New York Giants: Ryan Connelly Optimistic About Return From Injury

New York Giants, Ryan Connelly

It’s been a complicated past year for New York Giants linebacker Ryan Connelly. More specifically, it’s been less than a year since Connelly came in as a fifth round draft pick, took the starting role at inside linebacker, and became one of the top young players on the Giants defense – before being sidelined by an ACL tear not long into the season.

And the league’s response to coronavirus hasn’t made it any easier for Connelly and others to recover from injury. The Giants facilities weren’t even open for most of the offseason. The team had a virtual program, but you can only gain so much without training face to face.

Now that Connelly is back on the field, there’s added competition. Blake Martinez was brought in to play the same position. The other spot on the inside will probably be held by David Mayo or Connelly. Either way, the competition is fiercer than last year. And Connelly isn’t the default starter he may have been before the Martinez deal.

Connelly speaks on his offseason

The offseason wasn’t that bad for Connelly based on what he told the New York Post. While it did make his recovery more difficult, it also meant a chance to connect with family again. In fact, Connelly went as far as calling it a blessing in disguise.

“It was a nice breath of fresh air to be back with family, especially during these tough times. I think it was definitely a blessing in disguise. I know my parents really enjoyed having us all back and one big family again,” he stated. He had to head back to Minnesota once most of the team’s offseason was cancelled, but said the Giants helped with that.

He’s not sweating getting back into action with the team. His focus has been on adjusting to the new staff and their system, mainly. Not so much on the competition for his previous starting spot.

“Everything has to be earned, and I’m just trying learn the scheme one day at a time and see how I fit with that and how I can play fast within it. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Connelly praised Martinez’s knowledge and said that all the linebackers are learning from each other.

The player that’s perhaps his primary competition, David Mayo, started 13 games last season and registered 82 total tackles as well as a pair of sacks. Connelly had 20 tackles last season – but he only played in four games before his injury, getting the start in three of them.

It still remains to be seen who will start at inside linebacker for the Giants. But a the least, it’s safe to say they have better options this year than they did before, at a very important position.

NASCAR: Denny Hamlin wins first half of Dover doubleheader

Denny Hamlin passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. with eight laps to go to take the first half over a doubleheader in Delaware.

In what he certainly hopes is a sign of things to come for the looming postseason, Denny Hamlin not only bested his teammates from Joe Gibbs Racing but outliers from Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports as well.

Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota passed the No. 19 of comrade Martin Truex Jr. with eight laps to go in the first half of a doubleheader at Dover International Speedway. Eight laps around the establishment known as “The Monster Mile” later, Hamlin took home his NASCAR Cup Series best sixth victory of the season, winning the first of two races labeled the Drydene 311. The mile-long track is hosting a pair of 311-lap races as NASCAR continues to play out its full season sets across its national series.

With the win, his first in 29 tries at Dover, Hamlin is tied with Kevin Harvick for the most on the premiere Cup circuit this season. Two races remain before the Cup Series playoffs begin at Darlington Raceway on September 6.

I’m thinking about playoff points to be honest with you,” Hamlin said after the race. “Even though everyone would say, ‘We’re a lock, it’s not a lock’, I’ve had such crazy (stuff) happen to me in these Playoffs during the course of my career, I don’t want to take any chances. I just want to lock in all the Playoff points I can possibly get and get to Phoenix and give myself a shot.” 

Though Harvick is set to clinch the regular season title, Hamlin is set to serve as the second seed thanks to his accumulated wins and stage victories.

Hamlin began the day on the front row thanks to NASCAR’s new starting lineup formula. The process has eschewed the random draw for a performance-based setup accounting for speed and finishes in the prior race, as well as placement in the standings. He missed out on leading the opening laps thanks to a strong opening from polesitter Chase Elliott, who won the inaugural Cup race on the Daytona road course last weekend.

Unperturbed by a crash on the sixth lap that ended the day of Kurt Busch, Elliott led until a competition caution came out at the 25th circuit. Hamlin beat Elliott off pit road and took his first lead of the day at lap 71, passing Austin Dillon (who opted not to pit at the competition pause).

After leading the next 78, Hamling returned to the lead at lap 161, passing a desperate William Byron hoping for a caution. Hamlin won each of the first two stages of the race, giving him a series-best seven this season.

