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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

B's End 2014 in Disappointing Fashion: Rallying From 2 Goals Down Then Losing in a Shootout

By virtue of their frustrating 4-3 shootout loss tonight at TD Garden vs. Toronto (21-14-3), Boston (19-15-4) made sure that December of 2014 was their first losing month (5-6-3) since February 2012 (5-7-1). There is plenty to say about this one since Boston trailed 3-1 in the second period but rallied in the same frame to tie it then dominated the third and overtime yet still fell short.

This game meant extra since a win would have tied the Bruins up with the Maple Leafs in the standings, instead Toronto is now three points ahead and comfortably in the playoff picture (6th in the Eastern Conference) while Boston sits one point behind Washington for the last spot. Yes, just over half of the regular season remains but the more that time goes by, the harder it is for the B's to make up any ground on all these other clubs in the Northeast Division let alone the East.

Getting out to better starts and having more consistency for the entire game are two general areas that are killing the Bruins. Toronto jumped ahead 1-0 at 10:22 of the first period when Leo Komarov scored on a one-timer from the slot (his 5th goal of the season), assisted by Peter Holland who was behind the net. Phil Kessel drew an ultra-rare penalty shot but Tuukka Rask (18 saves) was able to stop it late in the first period. Kessel is now 1 for 3 in his career on penalty shots while Rask has stopped 4 of 6.

If you were in line getting a beer (it is New Year's Eve after all) or at the bathroom, you probably missed two goals that occurred before the first minute had passed in the second period. Carl Soderberg deflected in Reilly Smith's shot from the point 17 seconds in (his 8th goal of the season), a power play goal that tied it at one. Former UNH star James van Riemsdyk put Toronto in front again 31 seconds later as he finished off a lethal 2-on-1 with Phil Kessel for his 17th goal of the season.

Kessel's power play goal, his team-leading 18th of the season, gave the Leafs a 3-1 lead but this being Toronto, they couldn't handle a lead in Boston (sound familiar?). Jonathan Bernier (25 saves) played the role of James Reimer for the duration of the second as he let in a bizarre pair of goals. That's right, the Bruins got not one but two breaks that led to goals (when has that ever happened this season for them?). David Krejci's shot deflected in off Cody Franson for his fifth goal of the season at 15:28 than 2:03 after that, Torey Krug's centering pass (intended for Krejci) went off Komarov's skate by Bernier for his seventh goal of the season.

Boston outshot Toronto 9-2 in the third and 4-0 in overtime but they couldn't find the game-winner. Mike Santorelli scored in the first round of the shootout, Krug answered in the second then it took Nazem Kadri's goal in the fifth round to end it and send fans on their drunken but merry way. Hey, they cut down on my drinking time!

The Bruins end this huge three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) vs. the Senators (15-14-7) who are in much worse shape than them. Needless to say, Boston has to get two points from that contest, no matter how they obtain them.

Monday, December 29, 2014

B's Have Figured Out How to Play Well At Home, Consistency & The Road are the Next Steps

It's impossible to explain how a team that could beat Nashville 5-3 last Tuesday then Detroit 5-2 tonight (both at TD Garden) could be the same one that no-showed on Saturday in Columbus (a 6-2 loss that was the lowest point of the season). That's what makes the Bruins (19-15-3) so frustrating in 2014-15; when they are motivated and pulling in the same direction, they are capable of beating anyone. Then they have these frequent bizarre lulls where they are awful and get blown out by non-playoff teams.

Boston came into this evening without the services of Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic, who are both "day-to-day" with injuries picked up from the Blue Jackets debacle. They also lost Matt Fraser as he was picked up off waivers by his hometown Oilers. No problem, they've got Jordan Caron and Matthew Lindblad. Haha ugh. Therefore, it was shocking when the B's played their best first period of the season. They pumped in three goals (season-high) and took 19 shots (also a season-high). They got out to a 3-1 lead as Reilly Smith scored on a blast from the point at 2:44 then Gregory Campbell got a hustle goal on a rebound at 16:12 and Carl Soderberg (3 points) tapped one in from Loui Eriksson (2 assists) behind the net 1:13 after that.

Detroit's (19-9-9) opening goal came on Justin Abdelkader's diving backhander when he was falling down at 11:21 that tied it at one. Smith's goal was his ninth of the season, Campbell's was his fourth (first in over a month) and Soderberg grabbed his seventh. The Red Wings have the No. 3 power play in the league so it made sense when they cut it to 3-2 on Tomas Tatar's screened shot at 15:50 of the second period.

The B's bounced back though with a very solid third period of their own. Seth Griffith potted a sweet power play goal at 5:11, his sixth of the season, assisted by David Krejci. The youngster capped it off with a sweet celly but even cooler than that, he had showed off his skills by ripping a snap shot top shelf by Jimmy Howard (40 saves). Boston's season-high 45 shots came in handy and they clinched it with Chris Kelly's empty-netter at 17:34. Tuukka Rask made 28 saves, a much better effort than his sorry relief work on Saturday.

The stupid cliché that the next game is the most important one for the Bruins is actually true. Doubly so when they meet an Atlantic Division rival like the Red Wings or Maple Leafs on Wednesday (7, NESN) aka New Year's Eve. This mini three-game homestand is capped off by the Senators on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN). So while you're waiting for the ball to drop either at a bar or some friend's house, make sure to tune in what should be an interesting contest. Each team has a blowout win to their credit: Boston won 4-1 on Oct. 25 at the Garden then got smoked 6-1 in Toronto on Nov. 12. With tonight's results (Toronto lost 3-2 at Tampa Bay), the B's are only two points behind the Leafs and they have each played 37 games so a win by Boston would tie them up.

For the B's, a spot in the top eighth of the Eastern Conference should be all they are thinking about as the regular season nears the halfway point. They have thrown away too many points already to worry about anything bigger than that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bruins Give Their Fans The Best Possible Present Heading into Christmas Break: Hope

Believe it or not, we are almost halfway through the 2014-15 NHL regular season and if the playoffs started tomorrow (I know, I hate these too) the Bruins would be left out since they are currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. However, Boston (18-14-3) has shown some much needed signs of life lately, capped off by tonight's 5-3 win over Nashville (22-9-2) at TD Garden.

The B's lost 3-2 in a shootout at Nashville last Tuesday so this had to feel especially good given that and the fact that the Predators are one of the better teams in the entire league. Boston heads into Christmas break with back-to-back wins thanks to an offensive explosion led by Patrice Bergeron (3 assists), Brad Marchand (2 goals) and Loui Eriksson (2 goals).

Boston played really well in the first two periods, despite blowing two different leads. Marchand roofed one past UMass-Lowell's Carter Hutton (20 saves) 2:01 into the contest. Bergeron assisted on Marchand's team-leading ninth goal of the season which also gave him the lead in helpers (18). A little over 5:30 later, BU's Colin Wilson beat Tuukka Rask (22 saves) with a backhander from James Neal and Mattias Ekholm for his eighth goal of the season.

Another sign of good things to come is that Boston scored a power play goal in back-to-back games for the first time in a month and a half. David Krejci did the honors at 9:43, a one-timer from Torey Krug and Milan Lucic that was also his first goal (4th overall) since he returned from his troublesome hip injury. Nashville took even less time to respond (1:48) as something called Calle Jarnkrok put a weak wrist shot by Rask that he needs to stop 10 times out of 10. Ekholm and Taylor Beck assisted on his fourth goal of the season.

On the surface, the second period sounds like a bore since Boston outshot Nashville 5-3 but the B's made the most of it as they scored not once but twice to take a 4-2 lead into the third. Eriksson finished off a sweet give and go with Matt Bartkowski and Chris Kelly at 5:53 for his eighth goal of the season (5th in his last 8 games). Marchand bagged his second goal at 10:51 after a pretty deflection by Bergeron right to him on the doorstep, Kevan Miller had the second assist via the original shot from the point.

The Predators had every reason to pack it in, playing on the second night of a back-to-back (both away) and third game in four nights but they showed how good they are by dominating for most of the third period. It felt like they had a man advantage the entire time, well after they killed off a four-minute power play for Boston (two minors on Neal who shortly thereafter earned a 10-minute misconduct). When Beck cut it to 4-3 at 6:48, you could feel the air go right out of the Garden. Almost every Bruins game lately has been decided by one goal so you knew it would be tight. For once, they held on though and Eriksson clinched it with an empty netter at 19:22. Merry Christmas indeed.

The entire NHL is off for the next three days (which I think is a great thing, sorry NBA) so Boston returns to action on Saturday (7, NESN) at Columbus (14-16-3). The Bruins' next home game isn't until next Monday (7, NESN) vs. Detroit (18-8-9). Boston won 4-3 in a shootout at Columbus on November 21. The Blue Jackets got smoked 5-1 by Nashville last night but they are one of the hottest teams (8-1-1 in their last 10) in the NHL. Plus like the Bruins, they are scrapping for every point that they can get after a nightmare start to their campaign.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Patriots Do Just Enough to Squeak By Jets 17-16, Clinch 1st Round Bye

As usual, today's Patriots-Jets game at MetLife Stadium was ugly. Offense was at a premium and neither team could separate from the other but as is usually the case in this rivalry, New England (12-3 overall, 5-3 away) came out on top 17-16 over New York (3-12 overall, 2-6 home). Vince Wilfork helped to block what would have been the go-ahead field goal by Nick Folk in the fourth quarter and the Pats survived what was surely Rex Ryan's last home game as the Jets head coach.

With no Dan Connolly, New England's shaky offensive line was a mess as Tom Brady (23 of 35 for 182 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) was constantly hurried which resulted in one of his worst games of the season. This is what you expect against Rex, his defense almost always shows up particularly when they play New England. In the right situation (with a good quarterback!), Ryan could be a good NFL head coach. Otherwise, he needs plenty of help since he can't coach offense at all. It doesn't help that New York has one of the worst rosters in the league, largely devoid of talent or any game-breakers.

Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount were also out with injuries so New England really struggled to move the ball (231 total yards) against New York's solid defense. Danny Amendola (8 catches, 63 yards; 5 kick returns, 91 yards; 3 punt returns, 63 yards) finally started to earn some of the money from that ridiculous contract. Brandon LaFell (7 catches, 64 yards) was the only other Patriot offensive player that could move the sticks.

After a scoreless first quarter, that we'll agree to never mention again, the Pats got on the board first with a 3-yard touchdown catch by Rob Gronkowski in the second quarter. The Jets responded with a 20-yard touchdown grab by their tight end-Jeff Cumberland from Geno Smith (17 of 27 for 210 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). With 52 seconds left in the first half, Folk hit a 26-yard field goal to hand New York a 10-7 halftime lead.

New England's defense stood tall again in the red zone as they held Folk to a 23-yard field goal in the third quarter that made it 13-7. The Patriots cut it to 13-10 on Stephen Gostkowski's 24-yard field goal. Jonas Gray put the Patriots back ahead for good with a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Of course New York's last points came on Folk's 37-yard kick.

Jamie Collins (11 tackles, 6 solo, pass deflected) had the interception for New England while rookie cornerback Marcus Williams (not the former UConn point guard) can always tell his grandkids about the time he picked off Tom Brady. Dont'a Hightower and Sealver Siliga each had a sack for the Pats. New York combined for four sacks of Brady.

Depending on how Denver does tomorrow night in Monday Night Football at Cincinnati, the Pats would earn the No. 1 seed if the Broncos lose. If Denver wins, New England probably has to beat Buffalo (8-7) next Sunday (1, CBS) at Gillette Stadium in the regular season finale. The Bills pulled off a classic Buffalo sports moment this afternoon as they lost 26-24 at Oakland, thereby crushing their playoff hopes. For our interests, that means I can basically guarantee that Buffalo will have already mailed it in well before they take the field on Sunday.

UPDATE 12/23: Denver lost on Monday Night Football to Cincinnati which handed New England the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Facing A Must-Win vs. Buffalo, Boston Comes Through (Barely) 4-3 in OT Thanks to Eriksson

While I will admit that the Sabres have been playing better lately, a loss against them at anytime is still unacceptable, especially when the Bruins are so desperate for points. That's what made Boston's (17-14-3) 4-3 overtime win against Buffalo (13-18-3) this evening at TD Garden so vital to the B's. I know I said it last week when they won at Minnesota but once again, this might have saved Boston's turbulent season.

Boston actually trailed 3-2 with under two minutes left in regulation before Dougie Hamilton (1st career 2-goal game; tied career-high with 3 points) tied it at 18:29 with a top shelf wrister. That set the stage for Loui Eriksson's second straight overtime game-winner (he also did that vs. Wild on Wednesday) at 2:14 of the extra session. Milan Lucic sprung him by chipping the puck ahead and Zdeno Chara started the play from Boston's end so he got the second assist.

There were two games left before Christmas break and both were at the Garden so the B's couldn't afford to drop another game. They improved to 3-0 vs. the Sabres this season (2-0 in OT) with the much-anticipated finale coming on St. Patrick's Day here in Boston, I'll bring the green beer.

The Bruins actually had a power play goal by Reilly Smith called off for the softest goaltender interference that you've ever seen on Eriksson. He barely touched Jhonas Enroth (33 saves) who still had time to recover anyway yet that's not how the refs saw it. No worries though as Hamilton beat Enroth on that same man-advantage. His sixth goal of the season came at 5:52 and it was assisted by Carl Soderberg and Eriksson.

All hell broke loose later in the first period when Matt Bartkowski absolutely annihilated BC's Brian Gionta with a shoulder right to his head. Gionta got knocked out (and left the game) and Bartkowski (playing in his 100th NHL game) ended up in his first NHL fight vs. Marcus Foligno (who ended up leaving with an injury as well). Bartkowski got a game-misconduct and he could be hearing from the league although who knows since he's never been fined or suspended and he's not a dirty player at all.

Former Bruins great Andrej Meszaros tied it at 6:06 of the second period, tapping in a pass from Chris Stewart (reportedly scouted by Boston for a possible trade) and Johan Larsson. It was his first goal as a Sabre and first since last March 30 with Boston vs. another former team (Philadelphia).

It felt like it wasn't the Bruins' night when Buffalo netted only their ninth power play goal of the season (!). Good old Rasmus Ristolainen's shot deflected off Torey Krug's skate past Tuukka Rask (25 saves). Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons (another fantastic name) were credit with the gift assists as Buffalo took the 2-1 lead.

Luckily Boston's fans only had a minute to stew (literally) as Chris Kelly tied it with an old school tip in that bounced off the ice and into the net. Chara and Hamilton assisted on Kelly's third goal of the season which also gave him a four-game point streak (1 goal, 3 assists).

To say I was conflicted by Buffalo's next goal doesn't even begin to explain it. Providence College graduate and Merrimack, NH native Tim Schaller scored his first career NHL goal and point on a wraparound at 1:27 of the third period. It was a beautiful moment with his parents in the stands and for a while, I thought it would stand up as the game-winner. Against any other team, I'd be going nuts for him.

Boston had some crazy zone time in the third period and outshot Buffalo 13-6 but it looked like a useless stat until Hamilton finally tied it up. Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith both had helpers on Hamilton's huge tally. For a team that struggles so much to score, it is bizarre how well that Boston has done in OT this season (5-1 in OT and 2-2 in shootouts). Likewise, the irony that Eriksson has won them two games in the past five days is hilarious since he's one of the easy targets for most people.

The Predators (21-8-2) are in Columbus tomorrow night before visiting Boston on Tuesday (7, NESN), the Sabres also came in on the second night of a back-to-back. Nashville won 3-2 in a shootout last Tuesday at home, the start of Boston's three-game road trip. They are one of the best teams in the NHL and Pekka Rinne is currently the top goaltender so needless to say the B's will have their hands full before they can enjoy a few much-needed days off.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Trading Rajon Rondo Had to Happen, Still The Next Few Years are Going to Suck for the Celtics

I can't ever remember another guy in recent Boston sports history that was squarely on the trading block for longer than point guard Rajon Rondo. That's what made today seem almost like a relief since we knew this was coming literally for years: Boston traded their mercurial star and rookie forward Dwight Powell to Dallas for a package of scrubs (Brendan Wright, Jae Crowder and Jameer Nelson) along with a conditional first-round pick in 2015, a second-round pick in 2016 and $12.9 million trade exception.

It's easy to tear apart the underwhelming return they got for a four-time All-Star but keep in mind a couple key factors: 1) Rondo is a free agent next summer so Boston risked losing him and getting nothing back. 2) The Celtics aren't going anywhere this season and probably the next few so it didn't make much sense to try to rebuild around him, especially when they drafted his replacement (Marcus Smart) last summer in the lottery. 3) He plays his best with many talented guys around him and in the biggest games, two things that are really lacking these days for the C's.

Rondo was by far the longest tenured Celtic, he was 21st overall draft pick in 2006 and traded here from Phoenix. He helped Boston win an NBA title in his second season and also get back to the NBA Finals in 2010. The last few years frankly have been a mess since he blew out his knee two seasons ago, causing him to play only 38 games in 2012-13 and 30 games in 2013-14. He is still a triple-double machine, more so than anyone else in the league but the obvious warts in his game (namely shooting of any kind and now even free throws) make him so unique but also supremely frustrating. He currently leads the NBA in assists per game (10.8) and 7.5 rebounds per game is far and away a career-high thus far but his 8.3 points per game is the lowest since his rookie year.

He will turn 29 in February so naturally Rondo is looking for a max deal that will set him up for the rest of his life. The problem is that he's not quite that type of player anymore, or at least he never would be in Boston's current state of nothingness. Going to Dallas is about as good a situation as he could ask for: a team a couple years removed from a championship that is filled with veterans, winners and most importantly shooters and scorers. He should put up big numbers in the loaded Western Conference and everyone across the country will fall in love with his game all over again.

So where does this leave the Celtics? Rondo has always been a diva and the furthest thing from a leader, not the type of guy you want all their young players to emulate so getting him out of here shouldn't make that much of a difference (after all they were 9-14 with him playing for a contract). All they can bank on is the eight first-round picks that Boston owns in the next four years. Their two main recruiting tools for free agents-head coach Doc Rivers and Rondo-are both gone now making it nearly impossible to attract any marquee names. This speaks to a larger issue in the NBA but basically, the Celts have to win the lottery or get a very high pick (something which they are allergic to) in order to get back to relevance. These last few years have not been fun at all, I know I can barely sit through a quarter let alone an entire game and honestly, Rondo was one of the only reasons I'd ever tune in.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Loui Eriksson of All People Might Have Just Saved Boston's Season With OT Goal at Minnesota

To say that the Bruins and their fans were frustrated with their recent slide (losing 6 out of 7) might be the understatement of the year. Facing the second night of a back-to-back on the road, something which has crushed them all season (0-5), the Bruins (16-13-3) went to overtime for the third straight game but in this instance they pulled out a 3-2 win at Xcel Energy Center vs. the Wild (16-12-2). Loui Eriksson did the honors of the overtime game-winner, the seventh of his career and undoubtedly the biggest for him as a Bruin.

If the B's turn things around and make something of this campaign, there is no question that tonight will be a game we look back on fondly. Boston honestly had no business winning it as Minnesota outshot them 37-25 for the game including 20-5 in the second period. Niklas Svedberg (35 saves) was phenomenal, he kept the Bruins in it the whole way and was able to steal that extra point that eluded them in shootout losses to Ottawa and Nashville.

David Krejci's return to the lineup obviously helped Boston as everyone was slotted back into their rightful spot. It was a busy first period as Carl Soderberg opened the scoring with his first goal since November 10. Soderberg's sixth goal of the season came after a rebound and pretty one-handed pass by Eriksson. Chris Kelly had the second assist for the Bruins.

27 seconds later, Minnesota's fourth line cashed in a good chance by Kyle Brodziak who had stickhandled by a couple Bruins then ripped a shot top shelf on Svedberg. Boston was able to benefit from a lucky bounce (for once) as Patrice Bergeron's seemingly harmless long shot bounced off the ice and in the net around Niklas Backstrom (22 saves) at 17:55. It was Bergeron's sixth goal of the season and it was assisted by Brad Marchand and Zach Trotman. Other than empty-netters, Bergy won't tally an easier (or stranger) goal in 2014-15.

The invisible force field that automatically covers Boston's opponent's net right after they score two goals was in full effect tonight. So it was inevitable when former Sabres great Jason Pominville tied it at two with 8:21 left in regulation. If Bergeron's goal was a fluke (and it was), then this effort was a complete gift because hey, it's the holiday season. Trotman's clearing attempt deflected off Pominville and into the net.

Thankfully, the B's didn't let that ruin their night as they came out strong in overtime (outshooting the Wild 4-0) and were rewarded at 1:30 with Eriksson's sixth goal of the season. Soderberg and Zdeno Chara had the assists as the former put it on a platter for his fellow Swede and linemate to tap in.

With the win, Boston moved up from 10th in the Eastern Conference to seventh. Yes, it's really tight that between them, the Panthers, Rangers and Capitals. The Bruins' three-game road trip concludes on Friday (8, NESN) in Winnipeg (16-10-6). Haha does it get any better than a Friday night during the winter in Winnipeg? Seriously though, the Jets are playing well (6-1-3 in their last 10) but the B's need another two points in the worst possible way.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Patriots Blow Out Dolphins 41-13 To Win Their 6th Straight AFC East Title

I am as guilty as anyone of not respecting the AFC East so thanks to New England's 41-13 pasting of Miami this afternoon at Gillette Stadium, I can stand my by ruling that the AFC East is a complete mess every year. The Patriots (11-3 overall, 7-0 home) captured their sixth AFC East crown in a row which is a very impressive accomplishment regardless of how poorly their division has played outside of them. New England still holds the No. 1 seed in the AFC with two regular season contests left (at Jets, vs. Bills).

New England followed their recent pattern of playing poorly in the first half and that continued today as they slogged to a 14-13 undeserved lead at the break. Just like last Sunday in San Diego, the Pats exploded in the second half by outscoring Miami (7-7 overall, 4-4 away) 27-0 including 24-0 in the third.

LeGarrette Blount started that flurry with a 3-yard touchdown run then Stephen Gostkowski had to settle for a 35-yard field goal. No problem, Ryan Tannehill (29 of 47 for 346 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) promptly threw his second interception of the game-to Patrick Chung (10 tackles, 5 solo, 2 passes deflected). The next play was a 27-yard touchdown laser pass from Tom Brady (21 of 35 for 287 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) to Rob Gronkowski (3 catches, 96 yards). Goodnight Dolphins, hope you have a safe flight home!

A few minutes later, Julian Edelman (7 catches, 88 yards) caught a six-yard touchdown catch to make New England's lead 38-13. The only points in the fourth quarter came off a 36-yard field goal by Gostkowski. Earlier in the contest, Gostkowski became New England's all-time leader in points scored, passing Adam Vinatieri in that very exclusive club.

The first big play of the game was so Dolphins in December at Gillette that it hurt. Caleb Sturgis' field goal attempt was blocked by Jamie Collins (5 tackles, 4 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hit) and returned 62 yards for a touchdown by Kyle Arrington. Miami drove into New England's red zone but the Patriots' defense held them to a 24-yard kick by Sturgis that made it 7-3.

Tannehill's first interception was killer since Duron Harmon (yes he's still on the team) returned it 60 yards to Miami's 8-yard line. Three plays after that, Shane Vereen ran it in from three yards out for a 14-3 Patriots advantage. Miami got another field goal, a 53-yard bomb by Sturgis and then New England's bizarre play calls at the end of the first half helped the Dolphins add seven more points. Actually, Mike Wallace (5 catches, 104 yards) made it all happen with a ridiculous 50-yard touchdown catch that was originally ruled out of bounds but replay rightfully overturned it.

Chandler Jones (7 tackles, 4 solo, 1.5 sacks, 2 quarterback hits) played for the first time since Week 7 vs. Jets and he didn't show much rust at all. It was also nice to see Jonas Gray (11 carries, 62 yards) finally get out of Bill Belichick's doghouse. He's more talented than Blount and there is no reason that they couldn't at least split time between them.

The Pats hit the road for the final time this regular season with a game on Sunday afternoon (1, CBS) at MetLife Stadium vs. lowly Jets (3-11 overall, 4th in AFC East). New York beat Tennessee 16-11 in a true rock fight this afternoon. The Jets actually gave the Patriots everything they could handle in that Week 7 meeting, a Thursday Night Football 27-25 win by the Pats that was as tight as it seemed. I'm not dumb enough to say that the Jets will beat them or even make it competitive again since they are a disaster and Rex Ryan is rehearsing for his upcoming role in "Dead Man Walking."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hey Bruins Fans, Are We Having Fun Yet?

If you feel as though every Bruins game is like the movie "Groundhogs Day," you are not alone my friend. Hockey is a simple game, especially when your team almost never can generate more than two goals of offense. Tuukka Rask (29 saves) is still a very good goaltender and Boston's (15-13-2) defense is generally solid enough but they won't make the playoffs even in the JV Eastern Conference with their disappearing act when it comes to scoring goals. Ottawa (12-12-5) is a mess, they came into Saturday afternoon at the Garden with a new head coach Dave Cameron (in his 2nd game) and 2-7-1 in their last 10 contests. Naturally, the Senators rallied twice and eventually beat Boston 3-2 in a shootout.

With Zdeno Chara back for his second game, David Krejci remains the only major Bruin sidelined by an injury (sorry Adam McQuaid). Nobody would argue his importance to the team but it's not like he's Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos, meaning that Boston shouldn't completely fall apart without him in the lineup. They have way too many veterans and guys that have produced in the NHL to score two goals or less in seven out of their last nine games. In many ways given their earlier injuries and constant struggles this season, it's a miracle that they are still above .500 and clinging to a one-point lead over Florida and Washington for the seventh spot in the East (I just puked writing that wretched sentence).

Boston took a 1-0 lead at 11:45 of the first period on about the most unlikely scenario: a shorthanded goal (their 3rd of the season) by rookie Craig Cunningham. It was also his first career goal and point in the NHL. Chara assisted on it and honestly, Robin Lehner (29 saves) should have saved the routine shot that somehow went through his five-hole. Props to Cunningham for using his speed-something foreign to most Bruins-to win the race to the loose puck.

When your whole team is scuffling, it seems like every mistake is magnified. Brad Marchand turned the puck over in the second period and the end result was a breakaway and tying goal for Mika Zibanejad. Rask got faked out of his skates by the Swede who was assisted by Mike Hoffman. The B's responded with a fight between Milan Lucic and something called Mark Borowiecki then another random goal-scorer: Loui Eriksson. Kevan Miller found Eriksson in front and for once, he finished a great chance for his fifth goal of the season. His Swedish homeboy Carl Soderberg had the other assist.

