exactly perfect, he did allow only one goal and made 11 saves, a few of them of the highlight variety. What this means for who starts in net for Game 2 for the Flyers is anyone's guess. Did the Flyers pull Leighton as an attempt to fire up the team or was it simply for how poorly he was playing? And, did Boucher shake enough of the rust off and prove that he is ready to jump back into the starting role?

While it is depressing that the Flyers lost Game 1, there were still a few positives to take from the game. Shockingly, the Flyers didn't have a penalty the entire game, a trend they would be smart to continue considering the Blackhawks can be lethal on the power play. The Flyers also did score 5 times on Antii Niemi, proving they know what it takes to get the puck past him. Had the Flyers actually won the game, we would also be singing the praises of Scott Hartnell, who played some of his best hockey in the season en route to a one goal, two assist night.

After losing Game 1, the goal remains the same for the Flyers: win one of the first two in Chicago. While their effort wasn't particularly inspiring, at least the Flyers didn't get blown out even though they weren't playing their game. It's going to take a much better effort out of the Flyers if they want to knock off the Blackhawks in Game 2 but no one ever said winning the Cup was going to be easy. I trust that Laviolette will make the necessary adjustments and the troops will be ready to roll and make this thing a series.

Perfection, thy name is Roy Halladay

(AP PHOTO)
Roy Halladay has confirmed what we already knew about him: he's not a man, he's a machine. How else do you explain the clinic he put on against the Marlins on Saturday?

In just over 2 hours, Halladay needed 115 pitches to retire all 27 of the Marlins he faced and become the 20th player in MLB history to throw a perfect game. Halladay also became the second Phillie to throw a perfect game all time, with the first being Jim Bunning in 1964.

What more is there to say about Roy Halladay? While some of the previous perfect games in history were somewhat fluky, we know that Halladay has good enough stuff to flirt with history nearly every time he takes the mound. The Marlins certainly facilitated things with their free-swinging ways but that doesn't take away from the fact that Halladay was on point all game long. The Phillies defense also deserves the credit as they made all the right plays and even some stellar plays along the way.

I'd say this Roy Halladay guy is pretty good, huh? He truly turns every 5th game into a chance to watch something special.

With Boucher back, the Flyers have all hands on deck at just the right time

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Flyers struggles with injuries this season have been well-documented. From the goalie carousel to the shuffling of forwards in and out of the lineup, there have been very few instances where the Flyers have been completely healthy. Until now.

With Brian Boucher confirmed to be returning as the backup goalie for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Flyers are back at full strength at just the right time. Of course, if all goes well, Boucher will never see a minute of ice time but it's good to have a dependable goalie ready to step in should Michael Leighton succumb to an injury.

With Jeff Carter rounding into form and Ian Laperriere showing no recurring issues with concussions, the Flyers might be the healthiest they have been all season. Given how good the Blackhawks are from top to bottom, the Flyers are going to need all hands on deck and ready to contribute. Enjoy Stanley Cup Finals Game One, folks, and relish every minute of the Flyers playing for the Cup.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Flyers vs. Blackhawks: Stanley Cup Finals Breakdown

Four more wins. I still can't believe we've gotten to the point where all that stands between the Flyers and history is four more wins. After all of the tumult this season, from the coach firing to the slew of injuries to the need for a shootout win to even get into the playoffs, who would have thought the Flyers would be just four wins away from winning their first cup in 35 years? Of course, the Flyers still have quite a mountain to climb given that those wins are going to have to come on the biggest stage in hockey against the best team they have faced in the playoffs. While nearly all of the experts have sided with the Blackhawks, let's take a closer look at the two teams in the Stanley Cup Finals and see if the Flyers have what it takes to prove the experts wrong.

Offense: The Flyers appear to have met their match at forward for the first time in the playoffs. In every other series, the Flyers have had a major advantage in the depth department at forward. Not so with Chicago, who rolls out some serious firepower in the form of four players with 7 or more goals in the playoffs. We all know about the kids like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and a red-hot Dustin Byfuglien but the Blackhawks also boast other big scorers like former Flyer Patrick Sharp and perennial Stanley Cup runner-up Marian Hossa. This group of forwards is going to test the Flyers defense in a way it hasn't seen yet in the playoffs.

As for the Flyers forwards, they got even stronger with the returns of Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere. If Danny Briere, Mike Richards and Claude Giroux can continue their hot streaks, the Flyers should be in good shape up front. Of course, the Chicago defense has been known to stifle the top lines of the opposition so it could be up to someone like Scott Hartnell or Arron Asham to create a spark. While the Blackhawks forwards are the bigger names, the Flyers forwards can hang with anyone in the league, so I call these two teams even at forward.

Defense: Team defense has been the Flyers strength this entire postseason. Led by playoff stud Chris Pronger, the Flyers seem to have found another gear and have shut down whatever the opposition has thrown at them. Much the same can be said about the Blackhawks, too, but there is one difference between these two teams: the Flyers only go 4 deep while Chicago goes 5 deep. The Flyers have been making a regular habit out of hiding Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek when at all possible, something that could wear down their top 4 d-men. Chicago, on the other hand, has 5 defensemen that they trust to play 18 or more minutes per game and all have a plus/minus of at least 3. Because of their tremendous depth, the Blackhawks get the edge on defense.

Goaltending: The Flyers have what is perceived to be the weaker goalie heading into every round and yet they always seem to have the better goaltending when all is said and done. While both are in their first playoff runs, Antii Niemi has had to come up with more big saves in the playoffs than Michael Leighton. While Leighton's numbers are much better than Niemi's, he is a product of the Flyers system rather than a goaltender who has had to stand on their head. Based solely on pure talent, Niemi is the better goalie, giving the Blackhawks the advantage in net.

Special Teams: It's hardly shocking that the two teams with the best special teams play in the playoffs have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Look for some interesting matchups here, especially on the Chicago power play, where the Hawks have been stellar and the Flyers have been monsters on the penalty kill. Something will have to give in the series but, for now, these two teams are even on special teams.

Looking at the two teams on paper, the Blackhawks are the better hockey team. They are loaded with skill players at every position and just swept a very good Sharks team to get to the Finals. Why, then, am I picking the Flyers to win the Cup in 7 games? Because, as they have proven time and time again in the playoffs this year, the Flyers are better than the sum of their parts. Their defense, which at times during the regular season looked terrible, always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Their offense, which was spotty and inconsistent all year long, is getting contributions up and down the lineup. Whether Peter Laviolette is simply pushing all the right buttons or they have just found another gear, the Flyers have been rising to the occasion in every round and showing they are willing to do whatever it takes to win the Cup. It's going to be a big task to get past the Blackhawks but when the Flyers have met every challenge in the playoffs so far, why should we think they won't meet this one?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The experts predict the Stanley Cup Final

It already feels like it's been an eternity since the Flyers eliminated the Canadiens but we are still a few days away from the start of the Stanley Cup Finals. While we continue the excruciating wait, several NHL "experts" are weighing in with who they think will win the Cup. Here is just a sampling of predictions from around the internet:

Pierre LeBrun, ESPN: Chicago in 6
No upset here, but perhaps a longer series than some would like to think.

Barry Melrose, ESPN: Chicago in 6

The Hockey News: Chicago in 6
Had you said in October that Chicago and Philadelphia would be the two teams playing for the Stanley Cup, that would have sounded reasonable. Now it seems almost preposterous, but the Flyers are clearly beginning to play to their potential. But the way we see it, the Flyers, like the Predators, Canucks and Sharks, will be no match for the Blackhawks lethal combination of speed and skill.

