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Saturday, November 30, 2013

It's Going To Be Another Long Season for the Blue Jackets

In terms of irrelevant pro sports teams, you'd be hard pressed to top the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are so useless that it is a struggle to come up with funny and/or original ways to make light of them. Boston (18-7-2) beat them 3-1 tonight at TD Garden, the third time in three meetings this season that they've come away with two points vs. Columbus (10-14-3). It's a shame that we won't see them again until the Eastern Conference playoffs, haha yeah right!

At least the Blue Jackets put up a good fight. They had two shots on goal in the first period, seven in the second and five in the third. Yeesh. Competing against teams like that, Chad Johnson (4-1-1; 13 saves) might never lose! Milan Lucic (2 goals) and David Krejci (2 assists) certainly enjoyed their time against the punching bags, I mean Blue Jackets.

Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to Bergeron's goal at 9:02 in the first period. His wrist shot along the boards had eyes through Curtis McElhinney's sad five-hole. It was Bergeron's eighth goal of the season and second in two days, Dougie Hamilton and Brad Marchand had the assists.

Lucic's first goal was on the power play, a tip-in at 14:58 of the first period from Torey Krug and Krejci. It was a night of firsts for Looch-his first power-play goal since March 2012 and his first fight of the season as well. Poor Dalton Prout was the hapless loser that had the honor of feeling Lucic's fists all over his face.

By making it 3-0 at 2:15 of the third period with his 11th goal of the season (2nd multi-goal game), Lucic put the Blue Jackets to bed. Ryan Johansen's power play goal prevented the ultra rare Chad Johnson shutout. If that had transpired, many in the crowd might have passed out from shock.

The Bruins are off until Thursday when they visit the Canadiens (15-9-3). Let the hype for the first meeting of the season begin for these Original Six blood rivals.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Cavaliers Are A Disgrace, No Wonder LeBron Left that Loser City

There are so many hopeless teams in the NBA, the Celtics really have their hands full if they want to finish with one of the worst records this season. One of those miserable squads slinked into TD Garden tonight and took a beating as Boston (7-11 overall, 3-5 home) beat Cleveland (4-12 overall, 1-9 away) 103-86.

Two things tell you all that you need to know about this game incase you hopefully had better things to do than watch it like me. Jordan Crawford notched his third career triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists while the Cavs managed to only score 10 points in the first quarter. The C's started the game on an 18-2 run and basically this outcome was never even in question. Woo!

Each Celtics starter had at least 11 points led by Jeff Green's season-high 31 points and five rebounds. Avery Bradley defied logic by shooting 9 of 11 from the field for 21 points, Brandon Bass had 12 points and eight rebounds and Jared Sullinger added 12 points.

Honestly, you have to feel for Kyrie Irving-one of the best players in the league. He has never been able to stay healthy for long stretches but now that he is feeling good, his team blows. Irving had 17 points while Dion Waiters had the definition of a stats padding night with 21 points and six assists.

I'm not going to write off a guy 16 games into his NBA career but I have absolutely no clue what Cleveland saw in Anthony Bennett (4 points, 3 turnovers in 20 minutes) to make him the No. 1 pick in June. He seems to have bust written all over him.

Boston has a sneaky easy back-to-back as they travel to Milwaukee (2-13, 5th in Central Division) tomorrow (9, CSN). The bad news for astute fans is that the Bucks are the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Oh and the game after that for both teams is Tuesday in Boston. Ahh!

Week 13 Injury Report: Patriots at Texans

Coming off primetime matchups and possible playoff previews the last two weeks against the Panthers and Broncos respectively, this week's Patriots-Texans game has about the same amount of appeal as the fourth preseason game. Houston (2-9) has lost nine games in a row so even though lazy writers and announcers will be calling it a trap game for New England (8-3), come on get real folks.

Anywho, today the injury report for this sure to be forgettable game was released. New England has already declared three guys out for Sunday (1, CBS): Marcus Cannon (ankle), Aaron Dobson (foot) and Michael Hoomanawanui (knee). Seven Patriots are questionable: Marquice Cole (shin), Rob Gronkowski (back), Alfonzo Dennard (knee), Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin), Steve Gregory (thumb) and Chris White (back).

Things are much simpler for the Texans. They only have one guy that is out so far: safety Jawanza Starling (hamstring). Two players are questionable for the home team: cornerback Kareem Jackson (ribs) and cornerback Brice McCain (hamstring).

Not that you care but I will update this on Sunday before the opening kickoff at Reliant Stadium.

UPDATE 11/30: Dennard is out. I have no idea why the Patriots rushed him back so quickly last week vs. Denver coming off knee surgery.

UPDATE 12/1: The inactives for the Patriots: Steve Beauharnais, Dennard, Jake Bequette, Dobson, Stevan Ridley, Hoomanawanui and Cannon. For the Texans: T Andrew Gardner, DE Tim Jamison, G Alex Kupper, OLB Ricky Sapp, Starling, G Cody White and QB T.J. Yates.

Bruins Find Another Way to Beat the Rangers

It must be tough to be on the Rangers right now knowing that they are right there with the Bruins except that Boston recently almost always ends up on top. On November 19, Tuukka Rask stole two points for the Bruins at Madison Square Garden and today at TD Garden, Boston (17-7-2) rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the third period for a satisfying 3-2 win over New York (13-13-0). Going back to last postseason, Boston has won six of its last seven games vs. their Original Six rivals.

Brad Marchand played arguably his best game of the season and it all began with a nice one-timer for a goal at 11:42 of the first period. Marchand's fourth goal of the season was assisted by Zdeno Chara and Loui Eriksson. New York answered quickly, times two. Rick Nash showed off his range of skills by going around the net then beating Tuukka Rask (17 saves) with a snap shot at 13:04. Less than a minute and a half later, Ryan McDonagh pinched in the offensive zone and his shot from the point found its way into the net.

Boston slowly started to find their legs as they peppered Henrik Lundqvist (25 saves) with quality shots (forget quantity) including two off the post by Chara and Torey Krug. Speaking of Big Z, he picked the perfect time to start a fight (his first of the season and only his third in the last two campaigns) vs. former BC star Brian Boyle. You won't find a more even matchup for Chara in terms of size in the NHL but that didn't prevent him from dominating Boyle.

That spark carried over to the third period as Patrice Bergeron notched his first point in seven games on a fortuitous bounce. His one-timer from Brad Marchand and Johnny Boychuk deflected in off a New York defenseman parked in front of Lundqvist. I thought Eriksson touched it but apparently not because the goal (Bergeron's 7th of the season) was never credited to anyone else.

It was fitting that the captain finished off Boston's rival with the game-winning goal at 11:05. David Krejci assisted (his team-high 15th) as Chara somehow found plenty of space in the slot and let rip a low laser aided by Milan Lucic's screen of Lundqvist. His sixth goal of the season gave him the famed Gordie Howe hat trick. New York had a chance to tie after a too many men on the ice call on Boston but the Bruins' penalty kill (5-for-5) and Rask stood tall. The Rangers pulled Lundqvist and called a timeout but they couldn't prevent another loss that left them at sitting exactly at .500.

