Red Sox

Haggerty: Bruins face a big test Saturday

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Haggerty: Bruins face a big test Saturday

WILMINGTON, Mass. The Bruins get their first look Saturday at the team that might just be standing in their way when it really counts during the playoffs.
Its not their traditional rivals, the Habs, or the team they've clashed with many times over the years, the Flyers. Instead, it's a team from the city Bostonians love to hate: New York.
The Rangers have led the Eastern Conference for most of the last month, and have matched the Bruins nearly every step of the way since Boston jumped into its boom stage at the beginning of November. So the Bs eagerly await a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Blueshirts following a challenging four-game southern road trip.
The Rags have hit their own tough stretch with three losses in their last five games, culminating in a home defeat to the Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week. But John Tortorellas boys still lead the East with 62 point.
Its gonna be a great game against the Rangers; it always is, said Zdeno Chara. They always battle hard and give you that game where you have to bring the physical element. You have to be willing to work extremely hard and they play a real grinding game. If youre not ready and emotionally attached then youre going to lose.
Its a difficult match for the B's, and has been for the last three years. Tortorella's tenets of hockeys are much the same as Claude Juliens, and the Rangers have won 7 of the last 12 meetings against Boston by the combined score of 26-18.
Theyve got a lot of depth and a great goalie, said Brad Marchand, describing the Rangers in terms that most people use to describe the Bruins. We just have to make sure were prepared and ready to match their work ethic.
Every team that plays us usually gets pretty psyched to play us, but they play a game thats very similar to us. They have depth and goalie Henrik Lundqvist always seems to be in the right position. Its a team were definitely aware of, but true rivalries are built in the playoffs at the end of the season.
The Rangers play a difficult, in-your-face style and rely on the combination of staunch defensive and elite goaltending as the bed-rock of their game. In his career against the Bruins, Lundqvist is an amazing 16-5-2 with a .945 save percentage, 1.50 goals against average and five shutouts. He commands legitimate fear in a short playoff series when the time comes. With a young, strapping defense corps, the Rangers have a natural cast of characters for a strong defensive base. And the addition of Brad Richards has helped on the offensive side.
The Rangers looked like they were going to be a tough out in the playoffs last season, too, but couldnt overcome the loss of captain Ryan Callahan, who broke a bone in his leg attempting to block a smoked Chara slapper late in the regular season.
This time around, the Rangers have the depth to overcome opponents with their waves of forwards. They even thrived during the first half of the season without franchise defenseman Marc Staal. Now Staal is healthy enough to play 20 plus minutes after recovering from post-concussion syndrome, and the Rangers have a full lineup.
They have depth and thats why theyre able to roll four lines. Goaltending is also not an issue with them, said Julien. There are some similarities. They also like to play a heavy game, so it will be an interesting game on Saturday.
So the strong defense, deep offensive attack and elite goaltending combination give the Rangers a top-10 offense, the NHLs No. 3 defense in goals against per game, and a hockey club thats eerily similar to the Bruins.
Its that carbon copy nature of the Rangers that gives Boston trouble .
We havent seen New York yet this year, and theyve had a lot of success, said Adam McQuaid. That means were going to have to work awfully hard. They play a hard game. Everybody from top-to-bottom finishes their hits and gets hard on the forecheck.
They just plain compete hard.
The Bruins and Rangers will meet three more times during the regular season after Saturday afternoons matinee, but first impressions are important when it comes to setting a tone for the rest of the season.
They've proven through the first half that theyre the two best teams in the East this season. Saturday represents the first chance for either team to throw a roundhouse punch at the other this year.

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.