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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bruins Close Out January On a High Note With 3-1 Win vs. Kings

Remember a month or two ago when we were all legitimately worried about the Bruins? That seems pretty silly now as Boston closed out January 8-1-3 overall and 8-1-1 in their last 10 games thanks to a playoff-like 3-1 win over Los Angeles tonight at TD Garden. The Kings (21-16-12), the defending Stanley Cup champs, are in serious danger of missing out on the playoffs entirely while the Bruins (27-16-7) have climbed up to sixth-place in the Eastern Conference (3 points behind Pittsburgh).

These teams play such a similar physical style with deep rosters and great goaltending so it's no wonder that the few times that they play, they usually result in very entertaining contests. LA had won 2-0 on Dec. 2 at Staples Center when the Bruins were allergic to scoring goals. It was scoreless until 17:20 of the second period when Brad Marchand was able to snipe a shot past UMass' Jonathan Quick (30 saves). Marchand's team-leading 14th goal of the season was assisted by Zdeno Chara and Gregory Campbell.

It was ironic that Marchand scored the opening goal since he thought he had one at the end of the first period except for the fact that the highlight reel sequence came a good two seconds after the final buzzer had sounded. It looked like 1-0 might hold up but Jordan Nolan of all people tied it up with seven minutes left in regulation. His shot deflected off Dougie Hamilton's stick past Tuukka Rask (30 saves). Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin assisted on Nolan's second goal of the season.

Just like the other night in Long Island, where the Bruins shook off a blown two-goal lead, they rallied quickly tonight to ensure this didn't go to overtime or the dreaded shootout. Chris Kelly had a beautiful tip-in of Carl Soderberg's shot at 14:33. Kelly's sixth goal of the season was reviewed since it went high up in the net then came out fast. It stood with Torey Krug picking up the second assist.

LA put pressure on Rask at the end, pulling Quick and regrouping when Boston head coach Claude Julien called his timeout. However, Marchand ended it with a weird empty-netter with 17 seconds left that appeared to go in slow motion after he tried to pass it ahead to either himself or Patrice Bergeron.

The Bruins are off until Wednesday (8, NBCSN) when they travel to Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers (28-15-4). Their next home game isn't until next Saturday (7, NESN) vs. Islanders (32-16-1) then the Canadiens (32-13-3) are in town the following evening (7:30, NBCSN). It should be an interesting week against three other contending Eastern Conference teams that will be in the postseason.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bruins Kick Off 2nd Half With Impressive Road Win, 5-2 Over Islanders

After what felt like about a month off (for the NHL All-Star break), the Bruins were finally back in action tonight on Long Island. Boston (26-16-7) dropped the Islanders (32-15-1) 5-2 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to improve to 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. In fact, the B's have earned points in 12 of their last 13 contests. Tonight's win evened the season series at one and the only way that Boston will ever see that dump again is if they meet in the playoffs. Boston hosts New York next Saturday at TD Garden, the finale of the three-game season series.

Boston certainly didn't start like a team that hadn't played a game in over a week as they got out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period. Reilly Smith scored his 10th goal of the season at 13:59, a tip-in on a beautiful pass by Milan Lucic. David Krejci had the second assist on that one. 2:10 later, Patrice Bergeron scored a power play goal when New York gave him way too much time and space. Boston's lone All-Star knew what to do, snapping a low shot past Jaroslav Halak (28 saves). Dougie Hamilton and Smith assisted on Bergeron's 12th goal of the season.

The Islanders showed why they have been the top team in the Eastern Conference as they dominated zone time in the second period and were rewarded with not one but two goals to tie it up. Superstar John Tavares cut it to 2-1 at 8:25 after dumping the puck in on Tuukka Rask (season-high 43 saves including a save of the year nominee with the paddle of his stick), the rebound came right to him and he was able to slide it in for his team-leading 23rd goal of the season. Goon Cal Clutterbuck and Travis Hamonic got the assists but honestly, they didn't do anything. New York made it 2-2 at 15:12 when Johnny Boychuk's blast was deflected by Michael Grabner in front of Rask. Tavares had the other assist on Grabner's fifth goal of the season.

Earlier in the season, if they blew a two-goal lead like that, the Bruins would have been toast. This showed the progress that they have made as they stayed calm and benefitted from a fluky goal of their own with less than four seconds left in the second period. Halak cleared the puck right to Kevan Miller at the blueline and he alertly threw it on net, ending in his second goal of the season.

Boston would not relinquish another two-goal advantage as Torey Krug scored right away, 1:45 into the third for his 10th goal of the season (4-2 Bruins). Smith and Lucic had the assists on Krug's shot through traffic that deflected off an Islander. The Isles outshot the B's 14-6 in the final frame but it didn't matter since Lucic clinched it with an empty-netter at 17:54 from Krejci and Zdeno Chara. Would you believe that it was Lucic's 10th goal of the season as well?

