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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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

LeGarrette Blount Makes His Triumphant Return to the Patriots, Or Something

For a team that for the past decade plus has always prided itself on thinking outside the box and trying to be the smartest guys in the room, it was somewhat refreshing to see the Patriots make an obvious roster move that feels like a perfect fit. Running back LeGarrette Blount wasn't happy in Pittsburgh, so much so that he left the field early in their Monday Night Football win in Tennessee this week. Understandably, he was released by the Steelers and this morning the Patriots signed him to a two-year deal worth the veteran minimum plus incentives.

Jonas Gray has taken over the world this week after his unforgettable performance on Sunday in Indy. He's New England's starting running back for the moment but what if he struggles or god forbid gets hurt? Enter Blount who rushed for 772 yards and seven touchdowns last season with the Pats on 153 carries. He turned it up at the end of his only season with New England by rushing for 189 yards in the regular season finale vs. the Bills and then 166 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts in the playoff opener.

As always, the Patriots made this transaction with the future in mind. Stevan Ridley (out with a torn ACL), Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden are all free agents next summer. That means that Gray and rookie James White were the only running backs under contract beyond this season before Blount re-entered the fold. To make room on the 53-man roster, defensive tackle Casey Walker was released although he could return via the practice squad (he still has eligibility for that).

Pittsburgh had signed Blount to a two-year deal last summer but predictably, neither he nor the team was content with his lack of production (65 carries, 266 yards, 2 TDs) and overall shitty attitude. However, he was behind his smoking buddy Le'Veon Bell who has become one of the best running backs in the NFL. In his last two games in Black and Gold, Blount's number was only called five times so you can see why he was upset (granted he dealt with it in his typical bozo way). If anything, that's good news for the Pats in the sense that he should be fresh and at 27 in his fifth NFL season, he figures to have a few more productive seasons left.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No Matter How Bad Things Get For the Celtics, They'll Never Be the 76ers, So There's That

Ladies and gentlemen, the Philadelphia 76ers! The Celtics had the honor of meeting the NBA's current version of the Washington Generals tonight at the Wells Fargo Center and after a sketchy first quarter (where they trailed 27-22), Boston (4-6 overall, 2-2 away) rallied for a 101-90 win over Philadelphia (0-11 overall, 0-5 home).

The Sixers are a complete nightmare, they appear well on their way to another 26-game losing streak like last season, haha why not 0-82 this time? Now that is something to shoot for, they finished 19-63 in 2013-14. And we thought being a Celtics fan these days is rough (it usually is) but how about Sixers fans? Seeing that sorry team, you understand why nobody in such a great sports town goes to see them anymore or remotely pays attention to their constant losing ways.

I feel bad for Massachusetts natives Michael Carter-Williams (11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) and Nerlens Noel (10 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals) who are in their second and first seasons (Noel missed all last season recovering from a major knee injury) respectively with this D-League squad. It's silly to think that all this losing and constant talk of tanking won't have some negative side-effects on such impressionable young guys. They are both immensely talented and it would be a real shame to see it go to waste for much longer (MCW was the Rookie of the Year last season).

After going 0-3 on a painful homestand, the Celts just needed a victory especially considering the minefield they face in their next four games: at Memphis, vs. Portland, vs. Chicago and vs. San Antonio. With no real size inside for the home team, the Celtics' big guys were able to take advantage. Brandon Bass had a game-high 23 points and six rebounds off the bench while Jared Sullinger added 22 points and nine rebounds. Marcus Thornton put together his best game as a Celtic with 13 points and four steals off the bench and Jeff Green scored 11 points. Rajon Rondo had nine points, 13 assists, five rebounds and two steals.

If you play Fantasy Basketball, Sixers reserve guard Tony Wroten (21 points, 7 assists) is definitely an under-the-radar player that you want to own. Other than MCW, Noel and him, it's a team of journeymen nobodies like Henry Sims (14 points) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals).

In the first half, I briefly entertained thoughts of Boston losing this game and it nearly drove me to tears (not really but you get the point). The C's woke up in the second quarter (24-19) to enter halftime tied at 46. Boston's defense held Philadelphia to 22 points apiece in the final two quarters while they put up 27 and 28.

Keeping Philly to just 90 points represented Boston's best defensive outing of the young season. The Celtics shot 9.9% better from the field (49.4-39.5), dished out 10 more assists (season-high 32-22), scored six more fast break points (24-18) and eight more points in the paint (54-46).

In a hilarious scheduling quirk, the Celts' mini two-game road trip takes them from facing the worst team in the league to the best. The Grizzlies lost 96-92 tonight in Toronto but they still have the best record in the NBA at 10-2. If you decide to watch Friday's (8, CSN) game from the FedEx Forum, make sure that you have plenty of alcohol to get you through what could be a very ugly contest (if you support the Celtics).

The Best Week of Jonas Gray's Life Continues

Can you imagine being Jonas Gray? After not being drafted and bouncing around three different NFL practice squads, he finally get his opportunity and did he ever make the most of it on Sunday Night Football as the Patriots (8-2) embarrassed the Colts (6-4) 42-20. Gray's 37 carries, 201 yards (after the stat correction) and four touchdowns (setting a franchise regular season record) resulted in him being on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated and it also earned him the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award.

What can we expect from Gray in the last six regular season games and playoffs, starting with Sunday's meeting (1, Fox) vs. Lions (7-3) at Gillette Stadium? It's a cop out but who could reasonably answer that? Obviously, he won't be putting up 200-yard games every week but as long as he continues to churn out positive gains and hangs onto the ball, that's all the Pats need. With no Stevan Ridley for the rest of this campaign, Gray is the only other running back on New England's current roster that can consistently run inside between the tackles.

Ironically, the former Patriot that he most closely resembles in terms of size and running style-LeGarrette Blount-was released yesterday by the Steelers. It makes you wonder if the Pats would bring him back, remember he was on the cover of SI last winter as well after running for four touchdowns vs. Indy in the AFC Divisional game. I'm not a huge Blount fan, he is unquestionably a bozo but if Gray got hurt or struggled, Blount would be a suitable replacement plus he already knows the vaunted system.

This is all just talk radio/Twitter/interwebs fodder, for now we should enjoy this moment because who knows how much longer it will last for our guy Gray who once tried to be a stand-up comedian and even opened up for Dustin Diamond aka Screech from Saved By the Bell. Haha don't believe me? Look it up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rask Gets His 1st Shutout of the Season as Bruins Blank Blues 2-0

With one of the best teams in the NHL visiting TD Garden to kick off a huge week, the Bruins picked a good time to play their preferred style of hockey. Boston (12-8-0) shut out St. Louis (12-5-1) 2-0 behind 33 saves by Tuukka Rask for his first shutout of the season (and 24th of his career). Every game seems to bring a different lineup and this was no different as Brad Marchand was scratched but David Krejci returned to action. Through it all, the B's have won six straight games at home.

St. Louis outshot Boston 33-17 which is a little more disparity than the Bruins would prefer but their penalty kill did go 2 for 2. Patrice Bergeron was the recipient of a gift in the first period as Ian Cole's clearing attempt went right to him. Even worse (for the Blues), Brian Elliott (15 saves) was out of position-behind the net-so all Bergy had to do was slot it in the empty cage for his fifth goal of the season. That gives him four goals and five assists in his past eight games.

Boston's other goal had some Cole on it as well since Torey Krug's shot from the point deflected off Cole's knee by Elliott. Matt Bartkowski and Loui Eriksson assisted on Krug's third goal of the season (first since Oct. 21; he missed 4 games). Zach Trotman was sent back to Providence earlier in the day and Adam McQuaid left in the second period after taking a shot off his hand so Bartkowski's role suddenly got that much more important. Since he returned on Saturday vs. Carolina (after 7 DNDs in a row), Bartkowski has looked like a different, more confident guy. Tonight, he was +2 with one hit and one takeaway in 20:52. He'll never be an All-Star or on a top defensive pairing (at least not here) but the B's needed him to be better and he's starting to turn the corner.

The Blues outshot the Bruins 15-3 in the third period but many of those chances were from the outside. Both teams took their timeouts late in the frame and despite a huge advantage in offensive zone time all game, St. Louis could never find the back of the net even when they took Elliott out with a couple minutes left.

Boston travels to Columbus (6-11-1) for the rare Friday night (7, NESN) NHL game. The Blue Jackets are a disaster: in last place in the Metropolitan Division and only one point ahead of the Sabres after getting smoked 5-0 tonight vs. Detroit. The next night (7, NESN), the B's host the Canadiens (14-5-1) and then on Monday (7, NESN) the Penguins (13-3-1) come to the Garden. The Bruins passed their first test and Friday is a good chance to tune up their road record (4-4-0) while giving Niklas Svedberg a start. It's all about Montreal and Pittsburgh, two great litmus tests for Boston before Thanksgiving.