Ottawa got another lucky bounce in the third period on the power play as Kyle Turris' shot from the point deflected off Mark Stone's skate, Rask saved that but David Legwand was there to put in the rebound at 4:17 for his sixth goal of the season. Another reason that Boston can't score is that they have the fewest power plays in the league. They only earned one this afternoon to three for the Senators, not surprisingly it didn't amount to anything for the home team.

After a scoreless overtime, Zibanejad and Brad Marchand traded goals before Bobby Ryan ended it in the third round of the shootout with a nice deke of Rask. The Bruins are gone for another week: they are at Nashville (19-7-2) on Tuesday (8, NESN), in Minnesota (15-11-1) on Wednesday (8, NBCSN) and wrapping up in Winnipeg on Friday (8, NESN). All three of those teams are currently flat out better than them at this juncture so it promises to be a tense trio of games. The Bruins' next home game is a week from Sunday vs. Buffalo. They need to figure things out quickly or else there will be changes (I think?) so they don't fall out of the playoff picture, something that appeared unfathomable coming into this season of high expectations.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chara Returns but Nothing Stops the Chicago Steamroller from Winning Its 8th Straight Game

I still can't get over how enjoyable it has to be these days for Blackhawks fans. Their team has it all: skill, brawn, speed, depth, good goaltending, solid coaching, etc. Further proof that Chicago (20-8-1) is a machine was proven tonight at TD Garden as they held off Boston (15-13-1) 3-2. The Blackhawks opened up a 3-0 lead in the second period and were able to withstand a ton of pressure by the desperate B's who saw the return of captain Zdeno Chara after nearly two months away (knee injury).

Chicago won its eighth straight game (longest streak in the NHL this season) and the fact that the immortal Scott Darling (32 saves) was the No. 1 star (and deservedly so) shows that they can put virtually anybody in the net and he'll succeed. Starter Corey Crawford is out with a leg injury but it clearly hasn't slowed his team down one bit. Oh and the Blackhawks first two goals were scored by something called Klas Dahlbeck and former BC Eagle Ben Smith.

Dahlbeck's one-timer from Smith and Marcus Kruger at 9:10 of the first period was the Swede's first career NHL goal. I can't wait to tell my grandkids about that, haha "I saw Klas' first NHL goal, I was there!" Like any good fourth-liner, Smith hunted down a rebound at 18:43 and snapped it by Tuukka Rask (18 saves) before he had time to react. Goon Dan Carcillo and Kruger assisted on Smith's third goal of the season.

The Bruins started to wake up in the second period (outshooting the Blackhawks 10-7) as Patrice Bergeron hit the post but when Patrick Kane roofed it for a 3-0 lead at 13:19, you knew it was over given Boston's typical struggles to score against quality opponents or anyone really. Kane's 13th goal of the season was assisted by Kris Versteeg.

For the B's to have any sliver of hope, they needed a goal before the second period was over and Reilly Smith delivered at 18:37. Brad Marchand's pass from behind Chicago's net hit the outside of the goal before Smith banged it home. That deflection was probably enough to throw Darling off the scent. Patrice Bergeron assisted on Smith's seventh goal of the season.

The third period was one of Boston's best of the season (outshooting Chicago 10-2) but like so many other times already, they fell short despite a ton of effort and glorious chances. Torey Krug cut it to 3-2 Blackhawks at 12:17 after an awesome individual play by Milan Lucic (who earlier in the frame had hit the post). Looch split two defensemen then passed it back to Krug for the one-timer, his fifth goal of the season. Andrew Shaw wasn't amused as he cross checked Lucic well after the play which resulted in a fight with Chris Kelly. Wait what? Haha yes mild-mannered Chris Kelly dropped the gloves for the first time since the 2010-11 regular season.

Jonathan Toews was hit awkwardly into the boards by Dennis Seidenberg midway through the second period but even though he clearly had a concussion (apparently nobody remembered his history) the Blackhawks let him stay out there. It was stunning then but quite predictable when he didn't return to start the third period. Hopefully he's ok. I don't think Seidenberg deserves to get suspended but we already know that player safety will take a look at it. He's so strong and Toews was caught in an awkward position that the hit ended up being worse than I'm sure it was intended. On Seideberg's side is the fact that he's never been fined or suspended.

After nearly two weeks between home games, Boston is at the Garden once more-on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) they face Ottawa (11-12-5) who is a complete mess after firing head coach Paul MacLean earlier this week. Then it's off on another week-long three game (Nashville, Minnesota and Winnipeg) road trip for the Black and Gold. They need points before they start falling too far behind all the Eastern Conference teams that are playing well.

"Who Needs an Ace When You Can Get a Bunch of No. 3s & 4s?"- Red Sox So Far This Offseason

I refuse to be the reactionary type that calls into sports talk radio or bitches on Twitter and Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the Red Sox making a curious move in December. Nope, the Winter Meetings just concluded in San Diego and Boston has not one, not two but three new starting pitchers in its rotation (at least for the moment). Still, especially with the whirlwind of activity the last few days with the Red Sox, I want to hold off from completely bashing them since this can't be it, right?

It started earlier this week when Jon Lester finally made up his mind and chose the Cubs over the Red Sox (has anyone else ever done that in baseball history?). That set off dominoes all over MLB and locally, Boston traded pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Alan Webster to Arizona for Wade Miley. Then they dealt outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, reliever Alex Wilson and prospect (RHP) Gabe Speier to Detroit. Finally, they signed former Red Sox great Justin Masterson to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million with incentives built in that could add up to $2.5 million.

At best, these seem like reasonable moves. Webster stinks and De La Rossa has outstanding stuff but apparently Boston wasn't too enamored with him. Miley was not good in 2014 (8-12, 4.34 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 183 Ks, 75 BBs). Still, he was on a terrible team and he's a 28-year-old lefty that should be entering the prime of his career. Most importantly for the Red Sox, he should deliver innings. He went over 200 IP the last two seasons and nearly three in a row (194.2) in 2012.

Porcello undoubtedly has the most potential of this group. He's still only 25 (he turns 26 on December 27) but the former first-round pick already has six years of big league experience under his belt. He quietly improved with the Tigers (his only MLB home before now) but last season could be fairly termed his breakthrough campaign: 15-13, 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3 shutouts, 129 Ks/41 BBs in 204.2 IP. The thing you wonder about with him is how he does with more pressure since he's been able to hide in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer's (among others) shadows all those years.

Masterson is a Patriots-esque move: bringing back a guy that had moderate success with them then blossomed somewhere else but later lost it amidst injuries and general struggles (hey LeGarrette Blount). It's safe to say that last season was a disaster for Masterson as he was traded from the Indians to the Cardinals but never could find it, eventually excluded from St. Louis' postseason roster (keep in mind that he was an All-Star in 2013 with Cleveland). He came up with the Red Sox in 2008 and was part of the Victor Martinez trade with Cleveland the following year so he knows manager John Farrell and should have a good feel for what it's like to be a Red Sox.

I am disappointed that the Red Sox seemingly gave up Cespedes for less than I thought he was worth but apparently there wasn't a great market for him or something. Still, I realize that to get anything of value in a trade, you are going to have to give up a good player and not the last guy on your bench or some Single-A scrub that nobody knows. It would have been fun to see him get a full season in Boston in a real lineup with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez after he was solid in his short stint here last season but what can you do?

Despite all this, the fundamental truth remains the same: Boston has no ace (you could also argue no No. 2 either) since who can trust Clay Buchholz or Joe Kelly to do that? The scary part is that the Red Sox always try to act like they are smarter than every other team yet here they are once again completely changing their focus. Their philosophy goes from one extreme to another each season: pay out their ears for overrated free agents, save money and sign veteran guys and most recently I guess they watched the ALCS this fall between the Orioles and Royals and thought "hey, aces are overrated." Wrong, the Giants captured their third World Series in five years thanks to Madison Bumgarner's singular brilliance. You can win plenty of regular season games with smoke and mirrors but eventually in the playoffs, their true colors will show.

Scherzer is a free agent that could command upwards of $200 million while Phillies ace Cole Hamels is thought to be available via a trade since Philadelphia is still rebuilding. Unless they get one of those guys (clearly I'd prefer Scherzer) or somehow luck into another top of the rotation guy, it's hard to get too enthused about the Red Sox in 2015. This team has finished in last place two of the last three years so it'd be nice if they acted with a little more urgency here. Fenway Park has the most expensive tickets in MLB and Boston had the fourth highest payroll in the league. In other words, there is no excuse not to field a contender almost every year with no salary cap.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Patriots Bounce Back (Like They Almost Always Do) With Convincing Win at Chargers 23-14

I might be the only person in the world that thought of this but I couldn't help but juxtapose the Revolution with the Patriots after they both played in big games today. While the Revs fell apart in an MLS Cup like they always do, similarly the Pats stayed true to their unique form by winning the week after a loss. It is lazy to just say one team knows how to win while the other doesn't but that's how it feels after the Patriots (10-3 overall, 4-3 away) beat the Chargers (8-5 overall, 5-2 home) 23-14 at Qualcomm Stadium.

Frankly, San Diego had no business being in this game since New England squandered numerous opportunities to put more points on the board in the first half but failed to due to a fumble, brutal interception by Tom Brady (28 of 44 for 317 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and a pair of 22-yard field goals by Stephen Gostkowski. The good news for the Pats is that unlike any edition from the past decade, they are actually built to withstand performances when Brady and the offense aren't perfect. What a concept!

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that New England's defense dominated San Diego in front of more Patriots fans than Chargers fans (at least they were more vocal so they drowned them out). The Chargers led 14-3 in the second quarter thanks to an amazing 15-yard touchdown catch by Malcolm Floyd and a 53-yard fumble return for a score by Darrell Stuckey after Brandon LaFell inexplicably fumbled. No worries, those were the last points that San Diego would score all night. New England shut them out in the second half as they recorded their 12th straight season of 10+ wins.

Philip Rivers (20 of 33 for 189 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) fell to 0-6 lifetime vs. Brady and he struggled as usual vs. New England. Akeem Ayers had an interception, New England had four sacks and Jamie Collins (9 tackles, 8 solo, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits) was all over the place at middle linebacker with Dont'a Hightower out and Darrelle Revis erased Keenan Allen (2 catches, 3 yards) like you read about.

The numbers are stunning: the Chargers only had 13 first downs on 216 total yards with 25:27 time of possession. One of the reasons that the Patriots' defense could look so fresh is that they only had to be on the field for 56 snaps (2nd fewest of the season behind 55 vs. Bengals). Did I mention that New England also got completely jobbed out of what would have been one of the top plays of the season? Brandon Browner absolutely demolished poor Ladarius Green coming over the middle and the ball popped up to Devin McCourty who returned it for a touchdown. The incompetent refs ruled it a helmet-to-helmet hit to a defenseless receiver which was a travesty. All I can say is that at least it didn't decide this game.

Brady and the offense finally woke up late in the first half as he found Rob Gronkowski (8 catches, 87 yards) for a 14-yard touchdown that cut it to 14-13 Chargers. They got great field position after Brandon Bolden blocked a Mike Scifres punt. Once again, genius Josh McDaniels completely abandoned the run when it looked like the Pats could do it all night on the Chargers' average defense. That resulted in the rare scoreless NFL quarter (the third).

A 38-yard field goal by Gostkowski early in the fourth quarter gave the Pats their first lead since 3-0 and Julian Edelman (8 catches, 141 yards) had the biggest play of the game in front of his homestate. A simple slant went 69 yards (somewhere Gronk chuckles) as he evaded multiple sorry tackle attempts by the overmatched Chargers.

New England kept pace with Denver (10-3) and they still control their destiny in terms of gaining the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Pats now wrap up the regular season with three straight games against their Mickey Mouse Division of lightweights aka the AFC (L)East. Miami (7-6) lost 28-13 at home today vs. Baltimore so they are right on schedule for their usual December meltdown. Then the Pats host the Bills (7-6) and they conclude with the Jets (2-11). Probably at least one of those games will be close for whatever reason but I'd be shocked to see the Patriots lose any of them considering what they have to play for.

Sadly, The Revolution Remain Born Losers That Can't Win an MLS Cup To Save Their Lives

For the fifth time in club history, the Revolution had a chance to gain some more fans locally and positive publicity for their sport by capturing an MLS Cup but for the fifth time, they fell flat on their faces and failed. We all hoped that this year would finally be a different story but it turns out that even though many of the names had changed, New England still can't figure out how to win the only match that really matters.

Los Angeles outlasted New England 2-1 in extra time this afternoon at the StubHub Center for their MLS-record fifth title. MLS MVP Robbie Keane was also named MVP of the MLS Cup since his goal in the 111th minute was the game-winner. Conversely, Revolution MVP candidate Lee Nguyen limped off in stoppage time (of regulation) with cramps. Yup, that basically summed it up for the Revs.

American icon Landon Donovan didn't really do anything remarkable in today's contest (supposedly the last game of his illustrious career) but he still managed to become the first player in MLS with six Cup wins on his resume. It was 0-0 after a mostly dull first half that was lacking for action besides New England's Scott Caldwell clearing LA's Robbie Rogers' shot off the goal-line in the first few minutes. Thankfully, things turned up in a thrilling second half. LA got on the board first in the 52nd minute when Stefan Ishizaki's cross somehow founds its way to Gyasi Zardes in a maze of bodies. He was able to put his shot past Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.

Sticking to almost the same exact script (at least this time they scored a goal), New England tied it up in the 79th minute on a goal by Wellesley native Chris Tierney. Substitute Patrick Mullins played it back to him in the box and his shot eluded Jaime Penedo who seemed to be in good position to stop it. You can't make up the fact that New England's two previous meetings with Los Angeles in the MLS Cup (2002 & 2005) both resulted in 1-0 losses in overtime. Then in 2006 they lost in penalty kicks to Houston and to cap it all off, they fell 2-1 the following year to the Dynamo as well.

I don't believe in curses but can we admit that there is no logical explanation for why the Revs lost once again in the Cup? Teal Bunbury had a chance to put New England up 2-1 late in the second half but of course his cross/pass hit the crossbar and didn't go in. Nguyen's injury forced the Revs to burn their third and final substitute at the end of the regulation. I can't say that fatigue really effected them too much in extra time (that's not why they lost) but it had to help LA to have the ability to make all three moves then.

The goal that everyone will remember from this match came via another defensive breakdown by the visitors except this one was even worse than the first. Marcelo Selvas' hopeful long ball found Keane who certainly knows what to do in the box with time and space. The Revs had many positive developments occur this season both on and off the field but I'm not the type of person that can reflect on that immediately after such a soul-crushing defeat from a team that appears to specialize in them. After a long absence, I returned to MLS this summer and I have to say I enjoyed it for what it was-a diversion while the Red Sox sucked. I will return next season and hope for another outcome but like a Cubs fan, I am building up some sort of PTSD related to this team.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

B's Salvage Something From A Miserable Week In The West By Beating Up On The Pitiful Coyotes

It was a rough week for the Bruins and their fans as they were humiliated three late night games in a row in California. Luckily, Boston (15-12-1) sucked up their collective pride and were able to rally against one of the worst teams in the NHL-Arizona (10-15-3)-for a 5-2 win going away tonight in their road trip finale at good old Gila River Arena.

Nine different Bruins tallied points, led by Brad Marchand (2 goals), Reilly Smith (2 assists) and Dougie Hamilton (2 assists) as Boston matched their season-high by scoring five goals (something they'd done twice before). Tuukka Rask (24 saves) bounced back from technically the worst performance of his NHL career (7 goals allowed) even though if you watched that debacle in San Jose on Thursday, you know that he really didn't play that poorly at all and Boston easily could have give up 10+ goals. Seriously.

For the record, their formerly lifeless offense has come together for nine goals in its past two contests. Now the B's come home and get a few days between games before they host Chicago (18-8-1) on Thursday (7, NESN) in a juicy matchup and Ottawa (10-11-5) on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN). The Coyotes are a complete mess in almost every manner possible so it was heartening to see them come out and allow two goals in the first six minutes of the game.

Marchand scored his first goal 58 seconds in, a one-timer from Smith and Hamilton for his team-leading seventh goal of the season. Kevan Millar made it 2-0 good guys five minutes later as he capitalized on a loose puck that found its way right to the blade of his stick in slot. One of the best players in Northeastern's mostly forgettable history cut it to 2-1 at 13:11 as Joe Vitale beat Rask to the top shelf over his far shoulder. It was the former Husky's third goal of the season, assisted by Arizona lifer (poor bastard) Shane Doan and Michael Stone.

Boston ensured it would be a happy flight home by pumping in three straight goals in the second period for a commanding 5-1 advantage. Simon Gagne had the puck go off his skate and in at 8:34 for his third goal of the season, assisted by Daniel Paille. A carbon copy one-timer by Marchand (from Smith and Hamilton) at 14:47 ended the proceedings for the immortal Devan Dubnyk (20 saves) and summoned Mike Smith from Arizona's bench.

If that wasn't enough evidence, you truly knew it was long over when Loui Eriksson of all people put in a power play goal at 19:30. His fourth goal of the season (Tyler Seguin only has five times as many goals as him this season) was assisted by Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug. For once, Eriksson went to the net and was rewarded with a tasty rebound that he deposited through Smith's five-hole.

Arizona made the score a little less sad with a power play goal by Mikkel Boedker at 5:41 of the third period. His ninth goal of the season was assisted by Antoine Vermette and Cushing Academy's Keith Yandle. I feel like the Coyotes have used the same core guys for the past decade.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hey It Could Always Be Worse: The Celtics Are Way Better than the Lakers

Just like in life, sometimes in sports you need the occasional reminder that as bad as things may temporarily appear, there is always another player/team/fan base/city that has it much worse. That truism was on display tonight at TD Garden as the NBA's former greatest rivalry played not on national TV (when does that ever happen?) as the Celtics (6-11 overall, 4-7 home) beat the Lakers (5-15 overall, 3-7 away) 113-96.