With lead laps retreating to pit road after the second stage, Truex emerged as the leader at lap 189, only relinquishing it for his final stop of the afternoon at lap 254. Truex held the lead as that cycle ended, but his teammate Hamlin was able to catch up with him and make the fateful pass for the win. It’s his 43rd visit to victory lane since his Cup career began in 2006 and he also matches his win total from all of last season. He’s the first driver to win at least six races in consecutive years since Jimmie Johnson did so four times (2007-10).

Hamlin is perhaps finding his groove at the perfect time with the regular season dwindling down. He has now finished either first or second in five of the last six races. Truex has likewise been a mainstay at the top of the leaderboard, as Saturday marked his sixth straight finish in the top three.

I knew this would be a good day for JGR,” Hamlin said. “My teammates, I think, are the best two drivers at this racetrack. We’ve started to see some light at the end of the tunnel for us. I think Kansas was a good sign, a lot of our cars in the top five there.  We went to Michigan and had three of our cars in the top five. We’ve been trending better and better as an organization for the last month or so. I knew today was going to be a good day for JGR. Obviously the results showed that.”

Joe Gibbs’ Toyotas rounded out the top three with Kyle Busch’s No. 18 in third. Harvick finished fourth while Elliott recovered from early contact with Clint Bowyer to come home fifth.

The second half of the Drydene 311 will be run tomorrow afternoon (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) before the regular season wraps up on Daytona’s traditional oval next weekend.

Race Notes

  • With a seventh-place finish, Jimmie Johnson took over the 16th and final playoff spot from his teammate Byron, whose plan to stay out backfired in the form of a posting in 28th. Johnson, Dover’s all-time leader in wins with 11, leads Byron by three points with two races to go. Winless drivers can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a victory in either of the next two races.

 

  • With the top 20 for Sunday’s field set via inversion of Saturday’s final running order, 20th-place finisher Matt DiBenedetto will start on the pole. DiBenedetto is currently in the playoff field’s 15th seed, leading Byron on 27 points. Ryan Newman (19th) will start alongside him on the front row.

 

  • Forced to retire his No. 1 Chevrolet after just six laps, Kurt Busch failed to finish a race for the first time since the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.

 

  • This weekend marks the final doubleheader on the Cup Series schedule. The lower-tier NASCAR Xfinity Series is also holding a Saturday-Sunday twin bill, with Justin Allgaier winning the former event, clocking in at 200 miles, prior to the Cup race.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Frankie Edgar proves he’s still elite at UFC Vegas 7

There were many questions about Frankie Edgar (24-8-1) entering UFC Vegas 7. He was making his bantamweight debut at the age of 38 after spending his entire career at lightweight and featherweight.

Of course, Edgar was diving right into the deep end taking on the UFC‘s fifth ranked contender in Pedro Munhoz (18-5, 1 NC). It was a sink or swim test for Edgar in his first outing at bantamweight. After a five round war, Edgar proved that he can still swim with the best of them.

UFC Bantamweight’s Newest Contender

In an instant classic, Edgar and Munhoz went to war. Both men had big moments in the fight. Both men wobbled the other at various points, and both displayed crisp striking over five rounds.

In the end, the two of the three judges gave the split decision to the former UFC lightweight champion Edgar. It was a razor close fight, but I believe that the judges got this one right. Munhoz had big moments, but Edgar’s output and higher number of strikes landed won the fight on my scorecard as well.

One of the UFC‘s most dynamic divisions just got a little more dynamic and deep with Edgar making his successful debut. With defeating the top five ranked Munhoz, expect Edgar to be in the top five to start the week next week.

Personally, I would like to see Edgar get one more win in the division before getting a UFC title shot. Aljamain Sterling has worked for and earned the next shot, but Dana White has yet to confirm that he’s next for the UFC‘s champion, Petr Yan.

Either way, at UFC Vegas 7, Edgar proved that he belongs at bantamweight. He didn’t tire from the weight cut, and he looked just as sharp as ever. One has to wonder what it would have been like if he jumped straight to bantamweight instead of his time at featherweight.

What might the New York Yankees injury-plagued lineup look like?

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge

Over the past week and a half, the New York Yankees have undergone some serious roster turnover. They’ve lost some of their best players, making their lineup look almost like a AAA team.

One of the teams’ most important players, Aaron Judge, went on the IL with a minor calf strain on 8/14. He’s set to return to the lineup the next time the Yankees play. The team had a weekend series with the Mets canceled due to the Mets having positive coronavirus tests, but there’s still hope of a makeup doubleheader on Monday, according to reports.

However, Judge returning is just one small part of the missing puzzle. With guys like DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Giancarlo Stanton still out; there’s still some major roster gaps. With Judge coming back, here’s what the Yankee order could look like with him inserted.

  1. Aaron Hicks (DH)- A speedy switch hitter with a good glove and a reliable option as the back-up leadoff hitter.
  2. Aaron Judge (RF)- Do we really need much explanation? The Judge will return to his normal spot.
  3. Luke Voit (1B)- The powerful righty already has 10 bombs and is on track for a career season.
  4. Gio Urshela (3B)- A reliable option with good defense and a well-rounded bat.
  5. Gary Sanchez (C)- Although off to a rough start, Sanchez has hit a few recent bombs and appears to be on the right track.
  6. Clint Frazier (LF)- Since rejoining the team, Frazier has been on fire, driving in runs.
  7. Mike Tauchman (CF)- A speedy outfielder with a good glove and a solid bat.
  8. Thairo Estrada (2B)- A well rounded middle-infielder that does everything pretty well.
  9. Tyler Wade (SS)- One of the fastest players in the league, Wade can steal bags and has unlimited range.

The Yankees certainly don’t have a bad lineup when injury-infested, but it’s not quite the lineup the team is envisioning. After losing three straight at home, the Yankees are ready to bounce-back with a healthy Aaron Judge back.

New York Liberty: Kia Nurse sinks team-best 17 in loss to Connecticut

Kia Nurse’s team-best 17 wasn’t enough to overcome a tough third-quarter, as the New York Liberty fell to Connecticut.

One brutal period and countless turnovers once again came back to bite the New York Liberty in the Bradenton bubble.

The Liberty lost the ball 18 times on Saturday night, which led to 33 points for the Connecticut Sun. Those missed chances and a ten-point defeat in the third quarter led to an 82-65 victory for the Sun, dooming the Liberty to their fourth straight double-digit loss. Alyssa Thomas had 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, while DeWanna Bonner had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

“It’s really (about) continuing to find consistency, individually and collectively. That’s going to continue to be about us continuing to be hyper-focused on each individual, where we can get each player the ball where they’re most comfortable,” head coach Walt Hopkins said of the Liberty’s focus over their final nine games. “We really need to shore some things up defensively but it was really the turnovers again. Part of that comes from…people being in positions, being indecisive, and not playing with confidence. I think that’s probably the biggest thing contributing to those turnovers.”

After reaching 85 points on Thursday night against Chicago, the Liberty (1-12) struggled offensively, shooting 37 percent from the field. They were able to keep pace with physicality and stronger defense, as well as continued diversity in their scoring. Four New Yorkers had at least 10 points, one short of the output on Thursday. Kia Nurse paced the team with 17, while rookie Jazmine Jones had 11 more to reach double-figures for the sixth straight game.

But a tough third quarter, which saw the Liberty get outscored 21-11, proved to be their downfall as the team struggled to once again play a full 40 minutes. The team continued to celebrate the little victories, such as Jones’ streak and increased minutes, and Kiah Stokes’ rediscovered propensity to shoot from the outside (sinking two of six attempts and reaching double figures for the second straight game).

There’s no denying, however, that the endless stream of losses can take its toll on a squad, especially with little opportunities to right their wrongs thanks to the bubble’s congested schedule.

“We have so many young people. You can’t stop practice enough, you can’t stop the game enough, because we have to keep playing,” veteran guard Layshia Clarendon, she of 12 points, said. “I think that’s one of the hardest parts for me. I just want to stop, teach, and tell people things, but we don’t have that luxury. We’re practicing on TV every night through our games. You see the different point differentials in some of these losses.”

“Essentially, if you really look at what confidence is, you always have it. It’s just the fact that doubt, or concern…comes into your mind and clouds that,” Nurse added. “The confidence is there, it’s just behind some doubt. You just got to move it out of the way a little bit. You’ve got to be able to let it go. A lot of times, it can’t come from wins and losses. It has to come from the ability to know in yourself, and in your mind and heart that you put that work in.”

Defending WNBA finalists, Connecticut (6-8) has righted their ship, winning five of their last seven after a 1-6 start. The two teams will meet again on September 1.

The Liberty return to action on Tuesday night, facing a rematch with the aforementioned Chicago Sky (7 p.m., Fox Sports Go/CBSSN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants: Why James Bradberry Is Essential In The Giants’ New Defense

New York Giants, James Bradberry

The New York Giants made a splash signing in free agency this offseason. New York inked a deal with former Carolina Panther cornerback James Bradberry. Bradberry was one of the top cornerbacks on the market and the Giants paid him like it. Bradberry and the Giants came to terms on a three-year contract worth $43.5 million ($14.5 million on average annually).

Cornerback was certainly a weakness for the Giants entering this offseason. New York’s pass defense struggled throughout the 2019 season and the team cut long-time primary cornerback Janoris Jenkins. This left the Giants with a huge hole on the outside. Entering 2020, the Giants have filled that hole with the addition of James Bradberry. However, a new hole has opened up on the opposite side of the field.

The Giants signed Bradberry, hoping he would be the team’s primary cornerback with DeAndre Baker playing the second cornerback position. Baker is now facing serious legal charges and has been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. Baker will not be ready for the start of the NFL season and his backup, Sam Beal, has opted out of this season. The Giants are going to have a position battle at cornerback two during training camp, but James Bradberry’s performance at the primary cornerback position will hold the team together.

What Makes James Bradberry So Essential?

Newly-signed cornerback James Bradberry is the only real veteran presence in the Giants’ secondary. Darnay Holmes, Julian Love, and Xavier McKinney are all second and first-year players that will play significant roles in the team’s pass defense. Having a reliable cover-man like Bradberry will help stabilize this group of young and growing players.

At twenty-seven years old, James Bradberry is still a relatively young player. But he is still older than the rest of the players in the secondary. Jabrill Peppers will turn twenty-five this season, making him one of the older players on the Giants’ youthful defense.

With age comes experience. James has spent four years in the NFL, more specifically with the Panthers in the NFC South. The NFC South has the hardest competition at the wide receiver position out of any division in the NFL. Twice a year, Bradberry had to line up against star receivers like Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley. Here is how he fared in these tough matchups:

For the most part, Bradberry shut down all of these star wide receivers he faced off against in 2019. The Giants are implementing a brand new man-coverage-heavy defensive scheme under Patrick Graham in 2020. Bradberry thrives in press-man coverage and will be able to shadow opposing team’s top receivers with the Giants. As long as Bradberry does his job and eliminates the offenses’ top threats, the young bucks in the Giants’ secondary have the talent to put together a solid season.

New York Yankees Analysis: After this bizarre season is over, will DJ LeMahieu be a Yankee in 2021? (video)

New York Yankees, DJ LeMahieu

The New York Yankees 31-year-old David John “DJ” LeMahieu is in his second year with the Yankees and has quickly become a favorite player among many fans. The Cubs selected LeMahieu in the second round of the 2009 MLB draft, and he made his MLB debut for the Cubs in 2011 before being traded to the Rockies before the 2012 season. LeMahieu won a Gold Glove Award in 2014, 2017, and 2018 and was named an MLB All-Star in 2015 and 2017, and won the National League batting title in 2016. After becoming a free agent, he signed with the Yankees before the 2019 season.

DJ always wanted to play for the New York Yankees. His childhood idol was Derek Jeter. He, in an interview, said that he wanted to be like Jeter and modeled his on the field and off the field life after him. On January 14th of last year, DJ signed a $24 million two year contract with our Yankees. He couldn’t have the number 2 so he selected #26. During his first year with the Yankees, he has played third and shortstop but primarily second base,
where he has excelled. The Yankee organization refers to him as the super-utility player. He quickly became a fan favorite for his frequent and timely hitting and good play. He had the most hits of any Yankee and was third in runs batted in. He also had the most doubles. Although he is not a home run hitter he provided that much needed timely hitting that is missing from some of the home run hitters.

DJ has turned out to be more than the Yankees could have ever hoped for. He plays 2nd 3rd, SS, and a back up of Voit at first. He has made gold glove plays and last year had a batting average of .304 second only to Gio Urshela, he had 26 home runs and led the team with 197 hits. He also had the most singles of any player in baseball.  Fast forward to this shortened 2021 season and DJ is just a good, if not even better. So far this year he has the AL’s highest batting average of .431, 30 hits, and an OPS at 1.000. In one game against the Atlanta Braves, he went 4-5 in the Yankee win. Unfortunately, Saturday night he bruised a thumb in the Boston Red Sox game and is on the 10 IL.