The B's take on the struggling Kings (21-15-12) on Saturday night (7, NESN) at the Garden. It should be another highly-entertaining, playoff-like game.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Do You Remember that the Celtics are Still a Thing?

Since they have made a million trades in the last few months and seemingly lost about every game in between, you are forgiven if like me you have totally tuned out the Celtics this miserable campaign. However, with the NHL All-Star break starting and over a week before Super Bowl 49, we were forced to turn our lonely eyes to the C's tonight as they visited the Blazers at Moda Center.

LaMarcus Aldridge is out for 6-8 weeks with torn ligaments in his thumb and Portland (31-13 overall, 19-5 home) clearly misses him as they lost a heartbreaker 90-89 to Boston (14-26 overall, 5-13 away) on Evan Turner's (10 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) last-second three-pointer. Normally I would be mad at the C's for winning since that is totally irrelevant to their tanking cause this season but honestly, for once it was nice to be treated to a totally unexpected and exciting win against one of the best teams in the NBA.

Brandon Bass (13 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) started for the first time in ages and made the most of it. Avery Bradley led the Celts with 18 points while Jared Sullinger added 17 points and nine rebounds. Old man Tayshaun Prince and Marcus Thornton each scored nine points off the bench for Boston. Did I mention this was their first road win against a Western Conference team since Nov. 2013? Haha how is that even possible?

Damian Lillard (21 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds) has quickly become one of the top players in the league but he struggled with his shot (8 for 23) against that vaunted Celtics defense. Free-Agent-to-be Wesley Matthews scored 18 points while caveman Chris Kaman had 13 points and nine rebounds. Former Brewster Academy star Thomas Robinson got the rare start in Aldridge's place (Sideshow Bob, I mean Robin Lopez was also out with an injury) and put up nine points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals with C.J. McCollum scoring 10 points off Portland's bench.

Boston led 23-19 after the first quarter which was cute enough then it started to get a bit more real with a 44-42 halftime lead. Portland outscored the C's 30-23 in the third quarter so naturally, I thought well that's it. That's when the Celts proceeded to grind out a 23-17 fourth quarter. This result has to be especially gratifying for head coach Brad Stevens since it proves that his team is still playing hard and listening to him even though they have so little talent. Again, it's one game but this also shows positive traits about many of these players who are fighting for their NBA futures either here or somewhere else.

Portland came in with the best home record in the NBA but Boston shot 45.3% from the field and held them to 37.1%. The Celtics grabbed two more rebounds (47-45) and dished out seven more assists (23-16).

This was the beginning of an insane four games in five nights stretch for Boston. Their season-long six-game road trip started with a loss to the Clippers on Monday (102-93) and it continues tomorrow (9, CSN) in Denver (18-24 overall, 3rd in Northwest Division). From there, the Celtics go to Golden State on Sunday (8, CSN), Utah on Monday (9, CSN) and they wrap things up on Wednesday in Minnesota (8, CSN).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

For One Night Only: The Seguin Trade Doesn't Look So Bad as Bruins beat Stars 3-1 in Dallas

The Bruins and Stars only meet twice this season but Boston (25-16-6) has to be happy with Round 1's result: a much-needed 3-1 road win at American Airlines Arena tonight in Dallas (21-18-7). The B's have now won six of their last seven games and this was a vintage victory for them in terms of dictating their style (timely scoring that's spread out, good defense, strong special teams and great goaltending).

This was one of Tuukka Rask's best games of the season as he put up 36 saves and was helped by the fact that Dallas hit the post at least three times (including once by Seguin who had a game-high 9 shots on goal). Ironically, the one goal he gave up was complete trash. Vernon Fiddler-playing in his 700th NHL game-beat him with a weak backhander that took a slight deflection at 6:46 in the second period. The Jasons (Spezza and Demers) assisted on the only Stars goal.

Former Star Loui Eriksson tied it at 14:17 after one of the prettier sequences of the season for the Bruins. Chris Kelly passed to Carl Soderberg who spun around and hit Eriksson who was wide open coming down the slot. That play actually started behind Boston's net after forcing a turnover. Eriksson beat Kari Lehtonen (24 saves) for his 11th goal of the season. Boston built off that momentum as Gregory Campbell knocked in an ugly but effective goal at 18:27. His fifth goal of the season was assisted by Craig Cunningham and Dougie Hamilton.

Boston took way too many penalties, but luckily their penalty kill was superb (holding Dallas to 0 for 6). Hamilton got the insurance goal that the Bruins needed at 7:41 in the third period. His career-high eighth goal of the season was assisted by another former Star-Reilly Smith.