UPDATE 11/19: McQuaid is out for 6-8 weeks after breaking his thumb last night. Poor guy, like last year when he was hurt, the B's have Kevan Miller who is a suitable McQuaid replacement.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What a Turnaround: Pats are the Best Team in the AFC & Maybe the NFL After Pounding Colts 42-20 on Sunday Night Football

Jonas Gray. Who knows where he'll be in a few years but for one night at least, he was the talk of the NFL after an insane performance on Sunday Night Football. In only his fourth career game, he had 38 carries for 199 yards and four touchdowns (setting a new team record) as New England (8-2 overall, 3-2 road) absolutely destroyed Indianapolis (6-4 overall, 3-2 home) 42-20 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Patriots' sixth win in a row put them firmly in control of the AFC (and two games ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC East) after the Broncos surprisingly fell in St. Louis 22-7 earlier today.

There are many ways to view this victory but for my (lack of) money, the real story for New England is that they can now win on the road against a good (but not great) team even when Tom Brady (19 of 30 for 257 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) is average at best. The Patriots' defense won't put up incredible numbers but the bottom line is that they are getting the job done. Andrew Luck (23 of 39 for 303 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) does everything for the Colts so when he's off, like he was tonight, they are going nowhere fast. Did I mention that Indy's defense is an utter disaster?

The first half was misleading in the sense that the Patriots dominated but yet they were only up by four points (14-10). On their opening drive (11 plays, 89 yards, 4:14), Gray finished it with a 4-yard touchdown run. Indianapolis put together a good drive but they got stopped in the red zone and had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by the incomparable Adam Vinatieri.

Both of Brady's ugly interceptions came in the first half but the Patriots still managed to go up 14-3 late in the second quarter on Gray's 2-yard touchdown run. The second pick (both by Mike Adams) happened when Brady apparently audibled on a 3rd and 1 play and was forced to throw the ball up for grabs Eli Manning-style. The Colts took advantage to cash in a 10-yard touchdown catch by Hakeem Nicks (remember him?) to cut it to 14-10.

New England had 501 total yards and 33 first downs so when they received the opening kickoff of the second half, they went right back to work. That goal-line machine Tim Wright caught a 2-yard touchdown from Brady after another long drive (8 plays, 80 yards, 3:50). Vinatieri rescued Indy on the next stalled drive with a 53-yard kick (that would have been good from 63) but Gray's 2-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter put the Pats up two touchdowns (28-13).

The Colts cut it to 28-20 on a clever 1-yard touchdown pass to former BC offensive lineman Anthony Costanzo. Gray answered with his last score, a 1-yard touchdown, then Rob Gronkowski (4 catches, 71 yards) took time away from his unstoppable run blocking to catch a 26-yard touchdown where he basically broke Indy's will. Seriously, what an incredible catch and run complete with the dive into the end zone through two guys. If you didn't know before, now it's official: the real Gronk is back and more dangerous than ever.

It didn't help Indianapolis when Dwayne Allen or Ahmad Bradshaw went down with injuries and never returned. Only Coby Fleener (7 catches, 144 yards) really showed up for them. Reggie Wayne (5 catches, 91 yards) got most of his yardage on a one busted coverage that resulted in a 46-yard catch while T.Y. Hilton (3 catches, 24 yards) was completely shut down by a combination of Kyle Arrington and Darrelle Revis. Speaking of Revis, he helped Devin McCourty secure an interception by tipping the ball up the air. Jamie Collins (8 tackles, 5 solo, 2 tackles for loss) and Rob Ninkovich (5 tackles, 4 solo, 1 sack) were also stellar as they helped hold the Colts to 19 rushing yards on 17 carries, haha how is that possible?

New England returns to Gillette Stadium next Sunday (1, Fox) as they host the Lions (7-3, 1st in NFC North) who lost 14-6 this afternoon at Arizona. The Patriots are 6-0 at home this season and the way things are rolling, it's hard to see Detroit winning that game because they typically are mediocre outside of Ford Field.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

There's No Place Like Home for the Bruins, Especially When It Comes to Garbage Opponents

Right after two horrific losses (6-1 at Toronto and 5-1 at Montreal), that were so bad that I didn't feel like writing about them, the Bruins returned to TD Garden aka their comfort zone. Boston (11-8-0) did what they had to do to beat Carolina (5-8-3) 2-1 this afternoon. Like most of their victories this season, it wasn't an artistic masterpiece by any means but for a team that played so poorly on back-to-back nights, at least this was much more indicative of who they are (or rather who they should be).

The Hurricanes scored first, something which has happened to Boston in five of their last six contests, as Jiri Tlusty tipped in Justin Faulk's shot from the point at 7:05 of the first period and Eric Staal had the second assist. Tuukka Rask (33 saves) earned the first star of the game but there was nothing he could do about that high shot that went even higher off the deflection for Tlusty's team-leading seventh goal of the season.

Fortune was smiling on Boston during their fifth-straight win at the Garden as Seth Griffith tied it at 14:24 on one of the flukiest goals I have ever seen. It started with Andrej Sekera fumbling the puck backwards on some sort of ill-fated pass, that ended up going off Griffith then back off Sekera again and past Cam Ward (23 saves). You'll probably never see a goal like that in the NHL, at least not for many years. Griffith's fifth goal of the season (tying him with Carl Soderberg and Brad Marchand for the team lead) was unassisted but we all know that Sekera deserved something special for that monumental fail.

The Bruins got the game-winner on their own accord. A strong forecheck led to Brad Marchand stealing the puck and feeding Patrice Bergeron for one of his patented quick shots after a turnover. Dennis Seidenberg had the second assist on Bergeron's fourth goal of the season and Reilly Smith did his part by screening Ward.

All that stuff happened in the first period with basically nothing to write home about or remember about the second or third periods. Yay afternoon games! Boston outshot Carolina 14-3 in the second and the Hurricanes returned the favor by outshooting the B's 15-4 in the third but it didn't matter. The key sequence of the game also took place in the first when Boston killed a 5-on-3 for 1:43 just 12 seconds after Tlusty's goal. If Carolina had added another goal or two then, who knows what would have happened?

Finally, the Bruins play another quality team at the Garden on Tuesday (7, NESN)-those have been so few and far between. St. Louis (11-4-1) currently leads the very difficult Central division in the Western Conference and they are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games entering tonight's game vs. Washington.

David Krejci and Zach Trotman were the scratches today, meaning that Matt Bartkowski played for the first time in eight games. He finished +1 with four shots, two hits and a blocked shot which for him is a highlight reel game. Milan Lucic also looked like himself with a game-high six hits, he was way more active than he's been in weeks.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bruins Close Out Perfect Homestand (4-0) with 5th Straight Win, 4-2 vs. Devils

Not that I was too worried about it but the Bruins are officially themselves again. Boston (10-6-0) dispatched New Jersey (6-7-2) 4-2 at TD Garden on Monday for their fifth straight win. The Bruins closed out their four-game homestand (4-0) with a much tougher schedule on the horizon namely a back-to-back in Toronto on Wednesday (8, NBCSN) and in Montreal on Thursday (7:30, NESN).

Ironically enough, the B's improved to 6-1 since Zdeno Chara went down with an injury-an indication of their weak opponents along with them finding their proverbial groove at the same time. The Devils scored the fastest goal vs. the Bruins this season as Travis Zajac finished a pass from Mike Cammalleri 1:26 into the contest after a turnover by Dougie Hamilton. It was the fifth time in the last six games that the Bruins have allowed the first goal not that it's seemed to matter at all.

In the eight games this season where Boston has allowed the first goal, they have tied it at one in seven of them including this evening. Carl Soderberg scored a power-play goal at 10:21 as he tipped in Reilly Smith's pass with the second assist to Patrice Bergeron (4-game point streak). Soderberg's fifth goal of the season tied him with Brad Marchand for the team lead.

A sloppy turnover by the Devils gave the Bruins a gift-wrapped 2-1 advantage at 17:16. Bergeron was there to slam in his third goal of the season by former BC star and Marblehead native Cory Schneider (19 saves). Former Bruins great Jaromir Jagr did something he rarely did in Boston two seasons ago-score a pretty goal or any goals for that matter. His turnaround shot beat Tuukka Rask (26 saves) low and to the far side at 13:00 of the second period for Jagr's third goal of the season and 708th all-time (tying him with Mike Gartner for 6th in NHL history).

Boston put it away with a quick pair of goals late in the second period (1:20 apart, their 9th and 10th of the season in the final two minutes of a frame). Rookie Seth Griffith scored unquestionably the prettiest goal of the season (his fourth of the season) for the B's and one of the best in the NHL. Words don't really do it justice but he had his back to Schneider but he managed to hit a shot between his legs which went through Schneider's pads. Incredible and just a taste of what Griffith can do at the ripe old age of 21. Other than Tyler Seguin (and I'm not saying he could be Seguin), when is the last time Boston had a forward with those type of eye-popping skills? Like Bergeron, his tally was unassisted.

Smith added the final strike at 19:21 as he one-timed a pass from Bergeron (3 points) by Schneider. New Jersey outshot Boston 14-3 in the third period but that was somewhat misleading since they didn't translate to many real scoring opportunities.

The Maple Leafs (8-5-2) have won their last two games but the Bruins typically own them. Conversely, the Canadiens (10-4-1) have won their last two after a poor stretch but they dominate Boston particularly at the Bell Centre. I would expect Niklas Svedberg to make his first start in November on Wednesday before Rask returns to the net on Thursday in Montreal where he has been terrible.

Revolution Beat Crew 7-3 on Aggregate to Advance to ECF vs. Red Bulls

For the first time in years, I started paying attention to the Revolution again this past summer for two reasons: 1) the Red Sox were so horrible that I couldn't watch their games anymore and 2) they signed USMNT World Cup hero Jermaine Jones. It has been a fun ride and one that will last at least for a few more weeks after New England beat Columbus 3-1 tonight at Gillette Stadium (7-3 on aggregate) to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals vs. New York Red Bulls. That begins on November 23 at Red Bull Arena (time TBA) followed by a game the following Saturday at Gillette (3, NBCSN).

Sunday was an example of how the Revs aren't just a team revolving around one (Nguyen) or two (Jones) players. Yes, Nguyen opened the scoring with a sweet one-timer in the 43rd minute from Teal Bunbury but it was defender Jose Goncalves who made it 2-0 in the 55th minute on a clumsy one-timer from Charlie Davies. Columbus got a red card in the 61st minute after Ethan Finlay ran into New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttlesworth. The Crew cut it to 2-1 on Tony Tchani headed in a cross by Justin Meram in the 67th minute.

No worries as Bunbury officially clinched it in the 77th minute by roofing a pretty through ball from Daigo Kobayashi. Meram picked up his second yellow card of the game in the 85th minute so Columbus shamefully finished their postseason with just nine players left on the field. Shuttlesworth made some big saves when it was still (somewhat competitive) and the one-sided scoreline allowed head coach Jay Heaps to take out Nguyen and Jones late in the second half.

MLS will never be the English Premier League or any of the top European leagues but the product is getting better, thanks to many washed up stars from Europe coming to the States for a lucrative pay day at the twilight of their career. There is also a decent mix of homegrown players-midfielders Scott Caldwell (Braintree, MA), Chris Tierney (Wellesley, MA) and Diego Fagundez (Leominster, MA) not to mention Davies (Manchester, NH) are all originally from New England.

I can't stand people that try to force soccer on others or even worse, look down on those who don't enjoy it as much or understand certain aspects. I completely understand why people make fun of it, there are plenty of things that bug me about it to no end but I am as into it now as I have ever been since I was a child. This is a long-winded way of saying that if you like soccer and especially if you're from New England, give the Revolution a try. I can promise you that you will enjoy it this season and who knows, maybe we'll finally see some history.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When Will Things Finally Start Going the Celtics' Way Again?

I realize that with 17 NBA championships comes a lifetime of haters and jealousy across the country (and world) so I understand that nobody outside of their fanbase will ever feel bad for the Celtics when they are stuck in neutral for years like this. Boston (2-3 overall, 2-1 home) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 101-98 win tonight at TD Garden vs. Indiana (1-5 overall, 0-3 away). Unfortunately, what this victory will be remembered for most is rookie Marcus Smart's leaving the court on a stretcher due to a brutal ankle injury in the fourth quarter.

Seeing anyone get injured is depressing enough but Smart has showed plenty of potential in the first five games of this season. His offensive game is still a work in progress but he's already an excellent defender and has a high basketball IQ. All we can hope is that it's not as bad as it looked and he's not out for too long. Credit to the Celts for pushing through that after seeing him go down. They might not be very good (yet?) but you can tell it's a tight-knit group.

Jared Sullinger (17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) led five Celtics in double figures: Jeff Green had 15 points and seven rebounds, Kelly Olynyk scored 12 points with five rebounds, Avery Bradley added 11 points and Brandon Bass notched 10 points off the bench.

With Paul George, George Hill and David West all out, there aren't many teams in the NBA more decimated by injuries than the Pacers. Roy Hibbert had a game-high 22 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks but it wasn't enough. Former Knick Chris Copeland scored 17 points with six rebounds, Donald Sloan put up 15 points, Solomon Hill posted 12 points and Luis Scola supplied 11 points and eight rebounds. Former Sixer Lavoy Allen contributed 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

Boston led 30-26 after the first quarter and 55-52 at halftime. Indiana outscored Boston 23-18 in the third quarter to take a 75-73 lead into the final frame but the C's rallied for the much-needed win. The Celts hit four more 3-pointers (9-5), had eight more assists (26-18), three times as many steals (6-2) and six more fast break points (8-2). That allowed them to survive Indiana's dominance inside: 56-34 points in the paint.

Back-to-back games in the NBA are always tough but the Celtics really have their work cut out for them tomorrow night (8, CSN) as they visit the Bulls (5-1 overall, 1st in Central Division). Derrick Rose didn't play in Friday's 118-115 win over Philadelphia as he rests his ankles. Talk about a guy that could use a healthy season, geez. Boston head coach Brad Stevens said that Smart wouldn't make the trip to Chicago (duh) as they await the MRI results in the morning. Think good thoughts Celtics fans!

