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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bruins Fall 4-2 to the Canadiens in their First Meeting of the Season

We are nowhere close to being sure if the Canadiens (4-0-1) are a quality team in 2016-17 but this much is true: they are better than the assorted slop that the Bruins (3-2-0) faced in their first four games of this campaign (Columbus, Toronto, Winnipeg and New Jersey). Many of the names and faces have changed but in this opening installment of Bruins-Canadiens, Boston was no match for Montreal as they lost 4-2 at TD Garden. Tuukka Rask (general soreness) was surprisingly out for the B's but backup goaltender Anton Khudobin (25 saves) did the best he could on short notice, frankly his teammates let him down for the most part. Oh and Montreal improved to 7-0-2 in their last nine regular season games in Boston, yeesh!

Carey Price (19 saves) didn't need to be anywhere near his best since Boston only managed 21 shots on goal in the entire contest. After a scoreless first period, Montreal potted a pair of goals midway through the second. Brad Marchand's brother from another mother Brendan Gallagher made it 1-0 Canadiens at 11:41. He was left wide open above a face-off circle to fire an easy one-timer from Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk for his third goal of the season. Something named Phillip Danault doubled Montreal's lead at 17:44 when he finished a 2-on-1 from Alexander Radulov for his first goal of the season. Greg Pateryn notched the second helper on the goal that came courtesy of the Bruins getting caught up ice.

The Bruins trailed 2-0 going into the third but thankfully, they woke up a bit thanks to another goal from their fourth line that has already shown some nice chemistry early on. Harvard's Dominic Moore got the goal, assisted by my PC guys Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari. Moore's second tally of the season came at 5:34 to cut it to 2-1 Canadiens. Montreal didn't give Boston much of a sniff at a comeback attempt though as "Lord" Paul Byron broke free for a shorthanded breakaway and goal less than two minutes later at 7:32. Shea Weber (who you might have heard was traded straight up for P.K. Subban over the summer with Nashville) banked the pass to him off the boards that eluded Torey Krug pinching in at Montreal's offensive zone. Andrei Markov had the second assist on Byron's first goal of the season.

Boston's scuffling power play (2 for 20) finally came through 37 seconds after Byron's backbreaking goal as Ryan Spooner (who for some reason was a healthy scratch on Thursday vs. the Devils) hammered in a one-timer from David Backes' sweet cross-crease sauce. David Krejci had the other assist on Spooner's first goal of the season. The B's put some pressure on the Habs for a few minutes when it was a one-goal game but yet again, their suspect defense fell apart when UVM's Torrey Mitchell stole the puck from Joe Morrow and put it past Khudobin with a beautiful diving shot (while he got a high stick in the face by Morrow for his troubles).

This inaugural three-game homestand ends on Tuesday night (7, NESN) as the Bruins host the Wild (3-1-1). Minnesota is at the Islanders (2-3-0) tomorrow night but at the moment, they are in first-place in the Central Division. Unless it's something really serious, you'd have to think that Rask will be back for that one. Following that matchup, Boston heads out on a four-game road trip (Rangers, Red Wings, Panthers and Lightning) that promises to be much more difficult than their first trip. Plus those are all Eastern Conference foes that they'll be seeing plenty of from now until April and hopefully beyond.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Unlike Last Season, Bruins Decide to Actually Win Their Home Opener 2-1 vs. Devils

The Bruins (3-1-0) continued their promising start to the 2016-17 season as they beat the Devils (1-2-1) 2-1 tonight at TD Garden in their home opener. While the teams that they've beaten so far are not exactly Cup contenders (Blue Jackets, Jets and Devils), anything is better than their horrid 0-3 start last year (all blowout home games). Patrice Bergeron played his first contest of this campaign (after nursing a minor lower-body injury) so of course he scored the game-winning goal with 1:15 left in regulation. His best friend forever Brad Marchand assisted on Bergy's patented one-timer from the slot with David Pastrnak picking up the second helper.