Kevin Allen, USA Today: Chicago in 6
The Blackhawks have the NHL's longest active Stanley Cup drought of 49 years and that will end in a couple of weeks.

Wes Goldstein, CBS Sports: Chicago in 7
On paper, this reads like a mismatch between a No. 2 seed in Chicago and a No. 7 seed with Philadelphia, both with good special teams and led by heart-and-soul type captains in Richards and Toews. Either might very well end up as the playoff MVP if their team wins.

Greg Wyshynski, Yahoo Sports: Chicago in 7
Great, gritty battle between two teams loaded with big names and quality grunts. The Hossa Hex ends, much to our chagrin.

Every other Yahoo Sports Expert: Chicago in 6

As you can tell, there seems to be a consensus that the Blackhawks are the heavy favorites to win the Cup. In fact, I had to search far and wide to find any experts from the national media that were picking the Flyers and I only came up with two: John Buccigross and Scott Burnside of ESPN. Good thing they don't award the Cup before you actually play the games.

As for my prediction, check back Friday for my complete breakdown of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

History will be made: Mike Richards

If you've been watching the NHL Playoffs, you've seen the epic "History will be made" commercial spots that feature the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr doing magical things on the ice. Well, turns out our very own Mike Richards will be featured in a "History will be made" commercial that displays his tremendous shorthanded goal from Game 5 against the Canadiens:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Flyers vs. Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals Schedule

For the first time in 13 years, the Flyers are back in the Stanley Cup Finals. Let's hope things go a little better this time than they did back in '97. Thankfully, while this Blackhawks team is good, it's no juggernaut like the late 90's Red Wings were. Here is the schedule for the Stanley Cup Finals:

Game 1: Saturday, May 29, Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:00 pm
Game 2: Monday, May 31, Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:00 pm
Game 3: Wednesday, June 2, Chicago at Philadelphia, 8:00 pm
Game 4: Friday, June 4, Chicago at Philadelphia, 8:00 pm
Game 5: Sunday, June 6, Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:00 pm
Game 6: Wednesday, June 9, Chicago at Philadelphia, 8:00 pm
Game 7: Friday, June 11, Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:00 pm

Check back later for much, much more on this series!

The Flyers are Eastern Conference Champions!!

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
And the unlikely run continues. It's shocking, really, that the Flyers, who were a shootout goal away from not even making the playoffs, are now moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals following a tense 4-2 win over the Canadiens in Game 5. The win gave the Flyers a 4-1 series win and moved them onto the Finals where they will face a tough Blackhawks team that is fresh off a sweep of the Sharks in the West.

As has become the norm, the heroes for the Flyers in Game 5 came from several sources, with a usual suspect like Mike Richards scoring a hustle short-handed goal, Arron Asham scoring the unlikely goal and Jeff Carter contributing two goals, one on an empty net, in his first points since the first round. Michael Leighton wasn't great in net for the Flyers but he made just enough saves and the Flyers blocked just enough shots in the final minutes to hold on for the win.

The Flyers are now just 4 wins away from winning the biggest prize in hockey. Before we start planning a parade, though, it's going to be a tough 4 wins to get against a scary-good Blackhawks team. For now, let's just enjoy the ride this team has taken us on and worry about Chicago later. It has taken so much heart and so much determination for them to get this far, I for one don't doubt that they can give the city it's first Stanley Cup in 35 years.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Leighton shines yet again as Flyers take commanding 3-1 series lead

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
It's getting to the point where I have run out of things to say about how good the Flyers are playing. Game 4 in the Eastern Conference Finals was more of the same for them as they had a ton of energy, scored timely goals and got rock solid goaltending in a 3-0 win over the Canadiens. The win was huge for the Flyers as they come home needing just one more win before they can move on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 4 was all about the Flyers showing whether they could bounce back from adversity. After getting outplayed in Game 3, the Flyers needed to respond or else the Canadiens were going to make take all the momentum in the series. The Flyers didn't let that happen, though, as they dominated play for most of the game and effectively neutralized the Canadiens boisterous crowd.

Michael Leighton once again came up big for the Flyers, stopping the meager 17 shots the Canadiens put on net. This game was another instance where Leighton didn't have to be ridiculously good, just in the right place at the right time. With the Flyers defense blocking 27 shots themselves, Leighton just has to be ready for those few tough chances that actually get through to him. For those scoring at home, that's 3 shutouts in 4 games against Montreal.

Offensively for the Flyers, they continue to get scoring from all lines. Tonight, with the top line and power play failing to produce any goals, Claude Giroux got two goals from the third line and Ville Leino got a goal from the second line. The emergence of Giroux, who now has 8 playoff goals and 16 playoff points, has been one of the better stories of the playoffs and really shows just how deep the Flyers are at forward. How many other teams in the NHL have a third line center that can do the things this kid can do? As for Leino, just remember to chuckle at the fact that the Flyers got him for Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a 5th round draft pick as you notice his 12 points in 12 playoff games.

The Flyers also got a boost in Game 4 by the return of Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere. While neither player scored a point, both each made an impact in the game. For Laperriere, it was mixing it up with the Canadiens every chance he got. For Carter, it was making the most out of the incredibly short shifts in the beginning of the game as he tried to get his legs under him. Once he did, he had a few flashes of brilliance on his way to tying for the team lead in shots.

After a rocky Game 3, all is well in Flyerland again. While the Flyers have three more chances to put away the Canadiens, you can bet they will be focused on putting them away at home in Game 5 and avoid having to go back to Montreal again. If they play at all like they did in Game 4 they will be just four wins away from bringing home the Cup.

Sound familiar? Rollins to the DL, Valdez called up

Hopefully you weren't getting used to the Phillies being at full strength. After leaving Friday's game when he re-injured his calf, Jimmy Rollins has been put back on the disabled list. While initial reports were that Rollins' calf strain wasn't nearly as bad this time, the Phillies clearly don't want to risk further injury.

Wilson Valdez has been called up to replace Rollins on the roster, just like he was back on April 14th when Rollins was first injured. Valdez, who just cleared waivers, will be backing up Juan Castro, who takes over as the starting shortstop once again.

One of these days the Phillies offense will be healthy and rolling. For now, let's enjoy the fact that the team is 11 games over .500 and is 2nd in the NL in runs scored without their optimum lineup.

Reinforcements: Carter, Lappy back for the Flyers

Suddenly, the Flyers are back to full strength: according to various sources, both Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere are back in the lineup for Game 4. While there had been speculation that Lappy would be back for Game 4, the fact that Carter is suiting up after the Flyers said there was no chance he would be back during the Eastern Conference Finals is nothing short of a shock. Apparently, the Flyers are pulling out all the stops in a Game 4 that will swing the series one way or another.

To make room for Carter and Laperriere, the Flyers will scratch Dan Carcillo and Andreas Nodl. Expect Laperriere to play on the 4th line and jump right back onto the penalty killing unit while Carter will likely be eased back a little more, playing mostly on the wing and some on the power play. What they shouldn't do with Carter is put him back in at center, especially with how well Danny Briere and Claude Giroux have been playing.