UPDATE 11/8: The Celtics announced that Smart is only expected to miss two or three weeks which is great news. Also, Rondo missed tonight's game in Chicago because he was getting the screw(s) out of his hand. He's expected back on Wednesday vs. Oklahoma City.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The March of the Tomato Cans Continues for the Grateful Bruins

Soon enough the schedule will get more difficult for the Bruins so for the moment, all they can do is pile up the points against the dregs of the NHL. Boston (9-6) beat lowly Edmonton (4-8-1) 5-2 tonight at TD Garden. The B's actually trailed 2-1 early in the third period before exploding for three goals (two on the power play) in 2:34 for their fourth straight win while the Oilers dropped their fourth game in a row. Boston has won 13 straight games against Edmonton and they have an 11-game point streak (9-0-1-0) at home vs. Oilers.

David Krejci returned after missing the past two games and while he was a little rusty, his presence brought more balance to the lineup and also put Chris Kelly back on the third line where he belongs. Most of the Bruins' contests this season are rather dull, a product of so many injuries and AHL call ups, but at least this one perked up in the third period.

It was the third time in the last four games that Boston has allowed the first goal but it hasn't mattered one bit since they've rallied to win each time. Boyd Gordon scored a weird power play goal at 14:49 of the first period to put Edmonton up 1-0. His weak shot barely went over the line before it was swept out but it was reviewed and remained as a goal.

Reilly Smith tied it less than four minutes later with a wrist shot under the crossbar. It was his third goal of the season (1st in 10 games), assisted by Brad Marchand (4-game point streak) and David Warsofsky (1st point of the season). Tuukka Rask (24 saves) was at fault for Edmonton's second goal which for a little while, looked like it might be the game-winner. He kicked a rebound right to former Yale star Marc Arcobello at 1:44 who beat Rask like he was a Harvard goaltender.

A few minutes earlier, Loui Eriksson couldn't bury an easy stuff-in at the side of the net so it felt like some sort of cosmic justice when he tied it at 11:04. A shot by Dougie Hamilton deflected right to Eriksson who deposited it past Ben Scrivens (27 saves) for his third goal of the season. Fellow Swede Carl Soderberg had the second assist on one of Eriksson's most memorable goals as a Bruin (not saying much there).

This version of the standard Oilers' meltdown was a product of multiple penalties in crunch time, always a surefire way to lose on the road (they are 0-4-1 on the road this season). Soderberg hammered in a one-timer (his 4th goal of the season) from Patrice Bergeron at 12:29 with Hamilton picking up the other helper. What made that especially sweet was that Bergeron was being hauled down while he passed it-which resulted in another power play. Hamilton added the insurance goal on that man advantage, originally it was credited to Soderberg but he only screened Scrivens, he didn't tip it in. Eriksson and Smith assisted on Hamilton's third goal of the season.

Dallas Eakins called a timeout and Scrivens was pulled but it was far too late at that point. Milan Lucic added an empty-netter with 7.5 seconds left, making the final score completely misleading if you watched the entire game. Boston improved to 5-1 since captain Zdeno Chara went down with his knee injury, go figure; after a couple more days off, they wrap up this cushy homestand and portion of their schedule on Monday vs. New Jersey (6-5-2). Haha think they'll make combine a tribute video for former Bruins greats Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr?

UPDATE 11/7: Bruins head coach Claude Julien casually mentioned at practice this afternoon that Warsofsky is out for "a while." WTF!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bruins Show Up Just Barely Enough to Beat Panthers 2-1 in Overtime, Thanks Marchy

Usually when you have a long win streak against a team (in any sport really), there is a game or two along the way that you probably should have lost but for some reason you don't. The Bruins didn't play terrible on Tuesday night at TD Garden vs. the Panthers, rather both teams played a complete snoozefest, that is until Brad Marchand won it with a sick goal in overtime for the 2-1 Boston (8-6) victory.

The B's have won nine straight games against the improved Panthers (4-2-4) and four of their last five overall-their best stretch of the season. Other than Marchand's game-winner, the only reason that anyone will remember this forgettable contest is because it was Shawn Thornton's first game at the Garden as a visitor. He had a game-high five hits and more importantly, he received a raucous standing ovation when his personal highlight video was shown. It was truly the loudest it's been here since last postseason and it couldn't happen to a better guy.

After a scoreless first period, Florida took a 1-0 lead at 4:04 of the second period thanks to Jussi Jokinen's one-timer. Boston gave him way too much space to crank a one-timer by Tuukka Rask (18 saves), with assists to another former Bruin Brad Boyes and Aaron Ekblad.

The lead didn't last long for the Panthers though as Patrice Bergeron went top shelf with a sweet wrister for his second goal of the season at 7:29. His linemates Marchand and Reilly Smith had the assists. Bergy has been scuffling in the goal-scoring department so far this season so that tally had to feel extra satisfying.

Florida had a great chance to grab a goal late in the third period but Erik Gudbranson's deflected shot went off the post. Roberto Luongo (23 saves) actually had a pretty decent performance but as a Bruins fan you have to laugh that once again he couldn't get the job done in Boston.

Edmonton (4-7-1) limps into the Garden on Thursday, after losing 4-1 tonight in Philadelphia. The two players that we'd most want to see-Taylor Hall and Andrew Ference-are both out with an injury and a suspension respectively. Still, there is plenty to play for as the B's go for their fourth straight win by fattening up on mostly bottom-feeders of the NHL.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Well That Was Unexpectedly Easy: Patriots Blow Out Broncos 43-21 to Grab AFC's Top Seed

Even in the wildest dreams of the biggest Patriots honk (and they are everywhere), I find it hard to believe that anyone could have predicted that New England would handle big bad Denver frankly so easily on Sunday afternoon. The Patriots (7-2 overall, 5-0 home) trailed 7-3 in the first quarter but then scored 24 unanswered points en route to a 43-21 victory over the Broncos (6-2 overall, 1-2 away).

The snow that covered the ground this morning had melted away by gametime but Peyton Manning's (34 of 57 for 438 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) same old problems vs. Tom Brady (he fell to 5-11 against him) continued along with the fact that he needs so many different factors to be nearly perfect (weather, wind, temperature, etc.) to break all these records that ultimately mean absolutely nothing. It was the fifth straight win for the Patriots since their debacle on Monday Night Football in Kansas City a month ago.

The win really meant something for the Pats since this was their chance to go ahead of the Broncos in the all-important race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Tom Brady (33 of 53 for 333 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT) continues to play at an MVP-level, a far cry from before this win streak when we all thought the world was ending (starting with him being an average quarterback).

Rob Gronkowski (9 catches, 105 yards, TD) is playing some of the best football of his career while Julian Edelman (9 catches, 89 yards, TD; 84-yard punt return for a TD) had one of the best games as a Patriot. Anytime you can hold a Peyton-led team to 21 points, your defense is doing something right. New England's offseason plan of acquiring Darrelle Revis (5 tackles, 1 pass defensed) and Brandon Browner (interception) sure looked like money well spent.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to call Denver soft but much like Manning, when things don't seem to go there way, they appear to let it get to them rather quickly. Emmanuel Sanders (10 catches, 151 yards) had a huge performance but New England kept him out of the end zone after he scored three times in the week before vs. San Diego. Demaryius Thomas (7 catches, 127 yards) is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL but again, the Patriots didn't allow him to score.

The first quarter wasn't exactly an instant classic as Stephen Gostkowski hit a 49-yard field goal and Ronnie Hillman had a one-yard touchdown run for the short-lived 7-3 Broncos lead. Gostkowski opened the second quarter with a 29-yard field goal and then it was the Edelman Show as he caught a five-yard touchdown pass then returned that punt (his 4th career punt return TD, a new Patriots record) 84 yards for the electrifying moment.

The Pats have made it a habit of scoring right before halftime this season and today was no exception as Shane Vereen caught a five-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the second quarter. New England leading 27-7 at the break was a dream but the sobering memory from last year (the Patriots rallied from a 24-point halftime deficit to win in overtime vs. Denver) made us not get too ahead of ourselves, well at least a few of us.

Julius Thomas showed up for a minute in the third quarter, catching an 18-yard touchdown pass that cut it to 27-14. The Patriots continued to shred Denver's supposedly great defense with a 45-yard field goal by Gostkowski then Browner picked off Manning (who hung poor Wes Welker out to dry) and returned it for 30 yards down to the Broncos' 10-yard line. Brandon LaFell caught a touchdown on the next play and the rout was on.

Hillman made a nice play to dive around the pylon for a score after a 15-yard catch and run later in the third quarter. Gronk closed out the scoring with a one-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth. Rob Ninkovich had a key interception in the first half when it was still competitive and New England's defense held Denver to 3-for-11 on third down and 0-for-4 on fourth down.

The bye week comes at a good time (I know everyone always says that)-halfway through the regular season. The Patriots earned some rest and a little time away from football before they reconvene to start work on the Colts (5-3 overall, 1st in AFC South) who they meet for Sunday Night Football (8:25, NBC) at Lucas Oil Stadium.

