Saturday, December 20, 2014

Flyers post season-high in offense, shock Leafs in Toronto

Toronto, ON -- Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have done more than most of their teammates combined to keep the club relatively close to the playoff picture in the first one-third of the season. 

They were clearly going to be counted on to carry the team on their backs facing an eight-game road trip without the services of their starting goaltender.

On Saturday night, in front of an international audience, the twosome combined for eight points, and the Philadelphia Flyers stormed back from an early two-goal deficit to post a 7-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

Giroux accounted for two goals and two assists, while Voracek notched four primary helpers. Michael Raffl and Sean Couturier each gave a goal and an assist for the Orange and Black, who snapped a two-game losing streak to open their trip. 

Philly heads to Winnipeg on Sunday to complete their seventh set of back-to-back games, having upped their overall record in such contests to 2-10-1. Craig Berube's wheezing charges have somehow managed to record points in seven of their last eight (4-1-3).

Though shaky in the early going, Ray Emery allowed four goals on 25 shots in the victory, his second straight. He was pressed into duty after Steve Mason's apparent back injury suffered in Friday's practice left him away from action for at least the first two games of the trip.

Joffrey Lupul posted a goal and an assist while James van Riemsdyk, Peter Holland and David Clarkson all scored for the Maple Leafs, who have dropped their past two because they couldn't hold onto leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in a wild opening period. 

Jonathan Bernier allowed all seven goals on 41 shots, while James Reimer played the final 10 1/2 minutes and stopped the lone shot he faced.

The Maple Leafs got off to a hot start, scoring the first two goals and getting things started at 4:51 on Lupul's one-timer off a backhand pass from Morgan Rielly. Less than a minute later, van Riemsdyk scored on the power play when he redirected a slap-pass from Cody Franson for his 14th goal of the season.

Usually out of things by this point, the visitors somehow managed to snap back to attention and tied the game with a quick pair of their own, as R.J. Umberger chipped in a Couturier rebound at 11:18, and it was Couturier three minutes later as his one-timer off a Matt Read feed found the back of the net.

It took just 15 seconds for Toronto to get the lead back, as Clarkson's snap shot from the left circle went over the glove of Emery. Giroux responded by scoring his first of the game just 11 seconds after that on a give-and-go with Voracek. 

The three scores in a span of 26 seconds by both teams set a new Flyers franchise mark for combined goals by two teams, according to Elias. 

At 3:52 of the second, the Flyers went on top for good on a goal which Bernier simply needed to stop with relative ease. Nicklas Grossman sent a hard shot from the left point that kicked off the end boards, hit off the back of Bernier's right leg and slid in.

The Flyers made it a 5-3 game with 3:57 to play in the second as the captain scored a skilled players' goal. Giroux took a pass at the low left side from Voracek, held the puck as he skated towards the goal line, and snapped the puck under the crossbar from a sharp angle for his 10th of the season.

Scott Laughton scored off a wrister from the left circle thanks to a nice set- up by Voracek at 5:47 of the third, and it was Raffl near the midway mark of the period finishing off a 2-on-1 break for his ninth of the season. Wayne Simmonds did the set up, carrying up the right wing and waiting until Dion Phaneuf unnecessarily dove before dishing back into the slot for the easy marker.

Holland's goal with just over six minutes to play accounted for the final score.

Notes: The Flyers last hit seven goals on the road against the Leafs in a 7-1 decision on March 29, 2012, and last posted a 7-4 score in Toronto on November 4, 1989 ... Toronto opens a seven-game road trip in Chicago on Sunday ... It was a season-high in goals scored for the Flyers, whose previous best occurred in a 6-5 overtime road victory against the Stars on Oct. 18 ... Toronto was 1-for-4 on the power play, while Philadelphia failed on all three of its chances ... Read finished with two assists, as did Toronto's Phil Kessel ... Phaneuf and Nazem Kadri finished with game-worst minus-4 ratings ... Giroux also won 17 of his 22 faceoffs, and Leafs forward Tyler Bozak ended up winning 12-of-20 draws ... Rob Zepp was recalled from Lehigh Valley of the AHL to serve as Emery's backup, and who may see his first NHL action against the Jets in the second half of a back-to-back. 

