Bruins take down Rangers, 3-1

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Bruins take down Rangers, 3-1

BOSTON -- The Bruins opened the shortened season with a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday night at the TD Garden.

Tuukka Rask made 20 saves in his first game without Tim Thomas in the equation, while Boston was able to put 34 shots on goal and beat Henrik Lundqvist three times.

The Bruins saw their first goal of the season with 5:46 left in the first period, as Milan Lucic -- who was later ejected in the third period because of a game misconduct -- put home a juicy rebound in the slot as he skated hard to the net. Lundqvist kicked out a David Krejci shot from the right boards, and Lucic beat a Rangers defenseman to the loose puck and put it into the open net for the 1-0 lead.

Daniel Paille gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead midway through the second period, after he re-directed a Greg Campbell snap shot from the right boards. Paille was cutting in front of the net and got a piece of the puck that just snuck by Lundqvist.

The Rangers cut the lead to 2-1 when Brad Richards beat Rask upstairs with a wrist shot from the right point. Richards was originally trying to send a pass through the slot, down to Rick Nash, but Patrice Bergeron blocked that attempt. The puck came right back out to Richards, who quickly wristed it past a screened Rask, with 7:10 left in the second period.

Patrice Bergeron gave the B's a 3-1 lead midway through the third period after he ever-so-slightly knocked down a high Johnny Boychuk shot from the right point. Boychuk took a clean Bergeron faceoff win and let it go. Boychuk was actually credited with the goal, but it looked to have been tipped by Bergeron before getting under Lundqvist's glove and in the net.

GOLD STAR: Milan Lucic didnt want to dwell on it too much, but it was clear that No. 17 was highly motivated by the many people questioning whether his conditioning was up to par to start the season. The Bruins power forward scored the first goal of the game to get things rolling for the Black and Gold, and was a consistent physical presence for the Bs while doling out a team-high four hits. The snarl in Lucics game was evident when he get onto a fracas with Mike Rupp and Ryan McDonagh with less than six minutes to go in the third period, and was bounced from the game with a 10-minute misconduct when he ignored officials directing him to get off the ice. The Bruins can only hope that Lucic plays with that kind of an edge all season.

BLACK EYE: Where was the big Rangers debut from Rick Nash that everybody was talking about? He finished with two shots on net and picked up an assist on Brad Richards second period goal, but he was really a non-factor in the proceedings with Zdeno Chara draped all over him. The only time he got the better of the 6-foot-9 defensive stopper was when he was able to draw a hooking penalty on Chara while driving straight to the net. There wasnt nearly enough NorthSouth play out of Nash against the Bruins on Saturday night, however, and the franchise power forward is going to find himself answering a lot more questions now than he ever would have in Columbus after such an underwhelming showing.

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron put together a typical game for the Selke Trophy winner: a team-high five shots on net, a face-off win and screen on Johnny Boychuks insurance goal in the third period and won 12-of-17 draws in typical machine-like fashion. Bergeron also gets the hockey tough award for the night after taking a puck in the face during the first few minutes of the game, and not missing a shift despite a nice little gash around his mouth following the game. Bergeron finished second only to Chris Kelly among Bs forwards with his 17:48 of ice time.

TURNING POINT: The Rangers looked like they were gathering a foothold when Brad Richards snapped home a shot from the high slot to make it a 2-1 game in the second period. But thats when the Bs energy line got involved and wrestled back the momentum. Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves and bloodied Mike Rupp and then Gregory Campbell took down Stu Bickel on the next two face-offs, and then the pumped Bs teammates responded with five dominant shifts to win back the momentum. The sequence just goes to show how vital a fully functional fourth line is to the Bruins fate this season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-for-7 the Bruins impressed with their five-on-five play and their penalty kill, but some things dont change and they finished fruitless on the man advantage.

QUOTE TO NOTE: I give credit to the guys, obviously the guys that went over to Europe and played were playing at a high level and doing a good job. But I give credit to the guys who didnt. I think a lot of guys out there tonight didnt look out of place and I thought the game was good, professional. The guys were acting like professionals even during the frustrating time of not playing amid the lockout. Andrew Ference on not being able to tell the difference between players that went to Europe or those that skated at home during the lockout.

Joe Haggerty contributed portions of this column.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.