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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Islanders Shit All Over New Year's Eve for the Bruins


The older you get, the more you accept that some things in life just won't make sense. For instance, the fact that the Islanders-the second worst team in the Eastern Conference-have already clinched the season series for the first time since 2006-07. Tonight at TD Garden, New York (13-21-7) used the strength of four power play goals to score four unanswered in a 5-3 victory over Boston (26-12-2). The Isles had won 3-1 on November 2 at home and they'll meet January 27 in Long Island.

The B's are allowed a hiccup every now and then, it is still technically the holiday season, but this was just one of those games where nothing went their way after they built a 3-1 lead midway through the second period.

The numbers will look ugly for Tuukka Rask (26 saves) but given the dumb penalties and a shot that went off Brad Marchand's skate, you can't really blame him. For a while, it looked like Boston would be popping bottles as David Krejci scored 4:25 into the first period on a juicy rebound by Evgeni Nabokov (35 saves). His ninth goal of the season (and 100th of his career) was assisted by Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic, giving them all a five-game point streak.

Frans Nielsen's power play goal at 5:56 of the second period tied it when Thomas Vanek screened Rask. Patrice Bergeron answered with a power play goal at 12:33. His 10th goal of the season was assisted by Ryan Spooner and Reilly Smith. 25 seconds later, Daniel Paille tipped Zdeno Chara's shot from the point for his fifth goal of the season.

Nielsen added another power play tally at 16:30, after the puck went off a Bruins skate in the slot leaving Nielsen there to collect the trash. Kyle Okposo's power play goal with 2.6 seconds left in the third was a punch in the balls since it went off Marchand's skate and past Rask to tie it at three.

All that momentum stayed with New York as Tavares scored 32 seconds into the third for their first lead of the game (4-3). The four-point night for one of the top players in the NHL and somebody that will lead Team Canada at the Olympics was complete when Tavares notched the final power play goal at 13:17.

There would be no comeback for the Bruins as Milan Lucic was called for the stupid trio of penalties: boarding, unsportsmanlike conduct and 10-minute game misconduct. With that, people headed out to their silly New Year's parties and overpriced bars. The B's will be back in action on Thursday (7, NESN) vs. Nashville (18-18-4). It'll be a new year and they'll look for new results after the Islanders snapped their 15-game point streak (13-0-2) at the Garden and kickstarted a two-game losing streak.

UPDATE 1/1: Bruins sent Nick Johnson back to Providence. Carl Soderberg and Dougie Hamilton are expected back in the lineup tomorrow night (weather-permitting) vs. Nashville.

UPDATE 1/2: Bruins recalled goaltender Niklas Svedberg and he's expected to get his first career NHL start tonight vs. Nashville. And yes, as of now the game is still on.






LeGarrette Blount Named AFC Offensive Player of the Week


Granted it means absolutely nothing headed into the playoffs but for what it's worth, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his career-best game against the Bills on Sunday, a 34-20 Patriots win.

Blount rushed for 189 yards with two touchdowns and also returned a pair of kickoffs for 83 and 62 yards respectively (setting a new team record with 334 all-purpose yards in one game). Obviously Buffalo won't be in the postseason (that's not allowed in this century) so you can't expect a Tecmo Bowl style output like that. Still, he has firmly established himself as New England's No. 1 running back and he will get more carries than Stevan Ridley for as long as the Patriots advance.

The Pats have a week to heal up, dry out from Sunday's monsoon and figure out who they'll meet next Saturday night (8:15, CBS) at Gillette Stadium-either the Colts, Chiefs or Bengals. LeGarrette was the second Patriot to earn this award this season, following Tom Brady after Week 12's epic comeback vs. Denver.

UPDATE 1/2: Austin Collie was re-signed for the third time this season.

UPDATE 1/3: Josh Boyce was put on IR so we know why Collie was brought back. What a forgettable rookie season for the fourth round pick.







Monday, December 30, 2013

Patriots Clinch No. 2 Seed Thanks to LeGarrette "Walter Payton" Blount's Career Day


It wasn't pretty but what would you expect from a regular season finale vs. the Bills in a freezing rain that pounded Gillette Stadium for the entire game? The Patriots (12-4 overall, 8-0 home) wrapped up the No. 2 seed with a 34-20 win over Buffalo (6-10 overall, 2-6 away). The Pats are off until Saturday, January 11th when they will host either the Bengals, Chiefs or Colts at 8:15 p.m. in the AFC Divisional round.

LeGarrette Blount was a man among boys with 24 carries for a career-high 189 yards and two TDS. He also added two kick returns for 145 yards to set a new Patriots record for total yards by one player in a single game. Football players never make excuses for some of the absurd elements they have to play in but tonight's pounding storm affected everything, namely Tom Brady (14 of 24 for 122 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT) and New England's passing game. However Julian Edelman (9 catches, 65 yards) was still able to over 1000 yards for the season and 100 catches as well. Who would have thought he would become so indispensable?

Stephen Gostkowski also set two records: most field goals in a season for a Patriot and most points. He had two field goals in the first quarter (43, 35) sandwiched around a 51-yard kick by Dan Carpenter. Blount's 36-yard TD run in the second quarter was just the start of the best game of his NFL career while Gostkowski added a 29-yard field goal at the end of the half for a 16-3 Pats lead.

Behind the immortal Thad Lewis (16 of 29 for 247 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT)-their backup quarterback-and C.J. Spiller (19 carries, 105 yards) Buffalo hung around with a 12-yard touchdown catch by T.J. Graham in the third quarter which cut it to 16-10. Shane Vereen caught a 5-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter but the Bills answered with a 5-yard TD run by Fred Jackson.

Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal was matched by Carpenter's 37-yard kick. Blount's 35-yard touchdown run was the one that finally put away the stubborn Bills. PS the last time they made the playoffs was 1999. Where Blount's emergence leaves Stevan Ridley (12 carries, 74 yards) is anyone's best guess. He's still more talented but Blount has really come on late in the season plus can you trust Ridley in a close game not to fumble? I think not.

Of the three teams I mentioned, I believe the Pats would match up best with the bi-polar Colts. They already lost to the Bengals and the Chiefs are decent (good defense and Jamaal Charles would eat them alive). Either way, I like New England's chances in a cold weather night game against any of those three teams at Gillette. I think I speak for the entire world when I say we want Patriots-Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. Of course, that means Peyton Manning has to win one home game (which he couldn't do last year) to set it up. Regardless, see you in two weeks.





Sunday, December 29, 2013

Oh Hockey Gods, Please Make All the Injuries Stop with the Bruins


Beating the same team twice in two days is hard enough, now consider what happens when your squad is decimated by injuries. I'm not making excuses for the Bruins after they fell 4-3 to the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre but I think we can cut them some slack considering their insane amount of injuries. This afternoon, it was announced that Dennis Seidenberg will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL/MCL. Then tonight came word that Zdeno Chara was out and day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Ahhhhhh!

Ottawa (16-18-7) never trailed as they jumped ahead 1-0 and 2-1 on Boston (26-11-2) in the first period and 3-2 in the second period before Bobby Ryan scored the game-winner late in the third. Patrick Wiercioch had some puck luck (as they say) when Torey Krug blocked a shot but it caromed to Ottawa's defenseman who deposited it past Tuukka Rask at 7:04. Daniel Paille answered by undressing former Norris Trophy (what a joke) Erik Karlsson and squeezing it by Craig Anderson (29 saves) at 12:06. His fourth goal of the season was unassisted, showing how Paille truly did all the work and then some.

Cory Conacher scored on a street hockey (thanks Jack and Brick!) style tip in at 14:28. After Zach Smith finished a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Erik Condra 29 seconds into the second, that was it for Rask. Good old Chad Johnson came in and actually played well (for him). Jarome Iginla continued his hot streak with a goal from Milan Lucic and David Krejci at 13:51. Iginla's 12th goal of the season came via a tape-to-tape pass by Looch.

For me, the best highlight of the loss for the Bruins was David Warsofsky's first career NHL goal at 6:36 of the third period. It was a snipe, from Johnny Boychuk and Patrice Bergeron with plenty of meaning in terms of the game situation.

Krug's miserable performance (game low -3) was topped off by the biggest mistake of all: he slipped in Ottawa's zone which led to Ryan's breakaway. He beat Johnson with a backhander at 15:25.

The B's get a few days to heal, Carl Soderberg was also out with a concussion, before they host the woeful Islanders (11-21-7, 8th in Metropolitan Division) at TD Garden on New Year's Eve (7, NESN). Forget the biggest amateur night of the year, it is supposed to be freezing as well so stay inside, drink yourself into a near-coma and enjoy B's-Isles.

UPDATE 12/29: Nick Johnson, Zach Trotman and Warsofsky were all sent back to Providence. Haha they're actually playing for the Providence Bruins today, no rest for them.

UPDATE 12/30: The Bruins recalled defenseman Kevan Miller on an emergency basis.

UPDATE 12/31: Johnson was recalled on an emergency basis.





Kyrie Irving Must Be Counting the Days Until He Can Get out of Hell, I mean Cleveland


The less said about the pile of monkey shit known as the Cavaliers the better. The Celtics had another forgettable Saturday afternoon game at TD Garden and this time, they made it a positive memory with a 103-100 win over Cleveland. In typical Celts (13-17 overall, 8-8 home) fashion, it became way more difficult than it had to be: they were up 19 heading into the fourth quarter but had to hang on for dear life as the Cavaliers (10-19 overall, 2-13 away) outscored them 34-18 in the final frame.

Luckily for Boston, they have that defensive force aka Brandon Bass (15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) who stuffed Dion Waiters (17 points, 2 steals) on Cleveland's last official shot. Of course, the Cavs had a chance to tie it after that but Earl Clark's (12 points) 3-pointer was an airball, oh and it came after time expired. Other than that, great attempt Earl.

As always, Kyrie Irving (game-high 32 points) was brilliant while his teammates were mediocre at best. Clark was the only other starter in double figures and Jarrett Jack put up 14 points off the bench.

It was all about balance for the C's with four starters and two bench players in double figures. Jordan Crawford (5 rebounds, 5 assists) and Jeff Green (8 rebounds, 2 steals) both led Boston with 19 points while Avery Bradley added 18 points, eight rebounds and two steals. Courtney Lee scored 11 and Kris Humphries notched 10 points off the bench.

The Celtics slowly built up their lead, 24-22 after one quarter, 59-44 at halftime and 85-66 heading into the fourth. Does Boston play night games anymore? Their next contest is another afternoon game at TD Garden: New Year's Eve (1, CSN) vs. Atlanta (17-13, 2nd in Southeast Division), who just lost Al Horford for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.





Friday, December 27, 2013

Who Didn't Predict that Reilly Smith Would Lead the Bruins in Goals?


The Duck Boats aren't even being gassed up yet but you have to admit that the Bruins are playing really well at the end of 2013. They went into Christmas break by rolling 6-2 at Nashville on Monday then they came back tonight to paste Ottawa 5-0 at TD Garden. There are many reasons that Boston (26-10-2) is rolling, let's start with the obvious: Tuukka Rask (33 saves) is the best goaltender in the NHL, their power play is finally lethal (No. 5 in the league, goals in three straight games), they are unbeatable at home (8 wins in a row and 13-0-2 in their last 15) and Reilly Smith (team-leading 14 goals) has been incredible.

Did I miss anything? The Senators' (15-18-7) upset of Montreal in the first round of the playoffs last spring seems like a distant memory, same with their crazy regular season last year despite numerous injuries. Now with a full lineup, what are they? I don't know if it's good news or not that they get the Bruins again, tomorrow night (7, NESN) at Canadian Tire Centre. I haven't heard anybody talking about Paul MacLean being an incredible coach this season, funny how that works.

The ironic part about this blowout is that the B's actually started slow, getting outshot 15-5 in the first period and looking pretty listless. That turned around in the second when Jarome Iginla scored a power play goal at 16:29 from Milan Lucic and Torey Krug. However, Iginla's 11th goal of the season was the only goal of the frame though as Boston took a 1-0 lead into the third.

Oh right, the third. It had to be the best period of the season thus far for the Bruins who completely ran over the helpless Senators. David Krejci used some of his usual magic to be in the right place for a carom off the end boards 38 seconds into the third. His eighth goal of the season was assisted by Matt Bartkowski and Adam McQuaid.

Boston really pounded Ottawa in the last 10 minutes as Smith scored his pair of goals (7th game in a row that a Bruin has done that) 7:06 apart, his 13th and 14th of the season, then Marchand sent the crowd into a frenzy with a shorthanded tally with 27 seconds left. We want all the goals! His ninth of the season gave him a multiple-point night, he had an assist on one of Smith's goals and Patrice Bergeron notched helpers on both.

Everything could feel different in 24 hours if the Senators knock off the Atlantic Division leading Bruins but would you bet on Ottawa at the moment? It looks like Niklas Svedberg will make his NHL debut because he was called up from Providence today and served as Rask's backup. Finally, Dennis Seidenberg might have suffered a serious injury late in garbage time. Fingers crossed that it doesn't turn out to be as serious as it appeared. Bruins head coach Claude Julien already ruled the German out from tomorrow's contest.

UPDATE 12/28: David Warsofsky and Nick Johnson were recalled from Providence since Seidenberg and Carl Soderberg (who seemed to suffer a concussion last night) stayed back in Boston.

UPDATE 12/28: Devastating news for the Bruins as Seidenberg will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and MCL. You can't overstate the importance of their second best defenseman who always pairs with Zdeno Chara for a true shutdown line in the playoffs. Zach Trotman was called up from Providence and Svedberg went back to Providence (don't ask me why they brought him up?).










Week 17 Injury Report: Patriots vs. Bills + 4 Patriots Named to the Pro Bowl


You probably lost track of it over the holidays (you're excused) but the Patriots (11-4) have a very important game in their regular season finale, Sunday (1, CBS) vs. Buffalo (6-9) at Gillette Stadium. With a win, the Pats will earn the No. 2 seed and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. They can also get it with a loss but since it is the Bills, let's just focus on beating that hopeless franchise.

Today's injury report had some interesting things on it: Josh Boyce (ankle) is out and Devin McCourty (concussion) is doubtful for New England. Bills mercurial wide receiver Stevie Johnson is out (his mother passed away) and safety Aaron Williams (ribs) is also out while quarterback EJ Manuel (knee) is doubtful but backup Thad Lewis has already been named the starter.

The Patriots have 11 players that are questionable: Kyle Arrington (groin), Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder), Aaron Dobson (foot), Dane Fletcher (groin), Steve Gregory (finger/knee), Rob Ninkovich (ankle), Nate Solder (concussion), Brandon Spikes (knee), Will Svitek (ankle), Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) and Shane Vereen (groin).

In the past, I've written a specific blog just about the Pro Bowl selections for the Patriots but in my wiser age, I realized who gives a shit? The Pro Bowl rosters were announced tonight and it still boggles my mind that so many people care who is on it or not. I mean really? Anyways, I just thought I should mention that the Pats had four Pro Bowlers in 2013: Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Aqib Talib and Matthew Slater. Bye!

