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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Morales Wins 2013 Red Sox Debut, Boston Earns Split With Philadelphia (Twice)

He can never stay healthy for very long but as he showed last season when he was forced into the starting rotation, Franklin Morales (1-0) can pitch. He made his 2013 Red Sox debut tonight and it was a good one (5 innings, 2 earned runs, 4 hits, 2 strikeouts, 2 walks) as Boston (33-22 overall, 16-10 away) beat Philadelphia (26-28 overall, 12-13 home) 9-2 at Citizens Bank Park in their series finale.

These teams won't see each other again this season, unless they meet in the World Series (dies laughing) in October. They each won a game at home and a game on the road in this weird four-game interleague home-and-home stretch.

Jacoby Ellsbury (3 for 4, walk, run) set a Red Sox franchise record with five stolen bases. It's like he suddenly woke up last week and realized how much money he's losing by performing like an average player. Contract years for all!

Like their win vs. the Phillies on Memorial Day, the Red Sox jumped all over a helpless rookie pitcher-in this case Jonathan Pettibone (3-1). Boston scored four runs in the first, one in the sixth, one in the seventh and three in the ninth to make it look even more impressive.

Ellsbury scored on Dustin Pedroia's ground out, Mike Carp had an RBI single and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (run) added a two-run single for the 4-0 Red Sox lead.

Delmon Young had Philadelphia's only highlight of the game-a two-run homer in their first at bat. Jonny Gomes had a pinch hit homer in the sixth (his third homer of the season) and David Ortiz followed suit with his own solo home run in the seventh (his ninth of the season). Stephen Drew's ground out drove in a run then Salty and Jose Iglesias (2 hits) had back-to-back RBI doubles as it got out of hand for the Phillies in the ninth.

For the first time in two months, the Red Sox will square off with the Yankees (30-23 overall) this weekend at Yankee Stadium. Boston took two of three in the Bronx to start this season and they catch the Yanks at a good time considering New York has dropped five in a row including four straight to the Mets. Hahahaha!

Tomorrow night (7:05, NESN) Jon Lester (6-1) faces C.C. Sabathia (4-4), Saturday night (7:15, Fox) Felix Doubront (3-2) takes on Phil Hughes (2-3)-that one might take six hours-and on Sunday Night Baseball (8:05, ESPN) Clay Buchholz (7-0) is tentatively scheduled to meet Hiroki Kuroda (6-3). New England is supposed to have dog days of summer type weather this weekend so why not be treated to Red Sox-Yankees games which always seem to last forever.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Red Sox Should Have Paid Jonathan Papelbon, End Of Discussion

Jonathan Papelbon is a supreme bozo but more importantly, he's durable, consistent and he can play in a tough market. Any smart Red Sox fan appreciates what he did when he was here and we can't begrudge him getting paid by the Phillies while Boston didn't want to commit long-term after his rookie deal ran out.

Tonight was a reminder of what the Red Sox (32-21 overall, 17-12 home) have been missing since Papelbon left two winters ago, namely a good reliable closer. The Phillies (25-27 overall, 14-15 away) beat Boston 3-1 at Fenway Park behind Cliff Lee's (6-2) lights out performance and a 1-2-3 ninth by Papelbon for his 10th save of the season (during his first appearance at Fenway in an opposing uniform).

Lee (8 innings, 1 earned run, 4 hits, 8 strikeouts, 0 walks) absolutely cruised, Dustin Pedroia's RBI single in the first inning was his only mistake of the night. David Ortiz and Stephen Drew both hit long fly balls to center but each were tracked down by Ben Revere (2 hits, stolen base) before they could do any damage. If the Phillies don't improve by the trade deadline, there could be quite a market for Lee. Who wouldn't want a lefty that throws strikes, works quickly and has long outings almost every time he gets the ball?

Ryan Dempster (2-6) had three crappy starts in a row so even though he was charged with the loss, tonight's performance was definitely something to build on. Granted Philadelphia's offense is rather putrid. Dempster went seven innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts and three walks.

Michael Young hit a solo homer in the first over the Monster. Erik Kratz had an RBI single in the seventh then Domonic Brown added an insurance run in the ninth with a solo shot to right center off Junichi Tazawa.

After the game, reports came out that the Red Sox will recall outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. tomorrow and send reliever Alex Wilson back to Pawtucket. With goofy National League rules in effect in Philadelphia, Boston needs as many outfielders as they can get for double switches and all that jazz. Plus they were basically carrying an extra reliever or as I like to say, "anyone's better than Jonny Gomes."

Boston heads to Philly for two games at Citizens Bank Park beginning tomorrow night (7:05 p.m., NESN) with John Lackey (3-4) taking on Kyle Kendrick (4-3)-destined to be an instant classic pitching matchup for the ages.

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Dear God, I Think That's Alfredo Aceves' Music!" (Jim Ross Voice)

At this moment, it's all good on Yawkey Way. The Red Sox debuted hideous new camoflauge jerseys & hats in honor of Memorial Day (cha-ching) and Alfredo Aceves had a solid start (shocking I know) in a 8-3 win over the Phillies at Fenway Park. With Boston's (32-20 overall, 17-11 home) victory over Philadelphia (24-27 overall, 13-15 away) in its first interleague game of the season, the Red Sox regained first place in the AL East since the Yankees fell to the Mets.

Boston has won four games in a row, five of its last six and 10 of its last 13 to go a season-high 12 games over .500. With Clay Buchholz temporarily sidelined, Aceves (2-1) stepped in and pitched six innings, allowing one earned run on seven hits with four strikeouts and three walks. Philadelphia is a bit of a mess but anytime Aceves can pitch that well, you have to be thrilled since it doesn't happen that often anymore.

Poor rookie Tyler Cloyd (1-1) was a sacrificial lamb for the Phillies. In 2.1 innings, he allowed six earned runs on nine hits with two strikeouts and a walk. Thanks for showing up Tyler.

Boston had 15 hits, led by Jacoby Ellsbury (3 hits, 2 doubles, run, RBI), Mike Napoli (homer, double, 2 RBIs, 2 runs, walk), Stephen Drew (2 hits, 2 runs, 2 RBIs, 2 walks), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2 hits, RBI) and David Ortiz (2 hits, double, walk, RBI).

Not sure if you've noticed yet but Dustin Pedroia is playing at an MVP level and yes, I know it's still only May so who cares? He hit a two-run homer around Peskey's Pole in the first inning (his third homer of the season) and two batters later, Napoli followed with an opposite field bomb of his own (his eighth of the season) for a 3-0 Red Sox advantage.

Something called an Erik Kratz hit a solo homer in the third inning but that was Aceves' only real mistake. Boston added three runs in the home half of the frame on Napoli's RBI double, Drew's RBI single and Ellsbury's RBI double. Salty had an RBI single in the fifth and another run scored on the play thanks to a Phillies error.

Domonic Brown hit a two-run homer in the eighth for Philadelphia and Drew rounded out the long but satisfying game with a bases loaded walk later in the eighth.

The struggling Ryan Dempster (2-5) faces a big challenge tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) in the form or Cliff Lee (5-2) who is still one of the best pitchers in MLB. It's the last game of this home-and-home set at Fenway, meaning under the superior AL rules. Get ready to see Ortiz in the field starting on Wednesday along with the pitchers being forced to bat!

UPDATE 5/28: Franklin Morales was activated and Aceves was sent back to Pawtucket, thanks for playing Alfredo!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Red Sox Take 3 of 4 From Indians Thanks To Ellsbury's Walk-off 2-Run Double

Every good season in MLB features at least a few signature wins and memorable moments. Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, Jacoby Ellsbury (2 hits, stolen base) provided the best win of 2013 for the Red Sox with a walk-off two-run double against the Indians for a 6-5 Red Sox victory. It was the team's fourth walk-off win of the season.

With the Red Sox win and a Yankees loss, Boston and New York are now tied atop the AL East.

Boston (31-20 overall, 16-11 home) ripped Cleveland's (27-22 overall, 12-12 road) heart out in back-to-back games with a pair of improbable comebacks (their bullpen had been 8-0 going into Saturday's contest) which led to a series win (3-1) and three consecutive wins for the home team. The Red Sox finished the season series 5-1 against former manager Terry Francona's new squad.

Boston trailed 5-1 going into the bottom of the eighth before Jose Iglesias' sacrifice fly cut it to 5-2. Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia each had RBI ground outs to bring Boston within a run in the ninth. Indians closer Chris Perez (0.2 IP, 4 ER, 2 hits, 3 walks) was the main scapegoat for Cleveland even though Joe Smith came in for one pitch-Ellsbury's two-run double-that cost the Indians the game. Making matters worse, Perez had to leave the game with an arm/shoulder injury.

Felix Doubront pitched well (6 IP, 4 runs, 2 earned runs, 5 hits, 8 strikeouts, 2 walks) but the immoral Corey Kluber (6.2 IP, 1 earned run, 3 hits, 10 strikeouts, 1 walk) was even better for the Indians.

Ellsbury and Stephen Drew (3 for 4 with double, triple, 3 runs) cost Boston a pair of runs in the first as they let Carlos Santana's pop up to center drop in for two runs.

Daniel Nava got the Red Sox started with an RBI single in the third inning. Jason Kipnis (3 runs, 2 hits) hit the cheapest homer you can get in Fenway, 319 feet around Pesky's Pole, for a solo shot in the fifth and Nick Swisher (2 hits) added a solo homer of his own in the sixth but at least his went well over the Monster-a little more impressive. Swisher's sacrifice fly in the eighth made it 5-1 as Cleveland looked poised to get a series split.

Alex Wilson pitched a scoreless seventh for the Red Sox and Craig Breslow (2-0) went the last two innings and earned the win despite allowing Swisher's sac fly.

The weather is finally supposed to get nice tomorrow-fittingly for Memorial Day-and Boston begins Interleague play for this season with two games at Fenway against the Phillies (24-26, 3rd in NL East) then two in the City of Brotherly Love. Clay Buchholz was scratched from tomorrow night's (7:10 p.m., NESN) start after he slept wrong on his collarbone holding his baby (haha OK?) and Alfredo Aceves (1-1) will make a spot start against rookie Tyler Cloyd (1-0). On Tuesday night (7:10 p.m., NESN) Ryan Dempster (2-5) faces Cliff Lee (5-2). Wednesday night (7:05 p.m., NESN) at Citizens Bank Park, John Lackey (3-4) takes on Kyle Kendrick (4-3) and on Thursday night (7:05 p.m., NESN), Jon Lester (6-1) meets rookie Jonathan Pettibone (3-0).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bruins Head Back To Their 2nd Eastern Conference Finals In 3 Years

There is not one person in the universe that thought for a second the Bruins would get to the Eastern Conference semifinals this season when they trailed 4-1 in the third period against the Maple Leafs in Game 7, yet here we are. Boston dispatched the Rangers in a tidy five games (who would have believed that either?) with a 3-1 win tonight at TD Garden, booking their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh.

This was a prototypical victory for the B's since all four lines contributed and their three goals were scored by Gregory Campbell (2) and Torey Krug-not the first names you'd think of. New York actually took a 1-0 lead at 10:39 of the first period on Dan Girardi's power play goal. Matt Zuccarello and Brian Boyle assisted on Girardi's second goal of the playoffs. David Krejci took a dumb cross checking penalty leading to New York's second power play strike in as many games and Boyle screened Tuukka Rask (28 saves).

No worries since Krug potted his fourth goal of the series and third on the man advantage at 3:48 of the second period. His laser went over Henrik Lundqvist's (29 saves) shoulder, assisted by Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand. 9:57 after that, Campbell scored the game-winner after fine work from Shawn Thornton (who had a fight in the first period) and Daniel Paille. The puck bounced in front of New York's goal and Campbell was able to get to it before he was checked to the ice.

There were some sketchy moments for Boston in the third period but Rask stood tall, stopping Rick Nash with a kick save then Ryan Callahan on a backhanded breakaway. Campbell fittingly closed it out with an empty-netter at 19:09 from Nathan Horton. That was Campbell's third goal of the playoffs and he steered it in with one hand on his stick.

It's not hard to figure out why New York's style of play won't be successful in the long run. Head coach John Tortorella plays not to lose, rather than allowing his talented players to be more active offensively. The Rangers scored 10 goals in five games, compared to 16 for the Bruins. Lundqvist might be a better goaltender than Rask but nobody will be able to single-handedly win a series in the NHL with 10 goals from his teammates.

This win was vital for many reasons since Boston missed out on a chance to end it on Thursday and Pittsburgh sent Ottawa home with a win in Game 5 last night. To have any chance against the Penguins, the B's couldn't afford to waste any more energy on a team that they had mentally beaten by the time it was 3-0 in the series. The Bruins and Penguins haven't met since the 1992 playoffs but there are a boatload of storylines: Jaromir Jagr's return to Pittsburgh, Jarome Iginla's refusal to go to Boston, Matt Cooke's cheap shot that ended Marc Savard's career prematurely and overall, two great American sports/hockey cities.

The two series out West are still going on so the Eastern Conference Finals will be put on hold until those are settled. This ensures that Bruins-Penguins will be the best series that it can possibly be. Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg returned to the lineup tonight for the first time since skating a few shifts in Game 7 vs. Toronto. He wasn't quite himself but just his presence alone was a good omen for the B's. This gives him more leeway to ease back into game action when it matters most.

UPDATE 5/27: Forgot to mention that with Saturday's win vs. Rangers, the Bruins now have to give up a first-round draft pick to the Stars in the Jagr deal. I'm sure they don't mind given how the postseason has progressed.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Who Wants A Sweep? Not The Bruins Apparently Who Choke Away Game 4 Vs. Rangers In OT

The Bruins clearly saw the awful forecast this weekend in New England so they thought, "we can't do anything outside so why don't we play another game against the Rangers instead?" Boston had a glorious chance to send New York home for the summer but they blew a pair of leads (2-0, 3-2) en route to a 4-3 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bruins still own a 3-1 lead in the series but this has been deceptively close since three of the four games have been decided by one goal with two in overtime.

Game 5 is Saturday (5:30 p.m., NBCSN) and it's only happening because of BC and Eastern Mass products Brian Boyle and Chris Kreider (who had the game-winner). Well that's not true, it also took a couple insanely improbable things to let New York climb back into this. Credit to the Rangers though as Boyle finally solved their power play drought (0 for 12 in the series before that) for the tying goal at 10:00 in the third period. Kreider celebrated his promotion to a better line (sorry Brad Richards) with a pretty tip-in from Rick Nash at 7:03 in overtime.

Just like Game 3, the B's took it to the Rangers from the start and New York played like they couldn't care less. Between swearing at the refs, John Tortorella kept busy during TV timeouts by updating his resume and creating a Linked In profile. Boston outshot New York 12-4 in the first period but they couldn't beat Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves). The Bruins struck twice on the power play in the second period to grab the 2-0 advantage. Nathan Horton slipped one past King Henrik at 4:39, his fifth of the playoffs, from David Krecji and Brad Marchand. Torey Krug scored his third goal in four games at 7:41 with a long range slap shot from Tyler Seguin and Horton.

Someone must have slipped booze in Tuukka Rask's (28 saves) water bottle since he made one of the worst mistakes I've ever seen by an NHL goaltender that totally changed the tenor of what was shaping up to be an easy win for the Black and Gold. 58 seconds after Krug's goal, Carl Hagelin innocently floated a backhander on Rask that caused him to trip over his own skates than attempt to flail his stick at the slowly moving puck. It didn't work, 2-1 Bruins.

Rask's flask was passed to Zdeno Chara in the Bruins dressing room between periods because then it was his turn to make an unbelievable mistake that never happens. Chara was going behind Boston's net when Derek Stepan stripped the puck from him then wrapped it around the goal and in before Rask could recover. It made Tuukka look bad too but I can't blame him nearly as much as Chara, what was that?

If those goals weren't strange enough, Tyler Seguin suddenly morphed into a guy with confidence that could finish around the net. He made it 3-2 at 8:06 from Dougie Hamilton and Chara, his first goal of the playoffs looked like it might clinch the series.

About that, Boston took its annual too many men on the ice penalty which led to Boyle's goal. As hopeless as New York's power play has been, you knew that eventually they would figure it out.

The shots were even 7-7 in overtime but it felt like the B's had better scoring chances and it was only a matter of time before they ended it. As Lee Corso would say, "not so fast my friend!" Boston fell to 3-1 in overtime this postseason while New York improved to 1-3. The Bruins are 1-3 in closeout games but unlike the Maple Leafs series, this time they gave themselves one more game of breathing room. Actually forget I said that, please end it on Saturday night!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Red Sox Wrap Up 6-3 Road Trip With Another Win For Clay Buchholz

You have to be happy with the nine-game road trip (6-3) just completed by the Red Sox: they won two of three in Tampa Bay, swept Minnesota and while they struggled in Chicago, at least their ace Clay Buchholz (7-0) does what a stopper has to-end a losing streak for his team. Boston (28-19 overall, 15-9 away) beat the White Sox (21-24 overall, 10-10 home) 6-2 tonight at US Cellular Field.

It's hard to tell by his final line: seven innings, one earned run, five hits, four strikeouts and three walks but Buchholz had to battle himself in the first few innings before settling down and dominating the overmatched White Sox.

Boston never trailed as David Ortiz (2 hits, run, stolen base-seriously) hit a two-run single in the first inning. Chicago scored a run in the third on Alex Rios' groundout but that was all they'd get until a ninth inning homer in garbage time by Paul Konerko (2 hits).

It took a while but the Red Sox added some insurance runs in the eighth on Will Middlebrooks' sacrifice fly and Mike Napoli (hit, run, 3 walks) scored a run on a passed ball. Daniel Nava added a two-run single in the ninth for the final margin.

It has been a rough start to 2013 for free agent to be Jacoby Ellsbury but this might have been his best game so far: he was on base four times via two singles and two walks plus he scored a run.

With Boston nursing a 4-1 lead, Koji Uehara had a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts for his 10th hold of the season. Andrew Bailey returned to action for the first time since April 28 and his homer allowed to Konerko luckily didn't mean anything. Better to get that out of the way before he's thrust into a save situation.

The weather is supposed to be terrible for what I like to call the unofficial start to summer-Memorial Day weekend-but the Red Sox will be entertaining an old friend and decent opponent. Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians (26-19, 1st in AL Central) come to Fenway Park for four games beginning tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN). Ryan Dempster (2-4) faces Zach McAllister (3-3) then it's John Lackey (2-4) vs. Justin Masterson (7-2) on Friday (7:10 p.m., NESN), Jon Lester (6-1) vs. Scott Kazmir on Saturday afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN) and Felix Doubront (3-2) vs. Corey Kluber (3-3) on Sunday afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN).

I'm already sick of the Tito returning to Boston angle that I'm sure every shitty Red Sox beat reporter will be trotting out. Ugh, try and be original for once gentlemen. After the Indians leave, the Red Sox have a bizarre stretch with two games against the Phillies at Fenway then two games at Citizens Bank Park against the Phils. Weird scheduling bro.

UPDATE 5/24: Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks went on the DL, David Ross was activated, Jose Iglesias and Alfredo Aceves were called up and Ryan Lavarnway went down to Pawtucket. Got it?

Merlot Flavored Fribbles For All!

Remember when the Bruins were down 4-1 in the third period against the Maple Leafs in Game 7? Since Boston rallied for a once-in-a-lifetime 5-4 overtime win, they haven't looked back and continue to gain momentum. Tonight, they put the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 2-1 win at a funereal Madison Square Garden. The Bruins took a 3-0 lead in the series with a chance to sweep New York on Thursday (7 p.m., CNBC).

Daniel Paille had the game-winner on a classic Paille goal at 16:29 of third period. Shawn Thornton tipped Gregory Campbell's shot and it went over Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves) but then somehow took a U-Turn when it was about to cross the goal-line like a putt by Tiger Woods. No worries though as Paille was alert the whole time and was able to knock it in for his second goal of the playoffs.

This was a game that showed all of New York's warts, why they are going to get bounced from the playoffs and in all likelihood, burned out head coach John Tortorella will lose his job this summer. Lundqvist was amazing, a different guy than the one in Game 1 and especially Game 2. He stopped two breakaways in the first period then stood on his head in the second period as Boston blitzed New York (outshooting them 14-5).

The Rangers scored first (for the first time this series) as Taylor Pyatt tipped Ryan McDonagh's shot from the point at 3:53 of second period for his second goal of the postseason. I never got that worried though because the B's were creating so many chances. Eventually, if they kept getting them I felt like it was inevitable that Lundqvist would crack.

Nathan Horton hit the post in the second period but Johnny Boychuk finally solved the code and wristed a shot by Lundqvist 3:10 into the third period. It was the 11th goal for Bruins defensemen this postseason which leads the NHL and Boychuk's fourth goal of the playoffs which is also tops for defensemen. Daniel Paille and Thornton assisted on it with the latter winning a rare faceoff then screening Lundqvist. Boychuk almost added another later in the frame but he hit the post.

Tuukka Rask (23 saves) was victimized by Pyatt's tip in, which I felt like he still should have stopped, but he stepped up to make a big save on Rick Nash late in regulation when the Rangers decided to press for the tying goal. In the series, Rask has allowed half the amount of goals (5) that Lundqvist has given up which I believe speaks to his performance level and also New York's hopeless offense/power play.

The Rangers had the only two power plays of the game but obviously they did nothing with them. That makes them 0 for 10 in the series and 2 for 38 in the playoffs, haha how is that even possible?

Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr once again had great opportunities to get off the schneid but they couldn't do it. That likely won't matter in this round but the Bruins need at least one of those guys to wake up and find their scoring touch if they want to continue winning in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Only three NHL teams have successfully rallied from an 0-3 deficit so what's the worst that could happen? Oh right, the most recent victim of that Scarlet Letter list was the Bruins in 2010 vs. Flyers in Eastern Conference semifinals. This is the same round with the same goaltender but I'm confident Boston will close it out on in four games since New York appears to have checked out on Torts and his dumb ultra-defensive system.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tedy Bruschi Selected For The Patriots Hall Of Fame

When you think of the Patriots, one of the most influential players during their unforgettable dynasty stretch (3 Super Bowls in 4 years) last decade was linebacker Tedy Bruschi. It's hard to come up with a more likable, productive or clutch guy. He was never the most talented player but he always seemed to make plays in the biggest spots, something that has been lacking in the past eight years since New England's last Super Bowl win (2005 vs. Philadelphia). Today, the team revealed that he was rightfully elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame along with former radio broadcaster Gil Santos.

Bruschi was voted in by fans, beating out offensive tackle Leon Gray and head coach Chuck Fairbanks. He'll become the 19th former Patriot to be inducted into their Hall of Fame. It is to be determined when that ceremony will take place next season but whenever it happens, it will definitely be one of the marquee events of the 2013 season during one of the Patriots' home games.

There is a reason that you still see tons of Bruschi jerseys when you go to Gillette Stadium for Pats games. It is basically impossible to not like Bruschi since as corny as it sounds, he stood for everything that was good in pro sports and we were extremely lucky to have him play his entire career (13 seasons) in New England. Not that we didn't know it already but since he retired, you appreciate the fact even more that there are very few Tedy Bruschis in the NFL and especially on the Patriots.

Monday, May 20, 2013

All Good Things Must Come To An End: Red Sox & Jon Lester Edition

The Red Sox came into Chicago tonight having won an MLB-best five games in a row. They had Jon Lester on the mound against something called Dylan Axelrod. Of course the reverse lock was in effect as Boston (27-18 overall, 14-8 away) fell 6-4 to the White Sox (20-23 overall, 9-9 home) at US Cellular Field.

It was never really close or particularly interesting since Chicago jumped all over Lester (6-1) from the start. Adam Dunn hit a three-run bomb to right in the first inning, Alejandro De Aza had an RBI double and Alexei Ramirez added another RBI double (3 in a row for Chicago) for a 5-0 lead in the second.

Boston got on the board in the third via Jarrod Saltalamacchia's (2 hits) two-run homer (his fifth of the season) to left center but Dayan Viciedo tacked on an insurance run with an RBI single in the fifth. Middlebrooks atoned for his earlier error in a sense, although by then it was too late, with a two-run double in the seventh.

Lester's final line was ugly: six innings, six runs (five earned) on seven hits with two strikeouts and three walks. I guess that he was due for a loss. Axelrod (2-3) threw junk but it worked tonight: six innings, two earned runs on four hits with two strikeouts and a walk. White Sox manager Robin Ventura for some reason decided to take him out after only 83 pitches and he immediately paid for that curious decision since Matt Thornton served up Salty's homer.

The back end of Chicago's bullpen was solid though as Jesse Crain pitched a scoreless eighth for his 13th hold of the season and closer Addison Reed had a scoreless ninth with a strikeout to earn his 15th save of the season.

In the nightly injury to Shane Victorino segment, our favorite crippled Hawaiian left in the sixth inning with hamstring tightness. Listen, we all love the hard-nosed style he plays but it's clear that his body is completely breaking down on him. Oh well, at least the Red Sox signed him to a three-year deal. Ugh!

I'm not ready to fully devote my attention to baseball so I'm thrilled that the Bruins are still alive and playing well. Tomorrow night's Bruins-Rangers Game 3 will certainly distract me from the big Felix Doubront (3-1) vs. Jose Quintana (2-1) matchup (8:10 p.m., NESN) on the Southside of Chicago.

UPDATE 5/21: I forgot to mention yesterday that closer Andrew Bailey was activated and reliever Jose De La Torre was sent down to Pawtucket.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bruins Take Control Of Eastern Conference Semifinals Series With 5-2 Pasting Of Rangers In Game 2

Even the best goaltenders in the NHL have off-days as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves) can attest to after a 5-2 Bruins win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals this afternoon at TD Garden. This one was more wide open from the start than Game 1 with Boston leading 3-2 after two periods and they added two more goals in the third for a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 is Tuesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) at Madison Square Garden and it's not hyperbole to say that New York faces a must-win.

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (35 saves) played better than his more heralded counterpart for the second game in a row. Both of these teams make it hard on themselves at times when it comes to goal-scoring but so far this series, you wouldn't know it by the way that Boston has scored eight goals in two games.

When the B's are playing at their peak level, they get contributions from all four lines and all their defensemen. It doesn't get much more spread out than today where Boston had goals from three different lines plus another pair of goals from defensemen.

In a series with such outstanding goaltenders and pathetic power plays, I think scoring first is more important than usual. Boston has done it in both games so I don't think it's a total coincidence that they lead the series 2-0. Torey Krug scored his second goal in as many games at 5:28 of the first period. He showed incredible hands to dig the puck out of his skates then shoot it past Lundqvist, Nathan Horton and David Krejci had the assists.

New York answered 2:33 later as Ryan Callahan outraced Dougie Hamilton and skated in a breakaway which he coolly finished by Rask. Boston scored the first goal in each frame as Gregory Campbell (first goal of the playoffs) made it 2-1 at 2:24 of the second period with a sweet backhander. Krug and Adam McQuaid had the assists as Campbell was able to get to the rebound off a Ranger skate.

Once again, the Rangers quickly responded as Rick Nash woke up from his slumber to score his first goal of the postseason. It was a great goal-scorer's move too as he got past Chara then ripped a low, hard shot into the corner 56 seconds after Campbell's goal.

Skating 4-on-4, Johnny Boychuk (3rd goal of the playoffs) scored what turned out to be the game-winner at 12:08 of the second period. Patrice Bergeron started the play by winning a faceoff back to Marchand who found Boychuk for a wrister. Bergeron also screened Lundqvist.

The roof began to cave in on New York 26 seconds into the third period as Marchand scored a similar goal to his overtime winner in Game 1. He went to the net and Bergeron found him for the tip in, Matt Bartkowski had the second assist on Marchand's second goal of the postseason.

I thought the Bruins had the worst power play in the universe until I saw the Rangers. New York was 0 for 5 on the man advantage today, making them 2 for 36 in the postseason and 0 for 21 on the road. Haha how is that possible? When the B's went up by two, I felt confident and after Milan Lucic went beast mode right at Lundqvist and knocked in his own rebound at 12:39 (his third goal of the playoffs), I knew it was all over. Krejci and Dougie Hamilton had the assists.

The Rangers know how to comeback from a 0-2 deficit, in fact they did it against the Capitals in the first round. However, it will be very hard to do that again especially in the following series. That's why Game 3 is so important for both teams: the Bruins can put themselves in great shape with another win or they'll let New York climb right back into the series.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Red Sox Win Their Third Straight Game, Second In A Row Thanks To Their Final At Bat

Slowly but surely the Red Sox are starting to get their mojo back. They were down to their last strike but rallied for a 4-3 win last night in Tampa Bay then tonight they once again made a comeback that resulted in a solid win: 3-2 over the Twins in 10 innings at Target Field.

Jonny Gomes' sacrifice fly scored Dustin Pedroia (who made a couple outstanding defensive plays) with the winning run in the 10th for Boston (25-17 overall, 12-7 away). Koji Uehara was summoned for his first save opportunity with the Red Sox since Junichi Tazawa pitched two innings last night in Tampa Bay. Uehara got the job done with a 1-2-3 10th with two strikeouts against Minnesota (18-20 overall, 9-11 home).

Boston has won their last three games and they improved to 3-1 in extra innings this season. They are also 3-1 on this current road trip.

Clay Buchholz received his third straight no decision but he should deserved to snap that streak with a win. At least his team found a way to come out on top even if they didn't help his own statistics. Buchholz went seven innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits with nine strikeouts and three walks. When the Red Sox have a guy pitching this well, they basically have to win every start he makes. Through the first month and a half of the season, Buchholz is on a short list of the best pitchers in MLB with Mets youngster Matt Harvey, Diamondbacks rookie Patrick Corbin, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and Mariners ace Felix Hernandez

Twins starter Vance Worley pitched well (6 innings, 1 run, 6 hits, 1 strikeout, 3 walks) but Boston's bullpen was better than Minnesota's and that was the main difference in the final outcome. Andrew Miller went 1.2 perfect innings with three strikeouts, Alex Wilson (1-0) got the last out in the ninth which was enough for his first MLB win then Uehara closed it out.

Former Twins great David Ortiz (3 for 4, walk) drove in Daniel Nava (2 hits, walk) with an RBI single in the first inning. Pedro Florimon must love playing the Red Sox since he hit his second homer of the season-both against Boston-a two-run shot in third which gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead. The Red Sox tied it in the seventh on Jacoby Ellsbury's (stolen base) RBI single.

I wasn't really paying close attention when it happened last week but the Twins won three of four games at Fenway Park. Truth be told, Minnesota is not good so Boston can't let something like that happen again this weekend. Ryan Dempster (2-4) has a chance tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) to clinch the series for the Red Sox against Scott Diamond (3-3)-a distant cousin of former WCW star Diamond Dallas Page.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Bruins Can't Get Enough Overtime, Beat Rangers 3-2 In Game 1 On Marchand's Goal

Brad Marchand was mostly invisible in the first round series against the Maple Leafs. He had three assists, including a helper on Patrice Bergeron's series clinching OT tally in Game 7 but for the most part, he didn't play like himself. That's precisely why Bruins fans have to be psyched with what they saw from Marchand in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight at TD Garden as he scored the game-winner in OT for a 3-2 Boston win over the Rangers. Game 2 is Sunday afternoon (3 p.m., NBC) back at the Garden.

Anything can happen in overtime but it wouldn't be wrong to say that the B's deserved this after David Krejci and Johnny Boychuk hit the crossbar and post respectively in the third period then Boston dominated on a power play in the extra session but couldn't beat Henrik Lundqvist (45 saves). Boychuk even hit the post again which made you wonder if it wasn't their night. In what had to be one of the only odd man rushes of the entire tightly contested game, Marchand redirected Patrice Bergeron's centering pass at 15:40 (2nd longest game in these playoffs). Zdeno Chara had the second assist.

The first period was dull and scoreless but things started to pick up in the second period before a truly wild third period. Chara snapped Lundqvist's shutout streak at 152:23 when his shot somehow eluded the Vezina Trophy nominee (he won it last year too) and trickled past him at 12:23 of the second. David Krejci and Nathan Horton had the assists, continuing their strong playoffs.

New York scored a backbreaking goal with 1.3 seconds left in the frame as Ryan McDonagh's blast from the point found a hole by Tuukka Rask (33 saves). The Rangers used the momentum from that goal to bag another one as Derek Stepan beat Rask with a one-timer just 14 seconds into the third. Truthfully, that was one Rask would like to have back but that only made him even with Lundqvist.

No worries, rookie Torey Krug has been sent here to solve Boston's power play woes and help them win another Cup. Haha or something like that. Playing in his first career NHL playoff game, Krug scored a power play goal at 2:55 from Dougie Hamilton and Marchand. This was a man's goal, not a lucky bounce or break. After Hamilton walked it along the blue line, he passed it to Krug who hammered it home.

New York survived an interference penalty on Derek Dorsett in overtime but that man advantage seemed to really get Boston into attack mode. They peppered the Rangers with shots in OT (16-5) so it felt right for the Hockey Gods that they finished the job.

This game was the grind that everyone expected and the rest of the series should be more of the same. Since the Bruins and Rangers play similar styles and each has great goaltenders while sometimes struggling to score goals, expect plenty of one-goal, low-scoring affairs. After both teams went seven games in the first round, you can bet they'll both be happy to have an extra day off before Game 2. Time to rest their weary legs.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I'm Sad To See A Good Young Player Like Kyle Love Released, Especially For This Reason

He will never make a Pro Bowl, an All-Pro team or many highlights on Sportscenter but Patriots fans could see over the last few seasons that Kyle Love had developed into a solid defensive tackle in the NFL. That's why the news that he was released by New England this afternoon came as such a surprise.

Love made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State in 2010 and he put together two good seasons in a row in 2011 and 2012 (when he played all 16 games in the regular season plus playoffs). In fact, during last season the Pats rewarded him with a two-year deal. Apparently, New England cut him because he has Type 2 diabetes. I'm not a doctor, my name isn't Doc Slate and I don't play one on TV so I won't pretend to know the ins and outs of Type 2 diabetes. From what I read today, there have been plenty of other athletes that have played through it and had productive careers.

I can understand where the Patriots are coming from, they were clearly worried about Love's health going forward but at the same time, it seems pretty heartless (this is the NFL after all) to show him the door right away. I hope that Love can soon feel like himself again and hook on with another NFL team quickly. Haha I just hope that it's not another AFC East team since he'll certainly be extra motivated if he ever plays the Patriots.

The timing of this move was strange too since the Pats just released fellow defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick on Monday (claimed by the Jaguars on Tuesday). Other than Vince Wilfork-who is still one of the cornerstones of the franchise-New England's defensive line is looking mighty thin (no pun intended) with Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead (CFL pickup) expected to replace Love and Deaderick. I think this means that the Pats will invest in another big body between now and training camp.

UPDATE 5/16: Today Love was also claimed by Jacksonville. The Patriots signed rookie cornerback Logan Ryan. He joins former Rutgers teammates safety Duron Harmon and linebacker Steve Beauharnais who are the other two 2013 draft picks to sign with New England. They have four more guys from the draft to agree to terms with in the coming weeks or months.

UPDATE 5/17: New England signed their top pick, second round draft pick Jamie Collins (a linebacker from Southern Mississippi).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Bruins Totally Redeem Themselves With A Game 7 OT Win That We'll Never Forget

Even after a lifetime of watching sports, there are always games and moments that stick with you forever. Tonight, the Bruins added themselves to my short-list of epic comebacks as they rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the third period at TD Garden then went on to beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime of Game 7. They advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals where they'll have home ice against the New York Rangers, their Original Six rival that they haven't met in the postseason since 1973.

No NHL team had ever lived to see another day after going down by three goals in the third period of Game 7 so it's only fitting that the B's would put themselves in that impossible situation yet still somehow find a way out. Patrice Bergeron was the hero for the B's, he scored the tying goal with 51 seconds left in regulation then the game-winner at 6:05. Boston actually scored the first goal (a key in Game 7s) at 5:39 of the first period as rookie defenseman Matt Bartkowski picked the perfect time to pot his first career goal. It was unassisted following a turnover along the wall by Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson.

Toronto answered right away when Franson tied it at 9:35 with a power play goal off a rebound. Franson put the Maple Leafs on his back, scoring the go-ahead goal at 5:48 of the second period with a blast from the point. The Maple Leafs appeared to put it away early in the third as Phil Kessel scored on another Tuukka Rask (24 saves) rebound at 2:09 then Nazem Kadri did the same at 5:29 after a 2-on-1. There can't be one Bruins fan that thought a team who had scored three goals total in almost three games could erupt for three in less than 10 minutes.

Nathan Horton got the momentum turning Boston's way when he scored on a wrist shot (his fourth goal of the series) at 9:18 from Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Toronto and James Reimer (30 saves) wanted to give the B's another goal but Boston didn't seem capable of putting another puck in the net. However with Rask pulled, Lucic (2nd goal of the series) trimmed it to 4-3 following a rebound (Reimer's old friend) on Chara's blast from the point. Bergeron had the second assist. The roof basically came off the Garden when Bergeron tied it, thanks in no small part to Chara's screen of Reimer. Rask was also on the bench for Bergeron's tying goal, the second time all season (Feb. 12 vs. Rangers) Boston scored twice with a goaltender pulled. Krejci and Jaromir Jagr assisted on Bergeron's second goal of the playoffs.

In overtime, it's all about getting the puck to the net. Usually, the deciding goal comes on a broken play, lucky bounce, etc. True to form, Bergeron's goal in overtime came following a loose puck and giveaway in front of Reimer. Bergeron put it over the Toronto goaltender who was out of position after a shot got blocked. The two biggest Bruins scapegoats for this series-Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand-showed up on that shift and they were credited with the most important assists of the seven games.

Game 1 vs. New York is Thursday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) at TD Garden and Game 2 is Sunday afternoon (3 p.m., NBCSN) at TD Garden. The Rangers are coming off their own exhausting seven-game series, they rolled 5-0 against the Capitals tonight in DC (the first game won in the series by a road team). It doesn't get much better than Boston vs. New York (Red Sox vs. Yankees, Patriots vs. Giants), we already had a taste of it with Celtics-Knicks a few weeks ago. It's crazy that it has been so long since the Bruins and Rangers have met in the playoffs. Expect a low-scoring, very physical, long series dominated by the goaltenders. New York's Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the NHL and the Rangers can grind teams down with the best of them.

UPDATE 5/14: We still don't know the status of Dennis Seidenberg who only played two shifts last night before getting hurt. Today, Boston called up defenseman Torey Krug from Providence.

Adam McQuaid was nominated for the Masterson Trophy (given to overcoming injuries/adversity), Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Minnesota's Josh Harding were the other selections.

UPDATE 5/15: Patrice Bergeron was nominated for the Selky Award (defensive forward) which he won last season. Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Chicago's Jonathan Toews are the other impressive choices.

Extremely Frustrating Results: It's Called Bruins

I'm not counting on it happening anytime soon but I hope that when I have children and I teach them to love the Bruins that by then, the Black and Gold have figured out a way to close out teams and series better. Boston's bad habit has sprung up yet again as Toronto erased a 3-1 series lead with a 2-1 win tonight in Game 6 at Air Canada Centre. That forces Game 7 tomorrow night (7 p.m., NESN) at TD Garden; winner faces Rangers/Capitals who are also locked in a Game 7 tomorrow night as well.

I have trouble logically explaining how the B's could pile up 15 goals in the first four games then only two in the last two games. Yes, James Reimer (29 saves) and his defensemen have improved while Tyler Seguin (0 points in the series) and Brad Marchand (2 assists) have been ghosts all series long. Still, what is it about Boston that made them lack urgency in Game 5 on home ice? At least the effort was there from the beginning tonight but much like the last few painful months of the regular season, they can't score a goal when it counts to save their life.

Tuukka Rask had 24 saves and it was 0-0 heading into the third period. Dion Phaneuf scored his first playoff goal in five years when he deflected Nazem Kadri's shot at 1:48. James van Riemsdyk had the second assist. Phil Kessel added his second game-winner of the series following a rebound at 8:59 from JVR and Cody Franson. For the second game in a row, it took an impossible 2-0 hole in the third for the Bruins to truly wake up.

The best you can say for Boston is that they saved themselves the indignity of having a nobody like Reimer shut them out. Milan Lucic tipped in Jaromir Jagr's pass with 25 seconds left in regulation. It was Lucic's first goal of the playoffs and Zdeno Chara had the second assist.

Boston won twice as many faceoffs (40-20) but Toronto had eight more hits (58-50) and 12 more takeaways (17-5).

Game 7 is when you have to be willing to try anything to get that most important victory of the season. We saw that later this evening as Detroit head coach Mike Babcock shuffled his lines (and this was after they won Game 6) and it paid off as the Red Wings won 3-2 in Game 7 at Anaheim. With that said, I'd love to see Bruins head coach Claude Julien give Jagr a chance on the second line with Patrice Bergeron and either Brad Marchand or Tyler Seguin. One of those last two guys deserves to be demoted to the third line since they've combined for zero goals and two assists (both Marchand's) this entire series. Yuck. Jagr is clearly sick of playing with scrubs like Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley since he doesn't even try to pass it to them anymore and who could blame him?

Julien, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and numerous B's should be feeling the heat to win Game 7 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal (first round) series. The Stanley Cup win was only two years ago but it'll feel like a million if they choke this series away-on home ice no less-against an average team that has no business beating them in a seven game series. Boston has all this big game experience, tomorrow night would be a good time for that supposed advantage to kick into gear. Right now, the Leafs have all the confidence and momentum.

UPDATE 5/13: Andrew Ference is on crutches and in a boot so needless to say, he won't be playing tonight either.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Any Loss To The Blue Jays This Season Is A Bad One, Red Sox Have Dropped 7 of Their Last 9

There are few baseball games that on paper look like automatic wins: when you play a bad team, at home, with your ace on the mound, that's one of those rare occasions when a loss is simply unacceptable. The Red Sox found themselves in that scenario this afternoon and they lost 3-2 to the Blue Jays at rainy Fenway Park.

Clay Buchholz pitched very well (8 innings, 2 earned runs, 6 hits, 4 strikeouts, 3 walks) but Mark Buehrle (7 innings, 1 earned run, 5 hits, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks) was a notch better.

Toronto (14-24 overall, 7-12 away) went up 2-0 on RBI singles by Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus (run, walk) in the third and fourth innings respectively.

Boston's (22-15 overall, 13-9 home) continually shot themselves in the foot since they were 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base. They clawed back in it with an RBI triple by Jacoby Ellsbury off Darren Oliver (2-1) in the eighth and Dustin Pedroia's (2 hits, stolen base) grounder ate up shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, allowing Ellsbury to score.

It wasn't a save situation but Junichi Tazawa's first appearance since getting elevated to closer didn't go smoothly as Adam Lind (3 hits, 2 runs) cranked a solo homer off him to center in the ninth for the winning run. Toronto closer Casey Janssen pitched a scoreless ninth for his 10th save of the season.

The three game series wraps up tomorrow afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN) with another pitching matchup that favors the home team: Ryan Dempster (2-3) faces rookie Chad Jenkins, who is making his first start of 2013 (it'll be his fourth career start). After splitting the first two games, both squads are going for the series win on Mother's Day.

UPDATE 5/12: David Ross went on the 7-day DL with a concussion suffered yesterday so Ryan Lavarnway was recalled from the PawSox.

Lester's Gem Breaks Red Sox Out of Their Slump

In their first prolonged bad stretch of the 2013 season, the Red Sox needed somebody to step up and turn things around after losing three straight games to the lowly Twins and six of their last seven overall. Enter Jon Lester who threw a one-hitter tonight as Boston beat Toronto 5-0 at Fenway Park.

Not only did Lester (5-0) save the Red Sox' (22-14 overall, 13-8 home) exhausted bullpen but he turned in one of the best outings of his stellar career. Don't forget he had a no-hitter against the Royals in 2008 at Fenway and had the clinching win in Game 4 against Colorado in the 2007 World Series. After taking no decisions in his last two starts, he had great control as he struck out five and didn't walk anybody.

The Blue Jays (13-24 overall, 6-12 away) are one of the worst teams in MLB, that's the only thing that tempers this gem a bit. They could make many pitchers look like Cy Young in his prime at the moment. Their starting pitcher Ramon Ortiz (0-1) only allowed one earned run in five innings but he was still charged with the loss. It's a tough life buddy. Reliever Brett Cecil was the real culprit since he allowed three earned runs, in that case he should have taken the loss in my opinion.

The Red Sox had 10 hits and Shane Victorino was 2 for 3 with two walks and a run. Boston scored a run in the second on a ground out by Will Middlebrooks (2 doubles) then they put it away with four runs in the seventh. Dustin Pedroia (2 for 3, run, walk) had an RBI single, Daniel Nava (2 runs, walk) added a two-run double and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2 hits) closed it out with an RBI double.

It could be another long day for the Blue Jays tomorrow afternoon (1:35 p.m.) as Clay Buchholz (6-0) faces Mark Buehrle (1-2), another pitching matchup which totally favors the home team.

Friday, May 10, 2013

James Reimer Steals A Game For The Maple Leafs In The Playoffs, Wait What?

Everything lined up perfectly for the Bruins in Game 5. They were back at TD Garden, up 3-1 in the series on the Maple Leafs with a chance to send them home for good and move on, earning a much-needed break before the next grueling series. Obviously Boston enjoys a challenge since their 2-1 loss to Toronto threw a wrench into those plans. Game 6 is at Air Canada Centre on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NESN).

The fact that the Maple Leafs came out fired up and playing desperate hockey was not a surprise, what else would you expect from a team down 3-1 in a series? Oh that's right, some gutless teams like the Canadiens mail it in when faced with adversity like that. Credit to Toronto though, they earned this victory and the fact that James Reimer (43 saves) was the main reason why couldn't be more shocking.

Boston came out slow in the first period, getting outshot 19-8 but Tuukka Rask (31 saves) stood on his head and allowed his teammates to catch up. The B's woke up in the second period but the Maple Leafs drew first blood as Tyler Bozak skated in a breakaway and tucked a backhander past Rask at 11:27. It was a shorthanded goal and Andrew Ference was the goat after turning it over to Bozak in Toronto's end.

One costly turnover wasn't enough so Nathan Horton gave it away in his own zone, leading to Clarke MacArthur's backhander for a goal at 1:58 of the third period. Two unassisted goals for the Maple Leafs but truthfully, Bruins were the ones with the helpers. Facing a 2-0 hole and another flight back to Toronto, the B's really turned it on in the third. It looked like Reimer might escape with a shutout, he still gave up plenty of rebounds but tonight the Bruins couldn't take advantage.

The momentum turned Boston's way when Zdeno Chara scored his first goal of the playoffs at 11:12. David Krejci (who has a point in every game; leading NHL with 11 points) found the captain for a wicked wrist shot. Dennis Seidenberg had the second assist for Boston. The crowd got loud for the rest of the game which was almost totally spent in Toronto's end. Johnny Boychuk hit the crossbar, Jaromir Jagr had a great chance and Boston even had a late power play after a delay of game by Bozak. Somehow Reimer and the Leafs stood tall, the B's even had two shots right in the final seconds but time ran out.

The Bruins won't be afraid of Air Canada Centre, they won Game 3 and Game 4 there. They just need to have the urgency and fire that they showed in the third period when the puck drops to start Game 6. The Leafs are a decent team but there is no reason this series should go seven games, Boston has to get the job done on Sunday or else they will piss away their hard-earned 3-1 lead with nothing to show for it.

UPDATE 5/12: Andrew Ference stayed in Boston with the flu so he's out for Game 6. Matt Bartkowski and Wade Redden are expected to be in there for the Bruins.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Krejci (3 G) & Bruins Haunt Toronto's Dreams, Beat Maple Leafs 4-3 In OT For 3-1 Series Lead

They might take years off our collective lives but I honestly can't name anything in sports that are more exciting than NHL playoff games that go to overtime. The Bruins and Maple Leafs treated us to a dandy tonight at Air Canada Centre as David Krejci's OT winner gave Boston a 4-3 win in Game 4 and 3-1 series lead for the B's.

Toronto has to feel like this was one they let slip their through gloves since they led 2-0 in the first period after goals by Joffrey Lupul at 2:35 and Cody Franson at 18:32. It sounds silly but Boston actually played very well in the first period but they were the victims of the dreaded bad bounces. The Maple Leafs scored on their first shot, Krejci hit the post when James Reimer (41 saves) was down and out then Zdeno Chara (4 assists-franchise record for defensemen) screened Tuukka Rask (45 saves) on Franson's goal.

The momentum flipped 32 seconds into the second period as Patrice Bergeron buried a power play goal (first goal of the playoffs) from Chara and Jaromir Jagr. What a concept, Boston actually used a power play to its advantage. They can do that? Krejci tied it at 12:59 (3rd goal of the playoffs) from Marchand and Chara thanks to another juicy rebound by Reimer. That's more than a habit with Toronto's shaky goaltender. Krejci gave the B's their first lead at 16:39 on a sweet one-timer from Nathan Horton and Chara, another power play goal (seriously).

Another break went Toronto's way 44 seconds later as Johnny Boychuk blocked a shot but it went right to Clarke MacArthur who tied it up once again. There were no goals in the third period but the action was intense. Nazem Kadri got a four-minute penalty for high sticking Chris Kelly and drawing blood. Boston's power play couldn't take advantage but their penalty kill unit stepped up with their first clean sheet of the series (Toronto was 0 of 4). No kill was more important than late in the third period when Chara went off for high sticking.

In the third period and overtime-when it mattered most-Rask was brilliant. The game-winner (Krejci's 2nd career playoff hat trick) came after Maple Leafs bozo/captain Dion Phaneuf tried to drill Horton, mostly missed and took himself out of the play in Boston's end. Krejci walked in with Lucic but never dished it (thank God). Instead, he waited out Reimer then just slid it under him. Horton and Chara had the helpers on the memorable tally at 13:06.

Boston will try to close the series out on Friday (7 p.m., NESN) in Game 5 at what should be a rocking TD Garden. By winning both games in Toronto, the Bruins have totally taken over this series after splitting in Boston.

UPDATE 5/10: Wade Redden is out with an undisclosed injury in Game 5 so Matt Bartkowski was recalled from Provdience and he's expected to skate on the third line with Adam McQuaid.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I'll Never Badmouth Stephen Drew Again, Haha Yeah Right

When Stephen Drew gets elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, we'll all remember this night. Haha I'll try again. When the Red Sox win the World Series this October, May 6 will be a game we should point to as a turning point. Ok that's unlikely but at least somewhat in the realm of possibilities.

Boston (21-11 overall, 12-5 home) desperately needed a win after getting humbled and swept by the Rangers this past weekend in Texas. They made it harder on themselves than it had to be since Joel Hanrahan blew a save in the ninth but ultimately the Red Sox got a 6-5 win over Minnesota (13-15 overall, 6-9 away) in 11 innings tonight at Fenway Park. Drew (4 for 5 w/HR, 3 RBIs) was the hero with a walk-off double that scored Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Another reason that the Red Sox couldn't afford a loss is because their ace-Clay Buchholz-was going against a bad team, at home. The reverse lock struck again as Buchholz struggled (relative term) for the first time this season: 6 innings, 4 earned runs, 7 hits, 9 strikeouts, 2 walks.

The Twins actually had a 3-0 lead thanks to an RBI double by Josh Willingham and RBI single by Justin Morneau in the first inning followed by an RBI double by Aaron Hicks in the fourth. Former Phillies great Vance Worley (5 innings, 3 earned runs, 9 hits, 3 strikeouts) couldn't protect the lead. His former teammate Shane Victorino hit his first home run as a Red Sox (to right field) to cut it to 3-1 in the fourth.

Morneau made it 4-1 with a sacrifice fly in the fifth but Drew's RBI single in the fifth, Mike Napoli's RBI single in the sixth and Drew's solo homer to right in the seventh (2nd of the season) tied it at four. Dustin Pedroia also hit his first homer of the season, over the Monster in the eighth to give Boston a 5-4 lead.

With Andrew Bailey placed on the 15-day DL (right biceps strain) earlier today, Craig Breslow was called up from Pawtucket (where he was rehabbing) and he had a 1-2-3 eighth with one strikeout. The road predictably got much bumpier in the ninth where tub of goo Joel Hanrahan couldn't nail down the save against the Twins (great sign). Brian Dozier tied it with a solo shot to center. Later in the inning, Hanrahan left with another injury (he recently recovered from a hamstring issue), what they termed "right forearm tightness." Maybe the Red Sox should stop trading for injury prone closers from terrible teams? Just a thought.

No worries, we all knew that Drew would wind up leading Boston to victory for one fleeting game. His double off the scoreboard on the Monster was a nice moment for a guy that has been a disaster so far in his brief Red Sox career. Clayton Mortensen (1-2) picked up the win with 2.1 scoreless innings of relief.
If Boston is in a save situation tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN), I have no idea who will take the hill. All I know is that Ryan Dempster (2-2) gets the start against young lefty Scott Diamond (2-2).

UPDATE 5/7: Step right up Junichi Tazawa, you're the next Red Sox closer (for a few days at least before you inevitably get hurt or aren't effective)!

UPDATE 5/7: Hanrahan went on the DL again, Allen Webster was called up to start tomorrow night's game and Felix Doubront was sent to the bullpen. Doubront will reportedly be available in relief beginning tonight.

UPDATE 5/9: That tub of goo Hanrahan went on the 60-day DL and he's going to see Dr. James Andrews on Friday so I doubt we'll see him again this season. Webster was sent back to the PawSox and Jose De La Torre was called up. For now, Junichi Tazawa is Boston's closer.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bruins Completely Ruin Toronto's First Home Playoff Game In 9 Years, Winning Game 3 5-2

There is no better way to troll Canada than to have an American NHL team go up there and win an important game. In that way, Boston made the U.S. proud tonight as they won 5-2 in Toronto's Air Canada Centre in Game 3, giving the B's a 2-1 series lead.

The Bruins never trailed as they scored the first goal then jumped ahead 4-1 in the second period before letting Tuukka Rask (career-high 45 saves) close it out in the third period when the Maple Leafs bombarded them with shots on goal (18-6).

Speaking of Rask, Toronto goaltender James Reimer (33 saves) is no Rask. Boston's first goal set the tone for him as he allowed Adam McQuaid to score his first career playoff goal on a slap shot from just inside the blue line at 13:42 of the first period. Milan Lucic (3 assists) and David Krejci (1 goal, 2 assists) assisted on the goal that never should have happened. I don't know how Reimer didn't stop it, he wasn't really screened and it wasn't deflected.