It's pretty clear the Flyers want to leave Montreal with a 3-1 series lead. Whether Carter and Laperriere are really healthy enough to help is a big question but they won't be replacing anyone that was making a huge impact in the series anyway. It's really a win-win for the Flyers to bring these guys back, though, with the best case scenario being Carter's and Lappy's returns give the team the same boost they got when Simon Gagne returned in the second round and the worst case scenario being one or both re-injures themselves and the Flyers depth steps back in the lineup once again. Either way, an already huge Game 4 just got a lot more intriguing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

We have a series: Canadiens jump all over Flyers

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
You had to figure that was coming. The Canadiens, back home in Montreal with their playoff lives in the balance, came out firing on the Flyers, jumping all over them in a 5-1 win that decreased the Flyers advantage in the series to 2-1.

Playing in front of their home crowd energized the Canadiens from the start as they dominated play for most of the entire first period, showing the tenacity that got them this far in the playoffs and had been hidden in the Eastern Conference Finals. While the Flyers did eventually break out their funk and play their game, at that point things were too out of hand and they only managed one small victory when they scored on Jaroslav Halak midway through the third period.

When noticing that the Flyers gave up 5 goals, the first instinct of some fans might be to blame Michael Leighton for the loss. Given the onslaught by the Canadiens, though, Leighton did about as well as could be expected. He really should be commended for making several solid stops in the first period that kept the Flyers within striking distance as the team played back on their heels.

It looks like we have a series on our hands, folks. As much as most hoped the Canadiens would just be put away without a fight, you had to know that this team had an answer after being dominated in the first two games. Given that the Flyers goal is to win one game in Montreal, they still have a shot at making that happen in Game 4. While a 5-1 loss is never a positive thing, the Flyers can build on the fact that they showed some life and didn't let the Canadiens completely push them over in the third period.

Just like we shouldn't have gotten too high after the blowout in Game 1, there is no reason to get too low after getting crushed in Game 3. In the playoffs, a win is a win and you don't get to carry over momentum from one game to the next. With a better effort in Game 4, the Flyers can still take a stranglehold on the series. Let's just think of Game 3 as a minor speed bump and not a roadblock in the Flyers quest for the Stanley Cup.

Doug Collins is your new Sixers coach

The Sixers have dipped into their past in the hiring of their new coach: according to multiple reports, former Sixer Doug Collins will be heading up the team next season. While Collins doesn't exactly have the greatest coaching pedigree (zero NBA Titles, 15-23 career playoff record), he will at least bring plenty of experience and be a respected voice in the locker room.

Collins, who played 8 seasons for the Sixers back in the 70's, has coached the Bulls, Pistons and Wizards in his career. He isn't the best coach out there as he has never led a team to the NBA Finals and he's been away from the bench since 2003; still, Collins has to be looked at as an upgrade over Eddie Jordan, which is all that matters. Of course, all Collins really has to do is make sure that Evan Turner develops into the star we all think he is going to be and he will be considered a good hire.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leighton shines as Flyers build 2-0 series lead

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
It's hard to fathom that Michael Leighton has played exactly 4 1/2 games of playoff hockey. It's also hard to fathom that the Flyers pulled this guy off the scrap heap in the middle of the season. Now, led by the goalie with no playoff experience that no one else wanted, the Flyers once again cruised past the Canadiens, winning 3-0, to take a 2 games to 0 lead over the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final.

Game 2 was all about Leighton, who somehow kept the Canadiens off the scoreboard all game long despite a barrage of 26 shots in the first two periods. The numbers Leighton is putting up are ridiculous, from the back to back shutouts to the nearly 166 minutes he has gone without giving up a goal. While the Flyers don't need Leighton to stand on his head to win, he deserves credit for helping the Flyers steal a game in which they were outplayed for most of the night.

As for the Flyers offense, their power play continues to be the catalyst, going 2 for 4 in Game 2. The Flyers got their usual spread of goal-scorers, with the red-hot Danny Briere notching his 9th goal of the playoffs, Simon Gagne continuing his tear since returning from injury with yet another goal and Ville Leino scoring once again to prove he was a steal of an acquisition by Paul Holmgren. The best thing that can be said about the Flyers offense is that they are making Jaroslav Halak, who silenced both the Capitals and the Penguins potent attacks, look like a below average goalie. It's clear that the Flyers have gotten into Halak's head and crushed whatever confidence he had after the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Eastern Conference Final now shifts to Montreal and the Flyers are in the exact position they wanted to be. With Montreal being a very difficult building to play in, the Flyers needed to take care of their home ice. Now the Flyers goal should be to take at least 1 out of 2 in Montreal then look to wrap things up back in Philly in Game 5. As we have learned from the Boston series, though, the Flyers can't start making Stanley Cup Finals plans just yet. All it takes is one win by the Canadiens to shift the momentum of the series and put the Flyers back on their heels. With how badly the Flyers are beating them, however, Montreal is going to have to make some serious adjustments if they want to win 4 out of the next 5 games.

6 more wins to go for the Flyers. With the confidence they are playing with now, why did we ever doubt them?

Welcome to Philly, Evan Turner: Sixers win 2nd overall pick in NBA Draft

How about some good Sixers news for a change? The NBA held it's draft lottery tonight, and while the Wizards were the big winners of the first overall pick and the rights to draft John Wall, the Sixers won the next best thing: the second overall pick, which will likely be used on guard Evan Turner from Ohio State.

While there is still a small chance the Wizards pass on Wall, the Sixers will be very happy to take Turner, a versatile player who is ready to play in the NBA right away. A backcourt of Turner and last years top pick, Jrue Holiday, will be fun to watch for the next decade or so.

Moving up to the number 2 pick in the draft was just what the Sixers needed; it's been a long time since the Sixers were able to draft an impact player like Evan Turner. Finally, the Sixers will be a team worth watching again.

Flyers injury update: Lappy coming soon, Carter likely out for the Conference Finals

One of the advantages of making a deep playoff run is that the players you thought were out for the season start inching closer to a return. There have been grumblings that two such players for the Flyers, Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter, are getting ramped up for a possible return to the ice.

Laperriere appears more likely to return in the Eastern Conference Finals than Carter. CSN Philly speculates that Lappy, who suffered a concussion and brain contusion against the Devils, could be back as soon as Game 4 against the Canadiens. Apparently, Laperriere has felt well enough to resume skating and he hasn't had any setbacks in recent days. Of course, it will likely be up to a doctor to ensure that there are no lingering issues before he will be cleared to play. Laperriere's return to the ice would be huge for the Flyers as he can jump right back onto the 4th line in place of Andreas Nodl and start killing penalties right away. With Lappy being a hard worker and a great chemistry guy, the team will welcome him back with open arms.

As for a player that some think would hurt team chemistry if he returned, it doesn't sound like Jeff Carter will be coming back at any point in the Eastern Conference Finals. While reports from CSN Philly originally speculated that he could be back as early as Game 2, Paul Holmgren has gone on record saying that it would be "a stretch" to think Carter would be able to suit up at all in this series. Despite initial positive reports, it's sounding more and more like Carter won't be able to come back unless the Flyers make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The return of either player would simply be a case of the strong getting stronger. With the Flyers playing as well as they have been, neither player should feel pressure to have to hurry back from their injuries. Should the Flyers drop a couple of games to the Canadiens, though, I wouldn't be shocked to hear that both Carter and Laperriere were feeling much better and were ready to go.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Phillies roster shuffle: Rollins, Bastardo in; Lidge, Valdez out

With most of my attention focused on the Flyers playoff run, I haven't had much energy to talk about the Phillies on the site lately. Needless to say, despite whatever imperfections the Phils have in the bullpen, the team has been on a roll lately, playing like the two time National League Champs that they are.

The only real news to come from the Phillies in the last few days has been a series of roster moves as more players have succumbed to injury and others have made their way back. First, the bad news: Brad Lidge was placed back on the disabled list as he continues to deal with elbow issues. Things just haven't been right for Lidge this season and I would expect him to not be rushed back this time. In his absence, with Ryan Madson also still out for several weeks, Jose Contreras is taking over at closer. While Contreras has been a stud out of the bullpen, should the Phillies be without Lidge for a long period of time, I would expect them to start seeking out a trade for a new closing option.

With Lidge being removed from the roster, Antonio Bastardo was called up once again. He will give the team a second lefty out of the pen but should be ready to get shifted back down to the minors at any time.

Also returning to the Phillies on Monday was Jimmy Rollins, who was activated from the disabled list and inserted right into the lineup. While his replacements at shortstop haven't been terrible, J-Roll's return brings the Phillies one step closer to their ideal lineup, a scary thought for a team that has been producing plenty of runs recently. To make room for Rollins, the Phillies designated Wilson Valdez for assignment, meaning they have 10 days to trade, release or place him on waivers. With how well Valdez had been playing in the field, it's a shame they may lose him, but he is the third string shortstop and he was pretty terrible with the bat.

Two more pieces of good Phillies news: Carlos Ruiz is back after taking a few days off and J.A. Happ is starting to throw, signaling he is making progress towards a return to the team. It should be frightening to the rest of the league that, with all of these players coming back into the fold, this Phillies team, already 10 games over .500, is only going to get better. Be afraid, National League, be very afraid.

Jeff Carter could be back in Game 2 for the Flyers...or not?

The good news just keeps on coming for the Flyers. With the team already rolling past the Canadiens in Game 1, rumors have come out that they may get their leading goal scorer back sooner than expected. According to CSN Philly, there is a chance that Jeff Carter, who has been out since injuring his foot in Game 4 against the Devils, could return to the Flyers as soon as Game 2 on Tuesday. As you may recall, initial reports back on April 21st speculated that Carter would miss 6 weeks so a comeback this soon would mean he has made an incredible recovery from his injury.

Of course, as soon as this rumor was broken by CSN Philly, the Flyers quickly squashed it, saying that a return in Game 2 or 3 would be highly unlikely. Take what the Flyers say at this time of the year with a grain of salt, though, teams don't like to give away when their players are returning in the playoffs.

While some may not want Carter back in the lineup given how well the Flyers are playing without him, I don't see how his return could be anything but a good thing. Since the Flyers are playing well, there is no reason to rush him back to the ice, but if he's ready to contribute, he needs to be playing, even if it's just on the power play or on the third or fourth lines. Adding a 30 goal scorer to the Flyers lineup will give them yet another weapon that the opposition has to figure out how to stop. Whether it's sooner or later, whenever Jeff Carter returns the Flyers offense gets that much more potent and their chances of winning a cup increase even more.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Still rolling: Flyers crush Canadiens in Game 1

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
After pulling off their miracle comeback against the Bruins in the last series, the Flyers decided to try a different tactic against the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals: crush them from the very beginning. That's just what the Flyers did in Game 1, dominating the Canadiens in every way possible en route to a 6-0 drubbing.

The offense came from everywhere for the Flyers on Sunday as 6 different players scored goals and 9 different players registered at least one point. Braydon Coburn, of all people, started off the scoring when he chipped in a power play goal early in the first period. The avalanche of goals didn't happen until much later, though, as the floodgates opened after James van Riemsdyk scored off a faceoff and Danny Briere and Simon Gagne both ripped shots by a screened Jaroslav Halak all before the midway point of the second period. The Flyers were rolling at that point and chased Halak from the game, forcing them to turn to backup Carey Price, who they promptly scored on twice more in the third period just for good measure.

The Flyers weren't just on a roll offensively, though, as Michael Leighton proved once again that he is more than capable of carrying the Flyers if he needs to. While Leighton wasn't challenged much throughout the game, he did make the few tough saves he needed to as he made 28 saves and shut out the Canadiens. While the Flyers defense deserves a lot of credit for limiting opponents to very few good scoring chances, Leighton deserves credit for shutting the door any time a leak got through.

Game 1 was a huge statement for the Flyers. Not only did they use their size to beat down the diminutive Canadiens forwards but they also flashed their speed as their transition game set up the offensive attack. On top of all of that, the Flyers also took the Canadiens biggest advantage, Halak, and chased him right out of the game. Montreal would be long eliminated from the playoffs if it wasn't for Halak but he hasn't played that poorly since the very beginning of the playoffs. Hopefully the Flyers lodged themselves into his brain and he will think more than just play for the next few games.

While it's exciting to see the Flyers destroy an opponent, it's important to remember it's just one win and that the Flyers only lead the series 1-0. Hopefully the Flyers know to use this game as a starting point and not as a statement on how every game in this series is going to go. You can't just count out the Canadiens because you know they will make adjustments and come out in Game 2 ready to take it to the Flyers. While a 6 goal loss can be demoralizing, it can also serve to pump up a team that wants to get revenge for being embarrassed. It will be up to the Flyers to match the intensity and energy they brought in Game 1 and prove that what happened was no fluke.

One win down, 7 more to go. This Flyers team is clearly focused on the big prize and has more than enough talent to get it done.

Flyers vs. Canadiens: Conference Final Breakdown

Now that the dust has settled from the miracle comeback, it's time for more hockey! Hopefully the Flyers found some time to rest and get themselves mentally prepared to take on a new opponent, one with entirely different obstacles that must be overcome. Due to the ridiculous upsets in the Eastern Conference this year, the 7th seeded Flyers have the good fortune of having home ice advantage in the series, although it hasn't meant much so far in the East. Let's take a closer look and see if the Flyers have what it takes to get four more wins and get themselves into the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 13 years.

Offense: Montreal has proven all the doubters wrong as their undersized forwards have come through big in the playoffs. All 5 foot 9 of Mike Cammalleri has been tremendous for them, scoring nearly a goal per game (12 goals in 14 games) and making the most of every power play. Fellow shrimp Brian Gionta (5 feet, 7 inches) has also been big, chipping in 7 goals, while the rest of the scoring has come here and there from the bottom lines. After facing the weak back ends of the Capitals and Penguins, it's going to be a real test for the Canadiens to see if they can continue to defy the odds against the bigger and stronger Flyer defensemen.

The Flyers scoring has been very balanced in the playoffs, with 6 different players chipping in at least 4 goals. Anyone who has watched the Flyers in the postseason knows that the offense flows through Mike Richards, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux and that the return of Simon Gagne has solidified the Flyers top two lines as being real scoring threats. Besides the big four, anything the Flyers get from Scott Hartnell, James van Riemsdyk and Ville Leino has just been icing on the cake as each has had big moments throughout the playoffs. Just like they have in every series, the Flyers forwards have the advantage simply based on their ability to score across all lines.

Defense: The Flyers defense is what has gotten them this far, with the foursome of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn acting as a pair of shutdown defense pairings. These four are much better than anything the Canadiens have faced up to this point and won't let Montreal have as many uncontested shots as they have grown accustomed to. It will be interesting, though, to see if the Flyers D wears themselves down chasing the diminutive Canadiens around the ice, especially since the Flyers haven't been able to rely on anything from their third defense pairing.

The Montreal defense has kicked it into another gear in the playoffs despite the absence of Andrei Markov. With big Hal Gill shutting down opposing forwards when he's healthy and P.K. Subban emerging from the minors and contributing big minutes immediately, the Canadiens certainly have some talent in the back end. After that, however, there is a drop-off to guys like the ancient Roman Hamrlik and Marc-Andre Bergeron, who has racked up a -10 in the playoffs. The Flyers depth gives them the edge on defense.