The week from hell (5 games in 8 days) concludes tomorrow back at the Garden vs. Columbus (9-13-3). Boston will be going for the season sweep of the Blue Jackets after a 3-1 win in Columbus October 12 and a 3-2 overtime win in Boston on November 14 (Lucic's blocked shot then breakaway). The weird part is that they won't see Nathan Horton in any of those matchups, what a shame.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chandler Jones Named AFC Defensive Player of the Month; Tom Brady Named AFC Offensive Player of the Week

Coming off the glow of Sunday night's unforgettable comeback win vs. Denver, the Patriots (8-3) had a little more to celebrate this afternoon as defensive end Chandler Jones was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November and Tom Brady earned the AFC Offensive Player of the Week honor for his stellar game against the Broncos.

With his sack of Peyton Manning, Jones (10.5 sacks) became only the 10th player in franchise history to reach double-digit sacks. With five more games, he has plenty of time to really add to his already impressive total. In three games in November, he had nine tackles, eight assists and four sacks. For the season, he is credited with 32 tackles, 29 assists and one forced fumble. In his second season, Jones has made the leap that Patriots fans were hoping for. Outside of maybe Rob Ninkovich, he is the most important player on New England's defense since he consistently pressures the quarterback.

Unlike Manning who sneaky hates to play in the cold (why'd he choose Denver?), Brady always thrives when the weather is at its worst. Sunday was no different since he went 34 of 50 for 344 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Because of his own natural aging and loss of many key weapons at one time or another, this has been far from Brady's best season of his legendary career. He is 257 of 430 (59.8%) for 2896 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The good news is that with Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen all healthy the last two weeks, New England's offense has been much more dangerous.

The Patriots are comfortably in second place in the AFC and the AFC East division title is a given with a three-game lead on the Jets and Dolphins. As usual, their schedule down the stretch is one cupcake after the next as they don't play another team over .500 the rest of the way. Haha how is that even possible? They visit the Texans (2-9) on Sunday (1, CBS), oh by the way Houston has lost its last nine games in a row.

UPDATE 11/30: The Patriots re-signed Green and Forston to the practice squad.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bruins Beat Penguins 4-3 in Overtime on Krug's Laser

The B's certainly have enjoyed not deciding things in regulation lately. Boston (16-6-2 overall, 10-3-2 home) went to overtime for the third game in a row at TD Garden and for the second consecutive game they skated off as winners as Torey Krug beat Marc-Andre Fleury 34 seconds into the extra session. The last couple minutes could best be described as bonkers since Pittsburgh (15-9-1 overall, 5-6-1 road) tied it with 0.3 seconds left on Sidney Crosby's (who else?) goal.

In past years, the Bruins would have never recovered from such a painful choke in regulation but this is a new team (we think). Tuukka Rask (28 saves) kept them in it when they were outshot 10-5 in the first period and 11-8 in the second period. Boston actually grabbed a 2-0 lead as Loui Eriksson scored on a breakaway and backhander at 12:27 of the first period and Reilly Smith added a power play goal a little over three minutes later. Eriksson's goal-his fifth of the season-was assisted by Carl Soderberg. Smith's fifth goal of the season was assisted by Soderberg and Eriksson, a beautiful passing sequence by three guys with serious chemistry.

James Neal came to play as he cut it to 2-1 37 seconds into the second period following a turnover by Boston in their own end. Similar to Smith's goal, he was alone in front and Jussi Jokinen found him. Rask had no chance to stop it. Once again, Neal was the culprit who tied it at 11:09 of the third period on a rocket of a one-timer from Jokinen. The puck handcuffed Johnny Boychuk and the Penguins were all too happy to take advantage.

Zdeno Chara didn't want to go to overtime as he put the B's back ahead 3-2 at 14:45. His shot from the point was tipped mistakenly by Crosby with Milan Lucic screening Fleury in front. You had the feeling something bad would happen to Boston in the final minute when they couldn't clear the puck out with Pittsburgh having the extra skater on the ice. It's not like Crosby will miss from a few feet away from the cage either.

The Bruins are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, they will next play in Detroit on Wednesday (7:30, NESN). Where else would they prefer to spend Thanksgiving Eve? Boston gets rewarded (I guess?) with a back-to-back at the Garden: Friday afternoon vs. Rangers and Saturday night vs. Blue Jackets.

Patriots Set a Franchise Record by Rallying from 24-0 Deficit, Beat Broncos 34-31 in OT

Sunday night's game at Gillette Stadium between the Patriots and Broncos defied explanation. Denver (9-2 overall, 3-2 away) stormed out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and led 24-0 at halftime. New England (8-3 overall, 6-0 home) began by fumbling time after time before playing like a whole different team in the second half. Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal in overtime was the game-winner as the Pats beat the Broncos 34-31, a victory that will live forever in team lore since it set a record for the largest comeback in franchise history.

Tom Brady (34 of 50, 344 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) improved to 10-4 in his career vs. Peyton Manning (19 of 36 for 150 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). It was a throwback to the championship days of the last decade for the Patriots as Brady performed so well in frigid conditions while Peyton wilted in the spotlight. We can only hope that same thing happens in the postseason since these two teams looked destined to meet again come January.

New England's gameplan on defense was obviously to let Knowshon Moreno (career-high 37 carries, 224 yards, 1 TD) run it all the time and contain Denver's lethal passing game. In that sense, mission accomplished. Rookie Logan Ryan even had an interception of Manning.

Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount fumbled on consecutive drives in the first half to they were benched for the rest of the game. Shane Vereen (60 yards receiving, 31 yards rushing) is making a case to start although you have to worry about his injury history. It makes you wonder if Ridley will ever get over this terrible affliction? Wes Welker's (4 catches, 31 yards) return to Foxboro was mostly forgettable save for the fact that the game was basically decided by his mistake. Fielding a punt in OT, he didn't yell at teammate Tony Carter enough so the ball bounced off him and was recovered by Nate Ebner at the Broncos 13. Game over.

After being a non-factor for weeks, Von Miller (8 tackles, 6 solos, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits) is definitely back on his proper "training regimen" (cough, cough). He returned Ridley's fumble 60 yards for a score then forced a Brady fumble that Denver turned into a 2-yard TD run by Moreno. Matt Prater added a 27-yard field goal and Jacob Tamme caught a 10-yard TD in the second quarter for a truly stunning 24-0 Broncos advantage.

With so much hype around Welker and Danny Amendola (3 catches, 17 yards), wouldn't you know the best slot receiver in the game turned out to be Julian Edelman (9 catches, 110 yards; 3 punt returns, 39 yards). He got the rally started with a pretty 5-yard TD catch. Brandon Bolden cut it to 24-14 with a 1-yard TD run. That was set up by Montee Ball's fumble, caused by Dane Fletcher and recovered by Brandon Spikes.

As usual, nobody on the Broncos could contain Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 90 yards) who caught a 6-yard TD with 19 seconds left in the third quarter. The Pats ended up with 31 unanswered points as the injuries piled up for the Broncos secondary. Edelman put New England ahead 28-24 with a 14-yard catch and run then Gostkowski hit a 31-yard field goal.

The only time Peyton ever looked comfortable was on Denver's final drive of regulation when they tied it on a beautiful 11-yard catch by Demaryius Thomas. Denver lost the coin toss in overtime but the always clever Bill Belichick chose to take the 20+ mph wind, trusting his defense not to allow a TD on the Broncos' first drive (thus ending it).

As of right now, there isn't another team over .500 remaining on New England's schedule. To use Dan Shaughnessy's favorite phrase, it's one tomato can after another. This means that the Patriots will win the AFC East for the millionth time in a row (duh), get the No. 2 seed and go from there. Truthfully, in the AFC who do you fear besides the Broncos? I say nobody. Tonight's incredible win, especially the way it played out should go a long way for this team (and hopefully have the opposite effect on Denver).

