Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bembry explodes as SJU takes surprise victory at UMass

Amherst, MA -- Just because the countdown to the end of this lost season is near, doesn't mean the Hawk has any shot at expiring.

At times the only player who has shown enough talent and drive to take over a game by himself, DeAndre' Bembry poured in a career-high 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as Saint Joseph's defeated the Massachusetts Minutemen, 82-71, in an Atlantic 10 Conference matchup at the Mullins Center.

The win snapped an eight-game road losing slide for the Hawks (12-15, 6-9 A-10), who also received 15 points courtesy of Isaiah Miles. Chris Wilson netted 13 points, while Aaron Brown scored 11 points off the bench for Saint Joseph's.

SJU also stemmed a three-game overall losing streak, since beating Rhode Island 65-64 at Hagan Arena on Feb. 11.

Cady Lalanne paced the Minutemen (16-12, 9-6) as he registered a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Maxie Esho and Demetrius Dyson contributed 12 points apiece, while Trey Davis recorded a double-double of his own with 11 points and 10 assists. Donte Clark chimed in with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor for UMass.

Saint Joseph's took a 36-35 lead into halftime after it connected on 42.3 percent of its field goal attempts and converted 9-of-11 shots at the free- throw line in the opening stanza. The Minutemen were limited to 36.4 percent shooting from the floor in the first half.

UMass continued to struggled after the break as it shot 31.4 percent from the field, including a 2-of-12 clip from behind the 3-point line. The Hawks made good on 4-of-5 tries from beyond the arc and outscored the hosts, 22-16, in the paint in the second stanza.

The Hawks finished with an 18-6 edge in points off turnovers. They'll host Richmond on Saturday, La Salle next Wednesday before completing the regular season at URI on March 7.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wildcats rout Providence, earn share of Big East title

Villanova, PA -- Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston shined on senior night in No. 6 Villanova's 89-61 win over No. 25 Providence.

Hilliard's 24 points with six 3-pointers led all scorers and Pinkston added 16 points and eight rebounds, including the 700th of his career, to help the Wildcats (26-2, 13-2 Big East) clinch at least a share of a second straight Big East title.

"These are two guys who never thought of giving in on Villanova," said Wildcats coach Jay Wright. "It really is special for me because of where they have been and what they have brought us from."

Ryan Arcidiacono netted 13 points, and Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth added 11 and 10 points, respectively.

The Friars (19-9, 9-6) never led despite getting 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from Tyler Harris. LaDontae Henton and Kyron Cartwright each scored 12 points, while Kris Dunn was limited to four points.

Providence pulled within six several times in the opening moments of the second half but could not overcome Villanova's long-range shooting.

Hilliard hit a pair of free throws and went on to score 14 points during a 25-6 Wildcats run to put the game away. He scored the first four points and later netted nine in a row with three shots from beyond the arc.

The Wildcats led by as many as 30 when Jenkins hit a 3 with 4:20 to play. Even after Hilliard and Pinkston were taken out of the game to standing ovations with three minutes left, Villanova kept the pressure on with 3s from Josh Hart on back-to-back possessions.

"It's amazing how teams around the country and all the speaking heads, who are supposed to be professional, but they aren't talking about Villanova as a No. 1 seed," said Friars coach Ed Cooley. "They're playing as well as anybody in the country and have a chance to make a magical, magical run in March."

Villanova scored the first nine points of the game with a sloppy start from Providence. The Friars committed five turnovers in the first four minutes before a timeout and Cartwright jumper got them on track.

The Wildcats scored 14 points off nine Providence turnovers in the first half, but the Friars used a late surge to narrow their deficit. Ben Bentil's 3 with two minutes to play started a 7-0 run that cut Villanova's lead to 34-25 at the break.
Notes: Villanova has won 26 games in a row at The Pavilion since losing to Providence on Feb. 2, 2013 ... Providence never led ... The Wildcats shot 13-for-25 from 3-point range and went 26-of-31 from the free-throw line ... Villanova's next game is at Xavier on Saturday while Providence will host Marquette on Sunday.

LeClair prend sa revanche sur les Canadiens

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Hockey fans the world over know the custom when a player on the home team scores at least three goals in one game: the instantaneous doffing of different varieties of head gear and a strong throw in an attempt for the accoutrement to reach the ice in recognition.

But what about when the opposition scores a hat trick, and the player who did it used to play in that city not two weeks before?

John LeClair found some space in front, corraled a rebound from Eric Lindros, and beat Habs goaltender/future Hall-of-Famer Patrick Roy only 73 seconds into the third period and the Flyers took a 4-0 lead over the Canadiens.

The burly Vermonter pumped home three of his club's four markers to that point before the curious occurrence unfolded.