Goaltending: Once again, the Flyers face a goaltender much better than their own. Jaroslav Halak has been incredible in the playoffs, shutting down the best two offenses in the league seemingly all on his own. While the Flyers have had success against Halak in the past, he has upped his game to a whole new level. As for Michael Leighton, as long as he keeps being in the right place at the right time, he will be successful. The Flyers aren't asking him to stand on his head and he won't have to for the Flyers to advance. Despite how surprisingly good the Flyers goalies have been in the playoffs, the big edge has to go to the red-hot Halak.

Special Teams: Both of these teams have been great on the penalty kill and even better on the power play. The series will likely be decided by which team does better with the man advantage but, on paper, everything appears to be even.

No matter which team emerges from the Eastern Conference, there is going to be a great story behind it. Both teams have claims to being a "team of destiny" and both have overcome big deficits in a series to be where they are now. With each team also coming off a seven game series, expect there to be a lot of tired bodies as the series goes deeper and turns into a battle of attrition. I am predicting the Flyers to win in 6 games because the Canadiens forwards aren't going to be able to create as many scoring chances against the Flyers stout back end and the Flyers have proven that they can find ways to beat a hot goaltender. Whether the Flyers have enough to get past whichever tough opponent emerges from the Western Conference will have to be determined later but the Flyers look like the best team left in the East.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals Predictions

Talk about a tale of two very different Conferences in the 2010 NHL Playoffs. After two exciting rounds of hockey, everything in the Eastern Conference has been flipped upside down as the history-making Flyers and the upset-minded Canadiens grab all the headlines. As for the Western Conference, things have been relatively quiet as the two best teams held serve and are set to face off for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. While there are two very different circumstances in each Conference, we do have two evenly matched series that look poised to go the distance.

After going 2 for 4 in the second round, here are my picks for the Conference Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals
(7) Philadelphia vs. (8) Montreal

Philadelphia in 6

If you predicted this would be the Eastern Conference Finals matchup, you are clinically insane. I haven't done the research but I'm willing to bet this is the first time the 7th seed in the conference had home-ice advantage this deep into the playoffs. Of course, since these two teams have gotten this far, home ice hasn't meant a thing in the East.

As for the matchups, despite injuries to Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere, the Flyers are the deeper team at forward and on defense. The major difference between the Canadiens and Flyers is the ability of their goaltenders, with Jaroslav Halak stonewalling two of the best offenses in the league while the Flyers seem to be scraping by with much less talent in net. In reality, the way the Flyers have been funneling the puck to the outside and blocking a ridiculous amount of shots, they haven't needed someone to make spectacular saves, just a goalie who will be in the right place at the right time. That makes Michael Leighton, a solid but not flashy netminder, the perfect compliment to the Flyers. Because of this, the Flyers have to be considered the favorite in the series. Sure, they will have problems scoring on Halak for long stretches at a time, but the Flyers defense will be up to the task of punishing the undersized Canadiens forwards and limiting the number of clean looks they get at Leighton.

Western Conference Finals:
(1) San Jose vs. (2) Chicago

San Jose in 7

This should be a very exciting series between the two best teams left in the playoffs. Each team has a dynamic set of forwards, a deep set of defensemen and a goaltender that, while neither has a great playoff resume, has proven to be solid. These teams are so similar, in fact, it's hard to really make a case why either team is better. Sure, the Blackhawks have the slightly better power play but the Sharks have a good penalty kill and are no slouches with the man advantage themselves. Sure, the Sharks are bigger at the forward position but the Blackhawks are much more shifty and creative. As you dig deeper, though, and start to look at the just how good the Sharks second line, led by Pavelski and Setoguchi, has been, you realize that Chicago might be able to handle both of the Sharks potent lines for a game or two but, as the series drags on, they will eventually get worn down. The Sharks also have the home ice advantage, a fact that actually means something in the West, so that's why I give them the slight edge.

Those are my picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for a more complete breakdown of the Flyers/Canadiens series.

Flyers vs. Canadiens Eastern Conference Finals Schedule

I'm still finding it hard to believe they actually pulled it off. With a miracle already under their belts, the Flyers now go on to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the equally surprising Montreal Canadiens. Here is the schedule:

Game 1: Sunday, May 16, Montreal at Philadelphia, 7:00 pm
Game 2: Tuesday, May 18, Montreal at Philadelphia, 7:00 pm
Game 3: Thursday, May 20, Philadelphia at Montreal, 7:00 pm
Game 4: Saturday, May 22, Philadelphia at Montreal, 3:00 pm
Game 5: Monday, May 24, Montreal at Philadelphia, 7:00 pm
Game 6: Wednesday, May 26, Philadelphia at Montreal, 7:00 pm
Game 7: Friday, May 28, Montreal at Philadelphia, 7:00 pm

With the Canadiens shocking the hockey world with their upsets of the Capitals and Penguins and the Flyers making history, this should make for an entertaining series. It will certainly be the most improbable Conference Final in history as the two lowest seeds face off for the right to represent the East. Check back later for much more on the series.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Miracle achieved: Flyers pull off improbable comeback

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Have we all just witnessed the greatest comeback in the history of sports? The Flyers, down 3-0 in Game 7 after being down 3-0 in the series, somehow found it in them for one last comeback, scoring 4 straight goals to defeat the Bruins, 4-3, and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The comeback made the Flyers the 4th team in sports history to erase a 0-3 deficit and win a playoff series, although I don't think any of them pulled it off in quite this dramatic of a fashion.

The hero of the series for the Flyers was Simon Gagne, whose return to the ice in Game 4 directly coincided with the Flyers turning the series around. Gagne not only scored the game winning goal in Game 4 and Game 7, but he also allowed the Flyers to shuffle the forwards around and roll out three lines that were legitimate threats to score. Also deserving massive credit for the comeback was head coach Peter Laviolette. Somehow, Laviolette kept the team focused on winning one game at a time and didn't let them panic when all seemed lost. It's a breath of fresh air for the Flyers to have a competent coach pushing all the right buttons.

I'm not sure there is any way I can put into words how amazing this comeback was from the Flyers. To first come back from the dead in the series and then also do it within the context of a single game shows the determination, grit and, frankly, the balls that this Flyers team has. The Flyers don't care about the score, don't care if everyone counts them out, don't care if they aren't supposed to win, they just keep on playing their game and know that, eventually, things will turn out their way.

Even more shocking after the win is wrapping your mind around the idea that the Flyers, the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference, are now hosting the 8th seeded Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Canadiens aren't your typical 8 seed, though, as they have ridden a hot goaltender past the two best offenses in the league in Washington and Pittsburgh. Still, everything is still pretty well lined for the Flyers to make an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Relish this feeling, Flyers fans. Your team just pulled off a miracle. I know that word is thrown around a lot in sports but it must be applied to what the Flyers just did. This series immediately jumps into the ranks of the greatest moments in Philly sports history and is one that we will be talking about for years to come. Hopefully the Flyers have enough left in the tank to bring home the Cup and make this comeback even more meaningful.

Goal or no goal: you be the judge

With the game tied 3-3 the Flyers took a shot that was eventually ruled a no-goal late in the second period. Here is a screenshot of the supposed non-goal:
I don't know about you but I can see Rask's pad, the puck and then the goal line all in a row. That should have been a goal.

