Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Give Me Back that Filet-O-Fish

Last night was a night of comebacks, of sorts. For Villanova, it was a redeeming victory from Saturday's tough loss at Georgetown, defeating the a top 5 team 82-75 on their own floor. For the Flyers, well, it was a comeback in the literal sense of the word, falling behind 2-0 to the thorn in their side that is the Devils, only to rally and come away with a much needed 3-2 victory at home. Like I said, a night of comebacks.

The Wildcats didn't wait around long. Much like Saturday, it was Corey Fisher going nuts in the first half and Scottie Reynolds taking over in the second, only this time, Nova was in control much of the way.

Fish came out guns a blazing, attacking the heart of the WVU defense as he's known to do, stepping back and hitting threes and simply keeping the Mountaineers on their heels. You'd be hard-pressed to find another guard who attacks the defense as relentlessly as Fisher, and that becomes a burden on the opposition, especially when he's on fire like he was last night. Fisher started the game 4-4, scoring 12 points in a blink of an eye, and he was the main reason Nova took an 11-point lead into half.

Dominic Cheek added some buckets and Antonio Pena was working hard inside, but it was Fisher doing most of the work.

Meanwhile, the Flyers were looking sloppy and undisciplined. Every time my eyes shifted from the top TV to the bottom, it seemed as though another Flyer was making the slow skate to the sin bin. In the opening period alone, the Devils went on three power plays, and when you give a team like the Devils that many chances, they're going to take advantage. And New Jersey wasted no time.

On the very first power play of the game, Zach Parise scored to put the Devils up 1-0, a lead they'd take into intermission, despite the fact the Flyers outshot the Devils 12-7. Brodeur was making some excellent saves as always, and the Devils were familiar territory — up early against the Flyers.

When the Flyers gave up a shorthanded goal to Anssi Salmela just a minute into the second period, I thought the game was over. The Flyers had just gone down 2-0 in embarrassing fashion, giving up a shorty on a play that Mike Richards completely got owned by Salmela, who fought through a poorly executed check by the captain to zoom by and beat Michael Leighton. Then Salmela got owned by Jeff Carter, who absolutely annihilated the young defenseman with a shoulder up high on the followthrough.

Anssi was down for a long while on the ice, not moving during the first half, before he was eventually taken off on a stretcher. It was a scary scene indeed and a tough price to pay for a goal. But the hit was clean, if slightly late, as Carter kept his shoulder down and simply was finishing his check. Just a tough break Salmela.

The concerned Devils were now up 2-0 and the game looked out of reach. With a 2-goal lead and the team presumably fired up over the hit to Salmela, it looked as though the Flyers had little chance of coming back. I certainly thought the game was over. Giving up a shorty to fall behind a team that has historically owned them with one of the greatest goaltenders to ever lace them up in net? Yeah, that's a recipe for disaster. And over the next 10 minutes or so, it was all Devils, as the ice was clearly tilted in Philadelphia's end.

But the Flyers kept plugging away and plugging away, getting some quality chances, even if Brodeur was steering most of them away, some in spectacular fashion. Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the 2nd, JVR fired a shot criss-crossing over the blue line, the puck sort of knuckled a bit and somehow found its way through Brodeur and in the back of the net. Just over a minute later, Scott Hartnell found the puck on his stick in a 2-on-1, with Carter on his left. Hartnell made a picture-perfect pass to Carter, who scorched the one-timer past a sliding Brodeur with just 24 seconds remaining in the period. I started slapping my couch in excitement. Suddenly the Flyers had a second chance with 20 minutes left to play, a rare occurrence against the Devils.

As this was all going on, West Virginia was making inroads on Villanova's double-digit lead slowly but surely. Da'Sean Butler briefly awoke, Devin Ebanks made a few buckets and the Mountaineers got the crowd back into it. But Scottie could feel a push from West Virginia and decided to just take over the game. As he's done numerous times this season with this talented group, Reynolds waited in the wings in the first half, content to let his teammates do the bulk of the scoring, heading into the half with just 2 points. Then when Nova needed him most in the final 20 minutes, Reynolds exploded, scoring 19 second-half points in every conceivable way — great drives, deep threes, pull-ups, layups, you name it.

He never once looked out of control, never once looked sped up or flustered. Scottie Reynolds was in complete control that second half, and no matter how close West Virginia got, he would not let them get close enough. Scottie finished with 21 points, shooting 5-10 from the field, 1-3 from three and a perfect 10-10 from the line. He added four rebounds, five assists and three steals, doing a little bit of everything. And most importantly, he led his Wildcats back from a tough, embarrassing loss in which they surrendered over 100 points to defeat one of the best teams in the nation on enemy territory 82-75.

Corey Fisher, who did in the first half what Reynolds did in the second, finished with 17 points on 4-5 from the floor, 2-2 from three and 7-10 from the line, hitting some big free throws in the closing minutes to keep it a three-possession game throughout. And the Nova defense, which at times has been spectacular and others (like Saturday) has been suspect, was relentlessly tough, limiting a talented group of Mountaineers all game long. It was a great bounceback win.

If the Flyers could somehow pull off a similar feat, it was going to be a good night. The third period was an intense battle, as both teams got some great chances, but both goaltenders were up to the task. Brodeur made some ridiculous saves, robbing the Flyers yet again, something he's made a career doing. And Leighton continued to be rejuvenated as a Flyer, making stop after stop after stop, several times flashing the leather in key moments.

Then with just over 10 minutes left to play, Parise got called for high sticking. On the ensuing power play, the Flyers kept the puck in the New Jersey zone the entire time, generating some excellent chances and working hard to keep the puck. Claude Giroux was determined to get to every loose puck, racing to take over defensemen, throwing his weight around and refusing the Devils the chance to clear the zone. Timonen and Pronger raced for some key keeps as well, and the Flyers were pouring it on. And finally, after a bevy of chances, Kimmo made a tremendous individual play, receiving the pass from Gagne, walking in, skating around a laid-out defender, swooping behind the net, waiting, and then delivering a perfect pass in front to Mike Richards, who buried it to put the Flyers ahead 3-2, improbably scoring three straight goals against the Devils.

It really was an awesome effort by Timonen. And from then on, the Flyers played a strong final 8 minutes, getting a few chances to go up by two that were turned away by Brodeur, and getting some remarkable stops by Leighton in his own right. But then, with 1:52 remaining, Timonen was called for a questionable but probably correct boarding penalty. This is something the Flyers have done numerous times in recent weeks, forcing themselves in a bad shorthanded situation in the closing minutes of a tight game. But this time, even against the Devils, the Flyers were able to overcome it with some great penalty killer and snatched victory from the hands of defeat.

Honestly, when the Devils took a 2-0 lead just a minute into the 2nd on a shorthanded goal, I thought it was too much for this team to overcome. The Flyers have been giving points away by the bundle, haven't been able to score and now were down 2-0 to a team and a goalie that have owned them over the years. But somehow, they found a way to win and get those two precious points. I can't figure this team out for the life of me.

BallHype: hype it up!

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