Patriots

Haggerty: Bruins setting things right with playoffs approaching

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Haggerty: Bruins setting things right with playoffs approaching

BOSTON -- Any questions about the legitimacy of the Bruins most recent stretch of good hockey appear to now be answered.

Boston once again mixed together its powerful cocktail of timely goaltending, stifling defense and opportunistic, diversified offense into a winning formula against the desperate Tampa Bay Lightning, and the B's 5-2 victory gives them three wins in row for the first time in 2012.

The Bruins hadnt won three games in a row since winning seven straight from Dec. 10-28, and have won five of their last six while finally regaining their hockey equilibrium.

The win was way more important than my three assists," said Zdeno Chara, who led the Bruins with a plus-3."We just want to play really well going into the playoffs. In the postseason you have to get your game established and play the right way and for the most part, I thought we did. But there are still areas that can be better. We can improve and just have to be ready for the next one.

The Bruins have opened up a five-point lead over the Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division with a game in hand, and it appears any danger of losing home-ice advantage through the first couple of rounds has been averted. They could still fall behind the Panthers, who are just behind them in the Eastern Conference standings, but thoughts are starting to wander toward potential playoff opponents. Ottawa, Buffalo and Washington are all potential candidates if the Bruins stay in their current No. 2 position.

But for the Bruins, its become about finishing out the season as strongly as possible. Fine-tuning in all areas is both recommended and crucial to postseason success.

The win over Tampa Bay was solid in many areas:
The fourth line had one of its best games in recent memory and Shawn Thornton ended a 35-game goal-scoring drought that seemed to last an eternity.

Dennis Seidenberg erased his own goal-scoring drought, which had lasted more than 25 games.
Both goals were set up by Bs defensemen hopping up into the offensive zone and activating at exactly the right times, and thats the kind of timing and feel that the Bruins will need offensively in the postseason.Its huge, its huge if you can get the defensemen helping out on offense especially against a team like that that collapses down all the time, said Brian Rolston. Its difficult to get anything going down low so its great to have defensemen contributing offensively.
But most importantly their two most important cogs are once again playing at an elite level: Chara and Tim Thomas.

Chara and the Bruins defense so dominated the Lightning in five-on-five play that they outshot the Bolts by a 38-18 margin, and only faltered when Steven Stamkos started winging one-timers on the power play. Electrified by the heartfelt, appreciative ceremony recognizing his 1,000 games in the NHL, Chara also carried the puck to the net and created the Thornton goal after dangling through Marty St. Louis on the defensive perimeter.

For the second straight game at home the Bruins defense gave their 37-year-old goaltender a rocking-chair outing; they only allowed an average of 15.5 shots per game in the two wins. But Thomas came up large when it was required of him, and thats what his Vezina and Conn Smythe reputation has always been based on. With the Lightning on a power play and the game tied midway through the third period, Thomas flashed a glove to knock down a sizzling Stamkos one-timer, and then the Bs goaltender somehow knocked a Teddy Purcell follow shot to safety by butting the puck with his goalie mask.

It was the classic stop the puck by any means necessary philosophy favored by Thomas, and it showed he's once again brimming with confidence. Only a goaltender feeling it would attempt to fling a puck all the way down the ice with the goalie pulled in the final minute as Thomas did while looking for his career NHL goal and thats exactly what Thomas did once Dwayne Roloson had been pulled from the game.

And that's not all. Patrice Bergeron finished with 20 wins in 25 faceoff tries while dominating Stamkos, Trevor Smith and Tom Pyatt, and actually won more draws than the entire Tampa team (17). The players on the third line now have 29 points in their last seven games, and once again provided the game-winner on Benoit Pouliots third-period strike.If not for Stamkos magnificent goal-scoring ability and a solid effort from Roloson between the pipes, it would have been a much greater one-sided result in favor of the Bs.

But the victory itself was most important.

We seemed to have turned it around at the right time, said Brad Marchand. You want to play your best hockey going into the playoffs, you just cant flip a switch and turn it on and start to play well. Were doing a good job at responding right now.

Its going to be a rough ride for the Bruins in the postseason, and of that there is no doubt.

Seven of the last eight Stanley Cup champs never made it out of the second round of the playoffs, and six of those teams were first-round casualties. The only team to make it past the second round was a stacked Detroit Red Wings outfit that lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 finals, and the Bruins arent that Red Wings team.

But theyre pretty darn good, and theyre once again serving notice theyll be a handful for anybody in whats shaping up to be a competitive group of Eastern Conference teams in the tournament.

Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.

Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.

Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?

Why did Kyrie want to leave Cavs? He's not saying

Why did Kyrie want to leave Cavs? He's not saying

CLEVELAND – Tonight will be a homecoming of sorts for Kyrie Irving, who spent his first six NBA seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
 
Parting ways is a common occurrence in the NBA so that in itself makes Irving’s return pretty normal.

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Still, this basketball break-up was unlike any we’ve seen in the NBA in recent years.
 
At a time when most players are scurrying as fast as they can to latch on with a title contender, Irving literally went in the opposite direction and asked to be traded from a team that has been to the NBA Finals the past three seasons.
 
And he did so while coming off his best season as an NBA player.
 
So, it only stands to reason that he would be asked about that decision on the eve of his first game back in town.
 
However, Irving’s response to the question did not shed any light on the matter, which is just how he wants it to be.
 
“Well guys, going forward, I want to put that to rest in terms of everyone figuring out or trying to figure out or dive into or continue to dive into a narrative that they have no idea about and that probably will never, ever be divulged because it’s not important,” Irving said. “This was literally a decision that I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward. I don’t want to pinpoint anything. I will never pinpoint anything because that’s not what real grownups do. They continue to move on with their life and continue to progress. And that’s what I’m gonna continue to do.”
 
Part of that push forward involves helping the Celtics get off to a good start tonight in their season opener at Cleveland.
 
This is a game that’s full of storyline and narratives that only enhance the matchup between arguably the top two teams in the East.
 
But nothing compares to the interest that still exists in Irving’s unexpected decision to ask for a trade back in July, which led to him being traded to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the rights to Brooklyn's 2018 first- round pick and Miami’s 2020 second-round pick.  
 
“I’m just happy to get the season started, regardless of who we play,” said Irving, 25, an All-Star in four of his six seasons with the Cavs. Obviously, it’s made a much bigger deal because it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. The situation that happened this summer and being part of a great trade. I’m just truly appreciative of having the opportunity to play this game on the biggest stage and be back here in Cleveland to start the season, it feels different but I’m ready to get started.”
 
In addition to the excitement of the game, Cleveland has reportedly prepared a video tribute to Irving that will play at some point in a stoppage of play tonight.
 
“It’s a great honor and truly appreciative of all individuals who put the video together,” Irving said. “Those special relationships don’t go anywhere; just excited to see a lot of old friends and get on with the game.”

Ditto for Celtics coach Brad Stevens who, like Irving, has maintained a level-headed approach to a game that has so many subplots to it.
 
“I know this sounds like a broken record, but play the next possession to the best of our ability,” Stevens said. “What are we gonna do about that? Ultimately, we’re on the road, people are going to cheer against us. It’s the way it works in the NBA. It’ll be a great atmosphere in here tonight. Focus on the task at hand. We play 82 of these; get used to playing through distractions.”
 
Irving echoed similar sentiments while acknowledging how unique tonight’s opener is for all involved.
 
“It’s just one game,” he said. “We all understand that. For me, it comes with a lot of added incentive to go out there and really have fun and play the game I love. I’m really excited to start this season, and get started with the Boston Celtics and continue on with my career.”