Eagles on verge of collapse after last-second loss in Washington

Landover, MD -- Kai Forbath kicked a 26-yard field goal with five seconds remaining to lift the Washington Redskins to a 27-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday.

The Redskins snapped a six-game losing streak and dealt a significant blow to the Eagles' playoff hopes. Philadelphia has lost three straight games since a Thanksgiving win at Dallas gave it sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

A win at home by the Cowboys against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday will eliminate the Eagles from postseason contention.

"One game left. We got to get ready and focused for the New York Giants. We got to win that game," said Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly.

The Eagles (9-6) have been prone to turning the ball over this season and cornerback Bashaud Breeland intercepted Mark Sanchez's pass at the Washington 42-yard line inside the two-minute warning.

Robert Griffin III then threw a short pass to Pierre Garcon, who spun out of a defender's grasp for a 23-yard gain. A roughing the passer penalty tacked on 15 more yards and the Redskins added one more first down, forcing Philadelphia to use each of its three timeouts before Forbath nailed the go-ahead kick.

The Eagles, who had erased a 24-14 deficit, were still alive with three seconds remaining because Forbath drilled Trey Burton with the kickoff at midfield.

Cornerback David Amerson knocked down Sanchez's pass in the end zone to end the game.

Griffin completed 16-of-23 passes for 220 yards with one interception and Darrel Young had two 1-yard touchdown runs in the third quarter for Washington (4-11).

"Love the way our team battled and competed," said Redskins coach Jay Gruden. "There's been a lot of talk about people quitting and you can see what type of guys we have. Guys didn't quit."

Sanchez was 37-of-50 for 374 yards and threw two touchdown passes to Riley Cooper. Tight end Zach Ertz set an Eagles franchise record with 15 catches for a career-high 115 yards.

A rough third quarter actually began favorably for the Eagles, who started in the red zone after Andre Roberts fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half.

Philadelphia failed to capitalize on the turnover when Cody Parkey missed a 34-yard field goal wide right.

Washington benefited from a pair of roughing the passer penalties on their next drive. The second infraction set up the first of Young's two short touchdown runs on 1st-and-goal.

The normally reliable Parkey then missed a 46-yard try wide right after LeSean McCoy was wrapped up for no gain on 3rd-and-1 at the Washington 28. The rookie had missed only two attempts (29-of-31) through the first 14 games.

On the ensuing Washington drive, former Eagle DeSean Jackson caught a 55-yard pass, beating cornerback Bradley Fletcher on the play, and drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone. Young scored to give the Redskins a 24-14 lead with 26 seconds left in the third.

The Eagles rallied as Sanchez found Cooper for a 16-yard touchdown and Parkey made a 22-yard field goal following a Griffin interception.

Philadelphia coughed the ball up on the game's opening drive. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan forced a Sanchez fumble on a sack and made the recovery at the Philadelphia 47-yard line.

Forbath kicked a 25-yard field goal to give Washington a 3-0 lead.

The Redskins' defense then made a stop, but Breeland was charged with an illegal use of hands penalty to extend the drive.

Instead of a three-and-out, the Eagles marched 79 yards in 10 plays. McCoy ran around the right end for an 11-yard touchdown.

The Redskins regained the lead with a quick response. Jackson beat Fletcher for a 51-yard grab. The catch put Jackson over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

Alfred Morris rumbled 28 yards for a touchdown on the next play to make it 10-7 with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Eagles moved back in front with a 15-play, 93-yard drive in the second quarter. Sanchez converted a 3rd-and-25 with a 26-yard pass to Jordan Matthews and later hit Cooper on a 3-yard slant for a touchdown.

Philadelphia looked to add to its lead before halftime, but punted after reaching the Washington 40.

Notes: Philadelphia leads the league with 35 turnovers ... Morris rushed for 83 yards on 21 carries. He joined Stephen Davis (1999-2001) as the only running backs in team history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons ... Kerrigan became the first Redskins player to record a sack in five consecutive games since Fred Stokes in 1991 ... Jackson is the fifth player to reach 1,000 receiving yards in his first season with Washington. Bobby Mitchell (1962), Henry Ellard (1994), Laveranues Coles (2003) and Santana Moss (2005) also accomplished the feat ... Parkey tied an Eagles rookie record for made field goals with 30. Paul McFadden set the mark in 1984.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mason suffers apparent back injury, out at least two games

Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Steve Mason left a Friday practice session with an upper-body injury and is expected to miss his club's back-to-back games in Toronto and Winnipeg this weekend.

Mason, who made 31 saves in Thursday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, appeared to suffer some kind of spasm, which was severe enough that he had to be taken off the ice by team personnel.

Timing of this injury to the Philly starter could not have been worse, with the Flyers about to embark on an eight-game holiday road trip mired in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division at 11-14-6.

The road trip kicks off Saturday against the Maple Leafs and in a quick turnaround, heads to Manitoba's capital on Sunday before heading to the Twin Cities on Dec. 23. Following a four-day Christmas break, the swing resumes in Nashville and continues through Jan. 3.

Mason has gone just 6-10-5 this season, but holds a goals-against average of 2.49 and .921 save percentage.

Though the club has not made it official, it is expected that Rob Zepp -- the starting netminder for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL -- will be recalled to back up Ray Emery.

Should Zepp get the call, he'd be in line to make his first NHL start after 14 professional seasons, in a career which began in 2001 with Florida of the ECHL and took him to Finland and Germany before coming back to North America this season.

Rollins to Dodgers finally happening

The Phillies announced Friday morning they finally were able to agree on a selling price for shortstop Jimmy Rollins and cash to the Dodgers for minor league pitching prospects Zach Eflin and Tom Windle.

The deal ends a 15-year run for Rollins from 2000-14 that included one World Series championship, two National League pennants, five NL East titles, one NL MVP, three NL All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger Award, memorable predictions and proclamations, a 38-game hitting streak and a franchise-record 2,306 hits.

"Jimmy is both an iconic player and person whom I have had the great joy of watching grow up in this game and this city," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a statement issued upon the trade announcement. "His contributions to the franchise and to Philadelphia are unparalleled, and I wish him the best in Los Angeles. This transaction is one that I believe benefits both Jimmy and the Phillies."

Rollins had been the longest serving member of the club, having been called up to Terry Francona's squad in September of 2000, mere months after another championship cornerstone, Pat Burrell, made his big league debut. Now, second baseman Chase Utley -- rumored to be the next player out of town -- holds that distinction, having been sent to the majors while the Phils still played at the Vet in 2003.

"The Dodgers are very lucky to acquire a player like Jimmy," Utley added. "I've said it time and time again that Jimmy makes everyone around him better. The team will miss his leadership on the field and his infectious smile, but most of all, I will miss our pregame handshake."

Rollins keyed the Phillies' memorable stretch of five straight division titles from 2007-11 with one of the most electrifying seasons in recent memory. To aid the club in their first NL East crown since 1993, he hit .296, collected 20 triples, 30 home runs, 38 doubles, drove in 94 runs, scored a league-high 134 runs and accumulated major-league highs of 716 at-bats, 778 plate appearances and played in all 162 games. It was a cinch he was selected as the National League MVP following the campaign.

All told, the Oakland, CA native appeared in 2,090 games as a member of the Phillies, while collecting a .267 average, 216 homers, 887 RBI, 453 stolen bases, 111 triples, 479 doubles, 1,325 runs scored and a .983 lifetime fielding percentage.

He moves on as one of just four shortstops in MLB history to record at least 200 homers and 2,000 hits at the position, along with Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Miguel Tejada. 

Panthers send Flyers to holiday road trip with SO loss

Philadelphia, PA -- Dave Bolland was the latest player who helped keep the Philadelphia Flyers' shootout woes intact, as his marker to start the sixth round of the game's final segment proved to be the decider in the Florida Panthers' 2-1 victory on Thursday night.

Brandon Pirri began the breakaway competition by essentially lulling Steve Mason to sleep before sticking a shot home, and Jakub Voracek managed to keep the hosts in it with a pretty backhand score to complete the third round.

Although Florida hit two posts which could have ended up making the difference, Roberto Luongo stopped a relatively harmless chance by Sean Couturier to end the contest.

"I wasn't able to shut the door on Voracek, but the second time around you really want to hunker down and make the save for the boys.… We just want to keep it going. These points before Christmas are huge for our club. We got two more big games left," Luongo noted.

Thus, the Orange and Black completed their homestand at 2-1-1, and the Panthers won the season series 2-1-0.

Philadelphia faces an eight-game, 16-day trip which begins in Toronto on Saturday and doesn't end until Jan. 3 in New Jersey. The club's next home date is three days later against the Ottawa Senators, and there are still questions why the team cannot find its motivation 31 games in.

"There were some good things and bad things. We've just got to up the intensity. I have no idea (why it happens) ... I honestly don't," Mason said, exhaling deeply. He's given up three goals in the last two games and the Flyers have rewarded him with three goals and managed to take one point.

"Guys have to step up. It can't just be a couple guys to provide the spark, it's got to be everybody."

Story of the whole mess of a season, right there.

Mason stopped 31 shots, and his club was only able to reach overtime thanks to a spectacular diving glove save at the left post on Pirri after Scott Laughton decided it would be prudent to carry the puck and try to deke past a Florida forechecker shortly after the midway point of the third period. 

Once there, the home team showed the hunger necessary to win, but which had been lacking for most of regulation. Luongo made a nice glove stop on Mark Streit with 1:32 left and swallowed up a Matt Read slap shot with 41.2 seconds left. He also made a nice glove stop on an Andrew MacDonald shot off a 4-on-2 Flyers rush with 11.4 showing. MacDonald is still one point away from 100 for his career.

Florida didn't show any ill effects from participating in an epic, NHL record 20-round shootout on Tuesday. The hosts caught a break early in the game, when a deflection from Sean Bergenheim that fooled Mason and beat him to the right post was shown upon review to have been tipped out of the air and well above the crossbar.

They weren't so lucky at the 9:37 mark, when Scottie Upshall drove the net and outmuscled Nick Schultz so that a Tomas Kopecky centering feed caromed off his body and into the net. Luongo was barely tested for his eight-save opening 20 minutes, which his club led at one point on the shot board by a 12-4 count.

"We feel like we're in every game. It'd be nice to win some by a few more goals but we're getting better with one-goal games,'' Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Not as much panic, we're getting used to it. That's making strides and is good to see.''

Both sides continued to largely sleepwalk their way through the early part of the second period before Jakub Voracek -- one of those few guys Mason hinted were the team's spark-producers -- scored to tie the game.

Most of the credit and work goes to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who initially controlled the puck along the right wing, then briefly lost it as he curled to face the rest of the ice behind Luongo. He regained possession and found Voracek in his usual position in the right circle to convert his 12th goal of the season.

It was also his 38th point of the year, pulling him into a tie atop the NHL scoring column with Tyler Seguin and Evgeni Malkin.

"That's something we definitely have to work on, we're definitely not intense enough and tonight we came out and the first period was not intense again," Bellemare said. "We have to figure out a way to be like this all the time, when we're like that (in the second period), we play well."

Notes: Thursday marked the 10th one-goal game for the Panthers in their past 11 outings, and their 22nd in 30 games this season (12-2-8) ... Florida improved to 4-4 in shootouts, while Philadelphia fell to 0-5 this season and has dropped 10 in a row since a win at Vancouver on Dec. 30, 2013 ... Vinny Lecavalier made his return to the lineup after a seven-game absence due to being a healthy scratch and a lower-body injury, playing 11:08 and going shotless with a minus-1 rating ... Pirri was inserted into the lineup after Brad Boyes was a late scratch due to an apparent back issue ... The win was the 385th of Luongo's career, tying him with Mike Vernon for 12th on the all-time list.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Phantoms take down B-Sens, make history in the process

Courtesy of the Morning Call

by Rob Riches
Phanatic Hockey Writer
Twitter: @Riches61

ALLENTOWN, PA. -- The Lehigh Valley Phantoms matched an American Hockey League record on Wednesday night, scoring three goals in the span of 21 seconds en route to a 5-3 win over the Binghamton Senators.

Those three goals were scored in the game’s opening 36 seconds, to boot, which also gave the hosts a new AHL record from the start of a contest by a single club. Petr Straka opened the scoring 15 seconds into the game for his seventh of the season, which was answered 12 seconds later by Jason Akeson’s third of the season. Nine seconds after that, Andrew Gordon made it a 3-0 game.

Watch all three unfold in the following video:

Senators head coach Luke Richardson had seen enough from goalie Andrew Hammond, and pulled him following Gordon’s tally. Hammond’s night ended with three goals allowed on as many shots, with Scott Greenham playing the mop-up role for the Sens.

“It didn’t feel like the game had even started yet,” Gordon said. “My first shift of the game was 10 seconds long, and we already had two goals … the next few minutes, it seemed like we were playing in shock a little bit.”

Nick Cousins also added two goals on the power play, for his fifth and sixth goals of the season, respectively. His marker just over two minutes into the second period gave the Phantoms a cozy 4-0 lead, and added the team’s fifth goal with 4:23 to play in regulation.

Following their three-goal outburst, the Phantoms (12-11-4) played the rest of the first period on their heels, relying mainly on a dump-and-chase approach. They were able to muster just three shots over the remaining 19 minutes, compared to a hearty 15 for the B-Sens.

“I thought we got real loose in the second period, especially,” Phantoms head coach Terry Murray said. “They had the green light. After it’s 3-0, what have you got to lose? They’re just going to get pucks in and go after it.”

“I think after those three goals, we sort of got away from our game plan,” Cousins added. “They took it to us after that, they took it to us in the second. We had to rely on [Zepp], he played another solid game back there.”

All three Senators goals came on the power play in the game’s back half of regulation, courtesy of Alex Grant (second period, 14:06), Chris Wideman (third period, 2:33) and Derek Grant (third, 19:39). They capitalized on three of seven man-advantages, while the Phantoms went 2-for-6 on the power play -- which stands now at 13th in the AHL by operating at a 17.6 percent clip. Alex Grant's score came with a bit of controversy, because extensive replays demonstrated the puck went through the netting from the outside.

Zepp was astounding between the pipes once again for the Phantoms, making 41 saves on 43 shots. Greenham managed to turn away 25 of the 27 shots he faced.

Binghamton (12-11-3) entered the game one point ahead of the Phantoms in the East Division standings, and the Phantoms’ win supplanted them, as they stand now at 28 points -- three points behind second-place Hershey, and seven points behind first-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The Phantoms will play twice more -- at home against Hershey on Friday, and at Hartford on Saturday -- before enjoying the AHL’s winter holiday hiatus.

NOTES: The Phantoms’ five goals matches their single-season high, set thrice this season (Oct. 11, Oct. 25 and Dec. 7). … The game’s regulation finish was the first at PPL Center since Nov. 29. … Cousins’ two-goal effort was the first multi-goal night of his career. … The Phantoms’ previous record for fastest three goals came in a 31-second span against the Baltimore Bandits on Dec. 9, 1996 -- the franchise’s first year of existence when it operated in Philadelphia … The AHL record for fastest three goals is 20 seconds, set in a Dec. 14, 1997 tilt between the Springfield Falcons and Worcester IceCats, though both teams split the three goals ... Blair Jones returned to the Phantoms' lineup after being a late scratch on Sunday in Atlantic City due to illness.