Celtics

Haggerty's Bruins-Panthers preview

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Haggerty's Bruins-Panthers preview

SUNRISE, FL The Bruins need a win, plain and simple.

Theyre riding a season-worst three-game losing streak that brings back some of the worst memories of their seasons first month, and the Bs have been losing in ugly, pathetic fashion. Theyve allowed other teams to consistently get the jump on them and theyve been playing comeback hockey in nearly every game over the last two weeks.

For a team thats barely clinging to a one point lead over the Ottawa Senators, though they do have two games in hand, the Bruins know that the time for excuses and alibis is long gone.

All that matters when it gets to March and April is the result at the end of 60 minutes, and the Bruins have won only five regulation games since the beginning of February. So something has got to give, and it starts with defense and goaltending.

You can look at a lot of things and fix areas. Its about our execution and playing our game. There are too many breakdowns. Everybody needs to do their job on the ice and the breakdowns are becoming costly, said Claude Julien. When we have layers then those breakdowns dont end up in the back of the net.

As for the Panthers, theyve been in the Southeast Division drivers seat just about all year and the Florida Cats are trying to hang on for dear life as the Capitals and Jets make their claims for a divisional title. Jose Theodore will get the nod given his long, illustrious history against the Bruins and the Panthers 24th ranked offense in the NHL will hope for another charitable night from the Bs defense.

Boston has to make sure that doesnt happen, and somehow find a way to make sure Tampa was their seasons rock-bottom and that it doesnt get any worse.

When you get behind the eight-ball like we have, I dont know how many games weve done that, you put yourself in a tough, tough position. Teams have found their games defensively and can hold you down when youre down one, two, three or even four goals, said Chris Kelly. Its easy to go out there and say youre going to put all the pressure, all the scoring and all the defensive play on your shoulders.

But thats not going to help anybody out. Were at our best when guys go out there and do what they do best. Everybody brings a different aspect out there and thats makes us a great team. When players get away from that is when you struggle even more and get into a deeper hole. You need to stick together and play together, and thats the only way out of it.

The Bruins hope to start digging out on Thursday night on their final game of a three-game road trip thats been disastrous at the first two stops in Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Brad Marchand has exactly two points in eight games during the month of March, and hasnt been his Little Ball of Hate self enough when the Bruins could use some emotional urgency. His forward line with Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron has been restored at practice, and that should prove all of its forwards with the proper motivation tonight. As if a team riding a season-worst three-game losing streak needed motivation.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Were not a team that relies on one or two guys to bail us out. Weve always been a group that does it by committee. We realize that what we have here, and what were all about, is that our strength has been as a pack. Its not as individuals. We need to play within our strength. Its not about one guy as much as its about all of us picking up our game and putting it in the right direction. Claude Julien talking about working together as a unit to get out of their slump rather than striking out as individuals.

KEY MATCHUP: The key matchup will be the Boston Bruins against brick wall Jose Theodore, who has been their kryptonite many times over the last ten years. Theodore is 15-13-3 with a 2.40 goals against and a .923 save percentage in 32 career games against the Bruins, but did fall to them earlier this season in the blowout loss just before Christmas. Itll be interesting to see how Jordan Caron matches up with David Krejci and Milan Lucic as the 21-year-old rookie shares some of his best attributes size, strength around the net and a willingness to play the body are similar to injured right wing Nathan Horton.

STAT TO WATCH: 3.75 the number of goals against average for the Bruins in eight games during the month of March, which ranks as the worst in the NHL this month.

INJURIES: Rich Peverley (right knee sprain), Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are long term injuries for the Bruins. Peverley skated on his own for the first time on Wednesday. Max Sauve was sent back to Boston with a hip injury suffered Sunday and hes expected to be shelved for a lengthy period of time. Both Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and Adam McQuaid (upper body) skated on Thursday morning and are game-time decisions for the Bruins. For the Florida Panthers Dmitry Kulikov (knee), Scottie Upshall (sports hernia), Matt Bradley (upper body), Kris Versteeg (lower body) and Jack Skille (upper body) are out with injuries.

GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tim Thomas will get the call for the Bruins, and hell be appearing in his 11th straight game for the Black and Gold including a pair of relief appearances. Thomas is 3-4 with a 3.74 goals against average and an .852 save percentage during the month of March, and appears to be battling fatigue hell need to overcome against the Panthers. Jose Theodore gets the nod for a hungry Florida bunch and will be attempting to resemble the goaltender that led the Panthers to a 2-0 shutout win over Boston on Dec. 8.

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Coaches in all sports will tell you that winning is not easy.
 
Making the Celtics’ 16-game winning streak even more impressive is that a number of the victories have involved Boston turning to some unlikely sources of production.

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And that has provided a glimpse into a franchise that’s getting the best of both worlds: quality play from its core group while developing reserves who have contributed to the team reeling off 16 straight wins in a variety of ways.
 
Because coach Brad Stevens has gone deeper into his bench this season than past years, it has created a roster with minutes more evenly distributed and with that, less wear and tear on the bodies of key players.
 
And while this team is led by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, there has been at least one other Celtic to emerge as a top-three performer every night...and often it’s not the same player.
 
“Much more unpredictable now,” a league executive texted to NBC Sports Boston. “That number three guy, is it [Jaylen] Brown? [Jayson] Tatum? Sometimes it’s Marcus [Smart]. You don’t know who it’s going to be because a lot of times, I don’t think they [Celtics] know who it will be. It’s why they’re so good, man.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game in Miami with the Celtics trying to push their winning streak to 17:

KYRIE FOR MVP
It’s one thing for the home crowd to get into the ‘M-V-P’ chants when you’re at the free-throw line. But it’s a completely different matter when those same cheers are being heard on the road. That’s where Irving was following the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas, a game in which Irving dropped 47 points, 10 in overtime. It’ll be interesting to see if another strong game by Irving will lead to another serenading of ‘M-V-P’ chants for the most dominant player on the team with the league’s best record.


 
TURNING DOWN THE HEAT
The streak is the talk of the NBA right now, but streaking was going to be part of the conversation leading up to tonight’s game regardless. The Celtics come into tonight’s game having won eight in a row over the Heat, their longest current winning streak over any team. Boston has dominated this matchup for years, posting a 70-44 record all-time against Miami in the regular season.
 

DUKE CONNECTION
College basketball just kicked off and Duke is once again among the game’s top teams, a school that consistently produces NBA talent at a relatively high level. That’ll be very apparent tonight when you consider this Boston-Miami matchup features three players (Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum for Boston, Justise Winslow for Miami) from Duke who will all be in the starting lineup and a fourth (Boston’s Semi Ojeleye) who attended Duke but later transferred to SMU.


 
JUSTISE WINSLOW
Every front-office executive has that one player they tried – and failed – to acquire that, in hindsight, not getting him was a really good thing. Winslow is that guy for the Celtics. While he hasn’t been necessarily a bust, his impact at this level hasn’t been enough to have warranted all the assets Boston was willing to part with on draft night in order to move up and select him. Still, he’s healthy now and starting to play better which is evident by his numbers in most offensive categories on the rise, while his defense has been relatively solid.
 

THREE-POINTERS
The Heat have made the 3-point shot a much bigger part of their offense this season, evident by Miami ranking seventh in the league in 3-point makes (11.2) this season. In Boston, one of the keys to their top-ranked defense has been their length, which has come in real handy defending the 3-pointer. In fact, Boston has limited opponents to just 32.1 percent shooting on 3’s this season, which ranks third in the league.

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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

FOXBORO -- Stephen Gostkowski is almost 34 years old, but in Mexico City he provided a reminder that he's not slowing down in his 12th NFL season. 

After going four-for-four on field goals -- including a team-record 62-yarder, a 51-yarder and a 40-yarder -- and making all three of his extra points, Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the sixth time in his career. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, Bill Belichick explained that someone in Gostkowski's situation probably isn't improving at this point in his career. But if he's maintaining a strong level of play, that's OK. 

"I don’t know how much real improvement you’re going to see from a player that’s been in the league 12 or 20 years in a case like Adam [Vinatieri] or somebody like that," Belichick said. "But, if the level they’re performing at is pretty good, if they can maintain that, then that’s certainly enough to help the team.

"Are there things that a player can do better? Yeah, sure, there always are technique things. I think Steve has really improved in some of his alternative kicks on kickoffs, as an example, instead of just kicking every ball as far as he can. He’s done a great job of that. I’d say it’s maintaining the timing and the overall leg speed and technique that makes kickers good at their job."