2010 NBA Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The King is dead!

You know, for a guy with a nickname like King James, you'd think LeBron would have actually won something in the NBA. In most cases, like when you are the "Home Run King", a title as lofty as the "King" has to be earned. Alas, LeBron failed to bring a title to Cleveland and now may be bolting town looking for greener pastures and a better supporting cast. As a Sixers fan, I hope he ends up in Chicago because having him with the Knicks in the same division would be brutal.

And so, despite the exit of LeBron, the NBA Playoffs march on with two very intriguing Conference Finals matchups. After going 2 for 4 in my Round Two predictions, here are my picks for the next round and my quick take on each series. It's looking like the 2010 Finals are going to be very similar to the 2009 Finals:

Western Conference
Lakers (1) vs. Suns (3)
Lakers in 6

This is going to be a fun one. After a pair of sweeps, each team should be more than rested and have plenty of time to put a solid gameplan in place. While I like the idea of Steve Nash continuing to succeed in his mission to win at any cost, I just don't see anyone on the Suns who can even attempt to guard Kobe or bang with Pau Gasol in the post. While there are also some unfavorable matchups the other way (Gasol can't handle Amare, either), the Lakers have the better top-end talent and they won't get worn down by the Suns fastbreak mentality.

Eastern Conference
Magic (2) vs. Celtics (4)

Magic in 6

Are the Magic really this good or is the East really this bad? I'd lean a little more towards the latter but no one should be sleeping on this Magic team at this point. As for the Celtics, I'll be the first to admit I was very wrong about them. I had them pegged as being dead upon arrival into the playoffs and they have shown there is still some fight left in the old dogs. Getting past LeBron was remarkable but Dwight Howard and the Magic look destined to get back to the NBA Finals for a second chance at knocking off the Lakers.

Those are my picks for the Conference Finals. Let me know if you agree or disagree!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Believe it: Flyers are going to Game 7

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
For the third game in a row, the Flyers played with their backs against the wall and, for the third time in a row, they have managed to survive to fight another day. Despite being outplayed for much of Game 6, the Flyers made just enough plays and got just enough good goaltending from Michael Leighton to earn a 2-1 win over the Bruins and force a Game 7 back in Boston. Now, with the Canadiens knocking off the Penguins, all that stands between the Flyers and being the higher seed in the Eastern Conference is one more win.

Before we start looking ahead to Game 7, though, let's look at the brilliance of Game 6. After getting an early goal from Mike Richards, the Bruins controlled the game for the rest of the first and most of the second period, out-shooting and out-hustling the Flyers despite not being able to score. While Leighton did play a great game in net, a lot of the credit has to go to the Flyers defense, who rarely allowed the Bruins a clean look at the net and blocked a whopping 30 shots throughout the night. After a goal by Danny Briere gave the Flyers a 2 goal lead, all they had to do was hold off the Bruins, which they did despite a goal in the final minute that made things interesting.

What Michael Leighton did in this game cannot be overstated. Coming off an injury and in his first career playoff start, Leighton stonewalled the Bruins for 59 minutes of play and stopped 30 shots in all. While much of the success of the Flyers goaltenders can be attributed to how well the team is playing in front of them, for Leighton to be that ready to play after not starting a game for nearly two months is truly remarkable. Hopefully he has another 60 minutes like that in him.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Flyers playoff game without a few injuries. Mike Richards had an early scare that forced him to go to the locker room briefly but returned and luckily showed no signs of injury. Blair Betts, on the other hand, suffered what looked like a separated shoulder and didn't play in the third period at all despite sitting on the bench. Early word from the Flyers is that Betts, the best penalty killer on the team, will suit up for Game 7.

So the improbable run continues. With how well they have played in the last three games, it's amazing to think they ever had a 3 game deficit against the Bruins. Clearly, the Flyers have learned how important it is to get an early lead against Boston and force their anemic offense to attempt to fight their way back into the game. The Bruins simply don't have the offensive firepower to create many solid scoring chances against a Flyers defense that seems to be one step ahead of them at all times.

The Flyers are clearly a team that loves to play with everything one the line, whether it be the final game of the regular season or elimination games in the playoffs. Simply put, they have basically been on borrowed time for weeks now and seem to be playing better because of it. Now, with one final elimination game to go, we'll see if this Flyers team has it in them to complete the miracle. I, for one, believe.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Flyers injury update: Boucher out, Giroux will play

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
And the Flyers goalie carousel continues. The Flyers learned today that Brian Boucher, who was injured in Game 5 against the Bruins on Monday night, will miss about a month after an MRI showed that he had a sprained MCL. Taking his place in net will be playoff rookie Michael Leighton, who filled in admirably for Boucher in Game 5 but is dealing with his own injury issues. While the Flyers should have confidence in Leighton, it will be a shame that they will be without Boucher, who has been one of the best goaltenders in the playoffs.

There was some good news on the Flyers injury front, however, as the team expects Claude Giroux to play in Game 6 after injuring his shoulder in Game 5. While some reports around the league speculated that Giroux had a concussion, the Flyers made it clear that he only suffered a shoulder tweak when he was boarded by Bruin Steve Begin.

With every injury, the chances the Flyers have of coming back in this series becomes slimmer and slimmer, making the fact that they have actually made this a series against the Bruins all the more amazing.

Phillies get 3 extra home games: series with Toronto moved to Philly

If you've ever wanted to see the Phillies play with a DH at Citizens Bank Park, now is your chance! In a story originally broken by The Fightins and later confirmed by the Phillies, the Interleague series between the Blue Jays and Phillies that was originally supposed to be played in Toronto has been moved to Philadelphia due to the G20 Summit, a meeting of world leaders. Because the G20 Summit presents major security issues, the Blue Jays and MLB decided that moving the series, to be played from June 25-27, to Philly would alleviate any problems.

Despite being played at Citizens Bank, the Blue Jays will still be considered the home team and the game will follow AL rules, meaning the Phillies will be in their road jerseys and will use a DH. Of course, even though the Blue Jays will be considered the home team, you can bet the stadium will be filled with Phillies fans as I wouldn't count on many Jays fans making the trip to Philly. There lies the real advantage for the Phillies as they get three extra home games out of this deal. With that comes not only the competitive advantage over the rest of the league but also the extra money they are certain to make even if Toronto takes most of the gate money. Pretty sweet deal for the Phillies and it should be a fun series to watch.

Monday, May 10, 2010

We've got a series: Flyers crush Bruins in Game 5

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
We should have learned by now that we can't ever count out the Flyers. Somehow, despite barely squeaking into the playoffs, despite amassing a heap of injured players and despite them being in a 0-3 hole, the Flyers are persevering. In Game 5 against the Bruins, the Flyers played some of their best hockey of the season, blowing out Boston in a 4-0 win to narrow the Bruins series lead to 3-2.

The Flyers got big-time contributions from three forwards in the game: Simon Gagne, Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell. Continuing his solid play since returning in Game 4, Gagne had a pair of goals in the game, one on the power play and the other an unassisted breakaway goal. Leino (goal, assist) and Hartnell (goal) were also around the net all game long as both finished with a plus/minus of 2. I'm assuming the Flyers have been very happy with what Leino has done with the opportunity he has been given due to injuries.

While the scoreboard shows that the Flyers were the much better team on Monday night, they did have to pay the price for the win. Two more possibly major injuries happened, including one to starting goaltender Brian Boucher and another to one of their most reliable playoff contributors, Claude Giroux. It was frankly remarkable that the Flyers never missed a beat after these two key players went down.