Marchand (3 goals, 6 assists) currently leads the NHL in points while both he and Pastrnak are riding four-game point streaks. It was a good night for Boston's stars as Tuukka Rask made 28 saves. If you missed the first two periods, believe me you won't need to see the highlights of it since there literally weren't any to speak of. All the action fittingly came in the third as Kyle Palmieri put New Jersey ahead at 4:14 with a power-play goal from Damon Severson and Jacob Josefson. The shot apparently was meant to be a pass and even more tricky, it took a slight deflection off of rookie Brandon Carlo's skate for Palmieri's second goal of the season.

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey apparently wasn't a fluke as Marchand is playing like one of the best players in the NHL. He beat Devils goaltender Cory Schneider (34 saves) with a wicked snap-shot top shelf, blocker side at 9:47 that tied it at one. John-Michael Liles and Colin Miller had the assists on Marchand's tally which quite honestly, was all due to his brilliance. With tonight's win, the Bruins now have an all-time record of 47-23-20-1 in home openers.

Boston hosts Montreal (3-0-1) on Saturday night (7, NESN) in what should be a much more entertaining tilt than tonight's mostly forgettable game. It is new Bruins like David Backes Dominic Moore and Carlo's first taste of the Boston-Montreal rivalry and you know that the Garden crowd will be very into it even if it is only late October. Carey Price (27 saves) made his first appearance of the season in the Canadiens' 5-2 victory against the Coyotes (1-2-0) so you can bet that he'll be between the pipes and opposed by Rask. The B's have allowed the first goal in each game this season which makes 3-1-0 all that more impressive. Needless to say, that bizarre trend won't last much longer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Thanks for Everything, Big Papi

Clearly everyone that calls themselves a sportswriter, blogger, reporter, author etc in New England (or with ties to these six wonderful states) has chimed in with the token David Ortiz farewell piece at this point since he announced his retirement last winter. Still, seeing him officially play his final game ever for the Red Sox tonight at Fenway Park (that sounds so weird to say) as they were swept by the Indians in the 2016 ALDS, I couldn't help but feel like I should chime in with a few thoughts of my own.

Like a great song, album, TV show or movie, the best athletes and teams always have a special way to transfer us back to a unique time in both their careers and as a fan, in our own collective minds. Big Papi anonymously joined Boston in 2003 (which seems like a lifetime ago) and by now, he's carved out his place not only in Boston sports history-as the most clutch Red Sox ever-but in MLB as well. Name another pro athlete that is more universally beloved, I'll wait. For a sport that is all about individual accomplishments not to mention filled with too many hardos and rednecks, Ortiz was always a breath of fresh air with an enormous smile permanently etched on his face.

He was the best Red Sox in my lifetime and I feel confident in saying that sadly we'll never see another player like him (for many reasons). For a native of the Dominican Republic, he reached such a mythical level that he basically became a member of all our extended families. He appealed to every age (from children to grandparents) and demographic (rich or poor) and while he was larger than life on the field (especially in the unbelievable postseason performances), he still seemed like an actual human being as he won three World Series titles in Boston (2004, 2007, 2013).

The dream scenario was obviously to see him go out on top once again but it wasn't to be. Such is life. However, nothing will ever diminish all the sheer joy and fun that he brought to our lives for the last 13 years. We can only hope that he sticks around the Red Sox in the future with a front-office job. He has become such a part of the fabric of this region that it would be a shame to see him move elsewhere. I won't rattle off the best moments in his Red Sox career since they're so widely known but at the same time, we all have our own memories of him that are singularly important to us. In short, he was everything to everyone and that's why there will never be another David Ortiz.

You are the best, Big Papi. You will always hold a special place in all of our hearts, forever. Don't be a stranger!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Marchand Takes a Bit of a Discount to Hopefully Spend the Rest of His NHL Career as a Bruin

Oh hello friends, sorry for the extended absence over the spring and summer but I'm back here now that the Bruins' preseason has begun. Perhaps if you're good, I'll also sprinkle in some Red Sox playoff stuff, Patriots and Celtics thoughts as well from time to time as long as I'm feeling it. Hours before their first fake game, the Bruins made headlines by agreeing to an eight-year extension with star left wing Brad Marchand worth $49 million (average annual value of $6.125 million per year). He is currently away on Team Canada duty so all we got from Marchand was some hastily assembled quotes and videos from the Bruins media relations team, it'll be fun to hear from the man himself when he gets back soon (after Canada beats Europe in the World Cup of Hockey Final series in Toronto).