Toronto's weak defense was the issue on Boston's second goal as Jaromir Jagr stripped Ryan O'Byrne behind Reimer's net then fed Rich Peverley for a one-timer at 5:57 of the second period. Boston's much-maligned third line cashed in its first goal (and points) of the series.

The Maple Leafs solved Rask with a power-play goal from Jake Gardiner at 13:45 of the second period after the B's failed to clear the puck out of the slot. The good news was that Boston responded like a top team should. Nathan Horton scored a goal in his third straight game, finishing off a one-timer from Lucic that ended up lodged on the camera inside the goal. Krejci had the second assist at 14:35, only 50 seconds after Gardiner's strike.

If that goal by the B's didn't take all the energy out of the building, the next one certainly did as Daniel Paille took the puck away from Phil Kessel on a power play and went in alone for a sweet backhander. That shorthanded goal gave Boston the 4-1 lead at 16:37 that they would never relinquish.

Kessel sort of atoned for his gaffe by scoring a power-play goal 47 seconds into the third period on a rebound. That's as close as the Maple Leafs would get though and Krejci sent the nice people of Toronto streaming for the exits with an empty-netter with 1:17 left in the game.

If Game 1 taught us anything, it's that we can't get too cocky even after a great victory by the Black and Gold. They need to show that they can put efforts like this together consistently, not sporadically. Game 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m., NESN) is a wonderful chance to really take control of this series and put Toronto on the brink of elimination.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Maple Leafs Record Their 1st Playoff Win In 9 Years

The Maple Leafs looked like a completely different team tonight in Game 2 at TD Garden than the shell-shocked, overwhelmed squad that lost 4-1 to the Bruins in Game 1 on Wednesday. Toronto got what they came for-a road win-with a 4-2 victory over Boston. Game 3 shifts back to Toronto's Air Canada Centre starting on Monday (7 p.m., NESN).

This was the Maple Leafs' first playoff win since April 30, 2004 and they certainly earned it. Unlike in Game 1, they didn't score the game's first goal but that didn't matter since they hit the Bruins with a three-goal run spanning the second period and start of the third. James Reimer (39 saves) gave up some juicy rebounds all night but the Bruins were only able to capitalize on one of them. He was good enough to notch his first career playoff win.

Tuukka Rask (28 saves) actually played really well with some outstanding stops but there is only so much he can do when his leaky defense is giving up breakaways and not taking care of guys right on his doorstep. It wasn't the reason they lost the game but Boston certainly missed the services of Andrew Ference (suspended for Game 2 after his elbow of Mikhail Grabovski in Game 1). That changed all the defensive pairings, the excellent combo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg was broken up in favor of Chara and Adam McQuaid; Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk; rookie Dougie Hamilton (playing in his first career NHL playoff game) and Wade Redden. As you'd expect, things didn't go that well. That's why I think Hamilton will be a healthy scratch again in Game 3 when Ference returns.

Speaking of suspensions, don't be shocked if Maple Leafs goon/ladies man Dion Phaneuf misses a game after he elbowed Daniel Paille in a very similar play to what earned Ference a seat on the ninth floor.

Nathan Horton scored a goal for the second straight game, at 1:56 of the second period to give Boston its only lead (1-0). Milan Lucic and David Krejci assisted as Horton drove to the net and was lucky enough to have the puck bounce off his skate (which he didn't mean to do) past Reimer.

Toronto is a Canadian hockey team (you learn something new every day) so just like the Canucks and Canadiens, they have to dive like their life depends on that. There must be something in the water up there. It turned out well in Game 2 since a flop earned a tripping call on Chara which led to Joffrey Lupul's goal at 5:18 of the second period. Lupul tipped a shot from the point and then fought for his rebound, assists went to Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarsson.

Lupul gave the Leafs the lead for good at 11:56 with a backhander from Matt Frattin and Phaneuf. For whatever reason, Toronto seemed to win most battles for the puck and they were rewarded time and again.

Things went so well for Toronto that even Phil Kessel managed to score a goal. Seidenberg and Boychuk were caught napping in the Leafs' zone and Nazem Kadri hit Kessel with a stretch pass for a breakaway. He beat Rask 53 seconds into the third period for a 3-1 advantage. Ryan Hamilton had the second assist.

At least the Bruins didn't give up as Boychuk was credited with a goal at 10:35 that appeared to bounce off Seguin (who had screened Reimer). The Bruins had a boatload of chances for the next few minutes but the Leafs hung on and James van Rimesdyk notched his second goal in as many games with a beautiful backhander at 16:53.

Shawn Thornton and Mark Fraser fought with 0.5 seconds left, showing you how nasty this series is starting to get. The Maple Leafs actually had nine more hits (44-35) than the Bruins so that must have been a point of emphasis after they were manhandled in Game 1.

Celtics Fall 88-80 To Knicks In Game 6, Let The Breakup Begin

Listen, we all knew this day would eventually come. There is a reason no team has ever rallied from a 3-0 hole in the NBA playoffs. Likewise, as much as we want them to be, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett won't be Celtics forever. It seems only right that in possibly their last game together, the Celts fell 88-80 to the Knicks in one of the most bizarre contests tonight at TD Garden in Game 6 of the first round.

The Knicks move on to face the Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals beginning on Sunday afternoon. Go Indiana! New York won its first playoff series since 2000 while Boston lost in the first round for the first time since KG (15 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals) came aboard in 2007-08 (when they won the NBA title). The Knicks should have won this game by about 40 points since the Celts managed 10 points in the first quarter and 27 in the first half. Ugh, seriously. That will be one of the lasting memories of this series, the wretched offensive performances by the C's in almost every game.

The Knicks led by as much as 26 (75-49) early in the fourth quarter before the Celtics hit them with a 20-0 run. Yes, that really happened. Suddenly, Boston cut it to a four-point game (79-75) after Avery Bradley's (10 points, 3 steals) dunk with 3:31 left in regulation. To quote KG from five years ago, "Anything's possible!" Unfortunately, that wasn't the case this evening though as Iman Shumpert (17 points, 6 rebounds) and J.R. Smith (13 points, 7 rebounds) made plays down the stretch while Carmelo Anthony (21 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) continued to be the most unclutch superstar in the NBA. Hell Pablo Prigioni (14 points, 5 rebounds) played better than him, Raymond Felton had 11 points, seven assists and two steals while Tyson Chandler added 9 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.

Jeff Green (21 points, 5 rebounds) showed plenty of heart (no pun intended), going to the line a whopping 14 times (two less than New York as a team). Whenever Garnett and Pierce leave, this will quickly become Rajon Rondo and Green's team. That is a scary proposition but at least this season, Green proved that when he puts his mind to it, he has the potential to be a star. I'd love to see Pierce return, if for no other reason than to erase the memory of one of his worst games as a Celtic: 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Crap like guys retiring with a certain team usually doesn't mean much to me but in this case, I think he's earned that right. However, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has to do a much better job of surrounding Pierce (1 year left on his deal) and KG (two years left) with more talent.

Jason Terry had 14 points and he sounded like he's not ready to retire quite yet. He was a bust for most of the season but maybe with another season in Green and White, he would become more comfortable. Of course, one could argue that the biggest domino in this whole scenario is head coach Doc Rivers. In the emotional aftermath of this loss, he sounded very unsure of his future in Boston. Obviously, they'll have him here as long as he wants to stay. Still, like Garnett and Pierce, he is too good to have to go through another rebuilding mode. Who could blame him if he wants to leave (assuming KG and Pierce also walk out)?

I feel like I wrote the exact same thing last June after Boston lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, and I'm too tired to look it up, but I can say with certainty that this will truly be a fascinating summer. Does Ainge go for it one more time with this nucleus plus a healthy Rondo, Jared Sullinger and a better supporting cast and bench? Or does he blow it up completely and start to move on? Tough decisions, that's presumably why he gets paid the big bucks and I'm just a lowly blogger.