After a collision at the net, Boucher had to leave the game early in the second period and was replaced by Michael Leighton, who was fresh off an injury of his own. Initial reports on Boucher are that he seriously injured his knee and I would expect that he has an MRI tomorrow where we get a clear picture of how long he will be out. In his place, Leighton took over and looked sharp, finishing what was the first combined shutout in Flyers playoff history. While Leighton was as steady as you could ask for, he is a playoff rookie and it's difficult to have too much confidence in him should Boucher be out for any period of time.

Giroux came up his injury after Steve Begin boarded him late in the second period. It is also not known as to whether Giroux will miss any time but he wasn't on the Flyers bench in the third period. With the game a blowout, let's hope the Flyers were just letting Giroux rest up.

Suddenly, with Game 6 coming back in Philadelphia, the Flyers are right back in this series. The way they have played some of their best hockey with their backs against the wall there is no reason to think they can't pull off the comeback. This team has proven again and again, no matter how many players shuttle in and out of the lineup and no matter how tired their legs are, they will give maximum effort. While I hope Boucher and Giroux find their way back to the ice, it's good to know that Leighton is waiting in the wings and guys like Gagne and Leino are picking up the slack offensively.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves and start making plans for the Eastern Conference Finals, however, it's important to remember the Flyers are still only halfway through their comeback attempt. Anyone who has watched the Flyers this season knows that, in any game, for any reason, the Flyers can just not have it and get blown out of the building. Still, it's exciting to know that with a few more bounces and a little more luck, the Flyers could pull off one of the biggest comebacks in playoff history. Game 6 Wednesday night in Philly will be huge.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Welcome back! Gagne's OT goal keeps Flyers alive

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Yeah, I'd say the return of Simon Gagne had quite an impact on the Flyers.

Gagne, returning to the ice for the first time since breaking his foot against the Devils in the first round, scored the game winning goal in overtime to help the Flyers stave off elimination and send the series back to Boston. It was a fitting end to the game for Gagne, who was a true warrior as he toughed out his clearly still hurting foot injury to give the Flyers every ounce of energy he had in the tank.

While Gagne's heroics made for a great end to the game, it never should have gotten to that point. After somehow playing with no sense of urgency for most of the first period, the Flyers found their legs late in the first as they cashed in with a goal by Danny Briere. From there, the energy carried over into the second period as the Flyers continued to dominate play and chipped in two more goals to get out to their first 2 goal lead of the series. At that point, with the way they were playing, the game appeared to be in the bag.

Of course, this is the Flyers we are talking about and they never make things easy. First, Brian Boucher misplayed a puck midway through the second to let the Bruins back into the game. Then, as they protected a one goal lead with 32 seconds left, the Flyers somehow forget to cover Mark Recchi, who had a terrific shot that got past Boucher and sent the game into overtime. While many will point to those events as being evidence that the Bruins never give up they can also be pointed to as mental lapses by a team that has trouble putting their opponent away.

Regardless of their inability to hold on to a lead, the Flyers live to play another day. While most signs point to this series being over sooner rather than later, you really can't count the Flyers out until the series is completely over. With how evenly matched these teams are, if the Flyers work hard and get a few bounces going their way, they can extend this thing far enough to start making the Bruins uncomfortable.

Thank you, Simon Gagne, for returning and giving us at least one more Flyers game this season. Now, if you could just do that three more times...

Too little, too late? Gagne returns for the Flyers

With their season on the brink, the Flyers are in full-on desperation mode. Facing a 0-3 hole in the playoffs, the Flyers are going to need a miracle to avoid being eliminated by the Bruins in the next few days.

While it isn't the miracle they need, the Flyers will get some help with the return of Simon Gagne for Game 4. According to CSN Philly, after a recent MRI determined that he had no further injury to his toe, Gagne resumed skating and will suit up Friday night to help the Flyers avoid elimination.

Will Gagne make all the difference and carry the Flyers past the Bruins? Not likely. Remember, Gagne wasn't exactly tearing it up in the Devils series, where he managed just 2 assists and 8 shots on goal in 5 games. Considering he hasn't played since April 20th, Gagne also will have plenty of rust as he tries to ramp up to game speed. Where a returning Gagne does help is he can push the minutes back that the Flyers have been forced to give the lesser players and help keep tired legs on the bench.

With the return of Gagne and the exit of David Krejci from the Bruins lineup, the Flyers should be the healthier team for once in this series. Unfortunately, it looks like nothing short of an injury to Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is going to keep the Flyers from being ousted.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Phillies to honor the late Robin Roberts

We've lost another great one.

Phillies great Robin Roberts, one of the best Phillies pitchers of all-time, passed away today at the age of 83. The Hall of Fame pitcher holds numerous Phillie pitching records, including most complete games and innings pitched and he is second to Steve Carlton in wins. Roberts was still occasionally active with the Phillies and often spent time with the current team.

To honor Roberts, the Phillies will hang his jersey in the dugout and wear a patch with the number 36 on it for the rest of the season.

RIP, Robin Roberts.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Punchless Flyers face elimination as Bruins roll

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
With the Flyers/Bruins series returning to Philadelphia, it was supposed to be different. While the Flyers had played hard in stretches, the puck just wasn't bouncing their way in the first two games and the team seemed to run out of gas. Coming to Philly, the Flyers were supposed to get re-energized by the home crowd and work their way back into the series. Unfortunately, Game 3 turned out to be more of the same as the Bruins won 4-1 and grabbed a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Flyers.

Things sure started well enough as Arron Asham gave the Flyers their first lead of the entire series by scoring a goal early in the first period. The goal sent an already pumped crowd into a frenzy, at least for a whole minute and a half before the Bruins scored a goal of their own to tie the game. Then, just to completely kill any possible momentum by the home team, Flyer-killer Miroslav Satan added another goal another minute and a half later.

From that point on, nothing seemed to go the Flyers way. They had 4 power play chances and failed to punch one in. They out-hit and out shot the Bruins. They stayed out of the penalty box. None of that seemed to matter, though, as whatever good offensive chances the Flyers mustered up were quickly squashed by Tuukka Rask and the team got more and more frustrated.

The Flyers simply look like a group that has run out of gas and hasn't gotten enough rewards for their efforts. As I've discussed before, with Mike Richards, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere forced into more critical minutes on the ice, they are completely burdened from trying to carry the team on their backs. Since the depth forwards haven't contributed much of anything, one of those three had to be the one that triggers the offense or nothing was going to happen.

While this series isn't over until the Flyers lose another game, unless the team finds another gear or all of the injured forwards miraculously heal, the run is going to end here. The Bruins are simply the harder-working team that wants it more and has the horses to get it done. We should all hold out hope that the Flyers can turn it around and pull of a miracle but none of us should be holding our breath waiting for it to happen. Just keep things in perspective, Flyers fans, and remember that this team really wasn't supposed to do anything when the playoffs started. Too bad that's really not that comforting when your team is one loss away from getting ousted.

Phillies win as Hamels flashes 2008 form and Ruiz flashes October bat

Carlos Ruiz must be confused about what month it is. The Phillies clutch catcher, who usually comes up with big hit after big hit in the playoffs, hit a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Phillies a 2-1 win over the Cardinals. For a man who has a month named after him (Choochtober), Ruiz sure picked a great time for his first home run of the season.