Coming off a career-season (37 goals, 23 assists and +21 in 77 games), Marchand's NHL value has never been higher. He's second on Team Canada in scoring (3 goals, 2 assists) and this should calm down those recent rumors that popped up the last few days about him going to Pittsburgh to play with his temporary linemate Sidney Crosby (ever heard of him?). At 28, Marchand is in the prime of his career and with Patrice Bergeron by his side wherever he goes, the B's have a spectacular 1-2 punch locked up now for awhile. They have been on the same forward line for years with the B's and Crosby is centering them on Canada, why mess with success?

Of course, a true cynical Bruins fan would like this move but then rightfully question what the hell they are doing with their defensemen? They really never changed anything over the off-season to address by far their biggest need-on the back end. Marchand, Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, David Pastrnak, etc should provide plenty of offensive firepower but unless many of the young defensemen step up in a big way, it's hard to see the B's being that much better than they've been these last two frustrating seasons (where they've missed out on the playoffs each time by losing the final contest).

Conversely, it's promising to see a core player that still believes in the Bruins' shaky front office and coaching staff, enough so to leave millions of dollars on the table that he undoubtedly could have gotten elsewhere. This was a very fair deal for what Marchand is currently worth and what that could increase to over the next few seasons if he keeps bumping up his production. It's easy to forget at times but Boston really isn't that far away from a Stanley Cup (2011), another Finals appearance (2013) and a Presidents' Trophy (2014). Marchand was an integral part of all those teams and if the Black and Gold are ever going to return to those glory days anytime soon, he no doubt will be a huge reason why. With this contract will come much more pressure on Brad but he typically is the type of player that thrives under those circumstances so I'm confident that he won't change anything about his game that got him here in the first place.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

With Everything to Play For, Rask Sits Out (Illness) & B's Predictably Fall Flat on Their Face

Before the all-important game against the Senators (38-35-9) had even started this afternoon, you knew that something was up when the Bruins (42-31-9) called up goaltender Jeremy Smith from Providence on an emergency basis. Apparently Tuukka Rask was very sick and after taking a few shots during warm-ups, he simply couldn't continue. He left for the dressing room, never to be seen again today (and possibly much longer this off-season). If you can believe it, things only got worse from that ominous beginning as Ottawa blasted Boston 6-1 in the regular season finale at TD Garden.

This isn't to say that backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (30 saves) is solely to blame for the loss. In fact, I don't think the outcome wouldn't have been any different with Rask in goal since Boston's terrible defense had to remind everyone once more just how hopeless they were for most of this campaign. Plus the B's finished under .500 at home this season (17-18-6; only other Eastern Conference teams to do that were Buffalo and Toronto). Still, if it was just an illness (bad sushi?) for Rask-the franchise goaltender-you can understand why he'll be hammered on the radio and TV for months if not years to come around here.

The Bruins actually scored first as David Pastrnak made it 1-0 at 5:04 (the second straight game that he'd opening the scoring) on a goal that looked offside but it was reviewed and held up for once. Brad Marchand and Max Talbot assisted on Pastrnak's 15th goal of the season as he got behind Ottawa's defense and then beat Andrew Hammond (39 saves) upstairs. Boston led 1-0 after the first period but they were outshot 17-10 so you knew that eventually the roof would cave in if they kept allowing that many quality chances.

Sure enough, the mighty Senators (who had nothing to play for but pride) hit the B's with a flurry of four goals in a span of 8:18 in the second period to put it way out of reach already. It was a microcosm of Boston's disappointing season as goon Chris Neil outhustled them to jam in the tying goal at 1:42, Nick Paul and Ryan Dzingel assisted on his fifth goal of the season. After that, Ottawa scored three virtually identical goals all on re-directed shots. Zach Smith tipped in Erik Karlsson's shot at 5:54 for his 24th goal of the season and Karlsson's NHL-leading 66th helper with Fredrik Claesson picking up the second assist. Less than three minutes later, Puempel re-directed a pass from Phil Varone with Buddy Robinson (are those real people?) for his second goal of the season. Mika Zibanejad put the final nail in Boston's coffin by tipping in a pass from Mike Hoffman at 10:00 for his 21st goal of the season. Bruins head coach Claude Julien took his timeout but by then, it was long over and you have to feel the same way about his storied tenure in Boston (remember he is the team's all-time winningest coach).

