From Comcast SportsNetSAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The San Francisco Giants are showing how little home-field advantage matters in the baseball playoffs.Madison Bumgarner allowed two homers and got knocked out early for the second time this postseason and the Giants once again got off to a bad start to a series at home, losing Game 1 of the NL championship series 6-4 to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night."We hate to lose them at home. But it happens," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We've got to wash this one off and come out and be ready to go tomorrow."The Giants have lost all three home games so far this postseason, with Bumgarner taking the defeat in two of them. They managed to overcome that in the first round against Cincinnati by becoming the first team ever to win the final three games of a best-of-five series on the road.But if San Francisco is to make it back to the World Series for a second time in three years, the team must win at AT&T Park at least once this series against the wild-card Cardinals.Game 2 will be Monday night with San Francisco's Ryan Vogelsong taking on St. Louis' Chris Carpenter.Playing at home has usually been a big advantage for the Giants, who excel with the nightly sellouts and spacious dimensions that help the pitching staff. San Francisco had a 48-33 record at AT&T Park during the regular season and won five of seven postseason home games on the way to the World Series title two years ago.That hasn't been the case this October as the Giants have been outscored 20-6 in the three home games. The common theme so far has been subpar starting pitching with Bumgarner the main culprit. After going 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA as a rookie in the postseason two years ago, Bumgarner hasn't made it through five innings in either start this year."You have to try to find a way, which I wasn't able to do," Bumgarner said. "You just have to keep battling, keep trying to find a way to get the ball where it's supposed to go."Bumgarner looked in good form at the start, needing just 11 pitches to get through a perfect first inning. But nothing was easy after that.Yadier Molina lined a single on an 0-2 pitch with one out in the second. David Freese then drove a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left-center to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.Bumgarner then couldn't make it out of the fourth. Daniel Descalso doubled and scored on Pete Kozma's double. Jon Jay added a two-out RBI single and Beltran ended Bumgarner's night with the homer. That marked the first time all year that Bumgarner allowed two homers in a home game and gave him an 11.25 ERA in the postseason."I haven't had a lot of life on the ball," Bumgarner said. "In cases where your stuff might not be as sharp you have to try to find a way to get it where it's supposed to go. I'm just missing over the plate a little bit."Even a strong night from Tim Lincecum and the bullpen couldn't overcome Bumgarner's rough outing. Five Giants relievers combined for 5 1-3 hitless innings with Lincecum throwing two.The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner had been demoted to the bullpen so far in the playoffs after a rough regular season. He has allowed just one run in 8 1-3 innings so far and gives Bochy an option if he decides not to give the struggling Bumgarner another start.No Giants starter has made it through the sixth inning so far this postseason."If we avoid bumps early I feel like we'll be all right," Lincecum said. "It's not ideal when our starters do what they're doing right now."The Giants bats woke up in the fourth inning when RBI hits by Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford and a two-run triple by Gregor Blanco cut the deficit to 6-4. The rally ended when second baseman Daniel Descalso made a diving stop of Angel Pagan's grounder up the middle with runners on first and third."He made a great play," Pagan said. "You have to give him credit. I just did my best. He threw a very nice sinker down in the zone that I put in play. I was just hoping it would go through so we could get a run at least."But they managed only two hits in 5 1-3 innings against the Cardinals bullpen and find themselves in a 1-0 series hole.
BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.
But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.
The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.
“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.
“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”
Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that.
BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.
Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.
But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.
“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.
“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”
But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.
But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.
Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.
Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.
“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”
The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.
Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.