Despite the late heroics by Ruiz, the true star of Tuesday night's game was Cole Hamels. Hamels had his best start of the season, scattering 8 hits and striking out 8 while giving up 1 one run across 8 innings of work. While Hamels may have been thrown off his rhythm by some idiot fan (who I refuse to talk about), he showed flashes of the brilliant pitcher that he was in 2008. If he can get going, the Phillies might have the 1-2 punch they always dreamed of with Hamels and Roy Halladay.

While it's only May, wins like the Phillies got on Tuesday night against a good Cardinals club are big; sure, it might be just another W in the win column but it was nice to see they measure up against a team that is sure to be a playoff contender. Of course, if these two teams do meet in October, we know who is going to come up with the clutch hits.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Taser incident should create dialogue, not jokes about Philly fans

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Like the national media needed more reasons to go after Philadelphia sports fans. First, they had the Santa incident, more recently they had the vomiting incident, now they have the Taser incident.

So, get ready for the jokes. Get ready for the "only in Philadelphia" stories and the "of course it was a Phillies fan" comments. What you will hopefully also hear is that fans run onto the field in every city and this isn't the first fan to be tasered at a game. Hopefully we can get something positive out of this, too, like some good dialogue about what constitutes excessive force. Should a minor who didn't have a weapon be neutralized with a Taser gun or should the beefy security guards tackle him and risk breaking bones? Will this act of Tasing someone deter fans from jumping onto the field?

As for my opinion on it, you won't find it here. To me, this is a police issue, not a sports issue. Last I checked, I'm a Philly sports blogger, not a commenter on law enforcement.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Flyers lose another close one, dig 0-2 hole

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Flyers and Bruins certainly are two evenly matched teams. If they played 100 times, it's likely that each would win somewhere between 48 and 52 times. That thought isn't comforting to the Flyers at the moment, however, because they now find themselves in a 0-2 hole after losing Game Two due to a game winning goal late in the third period by Milan Lucic in a 3-2 Bruins win.

Game Two was close throughout as each team controlled play for stretches at a time. The first two periods were nearly identical in terms of when each team scored, with the Bruins finding the back of the net before the midway point in each period and the Flyers chipping in a goal late in each period. When it mattered most, with the game tied at 2 in the third, the Flyers seemed to run out of gas as they failed to generate much of anything on offense at all, managing only 5 shots as they allowed the Bruins to dictate play. Late in the third, the Flyers couldn't hold on anymore and got stuck in their own end before Lucic slapped a shot past Boucher with just under 3 minutes left to play. The game winner seemed inevitable as the Bruins simply outworked the Flyers nearly all night long and earned themselves a win.

The Flyers may be starting to feel the affects of having Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere out of the lineup. Being down three contributing forwards weakens the 4th line and forces the Flyers to get as many minutes as they possibly can from Claude Giroux (23:35), Mike Richards (23:13) and Danny Briere (20:50). Whereas the Flyers used to be able to roll out their entire bench and give Giroux, Richards and Briere a breather from time to time, now Giroux and Richards are having to rack up powerplay and penalty kill minutes while Briere plays a ton of even strength minutes. Injuries are never a great excuse for losing but they certainly are starting to take their toll on the Flyers.

The series now turns back to Philadelphia as the Flyers must return serve and protect their home ice. While it might seem like being down 0-2 is a huge hole, nothing is over at this point. With how close each game has been, if a few bounces had gone their way the Flyers easily could be the ones up by 2 games. Of course, if they really want to make it a series, the Flyers are going to need to get some contributions offensively from someone other than Richards, Briere or Giroux. Whether they have anyone capable of doing that is another question.

Don't lose faith yet, Flyers fans. Everything changes when this series shifts to Philly and we show the Bruins what a playoff building really sounds like. Expect the Flyers to come out with some extra jump as they now find themselves in a must-win Game 3. This team isn't about to go out without a fight.

Eagles bringing back the kelly green!

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their championship in 1960, the Eagles will finally be bringing back the kelly green uniforms for their opening game next season against the Packers, the very team they beat in the championship that year. The uniform you see above is what they will wear, a throwback in the style of the 60's era Eagles. For more on the Eagles plans for the 50th anniversary of the championship, go to PhiladelphiaEagles.com.

This is a great first step for the Eagles who finally have given the fans the kelly green throwbacks they have been clamoring for. Of course, the next logical step will be to bring back the kelly green uni's from the 80's and 90's, the best uniforms in Eagles history:

Good Phillies vibes continue: Blanton activated and will start Monday

We're only 24 games into the 2010 season but it already feels like the Phillies have ridden quite a rollercoaster ride. First, there was the excitement of the 7 wins in the first 8 games. Then, there was the lull that saw the injuries pile up along with the losses. Now, after crushing the Mets in back to back games, the Phillies are back atop the NL East and everything seems pointed in the right direction.

Adding to those good feelings will be the return of Joe Blanton, who will make his season debut on Monday night against the Cardinals. Blanton, who had been on the disabled list with an oblique strain since spring training, will hopefully help solidify a Phillies rotation that has been, with the exception of Roy Halladay, more than a little shaky. At least with the return of Blanton we know the Phillies will be getting 6+ consistent innings every 5th day.

Blanton's return sends Antonio Bastardo back to the minors and it will push Nelson Figueroa back to the bullpen, an interesting move considering how bad Kyle Kendrick has been and how adequate Figueroa was in his one start. Perhaps the Phillies want to give Kendrick one last shot to prove himself or maybe they simply feel he won't be of any use to them coming out of the bullpen. Whatever the case, as soon as J.A. Happ comes off the disabled list, Kendrick will be packing his bags.

As frustrated as some fans were over the lull the Phillies went through in the end of April, it's important to remember all of the injuries played a major part in their mediocre play. It's difficult for any team, no matter how good, to lose their leadoff hitter, 2/5ths of their rotation and most of the back of their bullpen and still keep on winning games. It's a testament to just how good this team is that they are even in first place at all. Now that the cavalry is starting to come back, expect this Phillies team to really start rolling.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

2010 NBA Playoff Predictions: Round Two

Now that we finally have all of the matchups set for the second round of the NBA Playoffs, I can make my picks! I still haven't figured out why some leagues wait to start their second round series all at the same time (NHL) while others, like the NBA, get them started as soon as both teams advance. I can see the pro's and con's of both systems but in the long run you will have teams that have to wait for about the same amount of time either way. Anyway, after going 6-2 in my first round picks, here is who I've got and a quick thought on each second round series:

Western Conference:
Lakers (1) vs. Jazz (5)

Lakers in 6

Why was everyone surprised that the Lakers had a little trouble with the Thunder? Give them another year or two and the Thunder will be the favorite against LA. Has Deron Williams proved to everyone that he's better than Chris Paul yet? I'd want him on my team in a heartbeat. The Jazz will keep it interesting but Kobe won't be denied here.

Suns (3) vs. Spurs (7)
Spurs in 7

This one should be a lot of fun. While it might not be as classic as it was a few years back, this series is still the fast vs. the slow, the frenetic vs. the calculated. The turtle always wins.

Eastern Conference:
Cavs
(1) vs. Celtics (4)

Cavs in 5
I guess I was a little premature about the demise of the Celtics when I picked them to lose to the Heat. My point remains, however, that the Celtics aren't a contender and the Cavs will prove that in this series.

Magic (2) vs. Hawks (3)
Magic in 6

The Magic have had about a week to sit back and watch the Hawks struggle with the Bucks. Since Orlando is playing better than anyone in the East right now, they shouldn't have any problem with the Hawks. I can't wait for the Magic and Cavs rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Those are my picks for the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Let me know if you agree or disagree!