UPDATE 12/28: Safety Kanorris Davis and cornerback Justin Green were promoted from the practice squad for tomorrow's game.

UPDATE 12/29: The Patriots inactives are Steve Beauharnais, Dennard, Boyce, Isaac Sopoaga, McCourty, Jake Bequette and Chris Barker. The Bills inactives are Manuel, Johnson, WR Cordell Roberson, RB Ronnie Wingo, DB Brandon Smith, OG Mark Asper and OG Antoine McClain.








Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bruins Deliver Season's Beatings to the Predators


Heading into a much-needed three day break around the league, you couldn't ask for a better effort from the Bruins as they went to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena tonight and handed the Predators a 6-2 blowout loss. Like in Edmonton a few weeks ago, Boston (25-20-2) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period but Nashville (16-17-4) cut it to 3-2 in the third period. The B's made sure to put this away so they could truly enjoy their downtime this week.

Jarome Iginla had two goals for his 96th career two-goal game in the NHL (think about that) but Reilly Smith (1 goal, 2 assists), Carl Soderberg (1 goal, 2 assists) and Ryan Spooner (3 assists) stole the Hall of Famer's thunder (not that he minds) with three point games of their own. In total, 10 different Bruins found their name on the scoresheet and Tuukka Rask managed to stop 32 shots for another win.

There are bad starts and then there is Nashville allowing three goals in the first 10:47 of the opening period. Iginla tipped in Zdeno Chara's shot from the point at 1:16 for Iggy's ninth goal of the season. Milan Lucic had the second assist. Shortly after that, Adam McQuaid traded bombs with Eric Nystrom. I wouldn't recommend getting into a fight in your first game back from an injury but clearly McQuaid is going to do what he wants.

Boston's second goal was about as big a gift as they'll unwrap all season: Soderberg's dump in was completely bungled by goaltender Carter Hutton and Mark Fraser was there to record his first goal as a Bruin at 5:59. Spooner had the second assist. Smith kicked off an incredible night for Boston's power play (for once, that wasn't sarcasm) with a goal at 10:47 from Soderberg and Spooner. It wasn't the best angle but Smith was able to roof it by Marek Mazanec for his 12th of the season (tying Lucic's team lead).

Craig Smith ended Rask's shutout bid early, at 11:35 of the second period. His power play goal was the direct result of Rask's juicy rebound off Seth Jones' blast. Craig Smith's goal at 3:25 of the third period made you certainly wonder if the B's were going to fall apart. Thankfully, they didn't as Iginla redirected a pass out of the air at 5:01 from David Krejci and Torey Krug. 49 seconds later, Soderberg's one-timer from Spooner and Smith gave Boston a commanding 5-2 lead on his fifth goal of the season.

The star of tonight's episode of Behind the B-Brad Marchand-sent Nashville fans home with a garbage time tally at 15:54. His eighth goal of the season was also assisted by Smith. Boston is off until Friday (7, NESN) when they host Ottawa (15-17-7, 6th in Atlantic Division) at TD Garden. The next night, the same teams meet in Ottawa.

UPDATE 12/24: The Bruins assigned defenseman David Warsofsky and forward Nick Johnson back to Providence, which has to mean that Dougie Hamilton and more so Daniel Paille could return this weekend vs. Ottawa. In other Bruins news, Shawn Thornton's appeal of his 15-game suspension was upheld. Merry Christmas Eve!

UPDATE 12/27: The Bruins called up goaltender Niklas Svedberg for the first time in his career. It's a weird move because the last thing we knew, Tuukka Rask and Chad Johnson were healthy. Haha maybe one of them got hurt on Christmas with their family?







Monday, December 23, 2013

Pats are AFC East Champions Again but the Real Story is How Badly They Kicked Baltimore's Ass


So it turns out that nobody circles the wagons like the 2013 Patriots. Just when everyone (myself included) was starting to seriously doubt them this season, they turned in a vintage performance worthy of their past Super Bowl winners: they blew out Baltimore (8-7 overall, 6-2 home) 41-7 tonight at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Patriots (11-4 overall, 4-4 away) added two garbage time defensive TDs (fumble recovery by Chandler Jones and 74-yard interception return by Tavon Wilson) to help capture their 10th AFC East title in the last 11 years. It is the fifth straight year that they've won their sorry division but this means the No. 2 seed is still theirs to lose, they just have to beat Buffalo (6-9) in the regular season finale next Sunday (4:25, CBS) at Gillette Stadium.

We'll have to wait and see if this was a sign of bigger things to come or just a crazy set of circumstances, facing Baltimore's terrible offense and a hobbled Joe Flacco (sacked 4 times, threw 2 interceptions to Logan Ryan). The best part of this for the Pats is that their defense showed signs of life after being MIA for months. Of course, they had to suffer another serious injury (concussion to Devin McCourty).

This was such a big game for both teams that you kept waiting for the Ravens to make it competitive but they could never do it. LeGarrette Blount (16 carries, 76 yards) had a 1-yard TD run on New England's second drive and they cashed in on Flacco's first interception with a 4-yard TD pass from Brady (172 yards) to Shane Vereen, who later exited with a groin injury.

The Patriots led 17-0 at halftime after the lone points of the second quarter came on Stephen Gostkowski's 45-yard field goal. He added a 42-yard kick in the third quarter for a 20-0 advantage. Meanwhile, Baltimore got stuffed at the goal-line and continued to falter including a missed field goal by Justin Tucker (snapping a streak of 33 made in a row).

The Ravens avoided the shutout with Flacco's 1-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter but Blount's 7-yard TD run was more than enough to clinch it. Julian Edelman had another very solid game with seven catches for 77 yards.

Denver won 37-13 at Houston although that is somewhat misleading because the Texans hung around for a while. Still, it's hard to see anything but a Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship Game in around a month or so. Obviously anything can happen, the two best teams in the AFC can lose their first game but it's hard to see it happening. This win proved to Patriots fans that the next few weeks at the very least will be more interesting than we thought.

UPDATE 12/26: Marquice Cole was released for the second time this season. Keep in mind, the other time was when he was injured and then he got re-signed. I expect the same thing to happen this late in the campaign.

UPDATE 12/27: Austin Collie was released too, leaving New England with two open spots on the active roster. Sounds like two practice squad heroes will get the promotion for Sunday's game.





Saturday, December 21, 2013

I'm Sorry To Say It Won't Be A Merry Christmas in Buffalo This Year


With Christmas right around the corner, the Bruins got into the holiday spirit by beating the hapless Sabres 4-1 at festive TD Garden. Buffalo (9-24-3) looked nothing like the team that shocked the Bruins (24-10-2) just two nights earlier, 4-2 in Loserville I mean Buffalo. Of course, having Tuukka Rask (34 saves) between the pipes instead of Chad Johnson helps not to mention the fact that the B's have now won their last seven games in a row at home with a 14-game point streak (12-0-2).

Just like you can't blame Johnson for Thursday's loss even though he gave up a shitty goal, the same can be said for good old Jhonas Enroth (35 saves) who has to go through life not only as Ryan Miller's backup but also the No. 2 goalie on the worst team in the NHL. That is depressing just to write, let alone live it.

Reilly Smith gave Boston a 1-0 lead at 9:39 of the first period on a one-timer. His power play goal, his 10th of the season, came with assists from Carl Soderberg and Ryan Spooner. It seems like Buffalo scores one goal per game (they have 64 goals in 36 games) so once my man Zemgus Girgensons banked the puck off Rask's back over the goal line with 1:06 left in the first period, that was it. The quota had been reached so Buffalo by rule couldn't score any additional goals.

The second period was an interesting one as David Krejci potted a pretty goal at 1:47 from Jarome Iginla. His seventh of the season was thanks to Iginla going against the grain and looking back for his centerman rather than ahead to fellow winger Milan Lucic. Once Krejci had the puck on his stick, poor Enroth didn't stand a chance as he roofed it over his glove hand.

What most people should remember from this game is Patrice Bergeron's fight with Tyler Myers. That's right, Bergeron who had a grand total of two career fights (both in the playoffs) decided to drop the gloves with Buffalo's Bigfoot defenseman (6-foot-8). Bergy didn't exactly score a knock out but he proved plenty to his teammates and Bruins fans, not that he ever needed to.

Milan Lucic added another log to the fire with a one-timer of his own at 5:18 of the third period. His team-leading 12th goal of the season was assisted by Krejci and Zdeno Chara. Smith notched an empty-netter with 21 seconds left, he is the second-leading goal-scorer on the B's. Who could have possibly imagined that?

Christmas will be long over (ok two days old) when you next see the Bruins on their home ice-Friday vs. Ottawa (7, NESN). Boston hits the road for a game in Nashville (16-16-4) on Monday (8, NESN) then just like every other team in the NHL, they have three consecutive days with no games. The rare Monday Night Hockey will give you something to do while you wrap presents or stuff your face with Christmas cookies.





Week 16 Injury Report: Patriots at Ravens


You can have the Jets and Broncos, for my money I'll take the Ravens as New England's biggest rival from the last few years. These battle-tested teams mirror each other in many ways which is why the games always seem to be instant classics that come down to the wire (haha well at least in the regular season). Sunday (4:25, CBS) shouldn't be any different as both teams are scrambling to make the playoffs. The Patriots (10-4) need a win (or Dolphins loss) to clinch another AFC East title while the Ravens (8-6) probably have to win out to make the postseason.

New England's rookie receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) is out while fellow rookies Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) and Aaron Dobson (foot) are both questionable but it sounds like at least one of them will return in this extremely important contest. Five other Patriots are questionable: Alfonzo Dennard (knee), Dane Fletcher (groin), Nate Solder (concussion), Kyle Arrington (groin) and Brandon Spikes (knee).

For the defending Super Bowl champs from Baltimore, cornerback Asa Jackson (thigh) is doubtful. Four Ravens are questionable: linebacker Albert McClellan (neck), running back Ray Rice (thigh), quarterback Joe Flacco (knee) and linebacker Elvis Dumervil (ankle). You know that Rice, Flacco and Dumervil will play so don't pretend otherwise.

This hasn't gotten the hype it deserved but it should only take a few plays to remember how much these teams hate yet respect one another. Stay tuned on Sunday for the rest of the inactives.

UPDATE 12/21: Thompkins and Solder are out, so yikes.

UPDATE 12/22: The Patriots inactives are Jake Bequette, Dane Fletcher, Isaac Sopoaga, D.J. Williams, Thompkins, Solder and Boyce. The Ravens inactives are Jackson, S Omar Brown, McClellan, C Ryan Jensen, WR Deonte Thompson, TE Dallas Clark and DT Brandon Williams.





Friday, December 20, 2013

Under No Circumstances This Season Is A Loss to the Sabres An Acceptable Result


There are bad losses and then there is losing to the worst team in the NHL, in a game where you had the lead in the second period and controlled play for most of the night. The stinkbombs in Detroit and Vancouver will be remembered more since they were more dramatic but Boston's 4-2 loss tonight to Buffalo at the First Niagara Center was plenty depressing enough.

This should have served as Brad Marchand's turnaround to a crappy season (for him) since he scored both goals for the Bruins (23-10-2) but instead, Chad Johnson (19 saves) allowed another backbreaking goal on a cheesy wraparound that should never work in the NHL. The Sabres (9-23-3) aren't having a tough campaign, they are a horrorshow. That's what makes a loss to them so hard to swallow.

Ryan Miller (34 saves) is still toiling away for the Sabres and he's plenty good enough to make him vs. Johnson a complete mismatch. Former University of Maine Star Brian Flynn (a native of Lynnfield, MA) gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead with a pretty shorthanded goal at 16:27 of the first period. He skated in on a breakaway and lifted the puck to the top shelf with a nifty backhander.

Marchand responded with a shorthanded goal for Boston at 1:50 of the second period. After a pass from Johnny Boychuk, he had an open lane and drove down the wing before wristing the puck through Miller's five-hole. It was Marchand's sixth goal of the season.

Just 1:14 later, Marchand gave Boston its first lead at 2-1. This time he one-timed a pass from Patrice Bergeron. The shot wasn't scorching since he seemed to have mishit it but it still worked.

Buffalo had some good luck (probably the first time in history that's ever been written about the Sabres or Bills) when Jamie McBain's shot bounced in off Marcus Foligno's chest. The timing was tough too, 17:11 of the second period so it was a new game.

Stafford's goal came at 14:19 and Tyler Myers (remember him?) added the insurance tally 1:20 after Stafford's game-winner. The B's have a chance to take out their frustrations on the Sabres this Saturday (7, NESN), their next contest. You have to believe that Boston will beat hapless Buffalo at TD Garden but with all these injuries, I guess we shall wait and see.

Shoutout to rookie defenseman David Warsofsky who made his NHL debut for the Bruins. He grew up in Marshfield, MA and went to BU so you have to believe he was a huge Bruins fans growing up. It's always fun to see a local person going somewhere in professional sports.







Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bruins Return to TD Garden, Pick Up 2 More Points vs. Hapless Flames


The first home game after a long road trip can usually be termed a trap game, that is unless you find yourselves facing a shitbag team like the Flames. Then the physical and mental fatigue doesn't seem to affect you quite as much. Boston was coming off a 3-1 road trip in Toronto and Western Canada and they bounced back from a 6-2 pounding in Vancouver on Saturday to shut out the Flames 2-0 tonight at TD Garden.

Tuukka Rask (17-8-2) was called on to make 21 saves but I honestly can't remember too many tricky ones for his third shutout of the season. I'd be surprised if he's not Finland's starting goaltender at the upcoming Sochi Olympics and a Vezina trophy finalist (like he should have been last year) in the spring. Name me a better goaltender in the NHL, I'm waiting.

With so many injuries and numerous Providence Bruins getting action up here, Boston (23-9-2) has counted on its stars more than ever to carry them before the varsity is back in Larry Lucchino terms. Captain Zdeno Chara delivered a tour-de-force this evening with a pair of power-play goals. At 7:38 of the second period, he one-timed a pass from David Krejci past good old Reto Berra (29 saves). Former Flames icon Jarome Iginla picked up his first career point against Calgary on Chara's bomb.

Big Z put it away with another power-play strike, this time at 3:19 of the third period. The script was changed a bit as he cleaned up the loose change in Berra's crease after Krejci had passed it to Iginla who threw it at the net. Chara's ninth goal of the season tied him with Reilly Smith and Patrice Bergeron for second on the team behind Milan Lucic (11). Most impressively, Chara is tied for the NHL lead in terms of goals by defensemen (Ottawa's Erik Karlsson). 66% (6 of 9) of Chara's tallies this season have come on the man advantage, a skill that head coach Claude Julien and Co. are finally taking advantage of more.

Get used to seeing plenty of garbage teams the next few weeks: Boston won't take on another fellow playoff team until January 7 in Anaheim. Between now and then, they have eight more contests against the Sisters of the Poor. Fittingly, that kicks off on Thursday (7, NESN) in Hell, I mean Buffalo against the worst team in the NHL-the Sabres (8-23-3). After that, Buffalo comes to Boston on Saturday (7, NESN). What a cakewalk, Merry Christmas/Happy New Year Bruins!