Next Sunday (1, CBS), New England visits Houston (2-9, 3rd in AFC South) who have lost their last seven games in a row including 13-6 today at Reliant Stadium vs. similarly hapless Jacksonville.

UPDATE 11/26: The Patriots made a bunch of minor roster moves today. They signed tight end D.J. Williams and released defensive tackle Marcus Forston. Defensive tackle A.J. Francis was claimed by the Dolphins from New England's practice squad. Finally, the Pats waived cornerback Justin Green but he has practice squad eligibility so he should be back there and they tried out former offensive lineman Nick McDonald. Got that all?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bruins Beat Hurricanes 3-2 in OT on Krejci's Goal

It shouldn't have gone to overtime in the first place, mainly because the Hurricanes stink, but at least the Bruins were able to fully wake up in the extra session as David Krejci scored at 1:28 to end the proceedings. Boston (15-6-2) remains in first place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Penguins and the B's actually have a game in hand on Pittsburgh as well.

Krejci hadn't scored a goal in his previous seven games so his fourth of the season had to be a little extra sweet given the drought and the way it wrapped up a game for his club. Jarome Iginla did much of the work by getting Cam Ward (35 saves) to commit then sliding it back to Krejci who waited out Ward before roofing the puck. Johnny Boychuk had the second assist.

It's hard not to hate Saturday afternoon games at TD Garden since they are usually terrible and the B's never play any good teams at that unappealing time slot in front of a mostly lifeless (I blame all the children) crowd. Today's contest featured Boston's backup goaltender Chad Johnson (22 saves) vs. Carolina (8-10-5), are you not entertained? The Hurricanes put up more of a fight than Monday on their home ice (a 4-1 loss) but where did that get them? Actually, I take that back. They "earned" that lame point just for getting to overtime.

Andrej Sekara opened the scoring at 5:53 of the first period with a cheap power play goal. His weak wrist shot from the point didn't get tipped or anything wild but it still found its way past Johnson.

"Mr. Power Play" Zdeno Chara answered with a-you guessed it-power play goal, his fourth of the season (all his goals have come on the man advantage). It was one of the few mistakes made by Ward as he kicked out a rebound on Milan Lucic's shot and Chara was there to hit it in. Torey Krug-another power play specialist-had the second assist as Boston took a 2-1 lead.

Somehow someway (thanks Snoop Dogg) youngster Reilly Smith keeps finding ways to contribute offensively. Today, he slipped a backhander past Ward at 13:31 of the second period. That was Smith's fourth goal of the season. The motley crew of Carl Soderberg and Matt Bartkowski assisted on Smith's tally.

A turnover in Carolina's end on the power play led to a breakaway by something called Patrick Dwyer. He tied it at two at 11:10 with his unassisted shorthanded goal.

Mercifully, these teams only meet once more this season (March 15 in Boston). I'm way more interested in the Bruins' next heavily anticipated game: on Monday (7, NESN) vs. the Penguins (15-9-0, 1st in Metropolitan Division). They met on October 30 in Pittsburgh, a game the home team captured 3-2. This should be fun since it is the first time Pittsburgh has been in the Garden since they were swept in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Oh and Iginla changed sides in this fresh new rivalry.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Jordan Crawford Is Just the Man to Lead the Celtics to the NBA Lottery

Every good movement needs a leader and if the Celtics are going to be everything we think they can be-namely one of the NBA's worst teams this season-they need an uber bozo calling the shots. Someone so delusional and such an egomaniac that they will run this franchise right into the ground. Enter Jordan Crawford. Nobody would deny that he can score (team-high 24 points) but as long as he plays point guard, the Celtics won't win many games which is all we can ask for.

Tonight at TD Garden, Crawford had six turnovers as Boston (4-10 overall, 2-4 home) dropped their sixth straight game-97-82 to Indiana (11-1 overall, 5-1 away). This was an instant classic for the Green and White since they actually led 50-42 at halftime then they were outscored 25-8 in the third quarter en route to another decisive setback.

It was hard to choose the main star for Indiana as Paul George scored a game-high 27 points, Lance Stephenson (10 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) notched his second career triple-double, David West put up 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals while Luis Scola had 17 points off the bench.

Crawford almost always had the ball so that left little time for his teammates to do anything. Jeff Green scored 20 empty points while Jared Sullinger worked for 13 points and five rebounds.

I can already smell their seventh straight loss since Boston is in Atlanta (8-5 overall, 2nd in Southeast Division) tomorrow night (7:30, CSNNE) for a back-to-back contest. Josh Smith is gone from the Hawks and Philips Arena is a joke but let's hope that Atlanta takes care of business against the reeling Celts.

Week 12 Injury Report: Patriots vs. Broncos

Hey everyone, did you hear? The Patriots (7-3) host the Broncos (9-1) on Sunday night (8:25, NBC) at Gillette Stadium! I bet this is the first time all week that you've read about this game which I actually think could be pretty decent. Today, the injury report came out for this huge AFC showdown.

For New England, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) is the only player on either team who has already been declared out. Five guys are questionable: Kyle Arrington (groin), Alfonzo Dennard (knee), Steve Gregory (finger), Aqib Talib (hip) and Leon Washington (ankle). You'll notice that the first four are key parts of the Patriots' secondary. I'm confident that Arrington, Gregory and Talib will play. Dennard had surgery last week so I'd be stunned if he played and Washington never suits up so I won't hold my breath for him.

Denver has already taken much of the intrigue leading up to kickoff out of it by saying that Wes Welker (concussion) is probable. Obviously we all want to see him play (and in a weird way, torch the Pats) but I hope they don't rush him back simply because they are playing New England. You can't mess with head injuries as former NFL players have taught us in recent history. Fossil cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) and budding young star tight end Julius Thomas (knee) are the only Broncos that are questionable.

Stay tuned on Sunday afternoon/early evening as I update this with the remaining inactives. After that, let Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth (the best in the business) take us away.

UPDATE 11/23: The Patriots released Washington (for the second time) and promoted cornerback Justin Green from the practice squad.

UPDATE 11/24: The Patriots inactives are Gregory, Hooman, Jake Bequette, Steve Beauharnais, Marcus Forston, Josh Boyce and Chris Barker. The inactives for the Broncos are QB Zac Dysert, RB Ronnie Hillman, Bailey, S Michael Huff, OL J.D. Walton, G Chris Kuper and Julius Thomas.

The Offseason Has Officially Begun for the Red Sox: Meet Their Newest Addition, Burke Badenhop

Some day, this could be a nice bit of Red Sox trivia. Who was the first guy they signed to their 40-man roster following the 2013 World Series title? Answer: right-handed reliever Burke Badenhop. He was obtained from Milwaukee for minor league left-handed pitcher Luis Ortega.

Badenhop has played in MLB for six seasons (his first four coming in Florida) and if his spectacular name sounds familiar, it's because he was on Tampa Bay in 2012. For the Rays, he was 3-2 with five holds, 3.03 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 66 appearances. Last season with the Brewers, his numbers were very slightly down but remember that Milwaukee was terrible. He went 2-3 with a save, five holds, 3.47 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 63 games.

His most impressive number is 12, that's how many walks he allowed in 2013 (62.1 innings). He only struck out 42 so he must not have great stuff and thus he lives the nomadic life of a middle reliever. If anything, he's a guy with plenty of MLB experience that they can take to Spring Training and see if something positive happens. If not, who cares?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bruins-Blues Wouldn't Be a Bad Stanley Cup Final in June

The NHL would do backflips to have a Bruins-Blackhawks rematch in the Stanley Cup Final but after tonight's excellent regular season game between St. Louis and Boston, we can be sure that Blues-Bruins wouldn't be a bad consolation prize (television ratings be damned). The only downside of this evening's proceeding at TD Garden was that it had to be decided in a lame shootout. St. Louis (15-3-3) beat Boston (14-6-2) 3-2 as they scored twice (Alexander Steen and Derek Roy) in the shootout and the Bruins only managed one goal (Patrice Bergeron). Death to the shootout (picks up pitch fork, lights torch)!

I've said for years that St. Louis is basically the Western Conference equivalent of Boston so it was nice to see it up close with my own eyes. Haha I was right after all! The Blues don't have many stars or big names but they have a bunch of solid hockey players. Jaroslav Halak (29 saves) is probably their biggest question mark when they inevitably get into the playoffs but at least tonight he was very good.

Gregory Campbell scored his first goal of the season, a one-timer that he almost whiffed on at 18:20 of the first period from Torey Krug and Daniel Paille. Campbell had been playing better the last few weeks so it was nice to see him finally get rewarded. Now only Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski are the only Bruins regulars without goals to their name in 2013-14.

Before you had a chance to take a breath, the Blues had responded with an equally weird goal of their own. Derek Roy's pass wasn't deflected but somehow it still went through Tuukka Rask's (24 saves) pads at 18:51. Rask might not give up a softer goal this season, it was shocking to see the puck go in following such a nothing play.

St. Louis took that momentum and added to it when David Backes tipped in Kevin Shattenkirk's shot from the point at 16:04 of the second period. In this instance, Boston was the team to dust themselves off and tied it up shortly thereafter. Crazy Carl Soderberg wristed one by Halak at 18:41 (his third goal of the season), from Reilly Smith and Chris Kelly.

It was Boston's third game in their last four nights but they dug deep and summoned plenty of energy in the third period and overtime. The problem was that they couldn't solve Halak. In OT: Loui Eriksson had what felt like an hour before he shot it wide of the net and Soderberg was stuffed on a breakaway. Roy also had a breakaway for St. Louis but his shot went off the crossbar and out of play.

They were disappointed to only get one point tonight when they probably deserved one more but the B's have a good chance to accumulate points this week since four of their next five games are at TD Garden. It starts with a very winnable meeting with Carolina (8-10-4, 5th in Metropolitan Division) who they just beat 4-1 on Monday in their home arena. Expect Chad Johnson to get a rare start in a game that you definitely don't want to attend or even watch assuming you have something better to do.

Do I Hear Five Losses in a Row for the Celtics?

It didn't feature the pure carnage of Tuesday's ass kicking in Houston but tonight's 104-93 loss by the Celtics in San Antonio still got the job done. After having a few days between games, the Spurs (10-1 overall, 5-0) were noticeably rusty. Either that or they knew that Boston (4-9 overall, 2-6 away) is a joke so they didn't have to overexert themselves at good old AT&T Center.

San Antonio won their eighth game in a row while Boston dropped their fifth straight. The contrast between the two teams couldn't be much more drastic: the Spurs came within a few plays of another NBA title in June while the Celts have hit the reset button on their franchise. They might be boring and play in a one-trick city but the Spurs are basically the Patriots. Think about all their similarities: legendary coach that is hated by many, core group of key players particularly one icon (Tim Duncan), stressing the team over the individual and remarkably consistent.

Tony Parker led the Spurs with 19 points and five assists. Promising young Kawhi Leonard had 16 points, eight rebounds and five steals; Duncan added 13 points and nine rebounds; Tiago Splitter put up 11 points and 10 rebounds while Danny Green also scored 11 points. Fatso Boris Diaw notched 12 points off the bench for San Antonio.

Jared Sullinger put up 19 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. Avery Bradley and Jeff Green both reappeared with 19 points and Jordan Crawford tallied 12 points for Boston.

It was actually tied at halftime (48-48) but San Antonio outscored Boston 32-22 in the third quarter to take control for good. Spurs hit four more 3-pointers (8-4), seven more free throws (18-11), dished out nine more assists (27-18), made eight more steals (12-4), blocked three more shots (6-3), scored 12 more fast break points (20-8) and 12 more points in the paint (48-36). Finally, the home team scored 21 more points off turnovers (25-4) which begs the question: how did San Antonio not win by 30+ points?

These teams meet again, February 12 in Boston so you can pencil that in as another guaranteed loss. Speaking of certain defeats, the C's host the Pacers (10-1) on Friday (7:30, CSN) at TD Garden. Once again, Indiana looks like the team in the Eastern Conference with the best (only?) shot to knock off the Heat. For that reason alone, I think we can all agree that Indiana is a team to root for in the postseason.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2 Us, 2 Ks = Stealing 2 Points at Madison Square Garden

There are very few if any other goaltenders in the NHL that would have won tonight for the Bruins. The Rangers peppered Tuukka Rask (12-5-1) with 44 shots but only one beat him as Boston squeaked out a 2-1 road win at Madison Square Garden. There were a couple reasons why these two points were extra sweet for the Bruins (14-6-1): Dennis Seidenberg played one shift before leaving for the night with a lower body injury and the B's had played the night before in Carolina so they had to be pooped.

The Bruins only managed 22 shots on goal but they made them count. Shawn Thornton broke the scoreless deadlock at 4:58 with a slap shot over Henrik Lundqvist's (20 saves) shoulder. Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly assisted on Thornton's third goal of the season. The Fribble Crew ruled the ice as Daniel Paille made it 2-0 at 11:30. Gregory Campbell assisted on his shorthanded breakaway that ended with a backhander in the net.

1:01 later, Derick Brassard scored a power play goal for New York. It was a good shot but Rask might have been screened on the play. It felt like Boston was barely hanging on for most of the game but finally in the third period, it started to be a little more even.

The Bruins earned a day off tomorrow then they return to TD Garden on Thursday (7, NESN) to face their Western Conference dopplegangers-the St. Louis Blues (14-3-3). It should be a great game, especially since these teams so rarely play each other.

UPDATE 11/20: Defenseman Kevan Miller was called up from Providence which makes you think he could play vs. St. Louis.

UPDATE 11/21: Seidenberg is out tonight so Miller will make his NHL debut. Adam McQuaid will miss his sixth game in a row but it sounds like he could return on Saturday vs. Carolina.

Blowout Losses By the Celtics are My New Drug

I have to admit that in a weird way I'm enjoying all these blowout losses by the Celtics, juxtaposed with almost nightly college basketball games featuring Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Marcus Smart. Boston (4-8 overall, 2-5 away) had us worried when they won four games in a row a few weeks back, including a buzzer beater at Miami (explain that), but now they have lost four consecutive games including the last three by 13+ points. Long story short: either they're getting a hang of this tanking business or they are just not that good without Rajon Rondo on the court.

Tonight was their best effort so far in that regard (cough, tanking) as they were down 18-1 to the Rockets (8-4 overall, 5-2 home) at Toyota Center and never recovered in a 109-85 loss. You know the C's truly blow when a stiff like Terrence Jones (24 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) has a career-best game against them. Haha keep them coming guys!