"I'm not going to ask questions, I think I'm just going to keep going with it. Playing on the line, I've gotten a lot of loose pucks. Things have been bouncing for me right now. I hope they'll stay that way," LeClair said to the Inquirer after his team finished off the largest rout by shutout in their history against Montreal, a 7-0 thrashing at the famous Forum 20 years ago tonight.

Only 16 days prior, Flyers GM Bob Clarke engineered what would be considered the steal of either of his tenures in the club's front office, taking Eric Desjardins, Gilbert Dionne and LeClair off old nemesis Serge Savard's hands and only coughing up a bit of offense in Mark Recchi. This was the first time all four would face off against each other in different uniforms.

"It's kind of weird," said LeClair, who grew up 90 miles south in St. Albans, VT. "You get accustomed to it for four years now, and when you come back, everything's familiar. But that's all going to change. We're still good friends -- those guys on the other side. But you've got to put that aside and play hockey."

Until this Saturday night on Rue Ste-Catherine, LeClair -- he of the NHL record back-to-back overtime winners on the road in the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals for the Habs -- played six games for Terry Murray. In that time, he picked up five goals and six assists while recording his first career hat trick (and a career-best five-point night) at Tampa Bay on Feb. 14.

But, well...this was Montreal and a chance for all three players to show Savard and 17,800 partisan patrons how much of a mistake he made. In the Flyers' only other appearance in town, back on January 29, the Flyers ground out a 2-2 tie with Lindros playing while visibly ill, prompting crusty veteran Craig MacTavish to grouse: "the biggest decision Eric had to make today was which end of his body to put on the toilet."

Heading into this Hockey Night in Canada tilt, the Flyers were coming off a 6-6 tie in Quebec City where the flashy Nordiques wiped out deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 6-3 despite a Lindros hat trick and 10 points from the as-yet unnamed top-line trio which didn't play the whole game together. As a result, the internal powder keg was ready to explode and serendipity provided the proper location.

Left out to dry by teammates Kirk Muller and Vincent Damphousse, Recchi tried to chase down a dump-in less than two minutes into the contest and Hextall greeted him with a solid body check. 

LeClair opened the scoring with a pair less than six minutes apart, his seventh and eighth goals of the season, in the middle portion of the second period, one of those on a clean break up the middle off a Mikael Renberg pass. Shjon Podein's marker 25 seconds into the third tripled the visitors' advantage, then LeClair sent the "home" fans into a frenzy, and they displayed their appreciation by showering the ice with token chapeaux in mock celebration.

Kevin Dineen and Desjardins followed with their first goals of the year and the not-yet-revealed-to-be-disappointing prospect Patrik Juhlin capped the rout on his goal that chased Roy with 9:02 left in regulation. LeClair finished the evening with a game-high seven shots on goal and the sweetest revenge.

"He's fired up right now," Murray said of LeClair to the Inky's Gary Miles. "Trades do that to people. We're very happy that he's excited. We're very happy that Eric Desjardins is excited. He's played extremely well since he's been with us. (Gilbert) Dionne is doing a really job good. He's going to break loose. The deal was good for us."

The Canadiens, under Jacques Demers and who had been 5-0-2 on home ice to that point, remained tough at home and finished 15-5-3 at the Forum. Their dismal 3-18-3 mark on the road doomed the club to a sixth-place finish in the Northeast Division and they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1970. The immediate aftermath was the Habs lost five in a row and went winless in six, scoring just seven goals total.

Spurred by the new additions, the Flyers started out on a 10-1-2 surge which rocketed them from fifth place to first place in the Atlantic Division across the span of 3 1/2 weeks.

Not coincidentally, the final game in the run, on March 20 at the Spectrum, was an 8-4 thrashing of Roy and the Canadiens where Lindros netted the second of back-to-back hat tricks and the Legion of Doom rolled to nine points. LeClair had points in 12 of those 13 contests and compiled up seven multi-point efforts in that span.

He finished the year with five goals in three games against his former club, which didn't end up beating the Flyers again until October of 1996 in their new building -- now called the Bell Centre.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Miracle Flyers spring to life, beat Caps for weekend sweep

Philadelphia, PA --  A full 13 points out of the playoff race just over a month ago, the Flyers are doing a pretty good job of becoming this season's Lazarus.

Regardless of the help the Boston Bruins may or may not provide in their late-season slide, and despite an inexplicably inauspicious start to this four-game home stand with losses to Columbus and Buffalo, it's looking like another skin-of-their-teeth finish.

Michael Del Zotto netted the winner with 4:13 left in regulation and Philadelphia completed an unlikely weekend sweep thanks to a 3-2 decision over the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.

