Patriots

Krejci being Krejci again makes all the difference

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Krejci being Krejci again makes all the difference

Milan Lucic remembers the conversation clearly.

The Bruins power forward was joking around with his center, David Krejci, on the post-Christmas flight to Phoenix for their game against the Coyotes, and gave his Czech center the signal it was time to start winding things up.

I was kind of joking with Krejci after the Christmas holiday that our break was over and it was time to get things going, said a grinning Lucic. Hes definitely responded to the little joke I said to him and Krejci has definitely got some confidence back in his game.

I think a big thing with him is . . . pushing the pace. He is definitely capable of controlling the play. Hes able to make plays and move it around at his pace, and when hes doing that he can play at a very high level and bring Nathan Horton and I there along with him.

Krejci had actually already put his game back into motion a few games before the holiday break, and was slowly erasing a sluggish first three months of the season at the controls of the line between Lucic and Horton. His struggles may have been related to his contract situation, which wasn't settled until after the season started, or it may have just been the traditional dry spell that Krejci endures each year, but the 25-year-old pivot is back on his game.

He set up a pair of goals in Tuesday nights win over the Winnipeg Jets including the game-tying score on a nifty assist that opened things up for Horton in front of the net and has quietly put together a nine-game point streak.

Krejci has 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in those nine games while also serving as the head foreman in offensive revivals for Lucic and Horton. Lucic has been the most consistent of the three players this year, but he admitted that all three knew they could be better.

We all got off to a pretty slow start, but we got things going and I think everybody found their game, said Lucic. Its about focusing on the next game and the next shift, and its allowed me to get more consistent.

Or its about David being David, as his coach so eloquently explained. When Krejci is playing within his abilities -- faceoff skills, passing abilities and an underrated shot that has him on pace for 20-plus goals -- he seems like a natural-born top-line centr.

Thats just David being David, said coach Claude Julien. I think when he skates and just plays with some good intensity, and hes strong on the puck, thats what David ends up doing. Hes getting rewarded with some good points and some good plays. When hes not, youre going to see him a little lighter on the puck.

Youre going to see him standing still a little bit more, looking to make plays instead of creating them with his speed and his hockey sense.

Its been a no-standing zone while Krejci has built up a plus-6 during those nine games and also only been a minus player once since jump-starting the first line as a trio.

It came at exactly the right time, with Brad Marchand out for five games due to his suspension for a clip of Sami Salo and the Bruins hoping to avoid any kind of offensive letdown in the next handful of games.

So far its clicking, said Krejci. My line and me, we are trying to keep our feet moving. Every time we get a puck, we are crashing the net, and making the most of our chances. The puck has been going in the net for us. Hopefully we will keep doing the good things and scoring goals.

Marshy is going to be out for four more games so hopefully that line is going to keep clicking and putting the puck in the net. We have good depth. All four lines, even the fourth line can put the puck in the net so thats the strength of our team and thats why were winning because all four lines can score a goal.

Hes also been on fire out of the faceoff circle, where hes dominated since a poor game on the draw in a losing effort to a young player on New Years Eve. Krejcis faceoff performance is vital given his lines personnel and personality, and the express preference to be playing with the puck rather than chasing it down.

So its a sign of great things to come when Krejci wins his first 10 faceoff draws of the game, and the 10th win in the circle immediately leads to a Horton goal to reverse the games momentum. Its the exact kind of hockey play the smooth-skating playmaker can execute on the ice when things slow down while hes carrying the puck in the offensive zone.

Or maybe its just David being David and this offensive explosion was just sitting there waiting to happen all along.

Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

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Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

SEATTLE - Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons did enough through 3 1/2 quarters that even the best comeback attempt by Russell Wilson fell short this time.

A couple of yards short to be exact.

Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes, Adrian Clayborn returned a fumble 10 yards for a score and the Falcons watched Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds fall short, holding off the Seattle Seahawks for a 34-31 win on Monday night.

Atlanta won its second straight to stay on the heels of New Orleans and Carolina in the NFC South, and handed Seattle a second consecutive home loss.

"What an absolute team win from the guys tonight," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "Coming here, in this environment, with the crowd, we thought it would be two competitive, tough teams that were going to battle for it in the biggest way."

Ryan threw TDs to Mohamed Sanu and Levine Toilolo, while Tevin Coleman added a 1-yard TD run on Atlanta's opening possession.

But it was Clayborn's fumble return that helped break the game open early in the second quarter and gave Atlanta a 21-7 lead. He scooped up a loose ball after Wilson was crunched by Takk McKinley and Courtney Upshaw.

"I think we're moving in the right direction. We keep proving we can finish games and beat guys. We have to take the momentum and keep rolling with it," Clayborn said.

With Seattle down 11 points, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 29-yard TD with 3 minutes left and then threw to Jimmy Graham for the two-point conversion. Seattle got the ball back and moved in range for Walsh, whose attempt was on line but landed short of the crossbar.

"That was in our range, and in hindsight I would have just driven it more," Walsh said. "I would have driven it more and not left it short. I was too accurate and didn't have enough on it."

Wilson again was the entirety of Seattle's offense, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and running for another 86 yards and a TD.

But it was an awful night for the Seahawks, filled with more injuries and questionable decisions by coach Pete Carroll. He called for a fake field goal late in the first half rather than attempting a 35-yard kick. He also made a questionable challenge in the fourth quarter that didn't go his way and left Seattle with just one timeout.

That lack of timeouts came back to haunt Seattle on the final drive when seconds ticked away and rather than running one more play, Walsh was sent out to attempt the 52-yard kick. His long for the season is 49 yards.

The conclusion only amplified Carroll's baffling decision at the end of the first half, when Seattle ran a fake field goal rather than having Walsh attempt a 35-yarder that would have pulled Seattle within 24-20. Holder Jon Ryan completed his shovel pass to Luke Willson, but Grady Jarrett read the play and tackled Willson for a 4-yard loss.

Willson said Atlanta's defense on the play was different than what Seattle had seen on film.

"It would have been a really good call if we had made it," Carroll said. "Terrific opportunity right where we wanted it and the defensive tackle made a better play."

Seattle played a game for the first time since the end of the 2010 season without Richard Sherman. His streak of 99 consecutive starts in the regular season was snapped because of a torn Achilles tendon suffered against Arizona. The Seahawks were also without safety Kam Chancellor because of a neck injury, leaving their vaunted secondary with several new faces.

"Those two are phenomenal players. ... It was a lot different," Sanu said. "They did a lot of different things but we just had to take advantage of our routes."

MATTY ICE

Ryan was more than happy to pick on a defense without Sherman and Chancellor. He was 19 of 27 passing for 195 yards and rarely faced pressure. Seattle had one sack, and the Falcons went 9 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Sanu made a great one-handed grab for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Ryan found Toilolo on a 25-yard TD in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 31-20 lead. Matt Bryant added a 19-yard field goal with 3:49 left to put the Falcons ahead by 11, and Wilson's late heroics weren't enough.

Ryan's streak of 64 straight games passing for at least 200 yards was snapped.

INJURIES

Seattle's injury woes continued. The Seahawks lost rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a concussion on the second play of the game, forcing newly signed veteran Byron Maxwell into a more prominent role than expected.

Early in the second half, promising running back Mike Davis was lost to a groin injury after taking a screen pass 21 yards. Davis had two receptions and had carried six times for 18 yards before getting hurt. Seattle also lost starting guard Oday Aboushi in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Atlanta got a scare when safety Keanu Neal was checked for a concussion in the first half. He was cleared to return.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Host Tampa Bay on Sunday to open a three-game homestand.

Seahawks: Travel to division foe San Francisco on Sunday.

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'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

We have seen the Boston Celtics play less-than-stellar basketball for long stretches, only to turn it on in the second half and escape with a win.

But Monday night’s game at Dallas was different.

Usually it has been Boston’s offense that has kept the game closer than expected, but on Monday it was the team’s defense that struggled more than usual.

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But this team continues to show an ability to withstand all in-game struggles to eventually emerge victorious which was exactly what happened as the Celtics rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.

The Celtics (16-2) have now won 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

But this win, like so many of its predecessors during this historic run, was not one to celebrate afterwards.

“Quite a resilient comeback in the fourth,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Not our best foot forward before that. Of all the comebacks, that did not look good for a long time. We found a way to win it.”

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 47 points, 10 of which came in the overtime period.

But his performance was just one of many Boston needed to extend its winning streak.

“In a game like this, you have to do whatever it takes, both ends of the floor,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters afterwards.

And he did just that.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Tatum’s defense forced a Harrison Barnes miss that would have won the game for Dallas.

And in the fourth quarter, Tatum’s rebounding was critical to Boston (16-2) extending its stay atop the NBA standings.

The 6-foot-8 rookie had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, with four of his boards coming in overtime.

Boston also got another strong game from Jaylen Brown (22 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart, whose shooting was well off the mark most of the night (3-for-15) but like he has done too many times to count, Smart managed to make a positive impact on the game.

He led the Celtics with eight assists off the bench, in addition to a slew of hustle plays that included a desperation save of a ball going out of bounds that managed to find its way into the hands of Kyrie Irving, who drained a much-needed 3-pointer late in the game.

“Those are worth more than whatever the shot goes in,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s hard to quantify Marcus Smart.”

The same can be said about Boston’s winning streak, which has come about despite several stretches, every game seemingly, where the Celtics struggle.

But to their credit, they don’t allow the in-game setbacks take away from their focus night-in and night-out and that’s to find a way, any way possible, to emerge with a victory.

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