Other than rookie defenseman Colin Miller's fight with Mike Kostka, the Black and Gold showed barely a pulse or any semblance of heart in the third period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Smith both added empty-netters as Julien tried to coax a goal out of his power play unit but nothing worked in this miserable performance for his club. Ironically, Detroit (41-30-11) lost 3-2 at the Rangers (46-27-9) this afternoon which meant that a Bruins win would have gifted them third-place in the Atlantic Division. Instead the Red Wings clinched a playoff spot for the 25th straight season (extending their American pro sports record). Now the B's are down to their last hope: they need the Flyers (currently tied 1-1 at Pittsburgh in the second period) to lose today and also tomorrow night at the Islanders (45-26-9). If Philly is able to scratch together two points between those two tilts, they will get the second Wild Card in the Eastern Conference and the rough prize of the Capitals (55-17-8) in the first-round of the playoffs.

If Boston doesn't get that aforementioned miracle and they miss the postseason for the second year in a row, there is no chance that Julien keeps his job here again, right? Clearly, it is not all his fault that the front office made some terrible moves (trading for Jimmy Hayes, not having more NHL-ready defensemen, etc) and many of his players underperformed but he tapped dance past the firing line last summer and I don't think that he could make that magic happen again, especially so soon thereafter. This franchise has so many issues at the moment but unfortunately for Cladue, getting rid of him would be the easy first move for GM Don Sweeney.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

With Their Backs Against the Wall, the Bruins Respond With a Big-Time 5-2 Win vs. Red Wings

For such an arbitrary number like 82, it is still amazing that the entire 2015-16 Bruins season comes down to Saturday's finale vs. Ottawa (37-35-9). After peeing down their leg in Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Hurricanes (35-30-16), Boston (42-30-9) bounced back in a huge way with a 5-2 victory against the Red Wings (41-29-11) tonight at TD Garden. They picked a fine time to play their best home game of the season (17-17-6) since they had very little margin for error remaining.

Philadelphia's (39-27-14) 3-2 overtime loss to Toronto this evening means that the B's currently are the second Wild Card in the Eastern Conference. At the risk of giving you an ice cream headache, Boston is also tied with Detroit for points (93) but the Red Wings have one more regulation plus overtime win (39) than them which is the first tiebreaker. While the Bruins are playing the Senators on Saturday afternoon (12:30, NESN), Detroit will be at the Rangers and later on the Flyers host the Penguins (48-25-8). It's quite possible that nothing will be decided in terms of the second Wild Card until Sunday night when Philadelphia travels to Brooklyn to face the Islanders (45-26-9) in one of only two games leaguewide that day.

Haha got that all? Good, me neither. For once, it was nice though to see the Bruins play with some urgency. Hell, they scored more goals in the first 2:44 against the Red Wings than they did in 65 minutes vs. the Hurricanes. David Pastrnak broke free for a breakaway and tucked in a backhander past Jimmy Howard at 1:25. John-Michael Liles hit him with a stretch pass and Colin Miller had the other assist on Pastrnak's 14th goal of the season. Before you could say 2016 Bruins Seventh Player Award winner Brad Marchand (which he picked up before this game), he buried his team-leading 37th goal of the season at 2:44 on a one-timer from Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron.

Speaking of Krug, he broke an absurd 54-game goal-less stretch by making it 3-0 Bruins at 5:02 in the second period. His power play goal was his fourth tally of the season and first since Dec. 5, 2015 vs. Vancouver. Loui Eriksson and David Krejci notched the helpers on the goal that hopefully gets Krug back on track. Detroit clearly gave everything they possessed to pick up a vital 3-0 win last night vs. Philadelphia so they had nothing left for this one (as evidenced by their 15 total shots on goal). Defenseman Alexey Marchenko cut it to 3-1 Boston at 6:59 of the second when his shot from the point eluded Tuukka Rask (13 saves).

