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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fourth Quarters Are Not The Celtics Friend But At Least They Won This Time Around

Well it's safe to say that the Boston Celtics are sick of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After choking away an 11-point lead and losing on Sunday at TD Garden by one point thanks to Kyrie Irving's spinning layup, the Celts almost gagged away a 22-point lead tonight at Quicken Loans Arena but thank heavens that they pulled it out 93-90.

The only explanation for why the Celtics (10-10) coughed up a huge advantage Orlando Magic-style is that they started settling for jumpers and not driving to the basket. The Cavs (8-12) are not filled with talent but they're scrappy and as they showed in these last two games, they don't give up as easily as most NBA teams.

Anderson Varejao put up what has to be the first 20-20 game of his career with exactly 20 points and 20 rebounds. Sideshow Bob has added a decent shot to his hustle arsenal and it took Boston more than two quarters to figure that out and adjust accordingly. Irving (21 points, 6 assists) almost stole another one as Cleveland cut it to two points late in the fourth but it wasn't to be.

The ghost of Antawn Jamison had 12 points while Alonzo Gee scored 11 points with four steals off the bench and Ramon Sessions had notched 10 assists off the bench (when do you ever see that?).

Paul Pierce led Boston with 20 points, six assists and three steals. Kevin Garnett had 13 points while Jermaine O'Neal and Ray Allen (8 assists) each added 12 points. Brandon Bass had 13 points and six rebounds off the bench as the Celts improved to 5-2 in games without Rajon Rondo this season.

The C's were up 28-24 after the first quarter and 51-39 at halftime. They played well in the third too (25-19) so this was all a near meltdown in the fourth (32-17 Cavs).

Boston shot better (50.7-45.3%) but Cleveland hit two more 3-pointers (7-5), one more free throw (15-14), grabbed 11 more rebounds (39-28), handed out two more assists (27-25) and made one more block (3-2). The Celts had two more steals (9-7), two less turnovers (16-14), three more fast break points (7-4) and four more points off turnovers (21-17).

It's a quick turnaround, as always this season, with the Toronto Raptors coming to the Garden tomorrow night. No excuse though, the Raptors are awful and the Celtics should never lose to them under any circumstance.

Seidenberg's Long-Range Bomb Helps Bruins Score 3 Unanswered Goals, Knock Off Senators

It felt good to have NHL hockey back tonight, didn't it?

The Boston Bruins started the post-All-Star break portion of their schedule by hosting the Ottawa Senators tonight at TD Garden. The B's (32-14-2) spotted the Senators (27-20-6) a 3-1 lead in the second period but the home team rallied for three unanswered goals themselves, capped off by an absurd game-winner by Dennis Seidenberg to win it 4-3.

I'm not sure if Seidenberg saw Craig Anderson leaning or what but his slapper from center ice (really) beat Anderson (26 saves) at 7:09 of the third period. It took a hop off the ice and seemed to curve in-Bend It Like Seidenberg?-but come on, an NHL goaltender can never give up a goal like that, especially in that spot.

Whatever the case, Boston will take it since they mostly struggled through the first and second periods to get their legs back.

Captain Zdeno Chara (8th of the season) gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 11:57 of the first on a screened blast from the point on the power play. The tireless Chara, who was everywhere at All-Star weekend, was assisted by David Krejci and Milan Lucic (who set a perfect screen on Anderson).

Ottawa tried to show that they are a legitimate threat in the Northeast Division by setting a physical tone against one of the toughest teams in hockey, who had beaten them the first two times they met this season. Pumping three straight goals in didn't hurt either.

After Shawn Thornton fought Chris Neil, Adam McQuaid traded blows with Zenon Konopka. Then the Senators tied it at 1 thanks to Colin Greening's (12th of the season) tip of Milan Micalek's pass at 18:40. Filip Kuba (2 assists) had the other helper.

Ottawa poured pressure on Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (30 saves; 21-9-0) in the second period and they were able to score twice more. Kyle Turris (5th of the season) made it 2-1 with a snipe at 7:43 from captain Daniel Alfredsson then Erik Karlsson (8th of the season) beat Thomas between his leg pads, from Neil and Kuba at 13:28.

Milan Lucic gave the B's a big momentum swing by scoring his 18th of the season with 45 seconds left in the second. For once, Lucic showed off good hands by stickhandling into a better shooting position then ripping one past Anderson. Rich Peverley and Chara had the assists on the goal which got the stunned crowd back into it.

Boston finally woke up in the third as Brad Marchand (18th of the season) tied it at 3 with 2:20 gone by with the team's second power-play strike. It was a classic Marchand goal, the result of supreme effort and skill around the net, assisted by Joe Corvo (2 assists) and Seidenberg.

Carolina comes to the Garden on Thursday and it's time that Boston beat them. I guarantee that you didn't know the Hurricanes are 3-0 against the Bruins so far this season. That has to be one of the most shocking numbers in the NHL at the moment. I expect the B's to bring a more complete effort than tonight and finally pick up two points against a team that's going nowhere.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cavaliers Steal One From The Celtics 88-87 On Kyrie Irving's Basket With 2 Seconds Left

I wasn't alone in thinking that the Boston Celtics had a five-game win streak all but sealed tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden.

The C's (9-10) were up 87-76 on the Cavs (8-11) with 4:26 left. To say the rest of the game was a disaster for Boston would be too kind; they went scoreless which allowed Cleveland to end on a 12-0 run, capped off by Kyrie Irving's (23 points, 6 assists) layup with two seconds left, for a humbling 88-87 loss.

This was the first game in 2011-12 that Boston had totally let slip through its hands. It was a sobering reminder that at this stage, they can't assume anything even against rather mediocre opposition.

The loss snapped the Celtics' four-game winning streak and dropped them under .500 while putting them at 6-6 in Boston.

Ray Allen was back after missing three games with an ankle injury and it was like he never left. He scored a team-high 22 points. Paul Pierce had 18 points but he missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, he didn't get it off in time. Kevin Garnett had 14 points and Brandon Bass scored 13 as the Green went for the fifth straight game without Rajon Rondo. Jermaine O'Neal and Keyon Dooling were also still out.

Anderson Varejao had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers while the ancient Antawn Jamison scored 10. Alonzo Gee posted 14 points off the bench for Cleveland who will probably struggle until they can find a suitable running mate for the impressive Irving (2011 No. 1 overall pick).

Boston led 24-23 after one quarter but Cleveland went ahead 44-43 at halftime. The Celts opened it up in the third (70-62) but their offense went missing in the fourth (26-17).

The Celtics shot much better (52.2-43.0%) and hit two more 3-pointers (5-3) but the Cavs hit seven more free throws (17-10) and grabbed four more rebounds (37-33). Boston had nine more assists (21-12) which was a product of Cleveland going 1-on-1 almost exclusively but the Cavs made five more steals (11-6), scored 13 more fast break points (15-2) and dominated inside (54-32 points in the paint).

The best news for Boston is that they play Cleveland on two more occasions, including the next time that they suit up (on Tuesday in Cleveland). That's the beginning of a busy week for the C's since they host the Raptors on Wednesday, the Knicks come on Friday and they face the Grizzlies in a Super Bowl matinee on Sunday in Boston.

After Tuesday's game in Cleveland, Boston is home for five consecutive contests. It is a favorable schedule against mostly teams that they should beat so they need to take advantage.

Team Chara/Team Bruins Beat Team Alfredsson 12-9 In 2012 NHL All-Star Game

The 2012 All-Star Game in Ottawa was dominated by the Boston Bruins aka Team Chara. Critics of the B's like to point out that they can only play a physical, on the edge sort of style but I wonder what those same clowns were saying today?

Team Chara beat Team Alfredsson 12-9 at Scottiabank Place thanks to Zdeno Chara's game-winning goal plus Tim Thomas' (18 saves) outstanding third period. To top it off, Tyler Seguin had a nifty assist on Joffrey Lupul's goal that made it 12-9.

So in other words, when the game was in the balance (6-6 after 2 periods), the Bruins players stepped up when it counted the most. Sounds familiar, right?

At least the NHL understands what All-Star weekend is all about: selling the product. It's laughable that MLB determines home-field in the World Series by who wins a glorified scrimmage in the middle of the summer. With that in mind, the NHL did everything in its power (Twitter, microphones, cameras everywhere) these last few days to promote this great sport.

Chara was +7 with three shots, Thomas won his record fourth straight All-Star game and Seguin had three shots in what should be his first of many All-Star game appearances.

Despite the lack of hits (ie. none), penalties (zero) or defensive intensity, the B's players didn't seem to skip a beat. Thankfully though after this fun weekend, the Bruins get back to the real stuff starting on Tuesday at TD Garden against the Senators.

There are only 35 games left in the regular season and Boston enters the second half firmly in second place in the Eastern Conference and first in the Northeast Division. They begin with three games in Boston (Ottawa, Carolina, Pittsburgh).

Chara, Thomas and Seguin probably didn't get much time to relax but hopefully the rest of the B's have enjoyed their break and will return energized and ready to make another deep playoff run this spring.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

You Better Have A Will When You Step In Front Of A Slap Shot By Zdeno Chara

The 2012 NHL All-Star skill competition was tonight in Ottawa and Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara did not disappoint. Team Alfredsson actually beat Team Chara 21-12 but that doesn't matter one bit.

For the fifth consecutive season, Big Z won the hardest shot contest and even better, he absolutely destroyed his record (105.9 mph) from last season with a missile that was clocked at 108.8 mph.

Nashville's Shea Weber came in second place with a top shot of 106.0 mph. Apparently Chara had a new stick by Warrior so I guess that explains how he increased his slapper by almost three mph. It just goes to show you how insane you have to be to step in front of his shot, either to block it or deflect it.

The other Boston participants were Tyler Seguin and Tim Thomas. Seguin was the second-worst in accuracy shooting (30.092 seconds to hit all four targets on the net) and he was stopped by Blues goaltender Brian Elliott in the elimination shootout.

I didn't see the event live and reading the story, there's no mention of Thomas' performance but there was a highlight or two of him making some saves so I guess he did alright. Haha nobody goes to the skills competition or the All-Star game for that matter to watch the goaltenders pitch shutouts.

The All-Star game is tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. EST. Seguin tweeted that he will be on a line with Toronto's Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. Chara will get plenty of ice time but nobody is pushed too hard in an All-Star game; Thomas will most likely play for a period.

Reports Of The Celtics Demise (From Myself & Many Others) Were Very Premature

I'm a big boy so I can admit when I'm wrong about something. After the last two nights, the Boston Celtics have proven to me, the Eastern Conference and the NBA that they're not hopeless.

You would think that their 27-point comeback in Orlando on Thursday would leave them dead for tonight's game at TD Garden against the Pacers, a team that had beaten them twice already, yet the Celts (9-9) won their fourth straight 94-87.

It was the second night of a back-to-back, vs. a playoff team but Boston didn't care as they recorded their fifth win in the last six tries.

Did I mention that Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Jermaine O'Neal and Keyon Dooling were all out? It makes no sense that this team would find its legs and defensive identity with such a shortage of bodies but welcome to the NBA in 2011-12.

Indiana (12-6) had no answer for Paul Pierce (28 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks), who is playing some inspired basketball. Building off his nice game against the Magic, Chris Wilcox added 14 points and six rebounds off the bench.

Kevin Garnett and Mickael Pietrus each had 13 points and eight rebounds while Brandon Bass scored 12.

The fantasy stud but real life enigma Danny Granger led the Pacers with 21 points. Paul George had 16 points, David West scored 14 and Roy Hibbert added 11 points.

I honestly can't explain how the Celts have morphed from a joke to a solid, competitive team in the span of a few weeks. Whatever the reason, I love it since I was pretty much dreading their games earlier in the season.

The C's led from start to finish: 23-17 after the first quarter, 42-34 at halftime and 71-61 after three quarters.

Boston shot 45.8% and held Indiana to 35.0%. The Celtics made five more 3s (6-1) which made up for the Pacers advantage at the free throw line (30-12). I don't think I've ever seen a team lose when they shot 30 of 31 from the line but the Pacers screwed themselves by going 1 of 19 from downtown. Boston grabbed three more rebounds (45-42) and dished out 10 more assists (21-11) without Rondo! The Pacers had three more steals (9-6) but the Celtics had four more blocks (7-3).

Indiana's age showed in the fast break points (23-6) but Boston beat them with the old man game down low (48-42) in the paint.

The Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Garden on Sunday in the first leg of a home-and-home series. The Cavs are still in full out rebuilding mode Post-LeBron but their No. 1 pick, point guard Kyrie Irving out of Duke, looks like a real good one.

If the C's can continue this defensive intensity and efficiency on the offensive end, they are going to be tough to beat when Rondo and Allen return. Moreover, I'm not going to underestimate them or doubt head coach Doc Rivers for the rest of the regular season.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just Your Run Of The Mill 27-Point Comeback Win By The Celtics Over The Magic, In Orlando

You have to hand it to the Orlando Magic. Twice in the last four days they've made losing to the Boston Celtics an art form.

After scoring a franchise-low 56 points in a pathetic 87-56 loss at TD Garden on Monday, the Magic (12-6) topped themselves with a 91-83 loss to the Celtics (8-9) at Amway Center tonight that will be talked about for years to come.

Orlando was up 27 points (52-25) with 3:11 left in the first half but somehow, they squandered that insurmountable lead to Boston, who was missing Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Jermaine O'Neal.

It was the Celtics' third straight win and their second against a quality team (both vs. the Magic). Boston undoubtedly has their number, the third and final chapter in the regular season is not until April 18 back at the Garden.

As befitting a game as batshit crazy as this one, the Celts got unexpectedly great contributions from rookie guard E'Twaun Moore (career-high 16 points, 4 of 4 on 3s) and Chris Wilcox (4 points, 3 rebounds, steal), who gave them a spark off the bench when Kevin Garnett (12 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals) needed a break.

Let's also not forget the spectacular all-around game by Paul Pierce (24 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds) and Mickael Pietrus' (12 points) fine performance in his former home arena. Brandon Bass added 10 points, two steals and two blocks against his old team as well.

Somehow when he faced only KG, Wilcox and Greg Stiemsma (4 fouls in 7 minutes), Dwight Howard managed only 16 points and 16 rebounds. I guess that's what happens when you shoot 50% from the floor (6 of 12) and 50% from the foul line (4-8).

Jason Richardson had 13 points, Ryan Anderson added 12 points, Jameer Nelson had 11 points and Hedo Turkoglu scored 10 but none of them could help Orlando avoid an eight-point fourth quarter. Really.

Glen Davis (3 for 11, 7 points) was horrible for the second time in a row against his old team; I'm shocked that such a mentally stable guy would psyche himself out like that.

What this victory meant for the Celtics and their fans is that despite many things going against them, this squad has an abundance of heart and resolve. They had every excuse to pack it in tonight, especially when they went down big right away but they kept plugging away and eventually the Magic cracked/the Celtics executed.

Orlando led 32-16 after the first quarter and 58-37 at halftime-they scored more in the first half then they did on Monday! Boston came alive in the third (27-17) and sealed it in the fourth (27-8).

After starting out ice cold, the Celtics finished with a very respectable 46.6% shooting percentage to 38.0% for the Magic. Boston hit five more 3s (10-5) but Orlando hit five more free throws (18-13). The Magic had nine more rebounds (46-37) but the Celts had seven more assists (23-16). Orlando had four more steals (10-6) but Boston had eight more blocks (11-3) which is insane when you think about it. The Magic owned the paint (38-22) and converted way more off turnovers (25-15).