The goal, his fifth in 14 games, was set up by some laser vision from Jakub Voracek, who threaded the needle from the right-wing boards all the way across to his streaking defenseman for a perfectly placed shot high and inside the far post.

Rob Zepp put another accomplishment in his pocket, winning back-to-back starts at the NHL level for the first time thanks to a 21-save effort. Claude Giroux netted his first goal in 11 games and Wayne Simmonds continued to dominate down low with his 24th goal of the season.

"Like we said when we were 13 points away, we need to go game by game and just worry about our own game. When the overall game gets better, we start winning," Giroux said. "That's what we're doing right now, but we still have some things to look at and (make) better. We're a young team and we have got to learn."

Mark Streit -- the prohibitive favorite for the Barry Ashbee Trophy as best defenseman -- chipped in two assists as the Orange and Black's point streak stretched to 12 of 13 games (8-1-4) and their gap towards the eighth and final playoff spot reduced to four points after the Bruins routed the Blackhawks in Chicago, 6-1.

Tom Wilson and Joel Ward provided offense for the Capitals, who failed to pull out of a second-place tie with the Rangers and so remained tied for sixth in the East with 76 points. Braden Holtby stopped 25-of-28 pucks in defeat.

''We had chances and just missed it,'' Ward said. ''It was back and forth, we just couldn't capitalize at the end.''

Things got interesting with Holtby on the bench and Nick Schultz in the box for shooting the puck into the stands with 57 seconds remaining, but Braydon Coburn of all people came up with a big block on an Alex Ovechkin chance down the stretch and the Caps didn't have a quality chance for the remainder.

''This team is very tight, they get along great and they love each other,'' Flyers coach Craig Berube said when asked about a potential breakdown in trust between teammates with so much lineup switching. ''Sometimes it doesn't transfer onto the ice, but they trust each other, for sure.''

Without delving too deeply into internal mechanics, the word on repeat lately has been belief -- that Ed Snider himself stated he had a hard time thinking this was a possible playoff team at the turn of the calendar, that Ron Hextall backed his men and Giroux and others scoffed at assertions the rest of the team lacked that quality.

That said, how long until the post-game victory song turns from "Uptown Funk" to "I'm a Believer?"

The Flyers were fortunate to snag the game's first power play and capitalized when Giroux's wrister from the lower left circle sailed through a Simmonds screen and past Holtby at 4:39 of the opening period.

A sedate opening stanza finally got a little heated late in the first when Matt Niskanen clearly went knee-to-knee on Sean Couturier, only drawing a minor which carried over into the second period. Brooks Laich then took a swing at a puck and missed, drawing contact on Brayden Schenn's shield, so the hosts essentially had back-to-back two-minute power plays.

They cashed in shortly into the second one, with Simmonds cleaning up a Streit point shot to make it 2-0 at 1:34. 

The Capitals received the game's next break, on a questionable roughing call to Coburn, and cashed in shortly after the advantage expired when everybody's favorite enemy forward capitalized off John Carlson's pass from a Luke Schenn turnover and beat Zepp at 5:23.

After a lull in spirits on both sides, Washington knotted the score on a fluke drive by Ward, who spun around and whacked at a rolling puck from inside the left circle which beat a surprised Zepp under the crossbar with 4:38 left in the second.

Holtby kept the game tied inside the final minute, stoning Ryan White on a clear breakaway and then padding away R.J. Umberger's rebound try from the slot.

Philly had to kill off the remainder of a Streit minor and then a Del Zotto tripping call at the outset of the third. Zepp later denied a Marcus Johansson wraparound try just shy of the seven-minute mark.

"As an athlete you play for game situations like this. We're fortunate to be here in a place where there's a lot of pressure and it's a lot of fun," said Zepp, who played consecutive games one week after starting a 3-in-3 for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

Thanks to poor back checking and a horrible giveaway by Simmonds, Ward somehow broke free untouched up the middle as the clock ticked down to seven minutes to play in regulation, but his shot completely missed the net high and wide.

“We just weren't sharp and they forced us not to be sharp. You have to be really prepared for that and we fell and dug ourselves a 2-0 hole," said Washington head coach Barry Trotz.

Notes: The Flyers won three of four from the Capitals in the season series ... Philly heads to Carolina and Toronto on Tuesday and Thursday before returning home to face the Rangers, Calgary and St. Louis to complete a run of seven home games in nine dates ... Simmonds has collected 11 points (6G, 5A) in his last 10 games ...  Voracek posted two assists and set a new career high in points during one season with 63, besting the 62 he had in 82 games last year ... In the second period, Capitals forward Jason Chimera delivered an obvious sucker punch to the face of Zac Rinaldo, with the latter somehow drawing a fighting major along with Chimera despite never taking off his gloves or offering to fight.