It is easy to get depressed regarding the Celts, believe me that's why I rarely write about their soul-crushing defeats, but seeing LA up close was a reminder that they are in much worse shape both this season and going forward. Love him or hate him, I think most would have to admit that Kobe Bryant (22 points) is one of the greatest players of all-time in the NBA. In his 18th season and at age 36, he's still very good but the issue is that Los Angeles has surrounded him with a bunch of stiffs and nobodies, many of whom would be better served playing in the NBDL or on the Sixers.

LA's next highest scorer was Nick Young who had 16 points off the bench. Harvard's Jeremy Lin added 14 points, Jordan Hill notched 13 points and Wayne Ellington came in with 11 points off the bench. That's it, Carlos Boozer and Wesley Johnson who both started combined for two points. Haha how is that possible? The Lakers are stuck with Kobe for next year but other than rigging the lottery (miss you David Stern!), it's hard to figure how they'll work themselves out of this pickle.

Every Boston starter had at least 12 points led by Tyler Zeller with his career-high 24 points and 14 rebounds. Rajon Rondo barely missed out on a triple-double (12 points, 16 assists, 8 rebounds), Jared Sullinger had a double-double (17 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals), Jeff Green scored 19 points and Avery Bradley rounded out the group with 16 points. The Celtics only got 25 total points from its bench but it obviously didn't cost them.

Coupled with Wednesday's overtime win vs. Detroit, this is only the second time this season that the C's have won two games in a row. The Celts got off to a good start, leading 30-20 after the first quarter. The Lakers cut it to 53-48 by halftime but then Boston hit them with a third quarter similar to the first (33-22). Normally, no lead is safe when the Celtics are in front but the Lakers are the rare exception where you can overlook them. Boston outscored LA 27-26 in the fourth.

When you see the final numbers, it is kind of amazing that the Lakers were even able to keep it relatively close for a while. Boston shot 9.8% better from the field (51.1-41.3%), grabbed 16 more rebounds (54-38), dished out more than twice as many assists (29-14) and made three times as many steals (6-2). As if that wasn't enough, the Celts also scored 20 more fast break points (27-7) and eight more points in the paint (54-46).

The next game for the Celtics should look way different since the Wizards (13-5 overall, 1st in Southeast Division) come to the Garden on Sunday afternoon (1, CSN) as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. If it inevitably gets ugly, the C's should take heart in the fact that nobody but their friends and family will be watching on an NFL Sunday and with the Revolution in the 2014 MLS Cup that same afternoon (3, ESPN).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Patriots Fall Just Short in Green Bay, Losing 26-21 to Packers In Possible Super Bowl Preview

I will never complain about wins, especially when it comes to the Patriots given how difficult it is to do in the NFL (way harder than any other professional sports league). Therefore, even though New England (9-3 overall, 3-3 away) lost 26-21 tonight at Lambeau Field to Green Bay (9-3 overall, 6-0 home) I think that there was plenty to build on and be confident about should these teams meet again for the Super Bowl in February. More than anything, it was just nice to have a competitive game against a worthy opponent after the Pats had been blowing teams out left and right during their seven-game win streak.

There were no turnovers in the contest (when does that ever happen?) so it was a game dominated by the two iconic quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers (24 of 38 for 368 yards, 2 TDs) played like the MVP he will probably be this season while Tom Brady (22 of 35 for 245 yards, 2 TDs) wasn't far behind. The Packers got more out of their passing game and the running game played a surprisingly big part as well. More specifically, it felt like the Pats were too slow to get LeGarrette Blount (10 carries, 58 yards) involved and recognize that Green Bay would have trouble stopping him.

In the first half, it seemed that New England was fortunate to only trail 23-14 at halftime. Mason Crosby had kicked three field goals from the red zone meaning that the Patriots' defense did their job down there. Of course spotting Rodgers and the Packers a 13-0 lead at home in the first quarter was a death wish that came true. St. John's of Shrewsbury alum Richard Rodgers (no relation) caught a 32-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers with eight seconds left in the first quarter to make it 13-0.

Jonas Gray is a forgotten man in the span of two weeks but it was still bizarre to see Brandon Bolden come off the bench and get New England on the board with a 6-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to cut it to 13-7. Following Crosby's third field goal, the Pats trimmed Green Bay's lead to 16-13 on Brandon LaFell's first of two touchdown grabs, this one from two yards out. However, the Packers punched right back at Jordy Nelson shook loose from Darrelle Revis for the dagger 45-yard touchdown catch on a slant with 14 seconds left in the half.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Patriots were in business with a pretty 15-yard strike from Brady to LaFell with 13:51 left in the fourth. Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 98 yards) started to heat up and LaFell set a new career-high for touchdowns (7) in a season. The final points of the game were on a 26-yard field goal by Crosby. Both teams had a couple more chances to score but neither could do it. Finally, the Packers just needed to get a first down and they were able to in order to run out the clock.

Davante Adams (6 catches, 121 yards) and Eddie Lacy (21 carries, 98 yards; 2 catches, 17 yards) were other weapons at Rodgers' disposal that he took full advantage of. Revis did a good job on Nelson but like the Pats, the Packers have so many weapons and best of all a top-notch quarterback that knows how to use them all.

Another aspect that really hindered the Patriots' ability to win at Green Bay was the lack of a pass rush. They only sacked Rodgers once and basically every time he dropped back to pass, he had as much time as he wanted. You'd have to think that Chandler Jones would make a big impact in that regard. He hasn't played for a while due to his hip injury but he was listed as questionable this week and made the trip so you'd have to think he's getting close to returning.

In a wise move, the Pats chose to stay on the road as they'll travel to San Diego ahead of their Sunday Night Football (8:25, NBC) meeting with the Chargers (8-4). There are only four weeks left in the regular season and New England still controls their destiny as the top seed in the AFC. Furthermore, they could very well see San Diego in the playoffs so this will be a good indication if they have anything to fear should that matchup occur in January.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

For The 1st Time Since 2007, The Revolution Get Back to the MLS Cup, Now It's Time To Win One

The Revolution tied the Red Bulls 2-2 this afternoon at Gillette Stadium in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship so coupled with their 2-1 win last weekend at Red Bull Arena, New England advanced to their fifth MLS Cup in club history (tying DC United for the most in the Eastern Conference). The Revs are 0-4 in the Cup but for now, they deserve to revel in a great accomplishment. They'll meet the winner of LA/Seattle next Sunday on the West Coast, the Galaxy lead 1-0 heading into tomorrow night's final Western Conference Championship match (9:20, ESPN) in Seattle.

Don't forget, this team had an eight-game winless streak in the middle of this season which had never happened before to an MLS Cup team. New England improved to 12-1-1 since they acquired Jermaine Jones (10-0-1 when he starts) and Lee Nguyen is an MLS MVP candidate but nobody better symbolizes their remarkable turnaround than homegrown striker Charlie Davies. If you are a soccer fan, you no doubt are aware of his incredible recovery but we always wondered if he'd get back his immense talent. After scoring both goals today to go with two against Columbus in the first leg of the previous round (no other Revolution player had done that), Davies declared himself back while also admitting that he's a smarter player these days.

New York scored first, Tim Cahill started in place of the suspended Bradley Wright-Phillips and he came through in the 26th minute by connecting on a pass from Thierry Henry for his first goal of the playoffs. New England didn't take long to get the all-important equalizer though as Davies headed in a cross on a set piece by Chris Tierney in a crowd of players by New York's goal in the 41st minute for his third goal of the postseason. Being tied 1-1 at halftime had to feel like a win for the Revs considering that they would progress with either a win, draw or 1-0 loss.

The Red Bulls didn't roll over by any means as Peguy Luyindula had a header go over in the 52nd minute then seconds later, he was there to pounce on a loose ball and poke it around Bobby Shuttleworth (2 saves) for his third goal of the playoffs. That was the only score that if it held would have resulted in extra time so it's fair to say that Davies' second goal was the most important of the season for the Revs. It was a pretty similar play as Tierney once again crossed it in, this time from the left side rather than the right and Davies headed it past Luis Robles (2 saves).

New England closed out its 2014 campaign at Gillette Stadium with eight straight wins, in fact their last loss here was way back on July 26. Anything can happen in a one-game playoff and obviously, they'll be an underdog against the heavyweight Galaxy or Sounders on their home turf but it's tough to bet against this team at the moment. The Revolution lost in the MLS Cup in 2002 then 2005-2007 so they are long overdue to get the only title that matters in MLS. It would be the perfect manner to kick off what we all hope is a championship filled winter with the Patriots-their Gillette neighbors.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bruins Close Out November With 2-1 Overtime Win Against the Jets

With all their injuries and poor individual performances, it is remarkable that Boston still managed to go 8-3-1 in November. The Bruins (14-9-1) wrapped up the month with a sometimes thrilling but mostly dull 2-1 overtime triumph vs. the Jets (12-9-4) at TD Garden. Dougie Hamilton's first career overtime goal was the difference as Boston left for a critical four-game West Coast trip on a high note.

None of that would have been possible if the B's penalty kill hadn't been successful at the end of regulation (and 30 seconds into OT) after Brad Marchand took a high sticking double minor. Tuukka Rask (35 saves) also was a hair better than former Providence Bruin Michael Hutchinson (36 saves) who has emerged as Winnipeg's No. 1 goaltender this season.

The Jets took a 1-0 lead at 16:24 of the first period on monster Dustin Byfuglien's power play goal. His shot from the point got by Rask after it deflected off Matt Bartkowski's knee pad. It was Byfuglien's fourth goal of the season, assisted by Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele.

There was some question as to if Boston would ever answer this evening but Milan Lucic tied it 3:05 into the final frame. For the second straight game, he scored a goal as he gets used to life on a line with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Soderberg threw it in front and Lucic drove the net so he was able to redirect it past Hutchinson for a pretty tally, his fifth of the season. Hamilton had the second assist on that goal.

Hamilton's goal was also a good one as Soderberg worked it back to him and his shot fluttered past Hutchinson up high. It was his fifth goal of the season and Eriksson had the other assist on it.

Boston is off until Monday but that comes with a major caveat since their game in Anaheim (10, NESN) kicks off a three-games in four-nights stretch and four-games in six-days. It is a brutal trip against the Ducks (14-5-5), Kings (12-6-5), Sharks (10-10-4) and Coyotes (9-11-3). San Jose and Arizona are both pretty mediocre but unfortunately those come at the back end of their week in California and Arizona. Maybe they can shack up with the Patriots who will be hanging out there before their meeting with the Chargers?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Red Sox Sign Both Hanley Ramirez & Pablo Sandoval, Because Why The Hell Not?

Two out of the last three seasons, the Red Sox have finished in last place in the AL East. That's not acceptable by any means and the fact that they won the 2013 World Series in between is still nearly impossible to explain. With no salary cap in baseball, an extremely loyal fan base that pays the highest tickets prices in MLB and filthy rich owners, Boston has no excuse but to spend like crazy this offseason to regain their relevance both regionally and nationally.

The Red Sox took a big step forward in terms of wins in 2015 and beyond by signing both shortstop Hanley Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Ramirez, the former Red Sox prized prospect that was traded to Florida in the Josh Beckett deal (November 2005), is reportedly getting a four-year deal worth $88 million with a vesting fifth year worth an additional $22 million. The figures on Sandoval's deal aren't known yet but it is thought to be in the five-year and $90 million range.

Take a breath. The interesting part about this is that while Sandoval was rumored to be coming here for weeks, Ramirez's name wasn't mentioned at all until it was basically signed, sealed and delivered yesterday. They both come with issues: Ramirez has missed a bunch of games the last two seasons with the Dodgers due to various injuries while Sandoval's weight is a constant battle. Ramirez is willing to move away from shortstop which will probably be the case here unless the Red Sox trade Xander Bogaerts (no!). His defense at shortstop wasn't great anymore and as we've seen time and again, any schmoe can play a decent left field at Fenway Park. Sandoval is two years younger (30-28) than Ramirez and while he doesn't have the same tools, he has been a more consistent performer in the postseason (.344 average in 39 games) as he helped San Francisco win three of the last five World Series crowns.

Even before these two moves (the Red Sox will have a press conference to introduce them on Tuesday at 1pm), we knew that the team's biggest need was top of the rotation starting pitching. This certainly improves their lineup but they won't go anywhere without a true ace (Jon Lester?) and a solid number two (James Shields or Cole Hamels?). You worry a bit that both guys have played their entire careers in the kinder, gentler National League, plus they are each coming from California which couldn't be more different than Massachusetts.

The money and risk is worth it because this is the Red Sox who can afford to make high-profile mistakes. I'm not wishing that on them with these guys or predicting it but honestly, what do they have to lose at this point? Ramirez won the NL batting title in 2009 and led the NL in OPS last season (.283, 13 HRs, 71 RBIs, .369 OBP, .448 SLG). Sandoval's regular season numbers won't blow you away (.279 with 16 HRs, 73 RBIs, .324 OBP, .415 SLG) last season) but keep in mind the lack of protection he played with in the Giants' lineup and also what a pitcher's park AT&T has proven to be. Oh and third base was a black hole for Boston last season so anything would be an improvement over that.

There is no question that these two make the Red Sox way better than they were yesterday without them and isn't that ultimately what this is all about? Sure we might not be in love with the player (on paper at least) or the contract (remember it's not our money) but you have to appreciate Boston's attitude here: they are going for it, again, after some truly awful years that should rarely happen to them.

UPDATE 11/25: It's a five-year deal for Sandoval-the 2012 World Series MVP-with an option for 2020.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Penguins Beat Bruins 3-2 In Overtime On Malkin's 2nd Goal of the Game

It is a cold reality but I guess we should be somewhat content that the shorthanded B's were able to take a point against the juggernaut Penguins tonight at TD Garden. Playing with what feels like half a team that rightfully belongs in Providence, Pittsburgh (14-4-2) beat Boston (13-9-1) 3-2 in overtime at TD Garden on Evgeni Malkin's goal just 32 seconds in.

Brad Marchand returned after missing three games with an undisclosed injury but David Krejci and Chris Kelly remained out. Boston made the curious decision to send Seth Griffith back to Providence this afternoon while Matt Fraser was a healthy scratch. That meant that their first-round pick from this past draft, David Pastrnak, made his NHL debut at the ripe old age of 18 (he's the youngest player to appear in the NHL this season). He only ended up playing 7:53 so his contributions were understandably limited. Furthermore, it's hard to say what they wanted out of Jordan Caron (3:35) and Alex Khokhlachev (2:53) when they each played five total shifts in the entire contest.

You can only keep Sidney Crosby and Malkin in check for so long, even in the best of times, which made it utterly predictable that Crosby opened the scoring at 3:33 with a backhander on a rebound from Tuukka Rask (30 saves). Harvard's Craig Adams and Kris Letang had the assists on Crosby's ninth goal of the season.

Pittsburgh led 1-0 after the first period but Boston tied it early in the second on Milan Lucic's tap-in from Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg at 1:43. Lucic has been lost without Krejci so it was nice to see him pick up his fourth goal of the season on Eriksson's slick pass. The Bruins took the lead only 28 seconds later as rookie Joe Morrow scored his first career NHL goal. Marc-Andre Fleury (27 saves) was screened while Dougie Hamilton and Simon Gagne were credited with the assists on Morrow's wrister from the point.

The B's had not one but two possible goals called off upon replay this evening. In the first period, Patrice Bergeron hit the puck in with what was determined to be a high stick. That seemed like the right call but the second one was much more shaky. In the following frame, the puck deflected in off Soderberg's body before Lucic knocked the net off of its mooring. The refs ruled that Soderberg used his glove which was not obvious at all.

Malkin and Crosby took over even further as Malkin tied it at two. His low but hard shot beat Rask to the nearside at 9:42 of the second period on the power play for his ninth goal of the season. Letang and Crosby had the assists on that tally. After the scoreless third period, where the Penguins outshot the Bruins 12-4, all Pittsburgh needed was one rush in overtime to end it. Crosby went blazing up the left wing before firing a one-timer over to Malkin who caught Rask in scramble mode going side-to-side (who could blame him?).

Boston is now off until Friday (7, NESN) when they host Winnipeg (10-9-3). The trend for the Bruins so far this season has been to beat the bad and average teams and then to lose against the good ones. However, it's tough to see them topping many teams in their current state of disarray with all the injuries and underachieving individuals. The scary part is that after that they go to the West Coast for four games in six days including the dreaded California trio of Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose.

This Is Getting Silly: Patriots Crush Another So-Called Contender-the Lions-34-9

At some point soon, maybe next Sunday in Green Bay, a team is going to challenge the Patriots. Until then, we can only bask in the glow of another beating. New England (9-2 overall, 6-0 home) destroyed Detroit (7-4 overall, 3-3 away) 34-9 this afternoon at Gillette Stadium. The Lions came in with the top-ranked defense in the league but they honestly didn't stand a chance as the Patriots picked up their seventh straight win. You'd have a hard time objectively arguing that the Pats are not the best team in the NFL at the moment for what it's worth (nothing).

Sock puppet Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and his penchant for kicking field goals down three touchdowns in the second half or even better, taking a timeout then choosing to punt on fourth down never stood a chance. It takes a little more balls and creativity to beat the Patriots at Gillette. We should have known that he was not the guy to get it done.

Tom Brady (38 of 53 for 349 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) spread it around to five different receivers who all had at least five catches, led by Brandon LaFell (9 catches, 98 yards), Julian Edelman (11 catches, 98 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (5 catches, 78 yards). The two unexpected x-factors on offense that came through today were their goal-line weapon Tim Wright who caught two more touchdowns and LeGarrette Blount (12 rushes, 78 yards) who ran for two scores in his return to New England. Last week's hero Jonas Gray never got off the bench as he served his punishment for showing up late to practice. As if you didn't know this already, Blount proved that they literally can put any bum off the street in there and odds are they will produce.