Everything seems rosy with LeMahieu, but the Yankees do have a very big problem on their hands. Following this short season, LeMahieu will become a free agent.  The Yankees failed to offer him a contract extension earlier in the year.  Of course, that doesn’t limit them from during it at the end of the season.  But will they?  The New York Yankee fans will be surprised if they don’t, but there is no surety that will happen. Remember last year with Didi Gregorius?

There are several potential problems with re-signing DJ LeMahieu, and one is complicated by the problem with Didi Gregorius’s replacement at shortstop, Gleyber Torres.  Torres has been anything from disappointing to a miserable failure at short. He leads all of baseball in errors at short. Torres was an adequate second baseman before he was moved to make room for DJ. If the Yankees go out and get the likes of Francisco Lindor to man short, and move Torres back to second base, what do they do with DJ?  He will demand far too much money in a contract extension, just to be used as a backup for Voit at first and Urshela at third base.

How could the Yankees possibly lose the most valuable hitter they have had in years?  Well, it may just come to how much faith and value they have for Gleyber Torres compared to DJ LeMahieu. The two-year contract DJ signed with the Yankees was for $12 million a year.  He will most likely demand near or double that to stay with the Yankees.

LeMahieu has the versatility to play gold glove defense at both second and first. The problem with getting him regular at-bats at first is that it would cause the Yankees to put Luke Voit on the bench. Voit currently leads the league in home runs. He’s one of the first names on Aaron Boone’s lineup card and he can’t play credible defense anywhere other than first.

The re-signing of DJ LeMahieu at the beginning of this season seemed like a no brainer, but now it has become much more complicated.  Add to that the New York Yankees just signed pitching ace Gerrit Cole to a $324 million contract and this shortened season will provide less revenue to offer contract extensions to multiple players, that will reach free agency at the end of this season. And then you have to consider how much money, and what players they may give up before the trade deadline or a combination of both.

At the very best DJ LeMahieu’s tenure with the Yankees after this may be very much in doubt.

 

 

New York Liberty, Sabrina Ionescu provide updates on injury status

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty provided an update on the status of Sabrina Ionescu on Saturday. The top overall pick responded in style.

No matter when Sabrina Ionescu is ready to return, it appears that the New York Liberty’s top overall pick will be ready to go.

The Liberty released an update on their injured rookie attraction on Saturday, declaring that she will not need surgery to repair a sprained ankle sustained in the Liberty’s July 31 tilt against Atlanta. Ionescu has been rehabbing in New York while her teammates continue to work their way through the WNBA’s 2020 proceedings in the Bradenton bubble.

“(She) has been evaluated and physicians have determined that no surgery is needed,” a statement from the Liberty reads. “She has received a positive prognosis for a full recovery and is continuing to rehab.”

Ionescu took to her Instagram story to respond to the news.

Prior to her injury, Ionescu averaged 18.3 points (on 45 percent shooting) and 4.7 rebounds. The University of Oregon alumna earned a fair amount of hype leading to her selection in the WNBA Draft in April. She is by far the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles (26) and has also taken home countless hardwood accolades, including the Associated Press’ most recent Player of the Year honor. Ionescu came close to her first professional triple-double in her second game as New York, earning 33 points and seven assists and rebounds each on July 29 against Dallas.

Ionescu, 22, has since been rehabbing in both New York and California. Other recent Instagram highlights included dinner in Marina Del Rey with her close friend and fellow Walnut Creek, California native Bree Alford and a movie night with the wife and children of the late Kobe Bryant. Ionescu shared a strong relationship with Bryant and his teenage daughter Gianna prior to their deaths in a helicopter crash in January and continues to socialize with Bryant’s widow Vanessa and his surviving children Bianka, Natalia, and Capri.

Ionescu’s teammates have been in constant contact with her and head coach Walt Hopkins has discussed the team’s ongoing bubble endeavors over the phone and video calls.

“Different people have reached out,” fellow rookie Jocelyn Willoughby said. “We know she’s watching and supporting us. She told us to hang in there and keep fighting.”

“I’m super happy for Sabrina,” veteran forward/center Kiah Stokes added. “I talk to her often. Her morale is high…she’s excited to restart rehab and get back. She’s a workhorse, so she’s going to be ready for next season”

The remaining Liberty representatives return to action on Saturday night in Bradenton as they take on the Connecticut Sun (7 p.m. ET, YES/CBSSN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Yankees: Gleyber Torres injury update disappointing

New York Yankees, Gleyber Torres

It was only a matter of time before the New York Yankees picked up right where they left off in 2019 regarding injuries. The roster went through record-breaking injury numbers, and the latest big name to go down is shortstop Gleyber Torres.

Torres, who was running to first base after hitting a ground ball to shortstop, stumbled and picked up quad and hamstring injuries in the process. While he was placed on a 10-day injured list, the team announced Friday afternoon. Manager Aaron Boone stated that his timeline for return is 2-3 weeks.

Both Torres and James Paxton are both scheduled to miss similar amounts of time, and with Giancarlo Stanton also out, the Yankees will likely gain back several starters in about three weeks. However, this is tumultuous, given the break in rhythm and shortened season.

The injuries don’t stop there for the New York Yankees:

If Torres and Paxton weren’t enough, relief pitcher Zach Britton was also placed on the injured list before Thursday’s game due to a strained left hamstring. After lasting just two outs the night before, he felt something on the mound, which was cause for MRIs.

With the Yankees losing a bevy of starting players, they have dipped into their reserve options and taxi squad to supplement their losses.

Here’s what Boone said on Friday on WFAN regarding the next few days and who they are looking for in terms of pitching. He also gave encouraging injury news on DJ LeMahieu.

“We don’t have any games this weekend. We have a couple off days coming up next week, so we don’t have to really do anything real quick on that front,” Boone said on WFAN. “We have Michael King, who’s done a good job for us who’s kind of built up. We have Nick Nelson up right now who can give us multiple innings. [Jonathan] Loaisiga can be a guy that gives us a few innings. We have guys that could certainly fill that fill that role for us.

“I’d say he’s doing significantly better than anticipated. I think it’d be sooner rather than later,” Boone said on WFAN. “He took some dry swings for the first time today; played catch for the first time. So I don’t want to put time on it. The initial prognosis was two to three weeks, [and] I think that’s gonna be a fair estimate. So we’re getting closer on DJ.”

New York Islanders: Round 2 Matchup Breakdown

Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders

The New York Islanders will face off against the Philidelphia Flyers in round 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is an intriguing matchup for sure; both teams match up pretty evenly. The Flyers come into this series as the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders come into this series as the underdog. Are the Flyers really the best team in the East? Are the Islanders really the underdogs in this series?

Forwards

During the regular season, the Flyers’ forward group was among one of the most dangerous in the league. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, and Kevin Hayes led this group of amazing forwards. Recently though, the Flyers’ top forwards have been slacking in production. Voracek leads the Flyers in points with 8. It’s not like they aren’t producing, they just aren’t living up to expectations.

The Islanders’ forward group is so very confusing. Josh Bailey leads the Isles in points with 10. 8 of those 10 points are assists; Bailey has quietly become one of the best passers left in the playoffs. Other forwards like Anthony Beauvillier, JG Pageau, and Brock Nelson continue to impress. Also, Mat Barzal has recently been picking his play up. I’d still give the advantage to the Flyers, though. The Isles forwards were a little too streaky during the season, but their playoff performances speak for themselves, though.

Defenseman

The Islanders would be the better defensive team even if it was Griffin Reinhart out there with Brian Strait. Barry Trotz makes the Isles the best defensive team. Especially with talented defenders like Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Devon Toews, the Isles might have the best defensive scheme in all of Hockey. Ryan Pulock has a booming slapper, while Adam Pelech has amazing stick play. Devon Toews is a fast two-way defender, and Scott Mayfield is an enforcer who can kill the power-play. Andy Greene and Nick Leddy are the two oldies who can still hold their own offensively and defensively. Yes, I know the Flyers have Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbhere, but they don’t have Barry Trotz. Isles are better defensively.

Goalies

This is a really even matchup for the goalies. Semyon Varlamov has been nothing short of spectacular as of late. Varlamov currently has a 1.59 GAA and a .935 save percentage with one shutout. Carter Hart has really anchored this Philly team and shown them the power of a good goalie. Hart boasts a 1.71 GAA and .943 save percentage with two shutouts. This means Varlamov is letting in fewer goals, but Hart is making more saves. This is a tie for me; both goalies are really good. I guarantee that whoever loses this series won’t be blaming it on their goaltender.

Conclusion

This is a good and close series—two teams, who have similar talents, facing off in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Neither team is hungrier than the other. May the best team win, and may the refs not be blind.