Now that winter has turned to spring and the calendar has once again flipped to April, it can only mean two things. One, baseball season is underway and, two, the stretch run for the NBA and NHL are in full tilt.
Both the Flyers and Sixers are making their annual fight for playoff positioning, with the orange and black have more success than Allen Iverson and company.
Entering Tuesday night's game with the Rangers, the Flyers snapped a tough two-game slide with a 4-1 romp over the New York Islanders Sunday afternoon. Prior to the win, the Flyers had played without a lot of emotion in losses to Toronto and the Devils. Had the team been able to beat the Devils Saturday, they would've entered Tuesday's game in a tie with 94 points for tops in the Atlantic Division with the Rangers. With a win, the team would forge a tie with New York and would hold the top spot by virtue of a tiebreaker.
The Flyers and Rangers play twice more this season, including Tuesday's match up, so there will be plenty of opportunity to get a firm grasp on the division lead and the third seed in the playoffs.
The tough part about the losses recently is the team had finally seemed to turn things around once it got healthy. So goes the ups and downs of an NHL season, I suppose.
Though they seemed small at the time, the trades to acquire Denis Gauthier and Nikos Dimitrakos at the trade deadline have proved to be valuable acquisitions. Dimitrakos has added veteran depth at the forward position and gives the team some much needed speed on the wing. Lining up with rookies, R.J. Umberger and Jeff Carter, has seemed to jumpstart not only Dimitrakos, but also Umberger and Carter. The line has been on a tear recently and Carter just notched his 20th goal of the season against the Islanders. It seems that the team finally has a second scoring line to aide Simon Gagne, Peter Forsberg, and Mike Knuble.
The other addition, Gauthier, has given the Flyers a much needed physical presence that has been sorely lacking. Outside of Donald Brashear, the team didn't have many players willing to get their hands dirty shift after shift. Gauthier will and does. He has a tendency to get under the opposition's skin, which will prove large once the playoffs arrive.
Then we have the Sixers, destined for mediocrity it seems. As if losing 10 of 12 games wasn't bad enough, they can't hold a big lead, especially in the fourth quarter, and forget how to play as a team come crunch time.
Though they did sweep a home and home series with the woeful New York Knicks over the weekend, they are mired in the eight spot for the playoffs and don't look like they can get out of it. That is, unless they drop out of the playoff race entirely, which is a possibility.
Right now, they sit at 34-38, a game and a half ahead of the Chicago Bulls for that eight spot. They can take a firm hold on the spot with a pair of wins over the Bulls in the next week.
Sometime over the last 10 games, the Sixers better learn to play defense and how to play in the fourth quarter, or it is going to be a long summer for the boys in black and white.
If you have any comments or opinions about this column, email Nick Browne at email@example.com