Patriots

Bruins, Rask seek revenge vs. Canes

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Bruins, Rask seek revenge vs. Canes

RALEIGH, N.C. The Bruins held an optional morning skate at the RBC Center on Saturday morning, and are preparing for a Carolina Hurricanes team that contributed mightily to their 3-7 start to the season.

Carolina beat them in home and road tilts while outscoring the Bs 7-3, and one of the early low points of the season was the home loss to the Canes where Nathan Horton lost his cool in a fit of pique while going after Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason. The Bruins have obviously moved on since going 25-4-1 since the beginning of November, but walking into the RaleighDurham hockey rink stirred up the bad memories.

We know they beat us twice already. Theyre a tough team. We need to play well to get the win tonight, said Patrice Bergeron. Its been a long time since weve been here this season, and a lot has changed.

The Bruins took 16 penalties in the 4-1 loss to the Bruins at TD Garden, and showed clear signs of frustration early in the season when things werent coming easily to the Stanley Cup champs. It got to the point where Canes goaltender Cam Ward got in Zdeno Charas face following the defensemans fight with Carolina tough guy Jay Harrison -- and then had some choice words for the Bs captain following the game.

"The guy's 8 feet tall, and he's jumping a player. That doesn't translate as being very tough in my eyes," Ward told reporters following Carolinas 4-1 win in Boston back in October. "I'm emotional just like everybody else. When you see that happening to your own players, you wanna ... you know, I had some choice words, too, but it is what it is."

Wards postgame tirade also including him saying Im not gonna waste my time with Tuukka Rask to Fox Sports Carolina when the Bs goalie had approached him with some strong words during the team-wide scrum.

Bruins coach Claude Julien hopes his players keep those two losses to the Canes in the back of their minds now that Carolina is dwelling in the Eastern Conference basement. It would be easy to overlook a hockey club vying with the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning for the claim as the worst team in the conference, but Julien knows they had Bostons number in October.

We didnt have a good start to the season and the last time we played these guys we were a pretty frustrated team as well, said Julien. At that point I know we crossed the line in a lot of areas and hopefully thats in the past. I know weve gotten better in a lot of areas.

Those are not the good times that we had at the beginning of the year. We need to hopefully redeem ourselves tonight after not playing well in the first two games.

Its expected Rask will get the start against the Hurricanes, so he can show his Carolina counterpart exactly why he should waste his time with the goaltender leading the NHL in goals against average and save percentage. It also appears that Zach Hamill will get scratched along with Steve Kampfer as Brad Marchand serves the third game of his suspension for low-bridging Sami Salo.

Here is the expected lineup for a game that might be a little more interesting than first expected:

Pouliot-Bergeron-Seguin
Lucic-Krejci-Horton
Caron-Kelly-Peverley
Paille-Campbell-Thornton

Chara-Boychuk
Seidenberg-Corvo
Ference-McQuaid

Rask
Thomas

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

FOXBORO -- Stay low. Drive off the tight end's inside shoulder. And whatever you do, keep your feet. You don't want to be falling into kicker and picking up a penalty. 

Those were the kinds of things that were bouncing around somewhere in Cassius Marsh's subconscious as he lined up to try to block Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 37 yards away at the end of the first quarter. Swimming past his blocker off the snap, Marsh got both arms extended and into the path of Bryant's kick, knocking it down and giving his team a boost. 

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"Guys work hard on that every week," Bill Belichick said after his team's 23-7 win. "Cassius has gotten some opportunities in practice. It’s hard to block Steve [Gostkowski]. Steve gets good height on the ball, gets the ball off quickly. I think this one with not quite as much height maybe as Steve's ball, or at least what Steve's balls were in practice, Cassius got a hand on it. 