UPDATE 12/18: The Bruins called up D David Warsofsky and sent down Craig Cunningham and Kevan Miller back to Providence.






Celtics Exact Revange on the Timberwolves for an Earlier Beating This Season


Tangible evidence for how far the Celtics have come in only one month: on November 16, they were embarrassed 106-88 in Minnesota. Tonight at TD Garden in the teams' only other meeting of the season, Boston (12-14 overall, 7-6 home) outlasted Minnesota (12-13 overall, 5-9 away) 101-97. The Celts are maybe the third best team in the extremely weak Eastern Conference so it seems like the new plan is to win as much as they can with this group (thus upping their trade value).

Kevin Love (game-high 27 points, 14 rebounds) is still one of the best players in the NBA but unfortunately, he's also employed by a club that can't get over the hump once again. Monster Nikola Pekovic (13 points, 7 rebounds) was the only other Timberwolves starter in double-figures. Dante Cunningham had 12 points and six rebounds off the bench along with 10 points apiece from Northeastern's J.J. Barea (11 assists) and Alexey Shved.

Without Rajon Rondo (who has been cleared to practice), the Celtics lack a true superstar but they can win the Atlantic Division this season with a solid team that plays unselfishly with a very smart head coach (Brad Stevens) in total control. Jared Sullinger (24 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) had one of his best games as a pro. Avery Bradley added 19 points and five rebounds and Jordan Crawford (15 points) was the final Celtic with double figures.

Coming into this campaign, you would have thought the Celtics couldn't win when Jeff Green pulls one of his infamous no-shows. Well he scored eight points tonight but teammates like Kelly Olynyk (9 points) and Kris Humphries (8 points, 7 rebounds) picked him up off the bench. Maybe it is because so many of them have something to prove in the NBA (to cash in) or here but there are plenty of motivated players on the Celtics this season (hence first-place in the Atlantic Division).

It was tight the whole way even though it felt that Boston was in control. The Celtics were up 29-21 after the first quarter and 51-50 at halftime. Boston took the third quarter (23-19) and held off Minnesota's mild charge in the fourth (28-27). The only statistic that was much different for both teams is that the C's shot 44.2% from the field while Minnesota was 37.8%.

Up next, the Celts host the Pistons (12-14, 2nd in Central Division) on Wednesday (7:30, CSN). Detroit beat Boston 87-77 in the third game of the young season on November 3 in the Motor City.







Monday, December 16, 2013

Nothing Will Be Easy For The Patriots From Here on Out This Season


It was a very weird day in the AFC: the Patriots had a golden opportunity this afternoon to take control of the No. 1 seed with a win in Miami (after Denver loss to San Diego on Thursday). Unfortunately, the Dolphins (8-6 overall, 4-3 home) had other plans though as they beat New England (10-4 overall, 3-4 away) 24-20 at Sun Life Stadium. The Pats just missed out on another last-second victory as Michael Thomas picked off Tom Brady (34 of 55 for 364 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) in the end zone to wrap it up. The night ended with plenty of help from the Bengals as they lost 30-20 at the Steelers to remain in the No. 3 spot in the conference.

I'd like to come up with a more creative reason or a viewpoint not already shared by most but New England's biggest issues: injuries on defense and not having Rob Gronkowski particularly in the red zone (1 of 4) were a major factor in this loss. Julian Edelman (career-high 13 catches, 139 yards, 1 TD) and Danny Amendola (10 catches, 131 yards) were locked in with Brady, they combined for 33 of 54 targets (61%). Miami clearly focused on shutting down Shane Vereen (2 carries, 13 yards; 3 catches, 8 yards) and without Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, that's pretty much where Brady's options sit.

This is to take nothing away from the Dolphins, they are a good team and with their last two games at Bills then hosting the Jets, they could very well find themselves in the postseason as well. Ryan Tannehill (25 of 37 for 312 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) is improving and they are tough to beat when Mike Wallace (6 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD) is involved in the game-plan.

The first three quarters were actually pretty dull, setting the stage for a wild fourth in the heat. New England went 16 plays for 83 yards on their opening drive but they had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski (remember that). Michael Hoomanawanui made his first touchdown catch as a Patriot a memorable one: he speared it with one-hand to give the Pats a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Wallace shook loose for a 39-yard touchdown catch and run with 32 seconds left in the first half. It was a huge momentum swing for the Dolphins and conversely against the Patriots' defense which had pitched a shutout up to that point. A 32-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis was the only score of the third quarter and it tied things at 10.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Dolphins went up 17-10 on a two-yard touchdown catch by Daniel Thomas. Apparently New England had never seen a swing pass before. The Pats had another long drive (15 plays, 67 yards) stall in the red zone (sense a pattern here?) and Gostkowski's 23-yard field goal cut it to 17-16.

After a timely stop by New England's defense, yes this really happened, Edelman caught a 24-yard touchdown (similar to Wallace's) that gave his team a temporary 20-17 lead. Of course Miami went right down the field and Tannehill found Marcus Thigpen for a 14-yard touchdown. Dont'a Hightower was burned by that nobody, proving yet again that he can't do anything right.

New England is at Baltimore (7-6) next Sunday afternoon (4:25, CBS) at M&T Bank Stadium in the game that was flexed out of Sunday Night Football for Bears-Eagles (huh?). The Ravens are in Detroit tomorrow night for Monday Night Football so hopefully that important game takes something out of them along with the short week of preparation. The Ravens are always a tough matchup for the Patriots and this will be the first time they've met since last season's AFC Championship shellacking by Baltimore at Gillette Stadium en route to their unexpected Super Bowl triumph vs. San Francisco.





Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bruins Get Humbled by the Canucks, a Crappy End to a Nice Road Trip


After holding off the Maple Leafs then taking care of the awful Flames and Oilers, the Bruins skated into Vancouver with confidence on Saturday night despite all the recent turmoil with injuries, illness and suspensions. Unfortunately, the Canucks (20-10-5) proved why they are the hottest team in the NHL (7 straight wins) as they dealt the B's (22-9-2) a harsh 6-2 beating (that wasn't nearly that close) at Rogers Arena.

Jannik Hansen opened the scoring at 16:37 of the first period by shooting from center ice, the dipping puck eluded a baffled Tuukka Rask. Reilly Smith took advantage of a failed dump-in along the boards to skate in on a breakaway and tuck a backhander past Roberto Luongo (39 saves) at 4:11 of the second period. It was Smith's eighth goal of the season.

From there, the roof caved in on the Black and Gold. David Booth's snap shot beat Rask 1:20 after Smith had tied it then Chris Higgins scored at 8:46 on a rebound. After Yannick Weber of all people scored his first goal of the season at 1:34 of the third period, Rask's night was over. Chris Johnson allowed two goals: to Henrik Sedin (power play) and Chris Tanev (shorthanded).

The only positive for the Bruins is that Smith recorded the first two-goal game of his career (I'm going to say it won't be the last either). He fought for a rebound at 16:43 in the third period, assists went to Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg.

It appeared that Boston suffered another serious injury in the first period when Jarome Iginla's fight with that weasel Ryan Kesler ended with one of Iginla's fingers totally crooked. Ugh, seriously look it up online if you want to be grossed out. Then again NESN spot-shadowed it later in the game so obviously they are clueless. Thankfully, Iginla miraculously recovered (thank you pain killers) and even started the second period. The drugs' after-effects clearly clouded Iginla's mind though as he tried to brawl with Dan Hamhuis in the third period when it was well over.

Tonight was a bucket of crap for the Bruins but they still finished 3-1 on the Western Canada road trip and were able to mostly survive so many issues that would have taken down lesser clubs. Their reward is that the next nine games are all against teams under .500, starting with Calgary (13-15-4, 6th in Pacific Division) on Tuesday (7, NESN) at TD Garden. Normally I would yawn at such a lame few weeks but it is perfect timing for the Providence Bruins I mean Boston Bruins.

UPDATE 12/16: The Bruins recalled forward Craig Cunningham from Providence on an emergency basis. Bad news on the injury front as Daniel Paille has a concussion and Loui Eriksson reportedly is not progressing from his second concussion very well.





Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shawn Thornton Suspended For 15 Games After His Gutless Attack on Brooks Orpik


It took the NHL almost a week to come to their decision (no rush guys) but I'm sad to say that they made the right choice as they suspended Bruins winger Shawn Thornton for 15 games following his brutal punchout of Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. It is the longest regular season suspension handed out by VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan.

I really haven't heard too much blowback from Bruins fans following this incident last Saturday night at TD Garden. Even if you are a huge Bruins honk, it is basically impossible to justify Thornton's slew foot of Orpik (who's not a fighter) followed by two punches right to his face when he was helpless on the ice.

The unfortunate part of this has to be what it will make people around North America think about Thornton moving forward. In New England, we know what a good guy he seems to be and how he's an honest player that never could be called dirty before that (he's never been fined or suspended). I fear that his legacy for many non-Bruins fans will be this and that is really too bad (granted I totally understand) considering the nice career he's put together including two Stanley Cups.

Thornton has already missed three games this week and Boston meets Vancouver tonight (10, NESN) in the final game of their four-city Western Canada road trip. It sounds like he might appeal the decision but I'd be surprised if the NHL changes anything about it. They really strung this out so you have to believe that they agonized over the suspension length. I guess we'll have to wait and see.






The Knicks are One Sad Basketball Team


Credit to the Knicks, after getting absolutely embarrassed by the Celtics on their home floor Sunday afternoon, they came to Boston tonight and found a new and different painful way to lose to one of their biggest rivals. Sure the C's (11-14 overall, 6-6 home) blew a 17-point lead earlier in the game but that was nothing compared to New York (6-16 overall, 3-8 away) choking away an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter in an eventual 90-86 loss at TD Garden.

Who could blame Knicks head coach Mike Woodson for looking like a defeated man for most of the night. Apparently he'll be able to keep his job until Tyson Chandler comes back but honestly, will his return even matter? Through bad contracts, ineffective, old and/or injured players plus being centered around perhaps the most one-dimensional and overrated player in the NBA-Carmelo Anthony (26 points)-means that New York is likely stuck in this predicament for a long time.

These teams meet twice more, the next time is January 28 at Madison Square Garden. Is there any chance Woodson will be paid to be there too? The Celts are basically the anti-Knicks: no stars (without Rajon Rondo), few egos, unselfish play and they at least attempt to give defense a whirl plus they have a coach that is constantly learning on the job.

Jared Sullinger (19 points, 6 rebounds) led four players in double figures for the Green; Avery Bradley had 13 points and six assists, Brandon Bass notched 10 points and eight rebounds while Courtney Lee was a real spark off the bench with 18 points (3 for 3 on 3-pointers).

New York's big acquisition Andrea Bargnani put up 22 points and seven rebounds but where did that get them? Amar'e Stoudemire (18 points, 5 rebounds off the bench) has actually played pretty well recently but that still doesn't come close to justifying his Looney Tunes contract.

Boston led 29-26 after the first quarter and 54-48 at halftime. New York went ahead with a strong third quarter (25-14) but their fourth was typically pathetic (outscored 22-13). The Celtics shot 8.5% better from the field (48.5-40), they blocked four more shots (5-1) and scored 11 more fast break points (14-3).

This is a sweet spot in the Celtics' schedule as they are in the midst of a five-game homestand with three more on tap beginning with Monday (7:30, CSN) vs. Kevin Love and the Timberwolves (11-12, 4th in Northwest Division). He had an amazing performance (42 points, 14 rebounds, 8 3-pointers) but it wasn't enough as Minnesota fell 117-110 at San Antonio this evening to fall back under .500. At some point, the Timberwolves are going to be good, right?

Tonight snapped a two-game losing streak for Boston and with Minnesota, Detroit and Washington all coming to town next week, this unfortunately could be the start of another win-streak. Other than Brooklyn, who else is going to challenge them in the putrid Atlantic Division this season?








Friday, December 13, 2013

Week 15 Injury Report: Patriots at Dolphins


Where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that the 2013 NFL regular season was starting. There are only three games left in the regular season and things got ramped up a notch last night for the Patriots (10-3) as the Broncos (11-3) unexpectedly lost at home to the Chargers. Now, New England can grab the No. 1 seed in the AFC if they just win their last three games.

That will be easier said than done, at least the next two weeks, as the Pats are at the Dolphins (7-6) on Sunday (1, CBS) then they host the Ravens (7-6) the following Sunday. The regular season finale vs. Buffalo is sure to be a laugher no matter the stakes. Both Miami and Baltimore usually give New England fits (well Miami does at home) so it is certainly possible that the Patriots lose one or both of those games.

Today the injury reports came out. Nine players are questionable for the Patriots: Aaron Dobson (foot), Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), Nate Solder (concussion), Brandon Spikes (knee), Will Svitek (ankle), Kyle Arrington (groin), Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), Marcus Cannon (ankle) and Alfonzo Dennard (knee). Dobson didn't play the last few weeks and Thompkins was out last week, with Rob Gronkowski done for the season at least one of those guys will have to play (you'd assume). Solder's concussion is the other thing to monitor since he's arguably their best offensive lineman.

Miami kept it simple (would Joe Philbin have it any other way?) as they listed two guys as questionable: cornerback Jamar Taylor (hamstring) and safety Reshad Jones (groin).

Stay tuned on Sunday when we'll be buried in snow (relatively speaking) in New England and the beautiful people in Miami will be out in full force wearing summer clothes.

UPDATE 12/14: Dobson and Thompkins are both out.

UPDATE 12/15: Patriots inactives are Chris Barker, Steve Beauharnais, Dobson, Thompkin, D.J. Williams, Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan. Dolphins inactives are OG David Arkin, S D.J. Campbell, CB Justin Rogers, QB Pat Devlin, DT A.J. Francis (former Patriot), Taylor and G Danny Watkins.






Is There a Bruins Fan Out There That Hasn't Fallen In Love with this Team Yet?


Granted they aren't exactly playing the iron of the much deeper Western Conference but the Bruins are finding ways to win when common sense tells you they shouldn't. Boston held off Edmonton 4-3 tonight at Rexall Place for their fourth straight victory. Backup goaltender Chad Johnson made a career-high 39 saves, Jarome Iginla scored two goals and the B's (22-8-2) built an early 3-0 lead that was too much to overcome for the awful Oilers (11-19-3).

This being Edmonton, home of the worst goaltenders in the NHL, Dennis Seidenberg scored a very weak goal (not that he'll complain) at 10:35 in the first period. His first of the season was a knucklepuck that the immortal Devan Dubnyk had no chance to stop. Iginla doubled the lead at 16:11 when his blast from near the boards (and blue line) went past Dubnyk. His seventh goal of the season was assisted by Seidenberg and David Krejci plus Milan Lucic screened Dubnyk.

The Oilers had given up the most short-handed goals in the NHL so naturally they had to let the Bruins nab one. Brad Marchand one-timed a pass from Patrice Bergeron at at 18:17. It was Marchand's fifth goal of the season.

David Perron might be one of the only guys on the Oilers with any type of fight or character. He battled back with a pair of goals to cut it to 3-2. His wrist shot went top shelf on Johnson at 3:25 then the Bruins' goaltender got caught too far out of the net so Perron wrapped around it and poked in a loose puck for an ugly goal (if you root for Boston) at 17:27.

Maybe the highlight of the whole contest (assuming you don't mind fighting) was Lucic brawling with Luke Gazdic (great name). Iginla couldn't get the empty-netter on Tuesday in Calgary when the whole crowd wanted it but he delivered tonight at 19:16 from Krejci and Kevan Miller (1st NHL assist).

I didn't really notice him much but I guess former Bruin Andrew Ference (now Edmonton's captain) had a good game: +1, one shot on goal, three blocked shots and two hits. I wish him nothing but the best, he was one of my favorite Bruins from the last few seasons.

Boston wraps up this four-game road trip on Saturday (10, NESN) at Vancouver (18-10-5, 4th in Pacific Division). The Canucks have won their last five games heading into tomorrow night vs. the Oilers.






Thursday, December 12, 2013

Not That There Was Any Doubt but Doc Rivers Picked the Right Time To Leave Boston


I'll never understand how anyone could blame Doc Rivers for leaving the Celtics for the Clippers. With Boston rebuilding and LA a legitimate contender in the Western Conference, who wouldn't take off on a new adventure in a warm climate with more money and power? Doc's first game back to TD Garden with his new team was tonight and the Clippers (15-8 overall, 7-6 away) held off the Celtics (10-14 overall, 5-6 home) 96-88.

The C's did a nice job honoring Rivers between the first and second quarter with a highlight video although their taste in music wasn't the best. As most expected, he was widely cheered when he got introduced before the game (as he should have been). Now we can all move on with our lives, PS thanks for the memories Doc. Oh that's right, they'll meet one more time-January 8 in Los Angeles. I'll assume that won't be nearly as emotional.

Chris Paul is what makes the Clippers a contender, for my money he's still the best point guard in the NBA (sorry Russell Westbrook). He flirted with a triple-double (22 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals). Blake Griffin was the only other LA starter in double-figures with 18 points (which I'm assuming all came via dunks) and seven rebounds. Ageless Jamal Crawford scored 21 points off the bench and Darren Collison had 10 points.

Boston was playing the second half of a back-to-back and it showed as they led 23-20 after one quarter and 45-39 at halftime before they faded in the last two quarters. Los Angeles took over in the third (27-19) and put it away in the fourth (30-24).

Jeff Green scored a game-high 29 points but in typical fashion didn't do anything else. Jordan Crawford nearly had a double-double with 20 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Brandon Bass put up a great line if you had him in Fantasy Basketball: 17 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Jared Sullinger added 10 points and nine assists.

LA hit six more free throws (22-16), made four more steals (9-5), scored six more fast break points (15-9) and 18 more points in the paint (42-24). Oh and the Clippers bench outscored the Celtics 34-4 so there's that.

It was a taxing couple nights so I'm sure Boston will be happy to rest tomorrow (assuming they don't have more than a light practice at most) before they host the Knicks (6-15, 4th in Atlantic Division) on Friday (7:30, CSN). You might remember that Boston whipped New York 114-73 on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. I'd say the Knicks can't possibly play any worse but then I look at their record and am not quite sure.





Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bruins Celebrate Jarome Iginla Night by Stealing 2 points In Calgary


The Bruins (21-8-2) were lifeless for the first two periods tonight at Scotiabank Saddledome, trailing the Flames (11-15-4) 1-0 and getting outshot 22-9. Much like the Patriots in recent second halves, the B's came alive in the third period and scored a pair of goals to escape with a 2-1 win over hapless Calgary. It was Boston's third win in a row to remain in first-place in the Atlantic Division after Montreal got steamrolled by Los Angeles, 6-0.

It had to be a very emotional night for one Jarome Iginla since the Flames honored him extensively in the pre-game and named him the third star of the game so he was able to skate a sort of victory lap in the place he called home for parts of 16 seasons. I'm cynical and critical about almost anything but I have to say that Calgary did an excellent job of putting together the whole ceremony. The storybook ending of course would have entailed Iginla scoring a goal (probably the game-winner) but the closest he came was a shot that went off the crossbar then an empty-netter attempt that was blocked.

Jiri Hudler gave the Flames (wearing their terrible alternate jerseys) a 1-0 lead at 5:17 of the second period. First, Reilly Smith turned the puck over in Calgary's end setting off a rush up ice. Then Tuukka Rask (26 saves) couldn't stop a seeing eye shot by Jiri Hudler which he normally makes no problem. With their litany of injuries reaching critical mass (six regulars out of the lineup tonight), it seemed like Boston's offense had dried up.

That was until former Bruins first-round draft pick Joe Colborne got called for delay of game after clearing the puck over the glass in his own end. David Krejci tied it at 13:49 of the third period by tipping Torey Krug's shot from the point (that was meant to be tipped). Zdeno Chara had the second assist on Krejci's sixth goal of the season.

Just 1:38 later, Reilly Smith tallied the game-winner with a brilliant move around a Calgary defenseman then up high on Reto Berra (22 saves). Ryan Spooner assisted on Smith's seventh goal of the season (nobody has exceeded expectations quite like him on the Bruins so far this season).

Boston continues its tour of Western Canada with a visit to Edmonton (11-18-3) on Thursday (9:30, NESN) to see former Bruin Andrew Ference-the captain of the Oilers. Edmonton is currently the worst team in the Western Conference, one point behind the Flames. Remember when everyone (myself included) thought the Oilers would sneak into the playoffs this season? Yeah not so much.







KG, Pierce and the Nets Take Round 1 vs. the Celtics


Everyone had the same thought: it was bizarre to see Paul Pierce (4 points, 7 rebounds) and Kevin Garnett (11 points, 9 rebounds) competing in Nets jerseys. The Celtics' legends got their first shot at their old team and they made it count as Brooklyn (7-14 overall, 3-6 home) held off Boston this evening 104-96 at Barclays Center.

For the early part of this season, the expectations for both of these teams were completely off the mark. Boston (10-13 overall, 5-8 away) was supposed to be a pushover while the Nets were built to challenge the Heat and Pacers in the Eastern Conference.

Pierce returned early from a broken hand so with most of their squad finally healthy, Brooklyn actually played well. Deron Williams had a game-high 25 points and seven assists while robot Brook Lopez added 24 points. Something called Alan Anderson scored 15 points and that bum Andray Blatche put up 11 points off the bench.

Avery Bradley paced the Celtics with 22 points. Jeff Green had 19 points and six rebounds, Jordan Crawford and Jared Sullinger each notched 15 points while Brandon Bass had the only double-double in the game (13 points, 11 rebounds).

It was close almost the entire game but the Nets were always in control: up 31-20 after the first quarter, 56-47 at halftime and 85-72 heading into the fourth quarter. Boston stayed in it by hitting eight more 3-pointers (11-3) and scoring 10 more points off turnovers (24-14). Brooklyn shot 11.9% better from the field, hit eight more free throws, grabbed seven more rebounds, had five more assists, 10 more bench points and scored 18 more points in the paint.

The reunion week continues with a back-to-back, Boston returns to TD Garden tomorrow night (7:30, CSN) to face Doc Rivers and the Clippers (14-8, 1st in Pacific Division). It will be his first game against the C's since he left this summer. These two games shouldn't have been this close together but what can you do? The Celtics aren't one of the marquee teams in the NBA anymore so their schedule isn't particularly attractive in many ways.