Boston was up 3-1 after two periods and they sealed it early in the third with another flurry of goals. Lee Stempniak put it a rebound 20 seconds in (from Krug and Marchand) for his 19th goal of the season and Eriksson deflected in Krejci's redirect from Spooner 25 seconds later for his 30th goal of the season. That ended Howard's outing and forced Detroit to use former starter Petr Mrazek for almost all of the final frame. Good luck figuring out which of those guys will start vs. New York. It's the second time in Eriksson's career (36 in 2008-09 with Dallas) that he's reached that plateau and it also meant that the Bruins have a trio of 30-goal scorers for the first time since 2002-03 (Marchand, Bergeron and Eriksson). Rookie forward Andreas Athanasiou potted a garbage time goal if I've ever seen one with 1:23 left in regulation that made it 5-2 Bruins.

So there we go, everything hinges on Saturday for the Black and Gold. To make things easier on themselves, a one-sided regulation win like this would keep that good mojo going for whatever it's worth (absolutely nothing). All they can control is themselves but Boston will need some more help to reach the 2016 postseason. Otherwise, to miss the playoffs for the second straight year (and to do it in the last possible game) would make for another brutally long off-season for everyone (players, coaches, front office, fans, media, etc). Plus, there is no way that head coach Claude Julien could keep his job, right? As the late great Raiders owner Al Davis always said, "just win baby!"

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

In Essentially a Must-Win Scenario, the Bruins Fall 2-1 in a Shootout to the Hurricanes

With the 2015-16 regular season boiled down to three final home games that will ultimately decide their playoff fate (in or out), Boston (41-30-9) fittingly didn't get the job done on step one but they left themselves a bit of hope as they lost 2-1 to Carolina (35-29-16) in a shootout this evening at TD Garden. The fraudulent point "earned" by the B's ties them with Detroit (40-28-11) and Philadelphia (39-26-13). The problem is that the Red Wings have two games in hand and the Flyers have a game in hand on the Black and Gold. As luck would have it, Detroit hosts Philly tomorrow night (8, NBC Sports Network) as well.

Boston hadn't appeared on their home ice in nearly two weeks but somehow they still were the same group that simply hasn't been able to win here all season-long. Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin made it 1-0 at 18:54 in the first period when his shot from the point beat Tuukka Rask (27 saves). He wasn't screened and the shot wasn't tipped so that's a shot that Rask needs to stop 10 times out of 10. Justin Faulk and BC's Nathan Gerbe assisted on Slavin's second goal of the season (his first since Dec. 8, 2015). The Bruins outshot the Hurricanes 10-8 in the first and had two fruitless power plays. The highlight if you can call it that was a fight between Jimmy Hayes and Brad Malone early in the frame.

The Bruins dominated some more in the second (outshooting the Hurricanes 16-9) but three penalties (including 2 on Loui Eriksson) slowed them down a bit and they still lacked that finishing ability that has eluded them so much lately (other than the first 2 periods in St. Louis and last 2 periods in Chicago). Carolina gift-wrapped a goal to Boston as possibly the worst line change in NHL history led to a breakaway and sweet Peter Forsberg-esque move by Eriksson. Former Hurricane John-Michael Liles assisted on Eriksson's 29th goal of the season at 1:45 of the third period. Zdeno Chara saved the day when he cleared a Brett Pesce shot that trickled by Rask off the goalline.

Carolina had beaten Boston 3-2 in overtime at the Garden on March 10 but this time the B's carried play in the extra session. They outshot the Canes 3-1 but Cam Ward (35 saves) took a trip back in a time machine to about a decade ago and he was really good. He even made a nice diving glove save on Eriksson's rebound. After four scoreless rounds in the shootout, Torey Krug was stuffed and another BC guy (Norwood, MA native) Noah Hanifin ended it with a backhander past Rask. Don't ask me how Brad Marchand, David Krejci or Frank Vatrano weren't any of the five shooters selected by Bruins head coach Claude Julien.

The Bruins will no doubt be paying attention to the Red Wings-Flyers tilt tomorrow night before they host Detroit on Thursday (7, NESN). They'll be rooting for Philadelphia to win in regulation against the Red Wings and I'm pretty sure the B's will reach the postseason if they can beat Detroit and then Ottawa (36-35-9) on Saturday (12:30, NESN). However, as we've learned over and over again with this team, you can't count on any consistently positive results at home.