Tomorrow night (10, NESN) at Colorado (19-18-10) is Boston's final game before the All-Star break. The Avalanche are another flawed Western Conference team that they should beat. It'll be another mini-reunion too with Jarome Iginla and Mark Stuart. Since he's not going to the All-Star Game (only Patrice Bergeron will represent the B's), I think that Rask will get another start. Boston also should benefit from a rejuvenated Brad Marchand who was suspended for the past two games.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pats Book Their Trip to Super Bowl 49 vs. Seahawks With Easy 45-7 Blowout of Colts

I can't ever recall being so confident heading into a big playoff game for the Patriots as I was this week for the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium vs. the Colts. It turns out that I was giving Indianapolis way too much credit as they got run out of town 45-7. The Pats will take on the Seahawks a week from Sunday in Glendale, Arizona for Super Bowl 49.

Indy was so helpless and overmatched that this contest doesn't even deserve that many details of the one-sided carnage. Believe it or not, it was only 17-7 Patriots at halftime. Who knew that they'd go on to the second-biggest margin of victory in AFC Championship Game history? Tom Brady (23 of 25 for 226 yards, 3 TDs) threw an interception at the goal-line when he tried to force a throw to Rob Gronkowski but that was his only real mistake of the game and it didn't matter one bit. He became the first QB with 20 postseason wins as he advances to his record sixth Super Bowl.

Poor Andrew Luck can't do anything but get smoked by the Patriots, this is the fourth time (out of 4) in his young career that he's lost by over 20 points to New England. In many ways, it was a carbon copy of last season's blowout win by New England a round earlier. Like that, LeGarrette Blount (30 carries, 148 yards, 3 TDs) was unstoppable or should I say that nobody on the Colts wanted a piece of him when it came to tackling in space.

Indianapolis was extremely fortunate to make it this far after they upset Denver at home last Sunday. I'm not saying that crippled Peyton would have done much better but it's hard to think of a more one-sided affair than this was. Andrew Luck (12 of 33 for 126 yards, 2 INTs) was a disaster, not that his fraud teammates could get anything going as well to help him out.

The Pats continued to try and take advantage of the chaos with their cute ineligible receivers but Indy was there to stop most of them. In addition, Brady managed to hit James Develin for a 1-yard touchdown catch and offensive lineman Nate Solder caught a 16-yard touchdown to get the second half going in the right direction. New England exploded for 21 points in that frame. Gronk caught a 5-yard touchdown and Julian Edelman (9 catches, 98 yards) seamlessly replaces Wes Welker.

Darrelle Revis and Jamie Collins each had an interception for New England's defense (that looked like themselves again after last week's debacle vs. Baltimore) who pitched a shutout in the second half. It's hard to really evaluate Luck since everything around him is so average (at best). T.Y. Hilton was held to one catch and Reggie Wayne didn't have any, leading me to wonder if that was it and he'll retire this offseason since he's a ghost of his former Hall of Fame self.

The Packers had one of the great choke jobs in modern sports history against the Seahawks this afternoon in Seattle, allowing the home team to escape 28-22 in overtime. No matter how you evaluate it, the Seahawks are a scary matchup for the Patriots. Their only real noticeable weakness is at receiver but still guys like Jermaine Kearse (who caught the game-winner) and Doug Baldwin are good enough to make a couple big plays a game.

This is a dream matchup for the NFL and football fans (yes, I'd say that even if I didn't root for the Pats): it should get a record rating as the new dynasty goes vs. the old one, Belichick vs. Carroll, Brandon Browner vs. his former team, Brady vs. Wilson, Sherman vs. Revis and leftover feelings from Seattle's win a few years back vs. New England (when Sherman popularized "U Mad Bro?}. The two weeks between Championship Weekend and the Super Bowl always feel like they last forever but for once, I won't complain about it. If ever a game deserved that ungodly amount of hype, it's this one. I expect it to be an instant classic.

PS it'll be nice that unlike three years ago vs. the Giants when Gronk's ankle was hurt that we won't have to hear about blind injury speculation regarding him. Instead it will focus on Earl Thomas (shoulder) and Sherman (elbow) who are both getting MRIs on Monday. As Belichick, now the most winningest head coach in postseason history, said in the joyous post-game: "I've only got one thing to say-we're on to Seattle."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

This Season Nobody Struggles Against the Blue Jackets Like the Bruins Do

Hey guys, I've got great news: the Bruins don't have to play the Blue Jackets anymore this season (assuming they don't meet in the playoffs)! This sounds like a joke and in a way it is but Columbus (19-21-3) went 2-0-1 against Boston (24-16-6) in 2014-15, capped off by tonight's 3-1 win at TD Garden that ended the Bruins' season-best five-game win streak.

The Blue Jackets play hard and they are somewhat speedy but they are so depleted by injuries that it's hard to explain how they previously beat Boston 6-2 and the Bruins' only win was a 4-3 shootout victory in Columbus. I don't get it, haha that's my scorching hot take. The B's had been playing really well lately so they were probably due for a stinker. This was eerily similar to earlier losses this campaign where their offense disappeared and they just didn't seem that into it.

Columbus has the No. 2 power play in the league, by far their biggest strength, so it stands to reason that you should do anything to keep them away from the man-advantage. All-Star Ryan Johansen scored his team-leading 17th goal at 7:57 of the first period when he roofed the puck over Tuukka Rask's (28 saves) glove. Jack Johnson and Scott Hartnell had the assists. That extended Johansen's NHL-best point streak to an absurd 13 games (8 goals, 7 assists). He is one of three Blue Jackets (Sergei Bobrovsky and Nick Foligno) that will represent the home team at next weekend's All-Star Game in Columbus.

Boston's lone highlight of this forgettable game was Carl Soderberg's tying goal at 11:34. He one-timed a pass from Chris Kelly that was tipped over by Loui Eriksson for his 10th goal of the season. That gives Boston four guys with double-digit goal totals (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Eriksson). Speaking of Marchand, this was the first of the two games that he'll miss for slew-footing Rangers forward Derick Brassard. The B's didn't lose because of his absence but clearly putting Daniel Paille in his spot is never a positive thing for them.

I thought we were going to be treated to a dull overtime but Matt Calvert scored the game-winning goal at 16:57 of the third period. BC's Cam Atkinson took a shot that Rask couldn't corral and Calvert was on the doorstep to shovel it in. Brandon Dubinsky assisted on his fifth goal of the season. Calvert also added the empty-netter at 19:22 that put this two points away.

I hadn't even mentioned until now that Columbus had played at home last night and lost 2-1 to the Rangers. Oh and Boston was treated to backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney (34 saves) but they somehow could not make the most of those favorable factors. The Bruins hit the road for a back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday: at Dallas (8:30, NESN) then at Colorado (10:30, NESN). Neither team is currently in the playoff picture in the West and both feature former Bruins that they miss dearly: Tyler Seguin and Jarome Iginla respectively. Boston needs at least two out of those four possible points to feel OK heading into the break. Their next home game isn't for two weeks: January 31 vs. Los Angeles.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bruins Tie Season-Best Win Streak (5 games) With a 3-0 Shutout of the Rangers

Things can change pretty fast in the NHL. A few weeks ago, the Bruins were circling the drain in the Eastern Conference and looked headed for the Draft Lottery in the spring rather than the playoffs. Now, they are playing like what we all thought they would be this season: one of the main contenders. Boston (24-15-6) won their fifth straight game (tying a season-high), 3-0 tonight at TD Garden vs. the Rangers (24-13-4).

Tuukka Rask made 30 saves for his second shutout of the season and 25th of his NHL career. Three different Bruins scored goals-all even-strength-as Boston flexed their muscles against what had been the hottest team not only in the East but in the entire league. Patrice Bergeron didn't wait long to give the B's an early lead as he followed up Dougie Hamilton's shot and knocked in the rebound at 4:00 of the first period. Bergeron is second on the team with 11 goals.

David Krejci doubled Boston's lead in the second period, Torey Krug found him for an easy tip-in that looked straight out of practice. Poor Cam Talbot (29 saves) didn't have a chance as Krejci potted his sixth goal of the season with Adam McQuaid picking up the second assist. Speaking of McQuaid, he stood up for David Pastrnak after Ivy League educated (Dartmouth) goon Tanner Glass was slashing the rookie on the back of his leg.

Things only get more chippy in the third period when former BC star Chris Kreider boarded Carl Soderberg. Chris Kelly ended up tangling with Kreider, who came out of the scrap with a cut on his chin. Boston put it away a few minutes later as Loui Eriksson roofed a pretty shot by Talbot from in close. His 10th goal of the season (8th straight season of 10+ goals, most on the Bruins) was assisted by Krug and Kevan Miller.

Saturday's meeting (7, NESN) at the Garden is the third of four this season between the Bruins and Blue Jackets. Boston won 4-3 in a shootout at Columbus on November 21 then returned there right after Christmas break for a disgraceful 6-2 loss on December 27 (their lowest point of the season). The Blue Jackets (18-20-3) are in 14th place (out of 16) in the East and 13 points behind the Rangers for eighth-place. In other words, expect some payback by the home team.

It's also the last home game for the Bruins before the All-Star break, they play two games on the road next week before they get some real time off. Tonight's two points put Boston two ahead of the Rangers. Believe it or not, the B's are only six points behind Tampa Bay who is still the top club in the Eastern Conference. They might have been off the rails for a while but now Boston has a chance to get back to where they belong with plenty of games left in the regular season.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

It's David Pastrnak's World, We're Just All Living In It

All season, the Bruins have been looking for someone to score goals and provide a spark and it looks like they found it with the youngest player in the league: 18-year-old right wing David Pastrnak, their first-round pick from last summer. In his eighth career NHL game, the rookie scored two goals for the second game in a row as Boston knocked off the top team in the Eastern Conference-Tampa Bay-4-3 at TD Garden.

Boston's (23-15-6) fourth straight win was impressive since they rallied from two different deficits, granted Tampa Bay (27-14-4) was playing the second night of a back-to-back but that's the NHL. Milan Lucic (1 goal, 1 assist), David Krejci (2 assists) and Torey Krug (2 assists) all had two points and Tuukka Rask only had to make 16 saves for the win.

Ever heard of Steven Stamkos? Haha yeah the Lightning superstar is still one of the NHL's top players. He scored the first two goals for Tampa Bay which made it 1-0 in the first period then 2-1 in the second. His first was a re-direct at 9:23 when the Bruins' defense was caught napping and he was free in front of the net for his 24th goal of the season. Brad Marchand tied it at 16:42 on a one-timer thanks to a sublime cross-ice feed from Carl Soderberg. Krug had the second assist on Marchand's team-leading 12th goal of the season (don't laugh!). A loose puck found Stamkos in the slot at 10:55 in the second period and you know the rest.

Pastrnak tied it at 15:24 with a brilliant one-on-one move (have I said that at any point this season regarding a Bruin?). Maine alum Ben Bishop (30 saves) had no chance to stop it after his defense got burned. Lucic and Kevan Miller assisted on Pastrnak's third goal of the season/his career. Lucic provided the backbreaker at 19:06 as his shot deflected in off Anton Stralman's skate. Finally, the Bruins seem to be getting more breaks than they give up. Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg assisted on Lucic's ninth goal of the season.

The Garden exploded some more as Pastrnak scored his second at 1:30 of the third period. He wheeled by Tampa Bay's cage for a beautiful wraparound goal. Krug and Krejci assisted on that work of art that took supreme confidence on top of the eye-popping skill. All that was left was to see if either Stamkos or Pastrnak would bag a hat trick.

The Lightning are the best club in the East (well they were before the Islanders blanked the Rangers tonight) for a reason: they didn't roll over as Ryan Callahan cut it to 4-3 Boston at 14:18 on that dreaded double deflection. Mark Barberio's shot was tipped by Harvard's Alex Killorn to the former Rangers star. Tampa Bay waited a little too long to pull Bishop as the Bruins were able to survive a bunch of penalties in the third period for the impressive two points.

Boston has two more games at the Garden then two on the road before the All-Star break. Thursday (7, NESN) should be another great test as the Rangers (24-12-4) come to town for their first of three meetings this season. Those are usually low-scoring but very entertaining affairs between the Original Six rivals.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Patriots Outlast Ravens 35-31 in Instant Classic to Reach 4th Straight AFC Championship Game

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How rare is it for a game to not only exceed expectations but immediately vault into the realm of instant classic? Tonight was one of those such gifts as the Patriots erased a pair of 14-point deficits (something they'd never done in franchise history) to beat the Ravens 35-31 at Gillette Stadium. New England advances to next Sunday's (6:40, CBS) AFC Championship Game back at Gillette vs. either the Colts or Broncos who meet tomorrow (4:40, CBS) in Denver.

It was a milestone performance for Tom Brady (33 of 50 for 367 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) as he set the new all-time mark for playoff TD passes (46) passing Joe Montana. Bill Belichick won his 20th playoff game which tied Tom Landry for the most all-time and Julian Edelman (8 catches, 74 yards) threw the longest touchdown in playoff history by a non-quarterback (51 yards to Danny Amendola). You could make a good case that Amendola had not only his best game as a Patriot (not too tough in his underachieving time here) but he was their player of the game with two clutch touchdowns. Then again, it was a typical Pats playoff win with numerous guys making big plays.

Things couldn't have started out any better for the Ravens as they marched right down the field on their first two drives for an early 14-0 lead. Joe Flacco (28 of 45 for 292 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs) was playing like Mr. January once again as he found Kamar Aiken for an easy 19-yard catch and run then the ageless but still batshit insane Steve Smith for a juggling 9-yard catch when Darrelle Revis was trying to cover him.

This was all Brady's game on offense since New England abandoned the run, would you blame them with a total of 14 yards gained on 13 rushing attempts? Jonas Gray was a surprise addition to the inactive list after being probable with an ankle injury. He'll never be Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson in terms of scrambling ability but it is still pretty remarkable how much Brady has improved in that area at the ripe old age of 37. He got the Patriots on the board with a 4-yard run.

Amendola tied it at 14 with a sick 15-yard touchdown grab that ended with him flying through the air to the pylon. Somehow, it looked like the Pats would be at least tied or possibly leading at halftime after they were so outplayed. That's when Brady threw his bi-annual brutal interception (to Daryl Smith) and Flacco took advantage by throwing a beautiful 11-yard touchdown to Owen Daniels who was barely open between three defenders with 10 seconds left in the half.

New England's defense was run over in the first half and that continued early in the third quarter as Justin Forsett (24 carries, 129 yards) made it 28-14 Ravens with a simple 16-yard touchdown catch on a swing pass. As is usually the case, Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 108 yards) was the best receiver on the field/freak of nature and Brady hit him for a five-yard score. The Patriots forced a Ravens punt and that's when Josh McDaniels dialed up probably his best play as New England's offensive coordinator: the double throw from Brady to Edelman to a streaking Amendola. Devin McCourty intercepted Flacco on the following drive but the Pats couldn't cash that in for more points.

Baltimore took a 31-28 lead on Justin Tucker's 25-yard field goal but the Patriots did their job by holding strong in the red zone and forcing the kick. Brady saved his magic for the end: his game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell (5 catches, 62 yards) was perfect. You can't make a better throw and at the same time run a better route than that.

The Ravens are so resilient though and they never gave up. Duron Harmon picked off Flacco in the end zone and on the final play of the game, McCourty knocked the ball away from danger in a hail mary situation. New England improved to 2-2 vs. Baltimore in the playoffs the last few seasons while also avenging that bitter defeat in the 2013 AFC Championship Game at Gillette.

It might seem silly to want to play the Broncos next week since they are clearly better than the Colts (well at least going into tomorrow) but I think it would be so much sweeter to go through Denver than pushover Indy. Plus the storylines are way too juicy to pass up (Brady vs. Manning, Patriots handing out some payback for losing in that game last year not to mention facing Talib and Welker). We all need some rest after today's exhausting game but I'm sure we'll be ready to go for next Sunday.

David Pastrnak Scores His 1st 2 NHL Goals, Bruins Beat Flyers 3-1 for Their 3rd Straight Win

You might have missed it but some significant things happened in Boston's routine 3-1 win over Philadelphia this afternoon at Wells Fargo Center. The headline of the victory for the Bruins (22-15-6) was that rookie David Pastrnak scored his first two career NHL goals. Seeing his skill and talent on the ice is a breath of fresh air for a team that has needed a boost of energy all season.

Tuukka Rask (24 saves) almost had a shutout and Chris Kelly scored a shorthanded goal as Boston put together its first three-game win streak since before Thanksgiving (third overall). I don't know what it is about the Flyers (16-19-7) but the B's typically dominate them and this season they happen to be pretty down. Boston beat them 2-1 on Opening Night and now they finish the three-game season series on March 7 in Boston.

You knew it was going to be a weird game when Adam McQuaid fought Nick Schultz seven seconds into the proceedings. McQuaid was being a good teammate and standing up for Daniel Paille who got crushed on a hit by Schultz in the neutral zone. McQuaid got a 10-minute misconduct and also an extra two minutes for instigating but Boston was able to kill the penalties.

That was nothing compared to Philadelphia goaltender Steve Mason getting hurt later in the frame and having to be replaced by Ray Emery. Pastrnak's first goal wasn't anything special (in terms of showcasing his ability), it was just a simple tap-in following a rebound. Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara assisted on the power play strike.

After a blah Saturday afternoon second period where nobody scored and nothing happened, things thankfully picked up in the third. Boston broke it up and put it away with a one-timer by Pastrnak (from David Krejci and McQuaid) at 4:58 followed by Kelly's top-shelf shorty (his 5th goal of the season) at 9:51 from Loui Eriksson and Chara.

The only time all game that the Flyers showed any real signs of life came on Giroux's power play goal at 14:13. It was his type of move and low shot from the slot that beat Rask, assisted by Mark Streit and Jakub Voracek (the leading scorer in the NHL).

Boston returns to the Garden for the next week as they host Tampa Bay (27-12-4)-the top team in the East-on Tuesday (7, NESN), the hottest team in the league the Rangers (24-11-4; 9-1-0 in their last 10 games) on Thursday (7, NESN) and then Columbus closes it out on Saturday (7, NESN). Those are three Eastern Conference clubs that Boston will be competing with for a playoff spot, OK maybe the Blue Jackets not so much but this is still a time to put a real good stretch together for the Black and Gold.

After the game, Patrice Bergeron was named to the first All-Star game in his career (10 years in the NHL). It'll be great to see him enjoying the festivities, he's earned it. Sadly no other Bruins made it (at least before replacements come in for injuries and what not).

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bruins Blank Lifeless Devils 3-0, Behind Lucic (2 goals) & Svedberg (14-save shutout)

Unless you are related to Niklas Svedberg or Milan Lucic, odds are that you won't remember tonight's Bruins-Devils tilt. Regardless, Boston (21-15-6) did what they had to do to pick up two more extremely valuable points with a 3-0 win over New Jersey (15-21-7). The Bruins outshot the Devils 43-14 so if it wasn't for the heroics of BC's Cory Schneider (40 saves), Boston would have won by five or six goals.

The B's improved to 5-2-3 in their last 10 games, they have points in their last six games (3-0-3) and they won back-to-back games for the first time in two weeks. It's hard to believe that there are worse teams in the NHL than the Devils but they have clearly tuned out their stupid three head coaches system. Basically, all that's left for them to do in the second half of the season is to ship away various veterans (Jagr, Ryder, etc.) to contenders and hope that next season gets better.

Lucic gave Boston a 1-0 lead with a power play goal at 18:50 of the first period. His seventh goal of the season was assisted by David Krejci and Torey Krug. He blasted a shot from the slot through a bunch of bodies. Earlier in the frame, the Bruins had a two-man advantage for 1:08 but they weren't able to cash in. No worries, when you play New Jersey eventually they will give you something tasty.

The Devils had three shots on goal in the first period, three. Haha they increased that by 33% with four in the second period but the B's took a 2-0 lead on Carl Soderberg's unassisted tally at 8:31. Chris Kelly's forecheck caused a turnover and Soderberg was out in front to finish it Brad Marchand style-top shelf.

Even in forgettable contests like this, you never know what you'll see. Case in point: Jordan Caron dropped the gloves shortly after Soderberg's goal with Jordin Tootoo of all people. It wasn't a classic, mostly of the clutch and grab variety, but you have to give Caron credit (for once), he apparently is doing anything he can to hang around this time.

The last goal came via an empty-netter by Lucic with 12 seconds left in regulation. Lucic went back and forth with Bergeron but the big guy was able to pot his second of the game with the other assist going to Kelly.

Boston is back in action on Saturday (1, NESN) in Philadelphia (16-18-7). That is another must-win for the Bruins because the Flyers aren't going anywhere either, they need to make the most out of this short lull in their schedule.

Bruins Celebrate Being Halfway Done w/Reg. Season by Winning 3-2 in OT at Penguins

We are living in the movie Groundhog Day: for the fourth straight game, the Bruins went to overtime. The key difference tonight at CONSOL Energy Center is that unlike the previous three contests, where they fell in either overtime or a shootout, Boston (20-15-6) decided to get the two points as Patrice Bergeron tipped in Milan Lucic's shot at 2:43 for a thrilling 3-2 win over the Penguins. What's more, that victory put the Bruins in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Even though they seem to usually match up well with them, the Penguins (24-10-6) are one of the top teams in the East. That's what made this Boston's best win of 2014-15 (this was Game 41 of 82). You can't logically argue against the fact that Pittsburgh deserved better as they outshot Boston 39-24 (although B's owned overtime, 5-2) and saw Beau Bennett hit the post earlier in the extra session.

Bergeron's 10th goal of the season (and 2nd of the game) took a while to review since at first glance he appeared to tip the puck with a high stick. However, it was called a goal on the ice and thankfully it remained that way with Torey Krug picking up the second assist.

The alarming trend continued for the B's of poor starts that lack any kind of emotion. Bennett scored 3:37 into the game as he put in a sneaky pass from Evgeni Malkin that caught everyone including Tuukka Rask (37 saves) by surprise and out of position. Simon Despres had the other assist on Bennett's second goal of the season.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has been playing like he is in quicksand (apparently he's human too) but he still managed to tie it at 17:57 of the first period with a blast from the point that beat Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves). It was the captain's third goal of the season with assists to Reilly Smith and David Krejci.

It was a good sign that in such an important game, Boston's best players stepped it up a notch. Bergeron made it 2-1 at 15:37 of the second period with a snipe that went over Fleury's shoulder. Daniel Paille and Lucic had the assists. Boston kept the lead after two periods but Malkin quickly erased it with a laser that whizzed by Rask 14 seconds into the third. That was Geno's 18th goal of the season, assisted by Christian Ehrhoff.

The B's are 1-5-1 in the second legs of back-to-backs so far this season but they'll have as good a chance as ever to change that tomorrow night (7, NESN) as they host the Devils at TD Garden. New Jersey (15-20-7) was off tonight but they are bad and going nowhere this season so if Boston wants to make the playoffs, they need to win against that type of overmatched opposition. If all else fails, they should kidnap Jaromir Jagr while he's in the building and get him back on the Bruins.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

In His 1st Year on the Ballot, Pedro Martinez (91.1%) Cruises Into Baseball's Hall of Fame

I am fairly certain that I will never see a Red Sox pitcher as dominant as Pedro Martinez was in his prime. Therefore, today became the perfect time to reminisce about Martinez's incredible career in Boston (1998-2004) since he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame along with Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.

One of the great things about Pedro is that he has so much personality and he was so lights out for long stretches that while we all remember particular special moments (17 Ks/one-hitter vs. Yankees, 1999 All-Star Game, coming out of the bullpen to beat Cleveland in playoffs, winning 2004 World Series) we can each cherish specific starts or less heralded occasions that were still so memorable to each of us.

Fresh off his Cy Young award with the Montreal Expos in 1997, Martinez was part of a blockbuster trade to Boston for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas. Haha what year do you think that those guys will be elected to Cooperstown? He was a smash success immediately with the Red Sox (which was never easy to do especially back then before they had broken their absurd World Series drought). After going to two All-Star Games with Montreal, he made four as a Red Sox and picked up back-to-back Cy Youngs in 1999 and 2000. If baseball writers hadn't been so stubborn and backwards thinking (crazy, I know), he would have won AL MVP in 1999 as well but he finished second to Ivan Rodriguez.

Pitching in the height of the steroid era, Pedro put together some of the most unbelievable seasons that have ever occurred in modern times. 1999's numbers don't even seem real: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 0.923 WHIP and 313 strikeouts in 213.1 innings. 2002 was his other 20-win season (20-4) and he never suffered more than nine losses in a campaign for Boston. His 1.74 ERA in 2000 is insane and probably my favorite stat out of his million impressive marks. The career line: 219-100 with 2.93 ERA, 1.054 WHIP and 3154 strikeouts.

Not surprisingly for such a small guy (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) with many innings on his fragile body, he started to break down while he was with the Red Sox in the last few years. Other than his freakishly long fingers and extra greasy hair that he really let grow out at the end, there was nothing about him that made you think "genetic freak," that is before he unleashed a fastball in the upper 90s or made your knees bend with a sick curveball. Still, the team managed to give him enough breaks to last for the postseason which he reached four times with Boston. He was 6-2 in the playoffs as a Red Sox and how fitting that his last game for the team was Game 4 of the 2004 World Series in St. Louis where Boston broke their 86-year "curse" by sweeping the Cardinals.

After that, he signed as a free agent with the Mets and played there for four injury-plagued seasons then finished his career in 2009 with the Phillies who ironically enough lost to the Yankees in the World Series. Few probably remember that his MLB career actually began with two years in LA as a Dodger (where his older brother Ramon also pitched) before four years in Montreal where he became a star. Still, I'm sure there is no doubt that he'll wear a Red Sox hat in the Hall of Fame and when he makes what's sure to be an incredible speech, he has to talk mostly about his experience in Boston.

To those that are too young to know or who didn't feel it first-hand, attending a game that Pedro pitched really was like going to a favorite band's concert or a great party. You never knew what was going to happen but you were pretty sure that it was going to be memorable and possibly historic. Add that to the urgency of a team and fan base that was so desperate for a World Series crown and you can understand why there won't be another Pedro in my lifetime. Still, I feel so lucky to have grown up with this icon on my favorite baseball team and cherish all the memories that he brought at a very formidable time in my life. PS, somebody book me a hotel room on July 25 (the night before) in Cooperstown, I need to be there for that speech!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Rondo is Long Gone (to Dallas), Time for the Celts to Move On & Accept This Shitty Reality

Here is all you need to know about the current depressing state of the Celtics: their only must-see games anymore involve when links to their successful past return with their new and better teams. As the last link that remained to the 2008 title team, Rajon Rondo played the role of conquering hero last night at TD Garden for his first game back as a Maverick. We all know how he plays in big games and make no mistake, this one meant plenty to Rondo who went off for 29 points (his most in nearly two years) on a career-high five 3-pointers as Dallas crushed Boston 119-101.

Dallas (24-10 overall, 11-5 away) might not be the best team in the Western Conference but the addition of Rondo (6 rebounds, 5 assists) seems like a perfect fit. Barring injuries, there is no reason that team can't make a deep run in the postseason this spring. In addition to the big game performances, Rondo should excel with the wealth of scorers around him: Monta Ellis (22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals), Dirk Nowitzki (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Chandler Parsons (13 points, 7 rebounds). Tyson Chandler (8 points, 16 rebounds, 2 steals) is also still there to do all the dirty work around the hoop.

As always, the Celtics (11-19 overall, 8-10 home) showed the Red Sox how to put together a proper video tribute without going overboard on the awful music and nauseating schmaltz. That was shown after the first quarter where Rondo went off for a career-high 15 points as the Mavs jumped out to a 31-17 lead and frankly never looked back. Boston outscored Dallas 29-28 in the second quarter but the Mavs put it away with a dominant third (33-18). The C's pretended to make it interesting in the fourth (37-27) but come on, it was long over by then.

While Dallas can legitimately think about another title run, the best that Boston can hope for this season is sneaking into the JV Eastern Conference playoffs as the seventh or eighth seed. What a lofty goal, of course any C's fan that knows anything will tell you that ultimately shooting that low is counterproductive to the franchise's return from NBA purgatory (not the worst-hi Sixers and Knicks-but light years away from contenders) to national (not to mention local) relevancy.

Avery Bradley led the Celts with 22 points, while Jeff Green had 18 points and six rebounds, Tyler Zeller put up a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Jared Sullinger added 12 points and six rebounds. All those players are solid NBA starters but none of them were ever nor will ever be All-Stars. Sadly, the only way to win consistently in the NBA is to accumulate as many stars as you can. As it stands, Boston's only hope to get those (since none want to come here in free agency) is to win the lottery (which they are allergic to). Ugh, Green 18 baby!