New England's defense continued to excel, holding the Lions to three measly field goals by disgraced ex-Broncos kicker Jason Prater. Logan Ryan picked off Matthew Stafford (18 of 46 for 264 yards, 1 INT) while Rob Ninkovich and Akeem Ayers each notched a sack. Reggie Bush didn't play for Detroit and Golden Tate (4 catches, 97 yards) was the only Lion to have any real success on offense. The normally unstoppable Calvin Johnson (4 catches, 58 yards) took a trip to Brandon Browner Island and he wasn't really heard from as you can tell.

Two Stephen Gostkowski field goals accounted for the other New England points. The scary part for opponents is that the Patriots weren't flawless: they punted five times (a 66-yard bomb by Ryan Allen was a key play in the first half) and Brady threw an interception. What I'm trying to say is that they could potentially play even better than this which sounds ridiculous. Granted it was 24-6 at halftime so you never thought they could lose. Danny Amendola had an 81-yard kick return for the Pats so you knew it was their day.

New England will go for the sweep of the NFC North next Sunday (4:25, CBS) at historic Lambeau Field in what should be the biggest game in the NFL this regular season. You know everyone will be calling it a Super Bowl preview so I might as well get that out of the way too. Similar to the Patriots, the Packers (8-3 overall, 1st in NFC North) have been on fire (7-1) since a shaky start (1-2). Aaron Rodgers is probably the leading candidate for NFL MVP so you have to enjoy it because games like this don't come around that often. Now all we need is a little snow and there potentially could be record ratings.

If You Haven't Already, It Is Officially Time To Jump On the Revolution Bandwagon

In case you haven't been paying attention (and you are excused if you haven't), it turns out that the Patriots aren't the only championship contender residing in Gillette Stadium this season. Haha no I'm not talking about UMass football, the Revolution picked up a huge road win today 2-1 at Red Bull Arena in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final vs. Red Bulls. They will meet again at Gillette on Saturday (3, NBCSN) where New England will try to get back to the MLS Cup (which they have never won in club history).

It is all about away goals so a 1-1 tie which is how it looked to finish would have been perfectly acceptable for the Revs. They have been the best team in MLS since they acquired Jermaine Jones (11-1-1) this summer so it was fitting that their prized pickup came through with a clutch game-winning goal in the 85th minute. Lee Nguyen, who should be the MLS MVP this season, drew Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, before sliding it over to his fellow USMNT midfielder to tap in.

New York definitely threw everything it had into this match, owning possession (60-40%) and taking way more shots (18-8) although only three more (7-4) landed on goal. The problem was that the Red Bulls hyped themselves up too much, as proven by their six yellow cards which is a total I've never heard of for one team in a close game. Star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips picked up one of the aforementioned yellow cards on a lazy challenge in the second half and it was particularly costly since he came in carrying one from the previous match. This means that he is out on Saturday, oops!

New England forward Teal Bunbury opened the scoring in the 17th minute with a curling laser worthy of inclusion on Sportscenter's Top 10 plays. It was from outside the box but Robles still had no chance to stop it. Jones had the assist on it. New York responded 10 minutes later as a scramble in New England's box left Bobby Shuttlesworth (6 saves) and his weird haircut with nothing left to do but retrieve the ball out of the net. The Red Bulls hit the ball off the crossbar before Wright-Phillips followed that with a header which went in.

The long layoff didn't seem to be much of an issue for either side so I doubt that the most important match of their season will suffer from being less than a week away. Expect New York to come out strong since they need at least one goal. By being calm and playing their game, New England should have a great chance to get through the second leg and advance to the MLS Cup the following Sunday. Later this afternoon, LA opened the Western Conference Final with a 1-0 win on their home turf over Seattle.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

No Other Way To Say It: The Canadiens Currently Own the Bruins & Rask

This is really far away but at this rate, the Bruins have to hope that they don't see the Canadiens again in the playoffs this spring because I think we all now how that will turn out, again. Montreal (16-5-1) is currently the best team in the Eastern Conference and they also have the most points in the NHL so you could make a logical argument that they are the top team period. The Canadiens improved to 3-0 vs. the Bruins this season with a nip and tuck 2-0 shutout by Carey Price (33 saves) tonight at TD Garden that clinched the season series. Their only other meeting is February 8 back in Boston.

Montreal snapped a six-game home win streak for Boston and they've outscored the Bruins by an aggregate score of 13-5 this season. This was one of those wins that felt way more dominant than the final score and shots on goal total (33-23 in favor of the B's) would indicate. The Bruins could have played for 180 minutes against Price without scoring a single goal, it was that pathetic. Of course, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara being out doesn't help but injuries happen so there is no point dwelling on them for too long.

The scary thing is that Tuukka Rask (21 saves) played about as well as he ever does against Montreal but he still fell short. In his career, he fell to 3-12-3 vs. the Canadiens which is baffling. This loss clearly wasn't his fault since the Bruins should be able to muster a couple goals at home, even in a back-to-back.

Montreal came in with the No. 27 power play in the league which is shocking, especially after Andrei Markov's seeing-eye shot from the point went through countless bodies in front and by Rask at 11:37 of the first period. It was the seventh time in the last nine games that Boston had allowed the first goal, not a trend that you want to see continue. Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec had the assists on Markov's second goal of the season.

The Canadiens doubled their lead midway through the second period at 8:59 when Plekanec was on the doorstep to sweep in a rebound. Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk had the assists. Boston tried to get some energy by fighting (Gregory Campbell vs. Dale Weise in the first period and Torey Krug vs. Galchenyuk in the third), something that even they rarely do anymore but that did nothing to noticeably spark them.

Chris Kelly was a late scratch for the B's as well with an injury picked up last night in Columbus which meant that Matthew Lindblad was forced to make his NHL debut. Boston wants to get all these young guys experience in the NHL but not at the same time while they're trying to stay afloat.

The Bruins have one final game before their Thanksgiving break: they host Pittsburgh (13-4-2) on Monday (7, NESN). The Penguins are off to their usual superb start but unlike the Habs, Boston typically has their number. We'll see if that holds true this time with so many important players out for Boston. That will be the first time that they meet this season.

Anything Goes On A Friday Night In Columbus

Being such a hopeless creature of habit, I will admit that I was completely thrown off by having the Bruins play on a Friday-something which happens about as often as Kim Kardashian covering up his gigantic ass. For two periods tonight at Nationwide Arena, Boston (13-8-0) was terrible as they fell behind host Columbus (6-11-2) 2-0.

Thankfully, the B's had just enough resiliency to rally in a bonkers third period and then eventually win 4-3 in a shootout. Nobody scored through six rounds so rookie Anton Khokhlachev ended it in the seventh with the lone goal in only his second career NHL game. It had all the makings of a trap game with Montreal and Pittsburgh waiting on the horizon not to mention Thanksgiving break.

Beginning tonight, Boston has three games in four days so head coach Claude Julien elected to sit Tuukka Rask in favor of rookie Niklas Svedberg (25 saves). The move was a no-brainer, even when Svedberg gave up a pair of soft goals in the first period. Ryan Johansen blocked Kevan Miller's shot in his own zone then skated on a partial breakaway before letting loose a shot that Svedberg got plenty of but couldn't keep from crossing the line at 9:52. Johansen's seventh goal of the season was unassisted.

Just 1:38 after Johansen's goal, the Blue Jackets went up 2-0 on Nick Foligno's deflection which actually went off his body. Jordan Leopold took the shot and Johansen had the second assist on Foligno's team-leading 10th goal of the season. Earlier in the frame, Patrice Bergeron's shot was swept off the goal line by a Columbus defenseman.

Svedberg's gaffes had nothing on Sergei Bobrovsky (38 saves) who breathed life into Boston by allowing one of the worst goals you'll ever see in the NHL. To the left of the faceoff dot, Dennis Seidenberg decided to put the puck on the net at 1:28 of the third period and somehow it went in despite not bouncing or doing anything wacky. Matt Bartkowski (who went to nearby Ohio State) and Chris Kelly received the joke assists.

That turned out to be the spark that the B's needed as they tied it at 9:33 on Matt Fraser's re-direct of Bartkowski's slap-pass. Fraser's third goal of the season (1st in 8 games) was also assisted by Bergeron who played it back to Bartkowski at the point. Before you could say full meltdown, the B's were up for the first time (3-2) 1:59 after Fraser's tally. Daniel Paille picked the perfect time to break his slump (1st goal in 37 games!) as he took advantage of the turnover created by Carl Soderberg.

Boston enjoyed that lead for a grand total of 1:15 since Jack Johnson (please read his tragic bankruptcy story) one-timed a pass from Johansen and Foligno. The Bruins quickly bounced back from that devastating goal as they outshot the Blue Jackets 7-1 in overtime. Bobrovsky made up for his poor play by owning overtime. The shootout went on for way too long with not enough goals but you can't argue with the final result.

Columbus is a train wreck so for that reason alone, Saturday (7, NESN) vs. Montreal figures to be way harder. Boston has suffered two humbling defeats (6-4 on Oct. 16 & 5-1 last Thursday) already this season in Montreal so they owe the Canadiens a beating at the Garden. It is a given that the atmosphere will be great, hopefully the game follows suit. Rask has to prove that he can beat Montreal and likewise, his teammates (looking at you Lucic) need to stay focused and not get caught up in the Canadiens' usual garbage.