With a game tomorrow night against the Pacers at TD Garden, a team that has already beaten them twice, I will give the C's a pass for what almost certainly will be a loss. Tonight's win showed that with improved health and a few shrewd moves, they could make some noise in the Eastern Conference after all this season.

Zdeno Chara Makes It Easy For Bruins Fans Watching The All-Star Festivities

The 2012 NHL All-Star draft took place tonight in Ottawa with captains Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara sticking tight to their teammates and other obvious connections.

Chara had the first pick overall (after a coin flip) in the second annual draft (which really spices up the weekend) and he took Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk while Alfredsson selected teammate (and fellow Swede) Erik Karlsson.

With his next pick, Chara took teammate Tim Thomas. Alfredsson stuck to his Senator and Swede theme as he also chose Henrik Lundqvist (assistant captain), Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, the Sedin sisters plus Claude Giroux (who grew up in the area) and former Ottawa goaltender Brian Elliott.

Chara made Tyler Seguin sweat for a while but he eventually took him along with former Bruin Phil Kessel. Haha Seguin and Kessel on the same team.

Sharks forward Logan Couture was Mr. Irrelevant but the good-natured youngster seemed to take it in stride. There was no pouting like Kessel last season. After all, he got a new car and a donation to the charity of his choosing so who cares? They are all big boys that should be able to handle it.

Joffrey Lupul (assistant captain) and Jamie Benn are also on Team Chara along with Marian Hossa, Evgeni Malkin, Kimmo Timonen, Corey Perry, Carey Price, Ryan Suter, Jimmy Howard, Brian Campbell, Patrick Kane, Dion Phaneuf, Jarome Iginla, Dennis Wideman, Marian Gaborik and Jordan Eberle.

Team Alfredsson is rounded out by Jonathan Quick, Kris Letang, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber, Dan Giardi, Keith Yandle, James Neal, Alexander Edler, John Tavares, Scott Hartnell and Jason Pominville.

Chara's rookies are Luke Adam, Raphael Diaz, Colin Greening, Cody Hodgson, Ryan Johansen and Gabriel Landeskog.

Alfredsson's rookies are Sean Courtier, Justin Faulk, Carl Hagelin, Nick Johnson, Matt Read and Craig Smith.

The skills competition takes place on Saturday night, that's the only event that the rookies will participate in.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Closer Andrew Bailey Agrees To 1-Year Deal With The Boston Red Sox

The list of players eligible for salary arbitration with the Boston Red Sox gets shorter by the day.

It was new closer Andrew Bailey's turn to get paid today as he agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.9 million. In penny-pinching Oakland last season, he made $465,000. He asked for $4.7 million and the Red Sox offered $3.35 million.

The 27-year-old Bailey can earn an additional $100,000 in performance bonuses: $50,000 for finishing 50 games and another $50,000 for finishing 55 games.

You'll remember that Bailey was acquired before New Year's in a deal with the A's. Boston got him and outfielder Ryan Sweeney in exchange for outfielder Josh Reddick, infield prospect Miles Head and minor league pitcher Raul Alcantara.

Now it comes down to David Ortiz and Alfredo Aceves who are the only remaining members of the Red Sox that are eligible for salary arbitration.

UPDATE 1/26: The Red Sox officially signed Cody Ross today and designated reliever Scott Atchison for assignment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Time For Some Rest: Capitals Beat Bruins 5-3 In Final Game Before All-Star Break

It is cliche to say it, I think every announcer in each professional sport is obligated to roll out this line but the All-Star break really couldn't come at a better time for the Boston Bruins.

After falling 5-3 tonight to the Washington Capitals (26-19-3) at the Verizon Center, the B's (31-14-2) completed a very tough stretch (6 of 7 on the road) with an uneven 3-4 mark.

Now, most of the team (except Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, head coach Claude Julien and his assistants) get almost a week off since their next game isn't until next Tuesday against Ottawa. That kicks off a three-game stretch at TD Garden, a place that they haven't occupied too much lately.

The Caps got a hat trick from Mathieu Perreault in an exciting contest that wasn't decided until former Bruins scapegoat Dennis Wideman scored an empty-netter. It was an impressive win for Washington considering that their superstar Alex Ovechkin was out due to a suspension.

Thomas took a seat on the bench this evening, giving him more time to write some vital Facebook posts and Tuukka Rask (18 saves; 11-5-2) got the start.

Rich Peverley (8th of the season) gave Boston a 1-0 lead in the first period at 17:46 when his centering pass deflected off a Washington stick and past Tomas Vokoun (29 saves). Patrice Bergeron and Dennis Seidenberg had the assists.

Depending on how much you enjoy defense, the second period was either thrilling or frustrating. Cody Eakin (4th of the season) tied it at 1 when his easy shot dropped off Rask's blocker and slowly crossed the goal line at 2:14. Just 41 seconds later, the Capitals did a solid Bruins impersonation as Perreault (5th in the season) struck in the vulnerable minute (copyright New Jack Edwards), at 2:55. It went off his skate but for some reason, it wasn't reviewed.

Tyler Seguin (19th of the season) tied it at 2 thanks to an ugly turnover by a Capitals defenseman. Seguin walked in on Vokoun and beat him with a sweet roofed backhander. Steven Kampfer (taking Andrew Ference's place-serving his second game of a three-game suspension) had the assist.

Johnny Boychuk handed a breakaway to Perreault at 14:23 and he was able to score his second goal of the game.

President Obama's favorite Bruin Brad Marchand (17th of the season) tied it at 3 late in the second thanks to a power-play goal. He followed Seidenberg's shot from the point and flipped in the rebound. Bergeron had the second assist.

At 3-3 heading into the third and with only 20 minutes before the All-Star break, the Bruins had a nice opportunity to earn two points on the road but they couldn't do it. Perreault completed his hat trick at 7:18 from Roman Hamrlik (2 assists) and Marcus Johansson. Perreault was in the right place in front of Rask since the puck found him by the net and he reacted quickly.

Wideman's (9th of the season) length of the rink clear came with 27 seconds left, a nice moment for him against his old team and a proper send-off as he goes to Ottawa this weekend for the All-Star game (really).

The Fantasy Draft is on Thursday, the skills competition is on Saturday and the game is on Sunday. I'll keep you posted with any notable information about the aforementioned Bruins that will be in Canada's capital.

After a nightmare in October, the B's were spectacular in November, December and early January. I'm confident they'll come back fresh and ready to tackle the final 35 games in the regular season as they get ready for the stretch run and the playoffs.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Orlando Celebrates Big Baby & Von Wafer's Return to Boston By Scoring A Franchise-Low 56 Points

The Boston Celtics only had 10 players available tonight as they hosted the Orlando Magic at TD Garden. A whopping five (Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling and Chris Wilcox) Celtics missed the game due to various injuries.

The Magic (11-5) came in as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conferences and an early surprise in the NBA. In Glen Davis and more importantly Von Wafer's return to Boston, the Celts (7-9) won 87-56 as the Magic did their best to spit on James Naismith's grave.

It was Boston's first win against a .500 team plus it was in the second night of a back-to-back, truly one of the most surprising results in recent Boston sports history.

Orlando set a new franchise record for fewest points in a game, worst shooting percentage (24.6%), fewest points in a half (20 in the 2nd) and total field goals (16). Dwight Howard (18 points, 14 rebounds) was 4 of 15 from the floor and 10 of 18 from the foul line. As far as I can tell, he still hasn't developed any kind of post game that doesn't involve dunks or awkward spin moves that don't work. Well at least he's cleaned up his free throws, oh wait.

Big Baby got a video montage dedicated to him and he proceeded to have a horrid game: six points (2 of 9 shooting) and 11 rebounds off the bench. Wafer had five points off the bench.

Avery Bradley and Sasha Pavlovic (9 points) will be able to tell their grandkids that not only did they start a game for the Celts but they also helped to beat one of the most overrated teams in not only the NBA but professional sports. Orlando hasn't changed their style at all the last few years: surround Howard with a bunch of one-dimensional 3-point shooters. The issue is that when those 3s aren't falling (4 of 16), they have nobody that can drive and get to the line (or in Howard's case, make free throws).