Monday, December 9, 2013

Now I've Seen Everything: Jordan Crawford Named Eastern Conference Player of the Week


No single player better epitomizes Boston's (10-12) unexpectedly good (relatively speaking in the wasteland that is the Atlantic Division) start in 2013-14 than Jordan Crawford. When he was acquired last season from Washington, he seemed like a terrible fit: a me-first guy on a team of mostly unselfish players. That's why then head coach Doc Rivers buried him on the bench.

It's been a completely different story for Crawford this season, with Rajon Rondo still out recovering from knee surgery and Brad Stevens in charge, Crawford has been the de-facto point guard since Avery Bradley is an awful ball-handler and can't be trusted with the most important job on a basketball team. To everyone's surprise, Crawford is playing better than he ever has in his four years in the NBA. Today he was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week while Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge received the honors for the Western Conference.

In three games last week (all Celtics wins), Crawford had 25 points and five assists against the Bucks on Tuesday, 22 points and eight assists against the Nuggets on Friday and 23 points and seven assists in Boston's blowout win at New York yesterday afternoon. He's also shooting 3-pointers at a very high clip lately. He had four vs. Milwaukee, two vs. Denver and six vs. New York.

What remains to be seen is what the C's do with Crawford once Rondo returns, then again maybe that won't be for a while (a man can dream, right?). Regardless, Crawford has proven to be a solid NBA player and now he suddenly is valuable either to Boston's future or they can trade him for something decent in return.

Boston is at Brooklyn (6-14) tomorrow night (7:30, CSN) to face the ghost of Kevin Garnett with bozo rookie head coach Jason Kidd intentionally spilling drinks on the court.





Gronk's Torn ACL Overshadows Another Video-Game Like Comeback by the Patriots


As a sports fan, besides big losses, there are few things more depressing than a serious injury to a star player. Unfortunately, the Patriots will wake up tomorrow having to game-plan the rest of the season and playoffs without Rob Gronkowski who reportedly tore his ACL on a brutal hit by T.J. Ward (helmet to knee). Sure New England (10-3 overall, 7-0 home) rallied for another insane 27-26 comeback victory over Cleveland (4-9 overall, 1-5 away) at Gillette Stadium but forgive us if our minds were wandering a bit. Plus who ever believed the Browns would hand the Pats their first home loss of 2013 (7-0)?

You can't overstate Gronk's importance which is why the Pats had morphed into the top-scoring offense in the league again after he returned from arm/back surgeries. This will be the third straight postseason that he's been hurt which makes you wonder if the poor guy will ever have a fully healthy season (regular season and playoffs) in the NFL.

I said the same thing last week when the Texans gagged a game away to the Patriots but today was the epitome of a certain win that only a few miserable squads can successfully hand over to the opposition. The Browns were up 19-3 late in the third quarter on Josh Gordon's (7 catches, 151 yards; 34-yard run) 80-yard catch and run.

Shane Vereen (12 catches, 153 yards) took over on the next drive and earned his way to a six-yard touchdown run. Julian Edelman (6 catches, 64 yards) caught the two-point conversion as the momentum started to swing towards New England.

Stephen Gostkowski's 50-yard field goal cut it to 19-14 but Jordan Cameron (9 catches, 121 yards) appeared to put it away with a four-yard touchdown catch from Jason Campbell (29 of 44, 391 yards, 3 TDs) on a basic play action pass. Tom Brady (32 of 52, 418 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) calmly drove down the field and threw a two-yard touchdown to Edelman who was drilled but hung on (and stayed in the game).

Gostkowski's onside kick was the play of the game though as Kyle Arrington recovered it at Cleveland's 39. Haha only the Browns. By that point, New England getting one last touchdown felt inevitable and so it went with Danny Amendola catching a one-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left.

New England actually left too much time on the clock for Cleveland's horrible offense and Campbell sort of got them in field goal range. I don't think fans of Cleveland teams can actually feel any lower but the Browns tried to toy with their emotions a little more as Billy Cundiff of all people was dragged out for a 58-yard field goal attempt in the last seconds. Do I even have to tell you that it was short?

Gronk is having an MRI tomorrow but countless NFL reporters said his season is over after this game so I'll go with that until I hear otherwise. The Patriots can clinch the AFC East title with a win on Sunday (1, CBS) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami vs. the Dolphins (7-6 overall, 2nd in AFC East). They beat Miami 27-17 in Week 8 at Gillette Stadium but New England always struggles in Miami for whatever reason (the clubs?).

UPDATE 12/9: The news about Gronk couldn't be much worse as he also tore his MCL in his right knee along with the ACL and also suffered a concussion so he was put on IR. Yikes. The Patriots re-signed tight end D.J. Williams to take his place on the 53-man roster; this is the third season in a row that Grnonkowi's missed important games at the end of the season.

UPDATE 12/10: I can't really explain why but the Patriots-Ravens game in Week 16 was flexed from Sunday night to a 4:25 p.m. start. Bears-Eagles will take its place, I guess we should be content with more time to sleep after so many late-night games this season for New England.







Providence Bruins Pick Up an Impressive Road Win in Toronto


Not to sound like a complete honk but there are very few teams in the NHL that could do what the Bruins accomplished tonight. They were playing in their second game in two nights, this time on the road (start of a four-game road trip through Western Canada) against a playoff-caliber division foe with their backup goaltender in net and three players recently called up from Providence in the starting lineup. Naturally Boston (20-8-2) won 5-2 at Toronto's (16-12-3) Air Canada Centre to leapfrog back over Montreal for first-place in the suddenly competitive Atlantic Division.

Chad Johnson (30 saves) played well, Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser skated on the third line and the B's scored two power-play goals. After the Maple Leafs grabbed a 1-0 lead at 12:20 of the first period on Peter Holland's goal, Boston made sure to put in four of the next five of the next tallies. Boston's power play had been 0 for its last 6 but Carl Soderberg tied it at 5:14 of the second period. His fourth goal of the season was assisted by Reilly Smith and Patrice Bergeron, some beautiful rapid fire passing.

1:33 after that, Torey Krug blasted in his eighth goal of the season (tying Ottawa's Erik Karlsson for most by a defenseman). David Krejci and Milan Lucic had the assists on his power play strike. Boston even experienced a neat personal milestone as rookie defenseman Kevan Millar nabbed his first goal and point of his NHL career. His shot from the point had eyes to get by Jonathan Bernier (34 saves), Soderberg had the lone assist as the B's had a comfortable 3-1 lead after two periods.

Toronto was also playing its second game in two nights but at home you knew they wouldn't give up so easily. Jay McClemment went to the net to track his own rebound and it paid off 37 seconds into the final frame. Jarome Iginla helped Boston regain the vital two-goal advantage with four minutes left in regulation. Lucic made it all happen by driving down the left side then centering it to Iginla who jammed it in.

Patrice Bergeron was rewarded for all his hard work with an empty-netter at 19:49 from Gregory Campbell and Krejci. The only bad news to come out of this energizing result is that Dougie Hamilton hurt his leg and afterwards Bruins head coach Claude Julien said he was being sent back to Boston for a further examination. That means another defenseman from Providence could meet them in Calgary (11-14-4, 6th in Pacific Division) on Tuesday (9:30, NESN). Then again Julien also mentioned that Johnny Boychuk (back) could possibly play vs. the Flames.

UPDATE 12/9: Penguins winger James Neal was suspended for five games stemming from his kneeing incident vs. Brad Marchand on Saturday.

UPDATE 12/10: Loui Eriksson was placed on IR (concussion) and forward Nick Johnson was recalled from Providence. If that's not enough, Dougie Hamilton is out 2-4 weeks with a lower body injury and Daniel Paille is out tonight with an undisclosed upper body injury.