"It was a big play for us because, again, we worked so hard on that and that’s everybody across the board. That’s all 11 guys, not just the guy that blocks it. The other guys have to do their job and if they block Cassius and take him away then that gives somebody else an opportunity so we never know how that’s going to go. We just want everybody to come hard and do their job right and wherever the opening is it is. That was a big play for us . . . 

"You can see the whole team – we were all excited. Sideline, players, guys on the field. That was a big moment for us. Our special teams units work very hard. They take a lot of pride in their job. The return teams, the coverage teams, the field goal and the field goal block team. It’s good to see that hard work pay off in a big play like that."

It was a big enough play that it earned Marsh a high-five from his coach. Marsh laughed about his reception on the sideline, remembering that the last time he got that kind of recognition from Belichick it came after a Week 4 sack.

"That's pretty much it that I can remember," Marsh said, beaming. "He only really smiles in situations like that so you've gotta cherish those moments."

The Patriots recovered at their own 26-yard line and embarked on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get them on the scoreboard.

"With the defense playing as well as they were, to be able to preserve the shutout at the time was big," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Those are huge momentum plays when you're able to block a kick. It's not a traditional play that happens every game. Huge play. A UCLA guy stepping up, who would've thought? 

"You gotta tip your hat to those guys because they coach that, they work that and sometimes it seems like, 'Man, why do we continue to do this?' But it paid off for us tonight. You tip your cap to not only Cash but the rest of the guys on that unit." 

While Marsh's block was the highlight, it was a strong night overall for New England's special teams units. Every Falcons drive started inside their own 30-yard line, and Gostkowski had kicks returned to the 12, 19 and 18 before they were stopped.

Slater called it the most complementary game the Patriots played all season. Offense, defense, special teams. They all worked together to make Sunday perhaps their most dominating performance of the year. 

"That's the effort that we've been looking for and striving for all year," Slater said. "I think that's a good starting point for us. Lot of football left. Nine games left so we're going to have to continue to do it and be consistent week in and week out."

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Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

As safety Duron Harmon emerged from the showers following the Patriots 23-7 win over the Falcons, he noticed a crowd gathered by his locker. As one of the captains of the team - and a man nicknamed by teammates as “The Voice” because of his ability to articulate the right words at the right time, the affable safety is a must listen postgame. But for a change, Harmon knew the mass gathering of media wasn’t there for him - at least not yet. We were there for Malcolm Butler, who had just played his best game of the season.

“You all want to talk to Malcolm?” Harmon sang. “I’d want to talk to Malcolm too.”

Devin McCourty got in on the act as well with some good-natured chirping in Butler’s direction. Both safeties were energized by the victory but also, it seemed, by the performance of a player they’ve come to rely on in games just like this. 

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“Awww man, Malcolm. . . Malcolm was great for us,” said Harmon later. “We need that.”

It's hard not to draw the parallel between Butler having his best performance of the season a week after making two of the biggest plays in the game against the Jets. He did all this while the man who indirectly caused so much of the 28-year old’s troubles - Stephon Gilmore - hasn’t been able to play because of a concussion. Meanwhile, an undrafted player in his 6th year, Johnson Bademosi, has emerged opposite Butler to play very sound football.

“Communication,” said Butler of the team’s defensive improvements. “Just playing smarter and better. That’s all.”

Butler himself didn’t want to spend much time analyzing his own performance. That’s usually not his thing. And it wasn’t as if that performance was perfect. Far from it. But Butler’s energy was evident right from the jump. He stuck his nose in there on running plays to his side, including a terrific submarine tackle of Tevin Coleman in the opening quarter. Butler also got his fair share of Julio Jones over the course of the night. Even though he surrendered that late touchdown to the Falcons wideout, he showed not only a willingness to play the big dog, but to go right at him. That is - after all - a Butler trademark. 

“Just competing,” said Butler. “Great player; you just got to compete.”

It’s not just competing, but it’s playing with confidence, something Butler said was an issue for him in the aftermath of his snap reduction in New Orleans. But now? That seems long gone and hard to find.

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