It was a night for bums to shine as Patrick Beverley added 16 points for Houston. James Harden (15 points, 5 rebounds) and Dwight Howard (10 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) didn't have to do any heavy lifting. Chandler Parsons had 11 points and six assists while Jeremy Lin scored 11 points with five assists off the bench. Houston will never win a championship with this group but they'll get to the playoffs and be entertaining to watch.

For Boston, only three players were in double-figures (which is music to our ears): Courtney Lee led them with 17 points (always a good sign), Avery Bradley had 11 points and Jared Sullinger notched 10 points and nine rebounds.

If you thought tonight was ugly for the Celtics (and it certainly was), tomorrow night (8:30, CSNE) at San Antonio's (9-1, 1st in Southwest Division) At&T Center should be a complete joke. I doubt that the Spurs would overlook them like the Heat did so you can count on a blowout loss for the C's. Playing a back-to-back on the road against two solid teams is a great way to extend this modest losing streak into something substantial.

UPDATE 11/20: Gerald Wallace was fined $10,000 by the NBA for dropping an f-bomb to the media after last night's loss.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Patriots Lose In Unforgettable Fashion Once Again, What's With This Season?

I can deal with a Patriots loss just fine but to see them lose for the second time this season on a dubious play is tough to swallow, again. Carolina (7-3 overall, 4-1 home) held on for a 24-20 win over New England (7-3, 2-3 away) tonight at Bank of America Stadium on Monday Night Football. Ted Ginn Jr. of all people had the winning score: a 25-yard touchdown catch and run that came with 59 seconds left in regulation.

After moving the ball down the field, on the final snap of the game Tom Brady (29 of 40, 296 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) threw the ball into the end zone intended for Rob Gronkowski (5 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD). Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly (12 tackles, 8 solo) wrapped Gronk in a bear hug, making sure he had absolutely no chance to catch the pass. While this was happening, rookie safety Robert Lester picked it off to end it.

The questionable part of the play is that the refs actually threw a flag at first but then retracted it thus the game ended. Some would say the ball was uncatchable but I can only counter with look at what all the ex-players and officials (save for Grandpa Gerry Austin) concluded: it should have been a penalty for defensive holding.

The worst part is that one stupid play will dominate the airwaves for a few days. I guess we need to be happy that there is one less day to relive it before New England's next game-Sunday night (8:30, NBC) vs. Denver (9-1).

I also have to give the Panthers credit, I thought they might be frauds that took advantage of an easy schedule. Cam Newton (19 of 28 for 209 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs; 62 yards rushing) made a bunch of big plays and their defense is formidable. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera seems too conservative which could come to bite them (no pun intended) in the playoffs and yes I think the Panthers will make the playoffs in the superior NFC.

Brandon LaFell (7 catches, 59 yards) started the party with a nine-yard touchdown catch late in the first quarter. This came after plenty of fighting between Aqib Talib and Steve Smith (4 catches, 62 yards) that resulted in Talib getting a penalty and a seat on the bench (for a while).

Graham Gano's 43-yard field goal made it 10-0 before the Patriots finally woke up with a 42-yard-field goal by Stephen Gostkowski late in the first half. New England's offense started to find a rhythm in the third quarter. Brady tied it on a 9-yard pass to Gronk who broke the tackle of three Panthers.

Newton responded with his best throw of the night: a 15-yard touchdown to Greg Olsen in the corner of the end zone where only he could get it. The Pats appeared ready to get an impressive road win as Stevan Ridley (48 yards rushing) tied it with a 1-yard touchdown run. LeGarrette Blount led the Patriots with 49 yards rushing while Shane Vereen had a great return to action with a team-high eight catches for 65 yards. Ridley had another fumble, this time in the red zone which led to a brief benching of his own. Will it ever end with this guy?

An incomplete pass on 3rd-and-1 proved to be costly for the Pats when they settled for a 26-yard field goal by Gostkowski that temporarily gave them a 20-17 lead. Carolina went down the field, gaining yards and burning clock before Newton connected with Ginn Jr. for his only catch of the night. The former first round bust of the Dolphins was able to make Kyle Arrington miss a tackle before he turned on the Jets.

There is no rest for the weary as the Patriots host the Broncos in another highly-anticipated game. Who knows how things will shake out in January but it could very likely be an AFC Championship Game preview. New England is 5-0 at home this season but it'll be tough to beat Denver with such a depleted defense. Losing back-to-back games against Super Bowl contenders would be harsh for the Pats' playoff hopes.

Bruins Remember Who They Are, Win 4-1 at Carolina

It was very hard to focus on, with Monday Night Football looming nearby, but the Bruins turned in a tidy 4-1 road win tonight at PNC Arena vs. the Hurricanes. Boston (13-6-1) never trailed as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead and won for the fifth time in their last six games. Carolina (8-9-4) got franchise goaltender Cam Ward (26 saves) back from a lower body injury for the first time in almost a month but he couldn't jumpstart a team that screams average.

The third line for the Bruins produced the first two goals as Reilly Smith scored a power play goal at 2:31 of the first period and Carl Soderberg added to the lead later in the frame. Smith's (his 3rd of the season) was the result of a pretty passing sequence between Soderberg and Loui Eriksson that ended with Soderberg feeding it in front of Ward for Smith to redirect.

Soderberg is starting to assertive himself in the NHL, showing all the dynamic skills that made him a coveted free agent coming out of Sweden. At 10:24, he tipped in Dennis Seidenberg's shot from the point. Smith had the second assist and Chris Kelly started the play by winning a faceoff in Carolina's zone and pulling it back to the point. Soderberg's second goal of the season served as the second time in his brief NHL career that he's recorded two points in the same contest.

Boston allowed a last-minute goal in the first period on Friday in Ottawa that ultimately was a major turning point. You couldn't help but think of that when Tuomo Ruutu scored a fluky goal with five seconds left in the first period. It wasn't a good shot but it fooled Tuukka Rask (23 saves) enough to get in the net.

The B's had a fortunate play factor into the most important goal. Ward got moved out of position, leaving a gaping hole in the crease. Sure enough, the loose puck found Johnny Boychuk for his first goal of the season at 10:29 of the third period. Milan Lucic notched an empty-netter for the final margin and his team-leading ninth goal of the season.

Boston is back on the ice tomorrow (7:30, NBCSN) as they visit the Rangers (10-10-0, 3rd in Metropolitan Division). It will be the first time the Original 6 rivals have met since last postseason when the B's beat the Rangers in five games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Pittsburgh.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Celtics Come to Their Senses & Return to Losing Like There's No Tomorrow

Your 2K14 TankingPalooza update: the Celtics (4-7 overall, 2-4 road) lost 106-88 tonight to the Timberwolves (7-4 overall, 5-1 home) at the Target Center. It was the second loss in two nights for the C's and third in a row overall.

After losing to Charlotte on Wednesday then the Blazers last night, this was a forgone conclusion. Yes, they somehow stole one from the Heat in Miami last weekend but Minnesota is a team that looks finally good again after years of rebuilding so they wouldn't underestimate the Celts like the Heat obviously did. Avery Bradley had 27 points, Brandon Bass added 14 points and seven rebounds while Vitor Faverani had nine points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three steals. Can somebody pleasetell him to relax? They've got games to lose here!

The good news for the Celts was that Jeff Green had two points on 0 for 6 shooting from the field and Jordan Crawford went 4 for 14 from the field for 10 points. That's it guys! Kevin Love (23 points, 12 rebounds) and monster Nikola Pekovic (20 points, 12 rebounds) killed Boston inside while Kevin Martin added 20 points and six rebounds.

If you like carnage, this upcoming week should be nice for Boston: they are in Houston (7-4) on Tuesday (8, CSN) followed by San Antonio (9-1) on Wednesday (8:30, CSN) and returning home to host the Pacers (9-1) on Friday (7:30, CSN). After starting the season with four losses then bouncing back with four straight wins, I think the Celtics are perfectly set up here for a beautiful lengthy losing streak. Is double digits too much to ask?

Week 11 Injury Report, Monday Night Football special edition: Patriots at Panthers

You are not alone if it feels like five months since the Patriots last played (their blowout win over the Steelers) a game. Since then, they had a bye week and now we have to wait an extra day since they play Monday Night Football (8:40, ESPN) at Carolina (6-3). I can't say it's the game of the week since Denver hosts Kansas City on Sunday Night Football but the silver medal in this case is no small feat.

The injury reports were released today and there were a few notable items. Safety Steve Gregory (thumb) is out but you already knew that since his thumb is broken and he had surgery on it. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) is also out, I had missed it during the week but I guess he got hurt in practice. Yikes, hope that's not too serious. Leon Washington (ankle), Kyle Arrington (groin) and Aqib Talib (hip) are all questionable for the Pats.

For Carolina who is arguably the hottest team in the NFC, tight end Ben Hartsock (knee), linebacker Chase Blackburn (foot) and guard Chris Scott (knee) are all out. Cornerback Drayton Florence (groin) is the only Panther that is questionable.

Enjoy another full day of NFL Red Zone tomorrow and at some point, I'll update this on Monday when more inactives became available.

UPDATE 11/17: Washington is out, he hurt his ankle in Week 5 and hasn't been seen since. I don't understand why he's not on IR, this is a waste of a roster space if he never is on the field.

UPDATE 11/18: Shane Vereen will be activated for tonight's game, his first appearance since Week 1 when he broke his wrist. The four other inactives for the Pats are LB Steve Beauharnais, Brandon Bolden, DL Jake Bequette and OL Chris Barker. The inactives for Carolina: WR Tavarres King, WR Marvin McNutt, RB Kenjon Barner and DE Frank Alexander.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Apparently Back-to-Back Games in the NHL are Tough, Who Knew?

Boston came into Ottawa tonight riding high after their overtime win over Columbus last night (hold your laughter) and a four-game winning streak. It turns out that all dreams go to die at the perfectly lame titled Canadian Tire Centre. The Bruins (12-6-1) fell 4-2 to the Senators (8-7-4) after building up a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period but then doing absolutely nothing else but self destructing.

Things looked swell early as Loui Eriksson got another one of his phantom goals at 6:03. He "tipped" Matt Bartkowski's shot from the point for his fourth goal of the season, also assisted by Patrice Bergeron's faceoff win in Ottawa's zone. Brad Marchand played like his old self for a shift, weaving around the Senators' defensemen and wristing the puck by Craig Anderson (30 saves) at 9:50. His third goal of the season was assisted by Bartkowski and Eriksson.

Ottawa got some life by an unlikely source: goon Chris Neil who received a cupcake of a turnover (sorry to mix my desserts) from Torey Krug. By scoring with 50 seconds left in the first period and cutting it to 2-1, he swung the momentum to the home team's side.

Neither club did much in the second period so fast forward to the third where the B's tripped all over themselves (or something worse) while the Senators pounced on Tuukka Rask's (27 saves) worst game of the season.

Jason Spezza kicked off three goals in 8:39 for Ottawa when he finished a beautiful slap pass by Erik Karlsson at 1:32. After tying it at two, Ottawa never looked back as something named Jared Cowen's shot from the point beat Rask (it deflected off Johnny Boychuk's stick and went through Rask's five-hole) at 5:42. Not content for that to be the final gaffe, Bobby Ryan mugged Reilly Smith and took the puck away like nothing. His snap shot went off the inside of the post and in at 10:11, goodnight Bruins!

Boston gets two days off before they play in Carolina on Monday (7, NESN). Yes that's right, the Bruins meet the Hurricanes (8-7-4, 3rd in Metropolitan Division) a few hours before the Patriots and Panthers kick off the second most anticipated NFL game of the weekend. Unlike New England and Carolina, not much is expected of Bruins-Hurricanes since Carolina is a blah team minus Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner. Since it is the beginning of another back-to-back (Tuesday at Rangers), I'll submit my uneducated guess that Chad Johnson gets another start on Monday.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"9 out of 10 points ain't bad,"-The Bruins

After starting off with such a blah result (a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars last Tuesday), the Bruins sure closed their season-long five-game homestand off in style: Milan Lucic scored with 48.6 seconds left in overtime tonight as Boston topped Columbus 3-2 at TD Garden for their fourth straight victory. The B's (12-5-1) have the look of the best team in the Eastern Conference, even if they still trail the Tampa Bay Lightning (who beat Anaheim 5-1).

Columbus (6-10-2) has to be kicking themselves as somehow Chad Johnson (2-1-0, 32 saves) beat Sergei Bobrovsky (28 saves) who won the Vezina Trophy last season but like his team is off to a crappy start to 2013-14. Johnson made his first start as a Bruin in Boston since the B's are in Ottawa tomorrow night. He hadn't played since November 2 so even though he wasn't anything special, he had to be rusty after so much time off from real action.

This is the classic example of a game that you sell to a friend if you are a season-ticket holder. Who wants to see the anonymous Blue Jackets? Especially when Nathan Horton (shoulder) has yet to play a game with his new employer. Columbus actually led 1-0 as Blake Comeau was the recipient of a breakdown in the Bruins' backline. Two guys went after Mark Letestu against the boards (why?) so all he had to do was throw it in front to Comeau for a one-timer that beat Johnson at 12:48 of the first period.

Boston responded with Loui Eriksson tying it at 18:10. Once again, he scored a strange goal (his 3rd of the season) as he stuck his leg out and Zdeno Chara's wrist shot from the point deflected off his skate. Apparently there was no kicking motion since the refs didn't even look at the replay. Haha ok then. Patrice Bergeron had the second assist.

It was a fourth line kind of night and Shawn Thornton scored a pretty goal, sniping a shot just under the bar at 10:09 of the second period. His second goal of the season was assisted by Gregory Campbell and Torey Krug (5-game point streak). Thorny might rarely score a goal but it feels like whenever he does, it's impressive or at least memorable.

This being Chad Johnson we're talking about, he couldn't let Boston have nice things that easily. His biggest mistake of the night was pounced on by the Blue Jackets. He coughed up a juicy rebound right in front and Nick Foligno potted a backhander at 16:34 of the second period.

All I can say is thank god that it didn't go to a shootout. Both teams are playing tomorrow and who wants to see the Blue Jackets for way more time than you are required to? Lucic isn't known as a particularly great two-way player but all the credit goes to him on the game-winner (the first OT goal of his NHL career) as he blocked a shot in Boston's end then had the wheels to get on a breakaway and shoot the puck through Bobrovsky's five-hole.

The Bruins hit the road for three games beginning tomorrow (7:30, NESN) in Ottawa (7-7-4). It is the first meeting of the season between the Atlantic Division rivals and I don't have to tell you that Tuukka Rask will be back in net for the B's.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Celtics Win Their Fourth Game in a Row, Wait What?

We all know that it'll predictably end soon plus it is totally counterproductive to the main goal of tanking but I have to admit that the Celtics entertained me tonight. Boston (4-4 overall, 2-1 home) beat Orlando (3-5 overall, 0-4 away) 120-105 at TD Garden. The Celtics have won four straight games, something which many of us didn't think was possible this season by scoring a season-high in points.

All five starters for Boston scored in double figures and seven players overall hit double digits led by Avery Bradley (game-high 24 points and 3 steals) and Jordan Crawford (16 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds) who put up a double-double, seriously. I didn't love rookie Kelly Olynyk at Gonzaga but he is quickly proving me wrong: he had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Jeff Green checked in with 16 points and Brandon Bass added 10 points. Off the bench, Jared Sullinger put up 14 points, five rebounds and two blocks while Courtney Lee scored 12.

The Magic are doing everything in their power to get in the lottery next spring, it's tough to see them winning more than 30 games tops in 2013-14. Arron Afflalo had 18 points and seven assists, rookie Victor Oladipo scored 17 empty points. Nikola Vucevic had his customary double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals), Mo Harkless notched 12 points and five rebounds with Horace Grant wannabe (check out his glasses) Jason Maxiell had 10 points. Former Celtic E'Twaun Moore scored 11 points off the bench for Orlando.

The Celts outscored the Magic in every quarter: 31-25, 28-25, 28-24 and 33-31. I really didn't want to watch this game but there were few other viewing options with an awful Monday Night Football game on so I reluctantly tuned in. Did I mention that Boston shot 60% from the field, had 16 more fast break points (20-4) and scored 12 more points in the paint (50-38)?

This doesn't make any sense at all on many levels but like I said, let's enjoy it before they undoubtedly reel off an eight-game losing streak that makes us miserably pine for the ping pong balls. It promises to be a long season, the Celtics are just easing us into it. They host the Bobcats (3-4, 3rd in Southeast Division) on Wednesday (7:30, CSNE), the middle contest in a three-game homestand against some similarly bad teams.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lightning Can't Solve the Bruins This Season; Get Well Soon Stamkos!

Afternoon matinees in the NHL always have a strange feel, they are filled with way more kids and less drunk adults so the atmosphere is tame and quiet. The Bruins beat the Lightning 3-0 this afternoon at TD Garden on Veterans Day but sadly I'm sure the lasting image will be Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos getting wheeled off on a stretcher after he broke his leg.

Boston (11-5-1) has treated Tampa Bay (12-5-0) this season like they are the lowly Panthers and not the top team in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins improved to 3-0 vs. the Lightning, outscoring them an aggregate of 11-1 with only one meeting left (March 8 in TB). For the second straight game vs. Tampa Bay, Tuukka Rask (28 saves) didn't even allow a goal to one of the highest scoring teams in the league. It was his second shutout of the season and 18th of his career.

It's hard to blame Tampa Bay if they lost some of their spirit after seeing arguably the top player in the NHL go down in the second period with a serious injury. Boston played well all game but they finally cashed in two scoring chances late in the frame. Patrice Bergeron went to the front of the net and fought through traffic to get his sixth goal of the season at 17:09 from Loui Eriksson and Torey Krug.

Before the Lightning had a chance to regroup, Daniel Paille was skating in on a breakway and he tucked a backhander past Anders Lindback (23 saves) for his second goal of the season. Gregory Campbell (first point of the year!) and Matt Bartkowski had the assists. With no Stamkos and Boston's penalty kill pitching a shutout as well (4 for 4, 22 in a row dating back 6 games), there would be no comeback for the visitors.

It appeared that David Krejci scored a goal late in the third period but it was wiped out for a shaky goaltender interference ruling on Jarome Iginla. No worries, Iginla made up for that with an empty netter with 59 seconds left. It was his fourth goal of the season, remember when he was stuck on zero for so long?

Boston gets a couple days off at home before finishing up this long run at TD Garden; on Thursday (7, NESN) they host the Blue Jackets (6-10-0), who are one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL given their expectations coming into this season after they just missed out on the playoffs last season and have the Vezina Trophy winner (Sergei Bobrovsky).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Patrice Bergeron Still Owns the Maple Leafs, Figuratively

You can have your Panthers, Stars and any other anonymous NHL team that nobody except their families care about. Give me Original 6 teams playing each other and I'm in hockey heaven. It is still early November but you'll be hard pressed to find a much more pleasing game than Bruins-Maple Leafs tonight at TD Garden. Boston (10-5-1) came out on top of Toronto (11-6-0) 3-1 in the first installment since last postseason.

Patrice Bergeron scored the last two goals to snap the 1-1 deadlock and Tuukka Rask (33 saves) is still better than James Reimer (31 saves) but you knew that already. A new wrinkle is that Boston's power play is actually decent: they scored twice this evening and couple that with a 3 for 3 penalty kill for a pretty rock solid special teams performance.

Granted the Maple Leafs played last night in Toronto vs. New Jersey but this is the NHL, no excuses (unless I'm protecting the Bruins of course). Zdeno Chara has become quite a weapon on the man advantage as he parks his monstrous frame in front of the net, good luck moving him. He scored the opening goal at 15:27 of the first period, assisted by Jarome Iginla and Torey Krug. Chara's third goal of the season (all on the power play) came after Iginla's shot was stopped but he tracked the puck behind the net then threw it out front for Chara to bat it in.

Joffrey Lupul had the honors of Toronto's lone goal at 16:52 of the second period as he uncharacteristically beat Rask with a wrist shot, high to his glove side. I wouldn't call it weak but it was normally a save that Rask makes in his sleep.

Apparently, Bergeron waits until the third period (and overtime) to do his damage against the Maple Leafs. First he scored the game-winner at 1:06 of the third period, a power play goal from Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. Bergeron's fourth goal of the season was the result of net front work and a juicy rebound that he lifted over Reimer's helpless glove.

Toronto had pressure on Rask but Bergeron clinched it with his empty netter at 19:38. Loui Eriksson won a race to the corner then saucered the puck towards the net where Bergeron beat his man and redirected it in.

The B's get five more days in town: they host the Lightning (12-4-0) on Monday afternoon (1, NESN) then close out this five-game homestand on Thursday vs. Columbus (6-10-0). Boston beat Tampa Bay in the season-opener 3-1 at the Garden on October 3 but that already feels like it was a million years ago. Expect a better effort from the Lightning, who have won their last four games and currently hold the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Florida Panthers Have the Cure for What Ails You in the NHL

You might ask why are the Panthers still in Florida which is a valid point but an important question for another day. They have served a very important role as the punching bag of the NHL the last few seasons. The Bruins had been playing like garbage the last few weeks (dropping 4 of their last 5 games) but you wouldn't know it by the way they dominated the third period (3-1) en route to a 4-1 win over the hapless Panthers tonight at TD Garden. Great to have you in the Atlantic Division!

After sleepwalking through a dull first period, Boston (9-5-1) scored the first goal for the first time in five games, see a pattern there? David Krejci scored his third goal of the season at 7:17 from Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton. Not really known for his powerful slap shot, Krejci still unloaded one from the blue line through traffic.

The B's also had some luck on their side too, which had been lacking lately, as Brad Marchand was able to score a goal for the first time in 13 games at 4:09 of the third period. Dennis Seidenberg's blast was tipped by Loui Eriksson and it went through Scott Clemmensen's pads, all Marchand had to do was poke it over the line. Literally anyone in the NHL save for maybe John Scott would have scored on it.

Super sophomore Torey Krug made it 3-0 and pinned the Panthers (3-9-4) with their seventh loss in a row. His sixth of the season (tied for most in the NHL by a defenseman) came at 8:57 from Chris Kelly and Reilly Smith. It was a clean breakout as Smith gained the zone, fed Kelly then he held up and went back to Krug who snapped a beautiful shot past Clemmensen.

The Panthers' lone goal was from Jesse Winchester at 14:25. Nick Bjugstad's shot seemed to catch Tuukka Rask (23 saves) awkwardly up high and Winchester was there to put in the rebound. He might be hearing from the NHL in the next few days though after he blatantly elbowed Kelly in the head during the first period. Somehow Kelly only missed a few minutes, it could have been much worse.

In a different way, Smith like Marchand had a cupcake of a goal delivered to him. A Florida defenseman inexplicably didn't see him in the offensive zone so his clearing attempt was put right on his stick. His unassisted goal at 18:13 was his second of the season.

The B's know they have to pick it up way more when they host the Maple Leafs (10-5-0) on Saturday (7, NESN) in their first meeting since the epic seven-game first round playoff series last season. It is the middle game of the season-long five game homestand for the Bruins.

UPDATE 11/8: Winchester was suspended by the NHL for three games. Oh and Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen was fired, tough day for Florida.

Boston's Tank for Wiggins Campaign Hits Its First Pothole of the Season

You might have noticed that I hadn't written a word about the Celtics since they started their sure to be wretched season a week ago. That wasn't my intention but simply a product of having so many conflicts and not enough hours in the day to watch everything. I had DVR'd a couple of the previous contests but didn't end up watching them, that changed tonight as I saw the Celts (1-4 overall, 1-1 home) pick up their first win of the season, 97-87 over the Jazz (0-5 overall, 0-3 away) at TD Garden.

Head coach Brad Stevens notched his first NBA win, ironically when one of his former star players at Butler-Gordon Heyward-dropped a game-high 28 points with nine rebounds and five assists for Utah. He'll be a free agent this summer, do I smell a reunion? Brandon Bass led Boston with 20 points and Jeff Green added 18.

Enes Kanter had 22 points and eight rebounds, old man Richard Jefferson put up 13 points and five steals while Derrick Favors had 10 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for the Jazz. Utah's bench only managed 14 total points, the same amount that Boston rookie Kelly Olynyk (8 rebounds) picked up. Jared Sullinger also thrived off the bench for the C's with 12 points and five rebounds.

As everyone knows, for Boston 2013-14 is all about losing as much as they possibly can in hopes of getting a high lottery pick in what should be a loaded draft. When you look at their fatally flawed roster and painfully thin bench, you realize that the Jazz could be one of the Celtics' biggest rivals in terms of racking up the most losses.

By design, the Celts got up by 25 points (70-45) in the third quarter before they tried everything in their power to gag it away. The Jazz cut it to six in the fourth (89-83) but they couldn't come all the way back. Looking beyond the main guys, Avery Bradley (8 points, 6 rebounds) and Gerald Wallace (9 points, 9 rebounds) each played well in the win.

The Jazz actually led 26-23 after the first quarter but Utah scored only eight points (eight points!) in the second quarter to trail 50-34 at halftime. In a few of the four losses, the Celtics held big leads only to fall apart but this margin was too wide and the opposition too terrible to slip on another banana peel tonight.

Boston outscored Utah 34-28 in the third quarter before going to sleep in the fourth and watching the Jazz take it to them 25-13 but it was much too late. Other than the bench scoring (44-14), the two main reasons that the Celts won was that they hit six more 3-pointers (7-1) and dished out eight more assists (22-14).

Up next, the C's travel to Orlando on Friday (7, CSN) to take on the surprising Magic (3-2) who were supposed to be one of the main tanking squads. I guess they didn't get the memo that winning isn't the important thing for a team like them. Boston has a back-to-back as they are in Miami on Saturday.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Patriots Come Up With an Old-Fashioned Ass Whooping of the Steelers

Blowout wins like today for the Patriots have been few and far between the last few seasons which reminds us how good we had it for the better part of a decade. New England (7-2 overall, 5-0 home) went into their bye week in style with a 55-31 win over Pittsburgh (2-6 overall, 1-4 away) at Gillette Stadium. The 55 points were the most allowed by the Steelers in franchise history, can you say dumpster fire?

The Patriots' defense has carried the team most of this season so it was nice to see the offense return the favor in this game. Tom Brady (23 of 33 for 432 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs) had a vintage performance as Rob Gronkowski (9 catches, 143 yards, 1 TD), Aaron Dobson (5 catches, 130 yards, 2 TDs) and Danny Amendola (4 catches, 122 yards, 1 TD) became only the six trio of teammates to all go over 100+ receiving yards in one game. KenBrell Thompkins was a surprise inactive but that didn't matter by the time this was over.

Stevan Ridley (26 carries, 115 yards, 2 TDs) had an early fumble, mostly a great play by Troy Polamalu to knock it loose, but instead of stapling him to the bench Bill Belichick tried to build his confidence by sticking with him. What a concept! New England's most talented running back responded with a great game which hopefully will propel him into a much better second half.

You won't see any sympathy here for scummy Ben Roethlisberger (28 of 48 for 400 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs) or his hapless squad. Pittsburgh is a proud franchise that's almost always solid so it is surprising to see them fall so low this fast. With so many injuries and a lack of gamebreakers/young talent, they could be in trouble for a while (relatively speaking).

The funny thing about this offensive explosion is that nobody could have seen it coming after the Pats only led 7-0 following Amendola's 34-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. Gronk caught a 19-yard touchdown (he's starting to look like himself again) for a 14-0 lead in the second quarter before Shaun Suisham kicked a 30-yard field goal. Stephen Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal restored New England's two touchdown lead (17-3). Antonio Brown's 24-yard touchdown cut it to 17-10 late first half but Ridley's 1-yard touchdown run with 10 seconds left in the second quarter was huge.

Jericho Cotchery (7 catches, 96 yards) played like it was 2009 with the Jets in the third quarter with a pair of touchdown catches (20 and 8) that tied it up. Luckily for New England, they still managed to forge ahead on Gostkowski's 27-yard field goal with 2:39 left in the third quarter setting the stage for a beatdown in the fourth (28-7).

Dobson started it off with a pretty 17-yard back shoulder touchdown catch. Ridley's five-yard touchdown run made it 41-24 before Cotchery had one more touchdown grab, from five yards out. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau weeped while Dobson caught an 81-yard bomb for a score then LeGarrette Blount closed it out with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Plenty of people will take too much out of what turned out to be a lopsided win for the Pats. I simply look at it as them putting it together against one of the worst teams in the NFL. Look at their upcoming schedule, there is no automatic win like Pittsburgh on the horizon. New England will use their break wisely as they return for two consecutive primetime games against playoff contenders: at Carolina for a Monday Night game (11/18) then hosting Denver on the following Sunday Night (11/24). How the Patriots fare in those difficult matchups should tell us much more about them than this. Still, they are pointed in the right direction especially if Aqib Talib ever returns this season.

UPDATE 11/5: The Patriots had some moves before they go into the bye week for real: they released Austin Collie and signed WR LaQuan Williams to take his place on the 53-man roster. Additionally, they signed RB Cierre Wood to the practice squad while Steve Gregory has a broken thumb and he could miss a few weeks. Stay tuned on that injury although truthfully, it doesn't mean much since he's a bum.

UPDATE 11/8: Logan Mankins was fined $10,000 for clipping vs. Pittsburgh.