Paul Pierce had another solid game with 19 points and seven assists. Kevin Garnett added 14 points, 10 rebounds and five steals while Jermaine O'Neal had nine rebounds and took three charges. Ex-Magic forward Brandon Bass had 19 points and eight rebounds off the bench while Marquis Daniels finally looked like himself with eight points and five assists.

Boston shot 42.3% from the field and hit all 19 of its free throws. The Celts grabbed two more rebounds (46-44), had nine more assists (21-12), eight more steals (13-5), three more blocks (9-6) and eight less turnovers (23-15). The C's owned fast break points (11-4), points in the paint (34-16) and points off turnovers (24-6).

In a weird scheduling quirk, these same teams meet again on Thursday in Orlando. I'm going to guess that the Magic will score a few more points the second time around. There is absolutely no way that Orlando can play worse so I'll be impressed if Boston can beat them again in the second of three meetings this season.

Your New Red Sox Outfielder: Cody Ross

You're a smarter person than myself if you can calmly explain to me the thinking behind the moves by the Boston Red Sox this winter.

They are doing everything they can to avoid addressing their biggest need-a dependable No. 4 or 5 starter yet they continue to add utility players, relievers, washed up starters and outfielders.

Tonight, they agreed to a one-year $3 million contract with former San Francisco outfielder Cody Ross. He's 31 but the Red Sox will be his sixth MLB franchise in an eight-year career.

Last season with the Giants, in 121 games he hit 14 home runs, 52 RBIs, 97 hits, 25 doubles with 54 runs scored. His batting average was .240 with a .325 OBP and .405 SLG for a .730 OPS.

His best year was with the Marlins in 2009. He had 24 home runs, 90 RBIs, 151 hits, 37 doubles and scored 73 runs. His batting average was .270 with a .321 OBP and .469 SLG for a .790 OPS.

He's a career .261 hitter with .323 OBP and .456 SLG for a .779 OPS. In his career, he's hit .282 against lefties with a .912 OPS. The only reason the average baseball fan knows who he is lies in the 2010 NLCS MVP award that he won for San Francisco during their remarkable World Series title run.

With Carl Crawford's wrist flaring up last week and needing surgery plus Ryan Kalish's unknown status, it's a fair bet that Ross will be an Opening Day starter for the Red Sox in either left or right field. You just have to look around the AL East (CC Sabathia, Ricky Romero, David Price) to realize why they picked up another righthanded hitter that plays in the outfield and can hit lefties.

Now how about Roy Oswalt?

President Obama Hosts The Bruins At The White House, Minus One Key Player

It's been my experience in life that nothing brings down the mood at a party or during a meal like a discussion of politics or religion. I'm tolerant of any beliefs in either but I have a very short fuse for people that feel the need to inject those subjects in every conversation.

By all accounts, the Boston Bruins had a wonderful day at the White House on Monday as they were hosted by President Barack Obama. They took the tour like every other championship team and got stand on stage while Obama detailed their 2010-11 title run and the good deeds of the franchise in the community. They also presented Obama with a custom Bruins jersey (No. 11 like Gregory Campbell).

Besides the fact of where it was located, it was not a political event, at all. Unfortunately B's goaltender Tim Thomas had another view of the proceedings since he was the only team member not to attend. The lame decision was made even more pathetic when Thomas issued a statement through his Facebook account defending his move. Everybody knows that goalies are naturally flaky, it's a lonely position (like kickers in the NFL) but this is a new low.

Ugh. I don't expect much from professional athletes. I know that most of them are way too self-absorbed and not well-informed to provide any type of interesting commentary on basically anything (look at Twitter every day). This won't make me dislike Thomas or stop rooting for the guy but it certainly doesn't help his cause.

I had a feeling that he was a religious freak since his kids go to a Christian elementary school in Peabody that no normal family would choose. Thomas is awkward in interviews and not well-spoken but I never dreamed that he would make such a dumb decision like this. On a day when it should have been all about the team and what they accomplished, he shifted the focus to himself (for whatever reason). The ironic part is that he's one of only two Americans (Steven Kampfer is the other) on the team; do you think all the Canadien and Europeans care as much about a trip to the White House? Probably not but at least they realized what the day was all about.

Strictly on timing, he's lucky that the Patriots are in the Super Bowl otherwise this story would have a lot more legs. Likewise, he's going to the All-Star game in Ottawa this weekend but if there were a busier schedule this week, I think he'd get grilled more by the media and rightfully so.

Stick to stopping the puck Tim, nobody needs to know your political opinions if they are as poorly constructed as today's fiasco leads one to believe.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Patriots Are Headed Back To The Super Bowl After A 23-20 Win Over The Ravens

It had been four years since the New England Patriots reached the Super Bowl. For most of this season, I never would have believed that this current edition of the Pats had a prayer of reaching Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis but thanks to many breaks and good fortune, they put themselves in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Through another series of insane events, the Patriots (15-3) beat the Ravens (13-5) 23-20 this afternoon at Gillette Stadium. With the Giants' (12-7) 20-17 overtime win in San Francisco (14-4), New England will meet New York on February 5 in a rematch from four seasons ago.

As I look over the box score from today hours after the fact, I still can't really explain how the Pats managed to hold off the Ravens. It seemed like New England did everything in its power to self-destruct and lose but somehow they found a way to win thanks to Billy Cundiff missing a possible game-tying 32-yard field goal right before the fourth quarter ended.

New England was in great shape when their defense finally forced a turnover, in the fourth quarter. Joe Flacco (22 of 36, 306 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) was picked off on an incredible effort by Brandon Spikes. With six minutes and change plus the ball at midfield, the Pats just needed to get a decent drive and put some more points on the board. That's when offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien decided that was the perfect time to have Tom Brady (22 of 36, 239 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs) throw a bomb to Matthew Slater. Did I mention that Slater was triple-covered?

Jimmy Smith picked off Brady's pass and returned it 39 yards. The Patriots defense forced a turnover on downs after that but New England's offense went 3 and out and that's when the Ravens went right down the field before Cundiff choked in the most epic fashion. Sterling Moore saved the season as he knocked the ball out of Lee Evans' hands (what would have been a TD) then broke up another pass in the plays leading up to the ill-fated kick. The Ravens had to go for the field goal and the rest is history.

New England's 10th straight win was marked by the first time in 36 games that Brady didn't throw a touchdown pass. It doesn't matter though since he's going to his fifth Super Bowl, tying John Elway's record. This will be Bill Belichick's fifth Super Bowl, only Don Shula (6) has coached in more. Brady needs one more Super Bowl win to tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana's record (4).

I don't know how Baltimore lost a game when A) Flacco outplayed Brady, B) They won the turnover battle 3-1 and C) New England's defense outplayed its offense. I'll freely admit that the Patriots got lucky in some sense but on the other hand, the team that took more risks (going for it on 4th down) was rightfully rewarded while the team that was too conservative (kicking a field goal on 4th and 1) was ultimately punished.

We all wondered what would happen when Brady and Co. weren't hanging 30+ on an opponent. That transpired today yet the much-maligned Patriots defense, led by Vince Wilfork (6 tackles, 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss), Spikes (9 tackles) and Moore made just enough plays to survive.

Another crazy stat: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (15 carries, 68 yards, TD) had one more rushing yard than Ravens superstar Ray Rice (21 carries, 67 yards).

Baltimore did about as good a job as one could expect against Rob Gronkowski (5 catches, 87 yards), Aaron Hernandez (7 catches, 66 yards), Wes Welker (6 catches, 53 yards) and Deion Branch (2 catches, 18 yards) yet they still lost.

Anquan Boldin (6 catches, 101 yards) and Torrey Smith (3 catches, 82 yards, TD) benefited from Flacco's solid performance.

Stephen Gostkowski had the only points of the first quarter, a 29-yard field goal. Cundiff tied it with a 20-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Green-Ellis gave the Patriots the biggest lead of the game, at 10-3, with a 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The Ravens and Flacco responded with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta. Gostkowski's 35-yard field gave New England a 13-10 halftime lead.

New England's red zone offense struggled all day and the third quarter was no different as they settled for a 24-yard field goal by Gostkowski and a 16-10 lead.

Flacco found Smith for a 29-yard touchdown pass when the former Maryland Terp broke not one but two weak tackle attempts by the Patriots secondary. Compounding that bitter feeling, Danny Woodhead fumbled the ensuing kickoff. The Patriots defense held Baltimore to a 39-yard field goal by Cundiff and a 20-16 deficit entering the fourth.

New England answered with their biggest drive of the season which ended with Brady diving over the pile at the goalline for a touchdown on 4th and 1.

This will be the sixth Super Bowl for Patriots owner Robert Kraft (a record). Overall, it is the seventh Super Bowl appearance for the franchise which puts it one behind Dallas and Pittsburgh. The Patriots are 7-1 in AFC Championship games, 4-0 at home. Brady and Belichick are the first QB-coach duo to win five conference championships in the Super Bowl era. Brady tied Montana for most playoff wins (16) all time.

Gronk suffered a brutal ankle injury in the third quarter but he somehow returned later in the game so I think that with almost two weeks of rest and care, he should be able to play in the Super Bowl. Only a bionic guy like him could survive getting rolled up by Bernard Pollard (yes that man), something that would hurt most mortals.

In the next 12 days, we'll talk much more in depth about the Giants and the stakes in this incredible matchup. For now, let's enjoy this improbable win which puts the Pats one win away from the top.

Bruins & Flyers Played A Hell Of A Game

If you call yourself a Boston Bruins fan, the last two days were as close to hockey porn as you'll ever get in the regular season.

The B's fell in an overtime classic yesterday to the Rangers 3-2 and then they came back today to win a wild one 6-5 in a shootout over the Flyers.

Boston's (31-13-2) second straight win over Philadelphia (28-14-5) at the Wells Fargo Center had a bit of everything: fights, a natural hat trick, great goals, an injury and crazy momentum swings.

Tim Thomas (33 saves; 20-9-0) had his worst game of the season but he was still able to grab two points thanks to two saves in the shootout-against Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds. Ilya Bryzgalov (32 saves) gave up shootout goals to David Krejci and Tyler Seguin on the only attempt he faced.

With three goals in the first period, it looked like the Bruins might roll over the Flyers again like they did in December. Patrice Bergeron (15th of the season) scored 50 seconds into the game from Brad Marchand and Seguin. Milan Lucic and Tom Sestito (some no-name goon) fought shortly after that and Philly used that momentum as Maxime Talbot (11th of the season) tied it up at one.

Seguin (18th of the season) made it 2-1 with a power-play goal from Bergeron and Benoit Pouliot at 9:02. Chris Kelly and Brayden Schenn fought less than a minute later. Then Lucic's wrister (17th of the season) increased Boston's lead to 3-1 at 12:30, from Krejci and Adam McQuaid.

Scott Hartnell scored a natural hat trick (3 consecutive goals) in the second period to give Philadelphia a 4-3 lead. Shawn Thornton also fought Jody Shelley after Shelley gave Kelly a cheap shot.

Krejci (11th of the season) and Gregory Campbell (6th of the season) gave the B's the lead once again, at 5-4 early in the third period but Talbot's second goal of the game tied it at 5 and sent it to overtime.

The B's have to be exhausted after the physical toll of the past two games but at least they're tied with New York for first-place in the Eastern Conference. They were taking the train after the Flyers game to Washington, D.C. Tomorrow is an off day but the team gets to visit President Obama at the White House as a reward for winning the Stanley Cup last spring. Their last game before the All-Star break is on Tuesday in D.C. against the Capitals.

Andrew Ference missed today since the NHL handed down a three-game suspension for his dirty hit in the Rangers game. Also, Steven Kampfer (who took his place), left the game after taking a huge (clean) hit. They'll have to see how Kampfer looks tomorrow to figure out if he'll play on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, Boston and Philadelphia will only meet once more in the regular season: St. Patrick's Day (1 p.m. start) at TD Garden. Can you say sloppy? Haha that should be a great atmosphere.

The Washington Wizards Are A Disgrace

I only listened to the first half of the Celtics-Wizards game on the radio this afternoon as I drove back from Rhode Island and then I periodically checked my phone for the score during breaks in the Patriots-Ravens game (don't ask me why).

Still, I'm not afraid to say that Washington (2-14) is a disgrace since they lost to Boston (6-9) 100-94 at the Verizon Center.

Rajon Rondo missed his second straight game with a wrist injury while Keyon Dooling (5th straight) and Chris Wilcox (6th straight) were also out resting their old bones. To make matters worse for the Celtics, Ray Allen sprained his ankle in the second quarter and never returned. Luckily for the Green, they were playing what I'm comfortable in labeling the worst team in the NBA.

If you're keeping score at home, half of Boston's wins so far this season are against Washington. What's more, the C's only have two road victories and would you believe that they were both in our nation's capital?

The Avery Bradley magical mystery tour continued as he got his third career NBA start. In 41 minutes, he put up a truly unique stat line: three points (on 1 of 8 shooting), seven assists, six rebounds and six turnovers.

WEEI's Sean Grande (Celtics radio play-by-play guy) brought up something that I never knew: Bradley was the top recruit in the high school class of 2009, ahead of No. 2 John Wall. Speaking of Wall, he led the Wizards with 27 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Unless Bradley's mom, dad or another close relative was in charge of those rankings, I'll never get that designation (not that it matters).

Paul Pierce had an outstanding game, he nearly put up a triple-double with 34 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and three steals. It was the fifth 30-point, 10-assist performance of his career (tying Antoine Walker's franchise record for the past 20 years) and first time he'd done it in almost six years. He's also only the third guy in the NBA (joining LeBron and Russell Westbrook) to have 34-10-8.

Kevin Garnett (17 points) was the only other Celtics starter in double-figures. Mickael Pietrus (14 points) and Brandon Bass (13 points, 9 assists) continued to be pseudo-starters off the bench.

Nick Young had 19 points for the Wizards while JaVale McGee scored 13 points and Jordan Crawford had 12 off the bench.

It's a shame that these teams only meet once more (March 25 in Boston) this season since it is one of the only guaranteed victories for the Celts these days.

Things will be much different tomorrow night as the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard come to Boston for the first of two meetings this week. Boston has no answer for Howard (not that many do) so expect him to put up monster numbers and for his team to roll since it's a back-to-back, the Celtics are short-handed and they're playing a good opponent.

Scutaro Shipped To Rockies; Bard Avoids Arbitration

What is it with the Boston Red Sox and shortstops? Since they traded franchise icon Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 (which turned out well), the formerly coveted position has turned into a revolving door of mostly middling players.

Tonight, the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for pitcher Clayton Mortensen. The righty is 26 and a former first-round sandwich pick in 2007 by the Cardinals. He was traded to Oakland in the Matt Holliday deal and then traded to Colorado last winter for a minor leaguer.

This will be Mortensen's fourth MLB franchise. He put up decent numbers last season: 2-4 with 3.86 ERA in 16 games (6 starts) but from the looks of this move, it was all about dumping salary.

Boston picked up Scutaro's $6 million option earlier this winter so needless to say, it was odd to see him get traded soon after that. Even worse, all that the Red Sox have left at shortstop for 2012 are the dynamic scrub duo of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto. Don't tell me that Jose Iglesias will be the starter since he can't hit enough to play full-time in MLB.

The one positive aspect of this move is that it frees up money to pursue Roy Oswalt, who they desperately need. ESPNBoston also mentioned Cody Ross, a rumor that I hadn't heard before reading that tidbit. He's OK and he would help if Carl Crawford misses time (after wrist surgery) but I'm much more interested in Oswalt just because he has way more potential to help.

No matter how you spin it, the Red Sox seem destined for another third-place finish in the AL East again (for the third year in a row) behind the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. While those teams have improved themselves (NY) or kept its core intact (TB), the Red Sox have plugged holes (closer, set-up) but not improved their biggest issues (chemistry, starting pitching). Plus, they added the most self-absorbed and arrogant manager in MLB.

I'm not jumping off the bandwagon, I'll always root for the Red Sox but over the past few seasons, they've made it very hard to like them. Ownership is driven just by making money and not winning games, what should really matter. Likewise, many of their players over the last few years have been obsessed with personal statistics. how much they're getting paid and other inconsequential things. In other words, the Red Sox are now No. 4 in my top four (Bruins, Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox) rankings of local professional teams. It will take so much to change that any time soon.

In other Red Sox news today, the team reached a one-year, non-guaranteed contract for 2012 with Daniel Bard. They avoided arbitration with the reliever who will try to become a starter in spring training. Now only Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Bailey and David Ortiz are left to sign before February 1, the deadline for when the Red Sox are forced to go to a hearing with any of those guys if they haven't reached an agreement yet.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

OT Thriller: Rangers Beat Bruins 3-2 In Possible Eastern Conference Final Preview

There aren't many NHL regular season games that get hyped up since with 82 to select for every team each year, you need to pick and choose what to devote extra time and attention to.

When the top two teams in the Eastern Conference-the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers-met this afternoon at TD Garden, it was the first time the Original 6 rivals had faced off in 2011-12. Not surprisingly, the game was spectacular even though the B's (30-13-2) came up on the short end as the Rangers (30-12-4) won 3-2 in overtime on Marian Gaborik's goal with four seconds left.

I had the same feeling after this one that I did when the Bruins lost to the Red Wings in a shootout the day after Thanksgiving. I want more, specifically in the playoffs. New York is a real threat in the East and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see them and Boston as the top two seeds. Therefore an Eastern Conference Final between them (Boston vs. New York) wouldn't be too much to ask.

Other good news is that these teams will meet three more times in the regular season, starting Valentine's Day back at the Garden. Then Boston goes to New York on March 4 and April Fool's Day (both Sunday afternoon national games).

After a scoreless first period, that was still filled with action, the Rangers got on the board first at 1:31 into the second when captain Ryan Callahan (16th of the season) jumped out of the penalty box and beat Tuukka Rask (30 saves; 11-5-1).

Heavyweights Shawn Thornton and Mike Rupp fought less than two minutes later and although it was a split decision, Boston seemed to gain more momentum from the scrap. Andrew Ference (4th of the season) scored a goal for the second straight game as he took a pass from David Krejci and made a pretty move to his backhand to work around Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves). Milan Lucic had the second assist.

Gaborik (24th of the season) made it 2-1 at 14:30 after a blocked shot bounced right to him and needless to say, he knew what to do with it.

Another Bruins defenseman scored, always a good sign, as Adam McQuaid (2nd of the season) and his regal mullet whipped a wrist shot from the point. Rich Peverley and Ference had the assists.

The third period was scoreless as both teams pressed for the game-winner. Ference was whistled for a game-misconduct at 1:50 in overtime as he charged into Ryan McDonagh when the Rangers defenseman had his back to him close to the boards. It was an ugly hit and Ference admitted as much after the game. McDonagh left with an injury but he's lucky it wasn't more serious; as for Ference, the B's already recalled Steven Kampfer so they clearly think that Ference (who has a conference call with the NHL tomorrow) will get suspended for at least a game.

Boston successfully killed the 4-on-3 power play for over three minutes but Gaborik had three chances to beat Rask and you can't allow that many to a guy with his type of skills. Tuukka made two unbelievable saves but he wasn't able to squeeze the second one, Gaborik stuck with it and was rewarded with a clutch goal. Rask was understandably frustrated and his old temper showed itself when he smashed his goalie stick against the goal afterwards.

The Bruins hit the road for another tough test against the other true contender in the Eastern Conference: the Philadelphia Flyers. They'll play at 3 p.m. tomorrow, meaning that nobody and I mean nobody in New England will be watching it live since that's when Patriots-Ravens kicks off. Oh well, I look forward to watching it later tomorrow night on DVR.

You have to think that the Flyers will show up this time after getting waxed 6-0 on December 17 at home against the Bruins. It's another possible playoff preview. Philly won't have any extra rest over Boston since they played the Devils this afternoon and won 4-1.

Friday, January 20, 2012

If Rondo Can't Play, The C's Should Forfeit

If there was any doubt that as currently constructed, the Boston Celtics are Rajon Rondo's team, I submit to you tonight's game against the Phoenix Suns.

Rondo sat out with his wrist injury meaning that Avery Bradley (10 points, 3 steals), who started, and E'Twaun Moore both "took" his spot. The results were predictably ugly even against a team as mediocre as the Phoenix Suns. Marcin Gortat had 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Suns (6-9) beat the Celtics (5-9) 79-71 at TD Garden.

Boston's point total was a season-low and they also dropped their first game this season to a sub .500 opponent (they are now 5-1 against their fellow dredge of the NBA).

Four of the five Celtics starters scored in double-figures but that's extremely misleading since Ray Allen led them with 14 points. Paul Pierce had 12 points while Kevin Garnett had 10 points. Brandon Bass scored 11 points off the bench.

Phoenix still can't play a lick of defense but that didn't stop Boston from making them look like the Celtics circa 2007-08. You know things are bad when 95-year-old Grant Hill (9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks) looks like he has way more energy than your guys.

Steve Nash had a very quiet 11 points and nine assists while former Boston College star Jared Dudley posted 12 points off the bench.

I could write more about this one but why bother? It was awful, pathetic, embarrassing, etc. Rondo is expected back on Sunday as the Celts travel to Washington to play the Wizards-who they've already beaten twice. Boston has a stretch of three games in four days since they'll host Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic on Monday.

AFC Championship Injury Report For Patriots vs. Ravens

I think we can all agree that it's almost time to play football, enough with breaking down what we think will happen (but most certainly won't) when the Patriots host the Ravens on Sunday in the AFC Championship.

We still have to wait another day for the real action to start but at least today, we got one step closer with both teams releasing their injury report. Haha, well I should say New England's injury report. All Baltimore had was Ed Reed and he's probable so that doesn't count.

The Patriots have 14 players listed as questionable: Deion Branch (knee), Marcus Cannon (ankle), Patrick Chung (knee), Dane Fletcher (thumb), Aaron Hernandez (concussion), James Ihedigbo (shoulder), Kyle Love (ankle), Logan Mankins (knee), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Nate Solder (concussion), Brandon Spikes (knee), Sebastian Vollmer (back), Wes Welker (knee) and Tracy White (abdomen).

Since they're dealing with head injuries, Hernandez and Solder are the hardest to gauge. Vollmer hasn't played since Week 12 so I doubt that he'll suit up but other than that, I think everyone else will be ready (including Hernandez, Solder I'm less sure of).

Book Your Flights To The UK: Pats vs. Rams At Wembley Stadium On October 28, 2012

Totally out of nowhere late last night on Twitter, I saw a tweet that the New England Patriots would face the St. Louis Rams in London, England next season.

When I went to bed, I hoped that bad dream would disappear but sadly the teams confirmed it today. The Patriots and Rams will play on October 28, 2012 at London's famed Wembley Stadium.

This will be the second time in four seasons that New England will travel to the UK, after they went there in October 2009 and trounced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There are only a few things that the NFL as a whole has been wrong about in the last decade: Thursday night games and this joke of a trip to England. Take it from somebody that studied abroad in college: nobody in Europe, the UK or England gives a shit about the NFL. They don't understand it and they never will.

So what's the point of the NFL still making that trip every year? Well like everything in pro sports (and life), it revolves around money and expanding markets. I also read this morning that apparently St. Louis is locked into London games for the next three seasons. Haha I guess people in Europe and the UK can't get enough of Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson and new Rams head coach Jeff Fisher.

Next season's game will count as a home game for St. Louis so New England will still have its usual eight home games in 2012. However with the time changes and travel times, the games in London are much more of a burden and a novelty to teams than a reward for the players and coaches.

“We are honored to be selected for this year’s game and eager to return,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in an NFL press release. “We had such a great experience during our last visit to London. We are proud to have great support from our fans when we are on the road. The United Kingdom is home to some of our most passionate Patriots fans, including the UKPatriots, who are among our most active fan clubs overall, not just overseas. We look forward to another memorable experience.”

There are rumors of the NFL permanently moving a franchise to the UK or Europe which is insane. The NBA has had similar rumors in the last few years and I have to say, give me a break. An exhibition game or trip here or there is one thing but moving a team there? Haha that is such a joke, I don't even know what to say.

If you need me, I'll be saving up my pounds (English currency) to get to London next October for that Pats-Rams game (two days before my birthday!).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It Only Takes 1 Period For The Bruins To Wake Up & Morph Into Themselves Again

Down 1-0 after two periods tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, the Boston Bruins were in desperate need of a spark or else they'd return home having lost three of their last four games (all on the road, two against bad teams).

Thankfully, the B's (30-13-1) responded like championship teams do. They potted four goals in the third to take a 4-1 win over the Devils (26-18-2). It was a stellar end to what had been a rocky road trip.

The two points ensured that Boston has still yet to lose back-to-back road games this season, a pretty remarkable statistic.

Petr Sykora (12th of the season) gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead at 18:29 of the first. It was a backbreaker for many reasons; it came off yet another defensive zone miscue by the Bruins and it was also late in the period. Dainius Zubrus stole the puck behind the net and fed Sykora, who was able to beat Boston goaltender Tim Thomas (30 saves; 19-9-0).

Gregory Campbell earned the Gordie Howe hat trick (fight, goal, assist). He fought some scrub named Brad Mills (not the Astros manager) in the first then assisted on the game-tying goal in the third and scored the marker that made it 3-1. Not a bad night for Colin's little boy.

I have no idea what changed for the B's in the third but I was a big fan since they closely resembled the freight train that ran through the NHL in November and December. Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur (21 saves) looked good in the first two periods but he was nowhere to be seen in the third as Boston bombarded him with quality scoring opportunities.

Andrew Ference (3rd of the season) tied it up 3:01 into the third with a pretty slap shot over Brodeur's glove. Shawn Thornton and Campbell had the assists.

The mercurial Nathan Horton-who's hot right now-netted the game-winner at 7:10 on the power play. His 17th of the season was all thanks to David Krejci's sweet pass, all he had to do was tap it in. Rich Peverley (back after missing two games) had the other assist.

For the 14th time this season-according to NESN's Jack Edwards-the Bruins doubled up by scoring another goal in less than a minute, at 7:45. Campbell (5th of the season) knocked in a rebound after an outstanding shift by his linemates Thornton and Daniel Paille.

Chris Kelly's (14th of the season) empty-netter sealed it at 19:13 and it also put him one away from a career-high in goals, before the All-Star break no less.

It's amazing what one period can do for a team. This win should give the Bruins a much better feeling as they head into their biggest game and stretch of games so far this season.

They host the New York Rangers-1 point ahead of them, 1st in the Eastern Conference-on Saturday afternoon. It's the first time the Original 6 foes have met in 2011-12. Boston goes to Philadelphia on Sunday, visits the White House on Monday and plays the Capitals in D.C. on Tuesday before getting a much deserved rest for the All-Star break.

UPDATE 1/20: Steven Kampfer and Jordan Caron were assigned to the Providence Bruins for the weekend. The Baby B's have three games this weekend so it will give these youngsters plenty of ice time, something they won't get in Boston anytime soon (barring injuries or suspensions).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Celtics Snap Five-Game Losing Streak But Rondo Hurts His Wrist In The Process

You'd be hard-pressed to draw up a more irrelevant game in the 2011-12 NBA regular season that what transpired this evening at TD Garden. It was seats for soldiers night which felt like a cruel joke. Hopefully nobody paid full price for this preseason style matchup.

The Toronto Raptors visited the Boston Celtics with both teams coming in riding five-game losing streaks. Boston (5-8) played its customary frontrunner role as they won 96-73 in a game that was only memorable since Rajon Rondo (21 points) suffered what could have been a gruesome injury late in the third quarter.

In the playoffs last spring against the Miami Heat when Rondo dislocated his elbow yet somehow (hello needles!) came back in the same game, I dubbed him Gumby. His limbs and bones don't act like you or I. So when Linas Kleiza of all people hit him with a flagrant foul, causing Rondo to land awkwardly with all his weight on his wrist, you had to think it was broken.

After staying down on the parquet for a long time, Rondo got up slowly and retreated to the locker room with the medical staff. It was later announced as a "sore wrist" which was a laughable impression of a Patriots injury report. Apparently, Rondo is day-to-day which is promising news since without him, this ill-fated season turns downright meaningless.

The Raptors (4-11) basically lost before the game started since their best player-Andrea Bargnani-was a last-minute scratch with a calf injury. This contest was so dull, it made me daydream about such paradoxes like why does Toronto even have an NBA team? The Grizzlies moved out of Vancouver years ago so why are the Raptors still in Canada? It makes zero sense, Canadians could care less about basketball.

Kevin Garnett had 15 points and seven rebounds for the Celtics while Brandon Bass (13 points, 9 rebounds) and Mickael Pietrus (12 points) had big outputs off the bench. This one was never in doubt so it was nice to see Bass play more minutes (31) than any of the starters.

Paul Pierce had eight points and seven assists, Jermaine O'Neal added eight points and seven rebounds but Ray Allen (6 points) continued to fall into a shooting slump.

UMass-Amherst product Gary Forbes led the Raptors with 18 points, off the bench no less. I think he's the only Minuteman currently in the NBA besides greybeard Marcus Camby. DeMar DeRozan (11 points) was the only other Toronto player in double figures.

I predict that Boston will go on a fraudulent winning-streak since they are about to embark on what undoubtedly is their easiest three-game stretch of the season: vs. Phoenix on Friday and at Washington on Sunday.

Right now, the Celtics are beating up on the bums of the NBA and once they meet a playoff contender, they fold. It's just that easy to explain.

Zdeno Chara, Daniel Alfredsson Named 2012 NHL All-Star Game Captains

Bruins captain and defenseman Zdeno Chara and Senators captain and winger Daniel Alfredsson were both named 2012 NHL All-Star captains for their respective teams today.

The NHL All-Star game is January 29th and thanks to the NHL's brilliant new All-Star rules, each player will take turns selecting players for their respective teams on January 26th at the NHL All-Star player fantasy draft. The skills competition is on Saturday and the game is on Sunday.

Chara, a former Senator, played with Alfredsson for four seasons between 2001-02 and 2005-06. Each player is a key member of their respective teams, as Chara is eying another Stanley Cup run while Alfredsson is third in scoring on the surprising Senators, who are fifth in the Eastern Conference and only one point behind the Bruins.

Each player has a few teammates to choose from. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas and winger Tyler Seguin were both named All-Stars while the hometown Senators have defenseman Erik Karlsson, center Jason Spezza, winger Milan Michalek and rookie winger Colin Greening thanks to the usual ballot stuffing by Canadian fans that have nothing better to do.

I have to think that Chara will take Thomas first but it would be funny if either captain threw a curve ball and selected one of the other captain's teammates.

Chara was excited when upon hearing the news, as he talked about it with CSNNE.COM

"It's another honor on top of being selected as an All-Star. I found out this morning so I'm a little bit surprised. I'm going to at least try to see how it is to be in the position that some GMs are in or people that are making those decisions. In the group of players that are being selected I don't think you can make a wrong choice."

Last year's memorable moment was obviously Phil Kessel being picked last (complete with Alex Ovechkin taking pictures of him) and it was overall a successful (and my favorite) All-Star Weekend. Let's hope this year's draft provides some more fireworks.

UPDATE 1/20: Claude Julien and his assistants (Doug Houda, Doug Jarvis and Geoff Ward) will coach Chara's team in the All-Star game.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lightning Snap Seven-Game Losing Streak, Beat The Bruins 5-3 in Tampa Bay

To call the Tampa Bay Lightning a huge disappointment so far in 2011-12 would be an understatement. The same team that pushed the Boston Bruins to seven games last spring in the Eastern Conference Finals, came into tonight's action tied for the worst mark in the conference.

Playing their second game in as many nights, the B's (29-13-1) didn't seem to have their normal jump in their skates so they fell 5-3 to the Lightning (18-23-4) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

As crazy is it sounds, this was Tampa's first win in 2012 since they ended a seven-game losing streak with the victory.

This served as the final game that Brad Marchand will miss (due to suspension) and Rich Peverley is also expected back in the next contest after sitting out the last two in Florida. Those two can't return soon enough since Boston desperately needs their energy, speed and skill. As expected, Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill are not even close to adequate replacements for those two guys. On Thursday, I hope to see the youngsters back in the press box as healthy scratches.

If we're being fair, it is reasonable to say that Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (26 saves; 18-9-0) isn't playing up to his normal insane level. Tonight was the third time in his last six starts that he's allowed four goals. In fact, including the empty-netter, Boston allowed five goals for the first time this season.

Don't take that as me blaming the loss solely on Thomas since three of the four goals were the end result of bad defensive zone play by the normally stout B's.

It also helps that the Lightning led three times and the Bruins never led; they rallied three times but they ran out of life late in the third-a product of back-to-back nights. Ex-Harvard star Dominic Moore (4th of the season) had the game-winner at 16:15 when he put one over Thomas's shoulder from Ryan Malone and Steve Downie. Steven Stamkos added his NHL-leading 31st goal, the empty-netter, at 19:39 to seal it.

Vincent Lecavalier (18th of the season) gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead 7:11 into the first thanks to some sloppy clearing attempts and coverage by the Bruins which allowed him to get close to Thomas and poke in the rebound. Ex-BU star Matt Gilroy and ex-UVM star Martin St. Louis assisted on Lecavalier's goal.

Nathan Horton (15th of the season) tied it at 1 with the first of his two goals, at 4:28 into the second. He followed his own shot-like in basketball-and was able to eventually put it past Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon (26 saves) for an unassisted tally.

Milan Lucic should have earned an assist on Tom Pyatt's goal (5th of the season) since Looch's terrible giveaway led directly to Pyatt beating Thomas on a rebound. Gilroy and Downie assisted at 14:11 of the second.

Horton answered at 16:48 off another rebound, assisted by Andrew Ference and David Krejci. My best comparison for Horton in terms of recent Boston sports history is former Red Sox slugger Brian Daubach. The streakiest players you can imagine, good or bad.

Tampa Bay was the recipient of another blunder by Boston as Ryan Malone (10th of the season) stuffed in a chance from in close after the B's failed to clear the zone properly. Moore and former Bruins prospect Nate Thompson assisted at 4:58.

Nobody in the NHL has more breakaways but scores less on them than Daniel Paille. He did it in the second period, hitting the post, so it was nice to see him cash in the second time he got the opportunity-in the third. Paille's shorthanded tally at 10:53 was his eighth of the season and it tied it at three with help from Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.

Thomas made a pair of spectacular saves in the second: somehow keeping a deflection out after Stamkos-Lecavalier and St. Louis skated in on a 3-on-1 plus kicking out Teddy Purcell's one-timer to end the period.

There was plenty of metal ringing as Seguin also hit the post along with Lecavalier and Stamkos.

Getting Marchand and Peverley back in the lineup should give Boston the kick in the hockey pants that they desperately need right now. They were lucky to escape Florida with two points after beating the Panthers in a shootout on Monday.

In the two previous meetings, Boston has topped New Jersey. Most recently, the Bruins rolled 6-1 in Newark on January 4. The Devils have been playing well lately and they're only five points behind the B's so expect a more competitive game on Thursday.

That is the final game of this four-game road trip for Boston before returning home for one juicy matchup-the Rangers on Saturday-then two more on the road before the All-Star break.

Lightning End Its Seven-Game Losing Streak, Beat Bruins 5-3 In Tampa Bay

Nathan Horton had two goals 24 hours after being publicly called out by B's head coach Claude Julien but it wasn't enough as the Bruins dropped a tough one 5-3 to the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning.

Fresh off a shootout win against the Panthers last night, the Bruins knew they would have their hands full with an underachieving, yet supremely skilled Lightning team. Before the game, Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley alluded to how hard it is to sweep the two games in Florida each season. Unfortunately, their words would be prophetic to Bruins fans.

The B's showed some grit tonight, erasing three separate one-goal deficits but their shoddy defensive play, turnovers and spotty goaltending from Tim Thomas proved to be their undoing.

The first period was some of the sloppiest hockey I have seen from the Bruins this year. Chalk it up to the games in back-to-back nights but I think this team is better than that.

Vincent Lecavalier (18th of the season) put the Lightning on top in the first, as a pass from Matt Gilroy was broken up by David Krejci, leading to a goalmouth scramble that saw the Lightning captain catch Thomas out of position and find the back of the net.

Horton began his climb out of the dog house early in the second period. Horton intercepted a pass around the boards, attacked the net, found his own rebound and beat Mathieu Garon on a sprawling backhand.

Boston found themselves in a bad situation later in the frame, as Johnny Boychuck was caught in a 3-on-1 rush featuring Martin St. Louis, Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. Boychuck laid out and Stamkos' shot deflected off of his skate and nearly beat Thomas, who thanks to the post was able to corral the puck.

Tampa made up for that opportunity shortly after, as Thomas dove out of the crease to make a save on Steve Downie but was helpless to stop Tom Pyatt from hammering home his fifth of the year.

The Bruins then tied the game 2-2 thanks to another goal from Horton, boosting his season total to 16.

Both teams exchanged quality scoring chances as Thomas robbed Teddy Purcell with five seconds left in the second period, keeping the game tied. Daniel Paille had a shorthanded breakaway attempt that grazed the crossbar. No worries though, as he would later score on a second shorthanded breakaway to tie the game after Ryan Malone gave Tampa a 3-2 lead.

The play picked up near the end of the third but the Bruins would find themselves on the short end of the stick in this one, as Dominic Moore connected with a quick slapshot that beat Thomas high glove side to give the Lightning the win.

Stamkos added his 31st goal of the year on an absolute hail mary of an empty netter.

Boston (29-13-1) has a day off tomorrow before flying to New Jersey to meet up with the Devils on Thursday night.

*Game Notes*

* Save the crap about the Lightning, their record and losing streak. Any team with Stamkos, Lecavalier and St. Louis can get it done any given night in the NHL. And yes, I almost threw up when they had that 3-on-1.

* Last night, I mentioned that the crowd was at the very least, 50-50 Bruins. I have to give the Lightning fans credit tonight, as they showed up and did their best to not turn this game into another faux home game for the Bruins. I just hope their feelings aren't still hurt from those mean advertisements from the playoffs last season.

* Given Julien's comments regarding Horton after last night's game, I was looking for both him and Lucic to have a bounce back game. Horton obviously looked good with two goals but Lucic was again invisible for long stretches, recording only two shots on goal in over 15 minutes of ice time.

* Clearly, the Bruins need to tighten up before their big games against the Rangers on Saturday and the Flyers on Sunday. Honestly, it all starts with their defense. Zdeno Chara and Joe Corvo looked sluggish with the puck tonight and out of position at times. I do think Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg played well however.