You try not to read too much into one game since as we see every week in the NFL: things change rapidly and good teams lose to bad teams all the time. Still, as a Pats fan you couldn't have asked for a better showing from your favorite team against their biggest rival/threat in the AFC. Should these teams meet again in January (most likely in the AFC Championship Game), and you know the NFL wants nothing more than that, you'd have to like New England's chances if it was in Gillette again.

Bruins Sign Head Coach Claude Julien to a Multi-Year (3?) Contract Extension

It was reported on Saturday night that Bruins head coach Claude Julien had agreed to a multi-year contract extension (CBC said 3 years) but neither he nor the Bruins would confirm that after their 4-2 win over Ottawa. You knew it was just a matter of time though and as it turned out, we didn't have to wait for too long as the B's announced that old news this afternoon.

I never played or coached hockey so I can't really tell you from first-hand experience how much coaching matters but my general view is that in the NHL, it's mostly about having players respect you and also being able to implement a system that works if you give it the proper time to develop. By those standards, Julien is an outstanding coach. Boston has been in the playoffs the past seven seasons including winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reaching the Stanley Cup Final two years later.

He started here in 2007-08 so he's the second longest tenured head coach currently in the NHL behind Detroit's Mike Babcock (10 years). The team's record during that pivotal time in club history is 317-171-65 (.632 winning percentage). It never seemed like Claude was thinking about going elsewhere, I'd say he's settled here for a long time and that new deal only solidifies it.

The Bruins are lucky to have a guy like him that is respectful of the players but also capable of kicking them in the ass when they need it. One of the reasons that nobody has panicked during this slow start is because Julien's teams usually play better as the season wears on. When they aren't scoring, it's easy to make fun of Julien's system but overall the results speak for themselves.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bruins Go Back Over .500 Thanks to 2 Goals from Matt Fraser In 4-2 Win Over Senators

The Bruins were dealt another injury at the strangest time: David Krejci took pregame warmups tonight at TD Garden vs. the Senators but couldn't play so Matt Fraser was in the lineup for the first time since October 18 at Buffalo (only his 2nd game in the last 10). Things worked out for Boston (7-6) though as they beat Ottawa (5-3-2) 4-2 behind the first career multi-point and also multi-goal game by Fraser.

Tuukka Rask also played well, making 29 saves as he improved to 5-4-0. He hasn't been himself for the first month of the season, far from the main reason why the B's have struggled but a key thing to note going forward. For the eighth time in their last nine games, the B's scored a first-period goal, this might explain why they've gone 5-2 in their last seven games (something that caught Rask off guard in the locker room afterwards).

Brad Marchand stayed hot with his third goal in the past two games, and fourth of the season (which sadly leads the team), at 18:54. Patrice Bergeron won the faceoff (not exactly breaking news since he leads the league in faceoff percentage) and pulled it back to Marchand. His shot wasn't that great but it still managed to trickle through Robin Lehner's (26 saves) pads.

As quickly as they grabbed the lead, Boston coughed it up as Dennis Seidenberg turned the puck over in his own end and the immortal Mark Stone went in alone and deked past Rask at 19:32. The Bruins should have been ahead after the first period after they outshot the Senators 10-5 but they weren't.

They took control in the second period thanks to Fraser's big game. Loui Eriksson caused a turnover and then Fraser was there for the rebound at 11:14. Carl Soderberg had the second assist on Fraser's first goal of the season. 1:28 later, Fraser did it again by picking a corner after assists from Soderberg and Zach Trotman. That was the third game in a row (Seth Griffith vs. Minnesota and Marchand at Buffalo) that a Bruin had two goals.

One of the only things about as unlikely as seeing Fraser score a pair of goals was Seidenberg putting one in but that's exactly what happened at 2:08 of the third period for a 4-1 B's advantage. A loose puck went back to him at the point and he fired it into the far side lower corner past Lehner. That was Seidenberg's first goal of the season as well leaving only Daniel Paille, Trotman, David Warsofsky and Joe Morrow as the only Bruins in tonight's contest without a goal this season. Obviously the three young defensemen have an excuse since they were just recently called up from Providence.

Ottawa made the final result slightly more respectable as Mika Zibanejad (a member of the current NHL All-Name team) potted a goal at 15:43 after a turnover by Milan Lucic. BU's Alex Chiasson had an assist while fellow Terrier Eric Gryba played in his 100th NHL game. Somewhere Jack Parker smiles.

This was the start of an important month for the Bruins since they play 12 games overall including nine at the Garden. What's more, most of them are against bottom feeding teams. Boston is home for the next week plus as they have three more games here starting with a matchup with Shawn Thornton and the Panthers (4-2-3) on Tuesday (7, NESN). After that, they host the Oilers on Thursday then the Devils on Monday. I hereby dub it reunion week with Andrew Ference on Edmonton along with Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder on New Jersey.