Bruins

Curran: Patriots battle with 'Fins good preparation for Texans

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Curran: Patriots battle with 'Fins good preparation for Texans

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. Next up, Houston.

And the way things went down on a warm, windy Sunday in South Florida was excellent preparation for the battle that awaits the Patriots against the AFCs best team.

After winning their past four games by an average of 27 points, the Patriots had to grind on Sunday to emerge with their 23-16 win. Grind hard.

There wasnt an easy throw out there, said Tom Brady after soldiering through a game in which the Dolphins front-seven cuffed him around for the final three quarters.

The weekly worry about whether Brady might get dented while playing at the end of a blowout was put on the back burner this time as the Patriots needed Brady and the rest of the offense to twist the screws on Miami in the final eight minutes.

A 16-play drive that ended with a field goal to make it 23-13 with 70 seconds left did the trick. That possession, even though it didnt end with seven points, can serve as a confidence-builder for what awaits when the Texans come to town. Even though Houstons been a little more permissive on defense over the past month, they are still one of the NFLs most disruptive groups. And if the Patriots are going to hand the Texans their second loss of the year, they will probably find themselves in a closeout situation similar to the one they faced Sunday.

That was a grind right there, said Donald Thomas who was again holding down the left guard spot as Logan Mankins calf continues to heal. Youre sore during the game and youre feeling it and youre into it and its not gonna come easy. It wasnt like the past few weeks where we were scoring at a rapid rate. It was more of a dogfight. We knew before the game started. We knew it wasnt gonna be (easy). Theyre a good team. This team, I know theyre not gonna lay down and just give it to us . . . That drive was exactly what we needed. I think we had eight minutes when we went out there, we gave it up with less than two minutes. It was a seven-point game, then once we got into field goal range the focus was on getting a touchdown but the main thing was eating up clock and getting a score and giving our defense time to breathe.

The Patriots offensive line needs its best guys back out there. Mankins at left guard, Dan Connolly at right guard and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. Sunday was a little messy up front and the way the Patriots offense stagnated through the second and third quarters cant be repeated against a Houston team which will put up points a lot faster than the Dolphins could.

Mankins participation in practice will be a story to watch this week. He needs to get his wind and his mobility back before going up against that Houston front. The Patriots will have to sweat the availability of Connolly as well. He left Sunday with a back injury and, after Nick McDonald struggled to replace Connolly, Marcus Cannon stepped in for McDonald. Vollmer, who said after the game that he was feeling good, is playing with a back injury as well. He was a game-time decision on Sunday and while he mostly kept Cameron Wake in check, hes not at full strength, it seems.

But the Patriots were still able to summon enough to impose their will on the ground with Stevan Ridley and a dash of Shane Vereen on the Patriots last drive.

When you run the ball like that its somewhat on the O-line, the running backs and receivers, Vollmer explained. It feels good. Sometimes you gotta do that and we were able to do that today and it was big. We ran seven minutes off the clock and that was necessary. Hopefully we continue to do that.

Even though New England has two more losses than the Texans, the Patriots are still the conference gold standard. And Houston wont just be playing to solidify their hold on the No. 1 seed but also to get an appraisal of where they are.

We know were gonna get the best shot from every team we play and thats what Miami did, said Jerod Mayo.

Asked when the Patriots will turn their attention fully to the Texans, Mayo thought for a moment, smiled and said, Tomorrow.

Tomorrow is now today. And the Patriots are facing their toughest opponent of the season in a week. Its good that they got their nose bloodied a little bit on Sunday.

Because the grind is on.

Bruins demoralize Habs in three game set

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Bruins demoralize Habs in three game set

MONTREAL – The Boston Bruins weren’t about to dance on any Montreal Canadiens’ graves after it was over and done with, but they effectively closed the door on any flickering playoff hopes for the Habs this week. It all ended with Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre that finished off the sweep of all three meetings between the two arch-rivals over an eight day span, and with the reeling Montreal a stunning 13 points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

It was a close game nearly all the way through in Montreal until David Pastrnak and Riley Nash scored in the final few minutes of the third period, but the Bruins outscored the Habs by an 11-5 margin while clearly establishing they were the better team in all three contests. It all makes sense given the opposite directions that the two hockey clubs are headed at this point in the season, and because of that the Bruins were playing it pretty cool after burying the Habs.

“It was kind of a crazy week because we were playing them three times, so we obviously wanted to play good hockey,” said Tuukka Rask, who won all three games vs. the Habs while improving his lifetime record vs. the Habs to 10-15-3 in the process. “[We wanted to] get as many points as possible, and won all of those games along with the one on Long Island. So it was a great week for us.”

Certainly it seemed like there was more genuine emotion from the Bruins in Claude Julien’s return to Boston midweek, and perhaps a little more adrenaline in last weekend’s first game at the Bell Centre where rookies like Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen were dipping their toes into the storied rivalry for the first time.

But on this Saturday night it was more about a complete dismantling of the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge even as the Bruins initially fell down by a goal after a bad McAvoy turnover. Instead it was Boston’s Perfection Line that went to work with an efficient, dominant performance as David Pastrnak scored the game’s first goal and insurance third goal in the third period. They also accounted for the game-winner when Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak hemmed Montreal’s fourth line in the defensive zone, and Torey Krug eventually stepped up and rifled one short side on Carey Price.

Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak combined for two goals, six assists and a plus-8 in the resounding victory over the Habs, and had a dominant 12 of Boston’s 31 shots on net when the final horn had sounded. They simply overwhelmed Montreal with their depth, the high end quality of their lineup and the fact that Boston was rested while the Habs had to play in Washington DC on Friday night in a three games in four days stretch.

All of that allowed the Bruins to drive the final nail into Montreal’s coffin when the game was over, and it furthermore allowed Boston to keep worrying about the teams they’re trying to catch (ahem…Tampa Bay Lightning) rather than Eastern Conference bottom-feeders like the Canadiens.

“We talked about doing the job against them and finding a ways to push teams down while gaining ground on the teams above us,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I thought it was a great effort again. We knew that they would be ready for us, but we also knew that they had played last night. So maybe if we had a good start we could jump on them. I thought we had a good game.”

Clearly there have been ebbs and flows to the Bruins/Habs rivalry over their long history together, and both Boston and Montreal have been in the catbird at different times even in the recent editions of their history. But right now Boston is beating the Canadiens badly at their own skill and speed game and dominating thing with pure hockey rather than bullying, and that’s got to sting for a Habs group that simply couldn’t compete with the Bruins in three different chances to do so this week. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

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Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

BOSTON – When Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about what he saw in the team’s newest (10-day) addition Jarell Eddie, his response was, “shooting … shooting.”

Indeed, shot-making has been the one area of play that has been problematic for the Celtics most of this season.

Boston comes into today’s game against Orlando (13-32) shooting just 44.8 percent from the field which ranks 25th in the NBA.

In the month of January, Boston has been even worse, connecting on just 41.8 percent of their shots which ranks 29th in the league this month.

While the addition of Eddie had more to do with the recent flu bug that has made the rounds throughout the Celtics lineup and the uncertainty a couple days ago surrounding Kyrie Irving’s sore left shoulder (it has improved and he’s expected to play today), adding Eddie speaks to a greater problem – guys making shots – that has to be addressed in some capacity sooner or later.

Boston always has the option to pursue a trade. They also have an $8.4 million disabled player exception they can use on free agent players, with the most likely pool of talent that they will choose from consisting of players who would have been bought out by their current teams.

Or there’s raiding the G-League for talent, which is what they did in signing Eddie to a 10-day contract.

Regardless, there’s a growing sense that this team has to add more scoring punch to the mix or at a minimum, improve the overall offensive execution of the roster as it stands now.

“We have to do our stuff better,” Stevens said. “The start of the season it was predictable, losing Gordon (Hayward who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season-opener) and having to adjust. The middle portion of games we were pretty darn good. And then I thought we were reasonable in London, reasonable against New Orleans. But the other three of the last five games, we weren’t very good.”

Boston’s offense should get a boost from Irving’s return to the lineup after missing Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia with a sore left shoulder.

And while it was just one game, Irving understands the challenge that lies ahead in getting Boston’s offense to play better and more consistently.

“We have very unique talents on this team,” Irving said. “When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

Marcus Morris has been one of the players who has been in and out of the Celtics lineup because of a sore left knee.

However, the schedule has eased up to where he’ll be able to play more games, for longer stretches.

He comes into today’s game having scored in double figures each of the last three games.

“I’m just trying to get healthy. I know what I can do,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “My confidence is always going to stay high, no matter if I miss or make shots.”

In the last three games, he has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.

While Morris’ play of late is promising, it doesn’t diminish the concern Boston should have for an offense that for the most part, has been sputtering this season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE