Patriots

Chara's return sparks Bruins

615746.jpg

Chara's return sparks Bruins

PHILADELPHIA Zdeno Chara couldnt smother the Cheshire Cat grin when asked if he was looking to make a statement when Jody Shelley invited him to dance during his first shift of the game.

It was also his first on-ice action in a week after suffering a left knee injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets the week before, but that didnt stop the 6-foot-9 defenseman from unleashing his fury against the Flyers tomato can. Chara tuned Shelley up with a series of stiff left-handed jabs and a couple of windmill right-hands that toppled the Flyers fighter to the ice, and the momentum was completely Bostons after already scoring first in the game.

I got a front row seat to a NHL heavyweight fight, said a smiling Tim Thomas, who watched the bout that started from a face-off in the Bs defensive zone.

It was the exclamation point to a nasty hockey game on a Saturday afternoon that had Shawn Thornton riding shotgun on shifts with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to keep Flyers players from taking runs at them. It was the kind of game that saw an instigator penalty tossed out when Johnny Boychuk came to the defense of Marchand and squared off with Scott Hartnell when the curly haired barbarian was attempting to take late shots at the agitator formerly known as Nose Face Killah.

The nastiness was all over the ice with the top two teams in the East fighting for supremacy, and the decision in both the fisticuffs and the standard action went overwhelmingly in Bostons favor by a 6-0 score at the Wells Fargo Center.

There were so many penalties on both sides that it took a little bit of the flow out of it. Those things happen, but it wasnt really the referees fault. It was just two teams out there battling, said Chara. I thought it was a pretty good game.

We tried to have really have a strong first 20 minutes and there were things happening right out from the opening face-off early on. Based on the early action everything else was happening.

The fight was so lopsided and so integral to Boston summarily knocking the wind out of the Flyers with a violent body shot that Claude Julien found himself thanking Shelly for going there following the victory.

What did at the beginning might not be the best trade-off talent-wise, but youve got to look at what else it does. He got challenged by a guy trying to set the tone for his team, and it worked the other way, said Julien. Zeeor if you want to say Shelley, gave us even more reasons to be prepared and be motivated. Hopefully we can build on that.

But enough about Charas third fight this season.

The goliath blueliner followed up on the fists of fury act with a power play blast from the left point in the first period and an assist on a Nathan Horton goal in the second period. The fight, the goal and the assist gave the Bs captain a Gordie Howe hat trick after missing two games with an injury, and signaled to the rest of the league that Chara is still very much more machine than man.

He was larger-than-life in Bostons whitewashing of the Flyers, and its only fitting that Charas return signaled Bostons ascension back into the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference. Both the Bruins and Philly have the same number of points, but the Bruins gain the slight advantage with the higher number of straight victories in the win column.

Chara finished with nearly 24 minutes of ice time and the four big shots on net that created two goals for the Boston offense, and it seemed he didnt miss a beat in his return.

He was good. He was solid. As much as we missed him, it was a good rest for him playing the kind of minutes he does. So he seemed really fresh tonight, said Julien. He was excited to play and he was ready.

A contribution that went a bit under the radar: the return to normalcy on the defensive side of the ice against a Philadelphia squad that leads the entire NHL with 3.66 goals per game. Granted the Flyers were without Claude Giroux and Chris Pronger headed into the game and then lost Sean Couturier to a nasty slap shot off the back of the head during Saturdays matinee but the Bruins still held Philly down with only 31 shots and exactly zero goals.

It wasnt anything close to the passive bunch of skaters that allowed the Kings and Senators to take 90 cracks at the net, but thats the power of the returning Captain. Its always difficult to miss the presence of Chara when hes out on the ice, and he made sure to announce it early and often to a Flyers team that certainly wished hed taken one more game off.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

best_of_bst_podcast.jpg

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

0:43 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley talk about Bill Belichick saying it’s “incomprehensible” that people expect the Patriots to be on the same level as last year at this point in the season.

11:55 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley discuss J.R. Smith’s comments about the Celtics not being a threat to the Cavaliers.

15:38 - Abby Chin, Chris Mannix, and A. Sherrod Blakely join BST from Cleveland to talk about Marcus Smart and the Celtics failing to agree to a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent in July. They also preview Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavaliers season opener.

19:25 - Reports say Alex Cora is the frontrunner for the Red Sox managerial position, but Brad Ausmus interviewed for the position on Monday. Who is the right man for the job? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss.

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
 
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
 
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.

MORE:

 But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
 
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
 
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
 
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
 
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
 
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
 
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
 
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
 
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
 
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
 
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road. 
 
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
 
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
 
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
 
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
 
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
 
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Boston’s Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
 
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
 
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
 
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
 
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
 
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
 
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
 
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
 
And even that might not be enough.
 
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
 
“Here in this league,” he said. “You have to love challenges.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE