Bruins

Beating the best

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Beating the best

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

After what happened last season, it was hard to take this regular season seriously.

You know, the old Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, Ill whack you below the waist band mentality?

The way the Celtics struggled last winter and then turned it on when it mattered went against everything that wed previously learned about sports. There were some things that were supposed to stand in the way of their success; irreversible, bad habits that were supposed that had the C's programmed to self-destruct. But it never happened, or at least not until the last 20 minutes, and in the end, it left us with a new perspective on the NBA regular season. (Or at least a new perspective on a team with enough credentials to fill its own wing in Springfield.)

If theyre healthy, theyll be fine. Its all about pacing for the playoffs.

The same words the Celtics had recited repeatedly the previous year became the rallying cry for the entire fandom. And thats pretty unbelievable when you think about it. How often do you see that level of trust and understanding, especially in a city like Boston? The Celtics were essentially, preemptively given a pass from the doldrums of an NBA winter.

The deal was:

OK, we know youre good enough to get back to the Finals. We know youre good enough to win. And if the regular season is just a necessary evil, then so be it. Do what you do. Make sure youre ready. In the meantime well just enjoy the ride, celebrate the highs, shrug off the lows and keep counting down until it really matters.

Meanwhile, the team itself never took that approach. They were more fired up and motivated than at any point since 2008. But the pressure around them had been lifted slightly. If they had to pull back the reins at any point to better position themselves (physically) for the playoffs, then that was OK. If they lost to Washington, Detroit or Toronto, it wouldnt be the end of the world. For fans, it just came with the territory. And while that wasnt ideal, if that was the only drawback to an extra year of competing for the title, then it was well worth it. Like Jermaine ONeal; only the exact opposite.

But for the unconditional faith bestowed upon them, there was one thing the Celtics could do. There was a way for them to reward the fans for understanding and make the regular season of perspective a little easier to cope with.

Basically, over the course of the year, there'd be handful of times when the Celtics would have the opportunity to reach down, step up and prove to Boston that their championship team was still there. Thats not to say that that team couldnt show up on a random Tuesday against the Bucks or on a Monday night in Memphis, but for it to really matter, for Boston to really love and trust in that team, it'd have to show up when it mattered most. When they were in a position to turn it up; where fans could watch them at a playoff level in a playoff atmosphere and think, Oh, there they are! Thats fantastic. Now lets get back to pacing for the playoffs.

Sunday afternoon against the Lakers was the latest and greatest example of these Celtics doing their part to ensure that no one waivers in their devotion to what this team can do if healthy for the next five months.

I dont want to make it seem like thats all the Celtics accomplished. I dont want to downplay the victory. CelticsLakers should never be just another example of the Cs going about their business. Given all that was involved, it was an amazing win for Boston.

As far as Sunday afternoons in January go, its almost impossible to be beat. What more could you ask for? A surprise comeback by Delonte West? Rondo posterizing Kobe on a break away? An in-game Brooklyn Decker Cam option on your remote?

Easy, tiger.

A double-digit win in L.A. will always satisfy expectations. Itll turn the grumpiest Celtics fan giddier than Dwight Howard during Saturday morning cartoons. To see the Cs (eventually) play that well, on that floor and against that team, provides a kind of rush that cant be duplicated in Boston sports. Beating L.A. in L.A., and doing in the style the Celtics did with defense, team and intensity vs. Hey, Im Kobe. Me shoot now! just makes you feel good. Better than it did after either of the games against Miami, or the last time against the Magic. In fact, the Heat could trade for Chris Paul, the Magic could move for Carmelo and Deron Williams, and it still wouldnt matter. Nothings as good as beating the Lakers.

At the same time, I dont want to say the win was perfect, either. There are still some issues.

For instance, Rajon Rondo still doesnt have an answer for the Sag-off-Rondo defense. Were in year four that hes been facing it, and it still creates serious problems. I know he finished with 16 assists, and had 15 in the second half, but thats because the Celtics were able to get out in transition and open the game up (plus Kobe wasn't always guarding him). If these two teams meet in the Finals again, there will be times when the transition game is stagnant, and Rondo will be forced to contribute in the half court set while Bryant is guarding him. Right now he cant do it.

But thanks to another big-time, big-game performance by these Celtics, theres still no doubt that they can. In fact, aside from the Christmas Day in Orlando, this team has responded nearly every time they had to. Any opportunity to make a statement, and reward that faith has been seized and delivered upon. And then some.

For now, thats all you can ask for.

And for now, all you can do is keep that perspective. A lot can happen between now and the playoffs. With games coming up against Orlando, the Lakers (again) and Miami, a lot might happen between now and the All-Star Game.

But as long as they're healthy, so will be Boston's spirits.

Although three more big wins certainly wouldn't hurt.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Kenny Agostino looking forward to 'the right opportunity' with the Bruins

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Kenny Agostino looking forward to 'the right opportunity' with the Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s been a few different stints with a few different NHL teams for 25-year-old Kenny Agostino, so he knows the drill at this point in his pro hockey career. The Bruins signed Agostino as a free agent on July 1 after he led the AHL in scoring last season, and they gave him a one-way contract as a show of proof that he’d get his chances at the NHL level.

It didn’t happen immediately out of camp as Agostino was felled by a concussion for part of the preseason, but he’ll get his chance now with injuries and ineffectiveness creating an opening for him on the Black and Gold. Agostino should get a look as the left winger on the third line after lighting it up in Providence with two goals and seven points in his first three games with the P-Bruins, and he’s looking forward to seizing another chance at the NHL level after stints with the Flames and Blues. 

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“I’ve been doing this a few years and I like to think I’ve developed my game outside of my offensive ability,” said the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Agostino, who had 24 goals and 83 points for the Chicago Wolves last season. “That’s kind of been my goal to become more of a complete player. I’m excited and looking forward to another opportunity and just want to make the most of it. I’m not looking past tonight.

“I was fortunate as a college guy to get my first pro experience at the NHL level in Calgary, but then you understand how difficult it is to establish yourself. You need a lot of different things. You need the right opportunity and you need to do well with it, so it makes you appreciate how great of an opportunity it is anytime you get to play in this league.”

Certainly, the Bruins are anxious to get a look at Agostino, and probably Peter Cehlarik at some point soon, and the lack of production from some of the NHL incumbents have fast-forwarded that process a little bit. Agostino will replace Ryan Spooner along the half-wall on the first power play unit, and perhaps he can add the kind of scoring touch in the bottom-6 that Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano haven’t been able to thus far.

“We know Kenny is going to start in Spooner’s power play spot, he’s done it before and he’s had some success at the lower levels when given that opportunity. Obviously he’ll play left behind [Brad] Marchand and [Jake] DeBrusk, probably on the third line spot,” said Cassidy. “He’s played with [Riley] Nash yesterday [at practice] so there’s a good chance he’ll play with him today.”

The Bruins certainly need a spark after limping out to a 2-3-0 start to the season in the first five games, so perhaps a hungry Agostino can do that while being given a legit chance to show what he can do by the Black and Gold. 

Tuukka Rask out indefinitely for Bruins with a concussion

Tuukka Rask out indefinitely for Bruins with a concussion

BRIGHTON, Mass – Tuukka Rask has been diagnosed with a concussion, and will be out indefinitely for the Bruins after getting trucked in Wednesday’s Bruins practice at Warrior Ice Arena.

The good news is that the 30-year-old Rask hasn’t previously dealt with concussion issues in his NHL career, but the bad news that it looked like a fairly serious concussion after Anders Bjork crashed into him during line rush drills at Bruins practice. It’s still unclear if Bjork caught an edge and crashed into Rask during drills, or if there was contact with another player that thrust the B’s rookie, who needed stitches on his chin as well, into the unsuspecting Bruins goalie for the rare violent collision during an off-day hockey practice. 

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“It’s not really easy. Last year I had a couple of collisions and it doesn’t feel good,” said Anton Khudobin. “Sometimes you get run over in a game and you kind of expect that it’s coming, but in the practices maybe you’re not expecting it. I don’t know. It’s not fun.” 

Rask had to be helped off the ice by his teammates and was spaghetti-legged and unsteady on his feet as he made his way off the way, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to miss 7-10 days at a minimum based on NHL concussion protocol. 

Clearly it’s a blow to the Bruins to lose their No. 1 goaltender while struggling to stabilize their game weeks into the regular season, and for Rask it continues a tough season where he’s off to a 1-3-0 start with a 3.30 goals against average and .882 save percentage behind a leaky defense. 

So Anton Khudobin will step in on Thursday night for Rask coming off a 29-save win over the Arizona Coyotes last weekend, and P-Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre will serve as Khudobin’s backup goalie on an emergency basis.

“You don’t want to see that, but at the same time we’ve got to keep moving forward and hopefully he’s going to get better soon,” said Khudobin. “I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year. My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

It remains to be seen how quickly or slowly that Rask recovers from this concussion, but there is concern as more than a few NHL goalies have suffered from recurring issues once they start going down the path with concussion issues. 

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