Celtics

Bruins looking to get into playoff mode early

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Bruins looking to get into playoff mode early

WILMINGTON, Mass. The time for meaningful talk and motivational chatter has come to an end for the Boston Bruins.

They havent logged consecutive wins in six weeks and they have the hockey team theyll be going to battle with this spring plus a piece or two thats still in the shop for repairs.

Despite all that, the Black and Gold sit entrenched in the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Rangers and hold a three-point lead over the Senators in the Northeast Division with four games in hand. They also find themselves on the other side of a hellish February with an encouraging win over the Devils in the memory bank, but there have been feel-good wins since Jan. 12.

What the Bruins need now more than consolation prizes and false senses of security is a return to the focused playoff mentality that makes them such a handful to deal with. Its no surprise that the Bs havent quite been the same hockey team since they fell to the Vancouver Canucks in a hyped rematch at the beginning of January.

But the Bruins need to get that postseason mojo back thats made them so special in the past, and could make them a hockey force to be reckoned with once again. Chris Kelly has been through plenty of these so-called playoff pushes, and he knows now is the time for the Bruins to really start making that final push.

A 20-game stretch at the end of the season is a short enough span to begin pushing with the kind of kick that would make Usain Bolt nod with pride.

With a month or a month-and-a-half left, you want to fine tune your identity. You want to get into all of the little things that help you win games now rather than when the playoffs start, said Kelly. You cant just say oh, well do it when the playoffs start or well do it a week before the playoffs. With 20 games left you want to be confident that youre playing your best hockey going into the postseason.

What the Bruins dont need is mediocrity continuing to seep into their game. They have a winnable game against the New York Islanders at home on Saturday afternoon and a statement tilt against the Rangers in their first trip to Madison Square Garden in front of a national audience on Sunday afternoon.

It provides another opportunity for the Bruins to finish out on the other side of their annual February swoon, and it puts them in the proper mindset for the postseason.

That means paying attention to details, bringing the full range of emotion and physicality back into their game and eliminating the one crap period thats sullied their efforts over the last two months.

You hope its going to start happening, and you hope that the win over the Devils was a good start to that, said Claude Julien. Theyre a good team. Theyre a tough team to play against and theyve been really good on the road.

Hopefully our guys are getting into that mindset. I feel that around the dressing room that were headed in that direction.

It sounds easy, but its a difficult task for a Bruins team that admittedly needs to regain the identity thats made it special over the last two years. The Bruins are a special hockey club when they intimidate and overpower opponents with their size, strength and snarl, and theyre something slightly above average when theyre simply skating through the motions.

Theres been way too much of the latter and not enough of the former with the Bs since suspensions and injuries began wearing them down. David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tyler Seguin all got the memo that the playoff push began once the calendar moved to March, and now its time for the rest of the team to get into that playoff state of mind.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

0:41 - Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions on the Celtics getting their first win of the season and a comparison between Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving in the 4th quarter.

7:17 - Phil Perry joins BST to break down the tale of the tape between the Falcons and the Patriots as he breaks down the quarterbacks, offense, defense, coaching, and intangibles between the two teams.

11:57 - Our crew on BST discuss number 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and number 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum going up against each other and debate who seems like the better pick so far. 

16:35 - In this segment of Irrelevant Questions, Tom Curran interviews Patriots WR Phillip Dorsett as he asks him a bunch of random questions. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

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ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

HOUSTON -  Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE