Bruins fourth line looking for big bounce back

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Bruins fourth line looking for big bounce back

WILMINGTON, MA After winning a Stanley Cup two years ago, the trio of Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille were bandied about as the best fourth line n the NHL.

Rightfully so given their epic contributions to a deep, hard-driving Bruins team that rolled all four forward lines.

The trio had gelled into an energetic forward group capable of doing a myriad of things: altering momentum, chipping in at opportune times offensively and handing the Bruins coaching staff a reliable defensive unit against a wide range of opposing lineup combinations.

It was Thornton, Campbell and Paille that really set the tone in Game 7 of the Cup Finals with a series of shifts pulsating with kinetic energy, and in doing so discouraged a Vancouver Canucks lineup simply looking for a reason to pack it in.

The 2011-12 body of work left those three players with something lofty to live up to last season when things like energy and an extra gear were much more difficult to come by for the defending champs.

Perhaps it was the long to the top that affected them. All three of the forwards experienced a drop in their offensive output and finished with a combined minus-15 rating for the season on a team that boasted the top-five plusminus finishers in the league.

Were aware that were a line that can offer the team things in a lot of different areas, said Campbell. The Rangers play four lines and they play the right way, and I think games like Saturday night where you need our line to be a positive addition, to be physical and bring energy every time were out there as its needed.

Its fair to say that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and its also fair to say there were a lot of expectations for us last year. I was a new player and we were a new line put together halfway through the year. We ended contributing in a big way on very big nights. When that happens, you have to follow it up and the expectations rise a little bit. They certainly did in our minds, in the minds of the fans, among the coaching staff and everybody else surrounding the team.

Unfortunately they didnt always meet those heightened expectations during a long regular season.

The energy line wasnt able to impose their will in the playoff series against the Washington Capitals either, and watched as Mike Knuble, Keith Aucoin and Joel Ward turned the tables on them finishing off the Black and Gold club with a game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7. Claude Julien acknowledged what everybody could see with their own eyes: that his fourth line wasnt always as effective last year. The Bruins coach opined that perhaps impending free agency weighed on the minds of Thornton, Campbell and Paille.

It wouldnt be the first time something like that happened.

I thought that last year, they werent as good as the year before, said Julien of his fourth line. They need to find that chemistry and that energy that they gave us, that positive energy they gave our team. Maybe last year was tough because all three of those guys were looking for a new contract.

Maybe they were pressing too much. But now is a situation where they can get back to doing what they did. They outworked every line they played against. They threw pucks to the net. They crashed the net. Thats how they got offensive results.

Only Thornton was signed prior to the end of last season. Paille and Campbell inked extensions following last season, but didnt think the impending unknown contract status factored greatly into their inconsistent play.

Its much more realistic that the Stanley Cup hangover had an adverse effect on players that thrive on energy, spirit and that little extra something that can give their team a kick in the pants. There were some nights when it just wasnt there for them last year.

I guess its a realistic thing where its your contract year and you carry more weight on your shoulders to perform. But I think it was more that we held ourselves to a higher level of play after Game 7, said Campbell. The key to our game is simplicity. Not to limit ourselves, but to know what we do best and focus on that to the best of our abilities.

With all three forwards back for multiple years and expected to skate together again after wearing their Merlot Line practice sweaters this week at training camp, theyre raring to reclaim their title as the best fourth line in the NHL.

That means blocking more shots, killing more penalties and keeping top-six lines off the scoreboard when they find themselves thrown on the ice against them. Essentially it means doing whatever it takes to win hockey games.

We never found that groove for most of the season, but we found it toward the end. But we cant just do it some nights, said Paille. We need to bring it all the time. Being called the best fourth line in the NHL is something that I look forward to. We have expectations to represent ourselves that way and put our line in that category again.

Maybe as a line we werent playing together all that much because Campbell and I were killing penalties a lot, and then Thornton wouldnt be out there playing at times. But there are no excuses for anything. At times we just needed to be better.

The opportunity for Campbell, Paille and Thornton to be better starts Saturday against the Rangers and as Campbell alluded to its the perfect kind of gameplay-style to snap them right into past form.

Stevens’ first practice observation: ‘We’re going to be able to fly around’

Stevens’ first practice observation: ‘We’re going to be able to fly around’

WALTHAM, Mass. –  Before the Celtics fully stretched prior to their first practice of the season, coach Brad Stevens had his players go 5-on-5 in a not-live breakdown while going at about 30 percent full speed or similar to what they would do in a walk-through.

“If that was 30 percent, we’re going to be able to fly around,” said Stevens. “I think it was just a misjudging of what 30 percent is. They were flying early on in practice. We have to be able to fully rotate, we have to guard different positions, you gotta be able to read the game instinctively and obviously there’s an athletic component that allows you to do so effectively.”

Regardless, the Celtics are a team that will rely more on their athleticism in past seasons in order to be effective and live up to the lofty expectations so many have for them this season.

“We have a real good team, real athletic at a lot of spots,” Celtics forward Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We definitely got a couple more high-flyers in the building this year.”

He’s speaking about Gerald Green, a former Slam Dunk champion, and Jaylen Brown, who is considered one of the more athletic players among this year’s rookie class.

And that athleticism was indeed on display in the early moments of the team’s first practice of the season.

But what makes the Celtics a team that could potentially be a major player in the East, is that the increased athleticism is now married to a team whose skill level is underrated.

Talent and athleticism is certainly a bonus for any team.

But the Celtics know the road to being among the game’s elite is long and winding, a journey that they are just beginning to embark on right now.

And while there are plenty of directions that Stevens can put a greater focus on in these early days, it doesn’t appear the Celtics' leader will go that route.

“We’ve got a lot being installed,” Stevens said. “We’ll keep the emphasis on being a blue-collar team and playing together.”

 

 

 

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Yankees lineups: Price tries to nail down A.L. East clincher in Bronx

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Tuesday’s Red Sox-Yankees lineups: Price tries to nail down A.L. East clincher in Bronx

The Red Sox can clinch the A.L. East title for the first time since 2013, and do it at the home of their arch rivals, with a victory at Yankee Stadium tonight. 

Left-hander David Price (17-8, 3.91) takes the mound with the Red Sox magic number at 1. A Sox win, or a Toronto Blue Jays’ loss to the Baltimore Orioles, will give Boston the division title.

Brock Holt gets the start at third and Andrew Benintendi is in left field against Yankees right-hander Luis Cessa (4-3, 4.30).

The Red Sox (92-64) have the best record in the A.L., just ahead of the Texas Rangers (92-65), who have clinched the A.L. West title. 

The lineups:

RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia 2B

Xander Bogaerts SS

David Ortiz DH

Mookie Betts RF

Hanley Ramirez 1B

Brock Holt 3B

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Sandy Leon C

Andrew Benintendi LF

David Price LHP

 

YANKEES

Brett Gardner LF

Jacoby Ellsbury CF

Gary Sanchez DH

Starlin Castro 2B

Chase Headley 3B

Didi Gregorius SS

Aaron Hicks RF

Austin Romine C

Tyler Austin 1B

Luis Cessa RHP