Bruins

Brady happy to have Gronkowski, all targets active

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Brady happy to have Gronkowski, all targets active

FOXBORO -- Not only did the Patriots win to close out the 2012 regular season, they also earned a first-round playoff bye. 
"It was kind of a late Christmas present," Tom Brady said. "So we accept."
They certainly did; New England blanked the Dolphins, 28-0, on Sunday. 
Brady admitted the team knew before kickoff that Indianapolis had upset the Texans, clearing the way for the Patriots to have a week off. 
All they had to do was take care of business. 
"Coach Belichick said, 'Look, the only people that can improve out position are us, so regardless of what anybody else does, we have to win.' "
It helped to have Rob Gronkowski back. 
The tight end hasn't seen game action since fracturing his left forearm in Week 11. This is the player who had 17 of New England's 39 touchdowns last year. This is the player who, behind Wes Welker, led the team in targets, receptions, yards, yards-after-catch, and first downs. 
Between his injury and the injury to fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez (a broken ankle kept him out of six contests), Brady has been deprived of full firepower quite a bit this season. 
Going into Sunday's game, Gronkowski and Hernandez hadn't played together more than four times. The last game they both got snaps was October 21. 
That changed this weekend. 
On New England's first offensive play of the game, Gronkowski cleared room for Hernandez who was running a route underneath him. With Gronkowski's blocking, Hernandez was free to open the game with a 14-yard gain. It's not an unusual play. It's just one that seems to work brilliantly well with those two in particular. 
Brady finished 22-for-36 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. 
He was happy to see Gronkowski on the field again. He was happy to have Gronkowski and Hernandez together. He was happy to have all of his regular targets active. 
"It was nice to get Gronkowski back into the flow of things, you know," Brady said. "We used everybody. It was exciting to have everybody out there at once for the first time all season. We'll use the bye and hopefully come back stronger." 
When the Patriots return to action it will be in the playoffs. 
It appears most players are getting healthy, or are healthy enough, at the right time. Throw in one more week off to rest and rehabilitate, and the outlook is positive.  
Even Brady could admit that much. 
"Well, we've won 10 out of 11, so that's pretty good," he said. "We were 2-3 at one point and we had some tough games earlier in the year, then we win 10 out of 11 and our only loss was against a pretty good football team. But we turned it over four times in the loss to San Francisco."

Then he smiled.  
"If we don't turn it over four times, I like our chances."

Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"

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Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"

BOSTON – At the end of the day, it was simply a game where the Bruins allowed themselves to get outworked in the third period and overtime. 

The B’s held a three-goal lead in the second period and still enjoyed a two-goal lead in the third period, but eventually dropped a frustrating, futile 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was clear to most speaking after the game that the Bruins eased up on the gas pedal once they’d scored their fourth goal of the game in the second period, and simply watched as the Sabres stomped all over them in the game’s second half. 

“I think we might have been a little bit too scared to play [in the third period], you know? We tried to just flip the pucks away, and didn’t make any plays trying to get it in the zone. Instead we should have just kept going like we did in the first two periods,” said David Pastrnak, who scored a pair of goals early in the loss to allow the Bruins to build up the three-goal lead. “Obviously we’re disappointed. We got one point. I think we didn’t play our game in the third period. We kind of stopped playing and they were all over us, and you know, it’s on us. We were the ones that gave them their point, but the first two periods were good. It’s just another learning session.”

To Pastrnak’s point, the Bruins were outshot by a 15-6 margin in the final 20 minutes of regulation and 21-6 overall in the third period and overtime prior to Ryan O’Reilly’s game-winner during 3-on-3 play. It was at this point the Bruins certainly missed stalwart stay-at-home defensemen Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller in the D-zone, and fell short of qualified penalty killers while trying to burn off a Brandon Carlo interference call at the end of the third period. 

All of that caught up to them once the Bruins loosened their grip on the Sabres, but certainly the feeling is that the loss should’ve been avoidable even if some of the circumstances made it difficult for the Black and Gold. It also should have been avoidable against a Sabres hockey club that was dreadful last season, and is again one of the doormats in the Atlantic Division in the early going thus far. 

“Those are the games you can’t lose. We obviously didn’t do the job there in the third and close it out, but we’re going to have to regroup and work on our game and be better for the next one,” said Brad Marchand. “We didn’t play the game we needed to play. We relaxed a bit and we started losing a few battles in the wrong areas, and you know, they just played better than we did.”

It’s mystifying that any team would need a crash-and-born loss like Saturday night in order to learn any lessons moving forward, and it certainly might have been a different story for the Bruins if they weren’t missing a few big defensive pieces. But that’s not how it went down for the Black and Gold as they sagged under rising pressure from the Sabres, and simply stopped working when the chips were on the table late in Saturday night’s game. 

Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

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Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

HOUSTON - Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Houston Astros reached the World Series, blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Just four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees for two straight games after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and ALCS MVP Justin Verlander will have plenty of rest, too, before the matchup begins at Dodger Stadium.

Houston has never won even a single World Series game. The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Now, manager A.J. Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first title, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Houston improved to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and became the fifth team in major league history to win a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four.

Combined, they throttled the Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

CC Sabathia entered the game 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double after snapping an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York struggled on the road this postseason, with this loss dropping the team to 1-6.