Bruins up against an atypical No. 7 seed in explosive Washington

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Bruins up against an atypical No. 7 seed in explosive Washington

The Bruins might have had an easier time with the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs.

But the stone, cold reality of the Stanley Cup playoff situation is that Boston has instead drawn an incredibly tough No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference in the Washington Capitals. Washington is full of talent and possibility, but very short on results this season.

Its a reality Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has made peace with while others might have had their fingers crossed for a trip to Ottawa.

Ive gotten over the hoping to play somebody thing over the years. At some point youll have to play these teams and beat them. Often times, the season matchup doesnt translate into the postseason matchup, said Chiarelli. Record shows we havent played as well against Washington, and for that reason it will probably be a tough opponent. Were not disappointed, but just ready to move on and face them as tough opponents. Ottawa wouldve been just as hard.

Sure the Caps struggled their way into the playoffs and underachieved from the get-go through injuries and underperformance, but they still have some of the best offensive hockey talent in the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin can create offense against the best defenses in the NHL, and Nicklas Backstrom has returned to full health just as the postseason rolled around. Add that to offensive-minded defenseman like Dennis Wideman and Mike Green who has struggled all season with injuries, but still has the potential inside of him and there is a goal-producing juggernaut lying in wait.

Chiarelli was well aware of that along with Bostons 1-2-1 record against the Caps this season, and Semins 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in his last 15 games against the Bs. There are good matchups and there are bad matchups in Stanley Cup playoff series, and drawing Washington is less than ideal for the Black and Gold in their repeat bid.

I think we have to shut down their skill. Between Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, theyve got good skill in the back end. Theyre a high-end skill team, and I think its really important we play the gaps tight in all three zones with these guys, said Chiarelli. We can do that. Thats the biggest things. We have to get pucks on their goalie. If its the goalie thats been playing, Braden Holtby, I think hes a good, young goalie thats just inexperienced. So we have to get traffic and pucks there.

While its true that Bostons ability to expose a Washington goaltending group beset by injuries Tomas Vokoun exited the last regular season game against the Bruins with a nagging groin issue and hasnt been seen since the BruinsCapitals series will turn into a game of match-ups. The Capitals will do whatever they can to squeeze as much production out of Ovechkin as possible, and hes been up to the challenge over the last month with 11 goals in his final 13 games.

Meanwhile the Bruins are going to attempt locking the Zdeno CharaDennis Seidenberg defensemen pairing on the ice against the Russian sniper as much as possible. The postseason series, in all likelihood, will hinge on Bostons tower of power shutdown defenseman putting the clamps on Washingtons most explosive offensive force.

Ovechkin has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 15 games against the Bruins with a minus-1 rating over that time, but a steady diet of Chara over the last two seasons has limited the Russian sniper to one goal and a minus-4 in seven games over the last two seasons.

Chiarelli assumed he wasnt giving away any state secrets by admitting the CharaOvechkin head-to-head battle will go a long way toward defining the winner and loser in the seven-game series.

I dont think we played very well against the Capitals this year. We went through a pretty long stretch when we were average and I think we played them twice in that stretch, said Chiarelli. Im not going to give you our matchups, but the big thing is, Zdeno Chara against Alexander Ovechkin.

Chara takes pride in shutting down Ovechkin, so I think obviously youre going to see that matchup. They have some good skill, some real good shooters and its important to keep those guys on the outside and away from the inside. So, theres a preliminary game plan for you.

Theres more to it than that, of course.

The Bruins offensive depth will have to do damage against a team defense and penalty kill that ended the season in the bottom third of the NHL over 82 regular season games, and partner with the shutdown defense. Its a tall order for the Bruins, but one made easier if Holtby gets the call for Washington with both Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth banged up.

Its a winnable series for the Bruins, but one that could take some starch out of them if stretches out to six or seven games.

In fact theres a realistic scenario with the Bruins being forced to play the Capitals, Penguins and Rangers as they make their way through the Eastern Conference gauntlet this spring, and thats a long, arduous road to the top.

Its possible for the Bruins to overcome all of this en route to a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, but it will start by wiping the gap-toothed smile off the face of Ovechkin and his Capitals teammates.

Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

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Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

Malcolm Butler was one of many not spotted during OTAs on Thursday when the media got a looksee at one of the practices.

Butler wasn’t the only one. But he did stand out as a missing player who hadn’t (to my knowledge) had a surgery but did have a contract that needs addressing. Another one? Rob Gronkowski. If we really want to extend it out, throw in Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.

This is the point where it’s important to point out that these workouts are voluntary – VAW-LUN-TERR-EEEE! Players don’t have to be there. Additionally, I’m not even sure Butler or Gronkowski (or Ryan and Harmon) weren’t at the facility. All I know is they weren’t on the field. And, per usual, nobody’s tipping his hand as to why.

But we do have this, relative to Butler. ESPN’s Mike Reiss wrote Sunday that he “wouldn’t be surprised if it was related to his contract status.” Reiss said that Butler “told teammates and friends he plans to push for an adjustment to his contract before the 2016 season, and staying off the field in voluntary workouts would be a decision that limits injury risk and also could be viewed as a statement to the organization that he's unhappy with the status quo and/or the movement/specifics of contract talks.”

In the same vein, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gronkowski opted out as well for the same reason, especially since he threw out a tweet that signaled dissatisfaction with his pact in March.

But in terms of a statement, not going to OTAs is more of a throat-clearing than a noisy proclamation.

Not to minimize the move if Butler, Gronkowski or anybody else is actually staying away because of business. The Patriots usually enjoy almost perfect OTA attendance. Also, there hasn’t been much contract strife around here for the past five seasons.

Money matters were an annual issue for the Patriots from about 2003 through 2010. Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Ty Warren, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Randy Moss, Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel and – quietly – Tom Brady all had their contract dances back then. But the only one that got hairy in the recent past was Wes Welker.

It’s still too soon to know if any of these will get contentious. When will we know? When either a player or his agent spouts off. Or, when someone’s a no-show at mandatory minicamp beginning June 7.

That would amount to a shot across the bow. Of all the players likely to take that shot, Butler seems a reasonable bet. His base pay this season is $600K after a Pro Bowl campaign in 2015 that saw him check the opposition’s best wideout on a weekly basis. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year. He deserves longer-term security than he currently has. Gronkowski has a lot less to kick about. He may make less than lesser players, but he also was the league’s highest paid tight end when he was missing scads of games due to injury.

After Butler, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower would figure to have the strongest cases to want new deals and want them snappy. Ryan and Harmon would be right behind those two. Then Jabaal Sheard.

Sheard, Hightower and Collins were all on the field Thursday. 

Can the Patriots get all these guys reupped? Will they even try? How do they have them prioritized? If the guy who howls loudest gets to the front of the line, the time to make some noise is close.

But we have yet to hear any of these players loud and clear. 

Quotes, notes and stars: Pedroia and Bogaerts Stay hot

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Quotes, notes and stars: Pedroia and Bogaerts Stay hot

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 5-3 win over the Blue Jays:

 

QUOTES

 

* “I benefited from good defensive plays and hard hit balls at people and guys just making plays. Whether you feel good or not you have to have good things happen out there on that field.” David Price said on his successful start against Toronto.

 

* “He woke up this morning more sore than when he left here last night . . . Didn’t want to push it. We’re hopeful he’ll back in the lineup tomorrow.” Farrell on David Ortiz being a late scratch prior to Sunday’s game.

 

* “It’s always great to avoid a sweep . . . We battled hard the whole game and had great at-bats the whole game.” Mookie Betts said on winning the final game of the series against Toronto in a postgame interview with NESN.

 

* “On a day when we were thin with the amount of usage we’ve had, Clay stepped in.” John Farrell said on Clay Buchholz’s relief appearance for Boston in the 10th inning.

 

* "It definitely felt a little different . . . Got to help the team any way I can . . . Glad I could contribute today . . . All in all it's sort of a learining experience for me and I'm sure I'll get better at it as we go." Clay Buchholz said on his first relief appearance of the season for the Red Sox out of the bullpen.

 

 

NOTES

 

* Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 22 games in his 1-6 performance.

 

* Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to six games with an RBI single in the sixth. Pedroia has also hit safely in 23-straight games against Toronto

 

* Clay Buchholz made only his third career appearance as a reliever for the Red Sox, striking out one and allowing no runs in the tenth. His last relief appearance came on 8/17/08.

 

 

STARS

 

1) Dustin Pedroia

 

The second baseman continues to dominate the Blue Jays, finishing 2-6 with the game-winning double.

 

2) David Price

 

Boston’s ace answered the call in his most important start as a member of the Red Sox, even though he didn’t get the win he only gave up two earned runs off five hits and three walks

 

3) Mookie Betts

 

Entering the game with one hit in his last 20 at-bats, Betts went 2-4 with two walks, scoring two runs.

First impressions: Boston's lineup bails out the snake bitten bullpen

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First impressions: Boston's lineup bails out the snake bitten bullpen

First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

 

The Red Sox bullpen coughed it up in the eighth in the second consecutive game.

After coming into a difficult situation in the eighth, Heath Hembree grooved a 1-0 fastball to Encarnacion for his 10th homerun of the season.

Hembree missed with his fastball middle-in, when Christian Vazquez set up down and away. That’s a miss that can’t happen against a hitter who’ll make you pay every time. Hembree entered the game locked-in, but lost his focus in the eighth.

 

Clay Buchholz's successful inning in reliefer doesn mean anything, yet. can’t pitch from the bullpen either.

He has a long was to go before he proves any value in the bullpen. The only guarantee right now is Buchholz can pitch more then one inning. He has to churn out more appearances like Sunday to be usable for the Red Sox.

 

The real David Price has arrived.

Boston’s ace showed up when he was needed. And he did it against a strong, streaking lineup, without having to strike everyone out.

After coughing up a two-run homerun to Jose Bautista and walk Josh Donaldson, he regained his composure to get out the deadly Edwin Encarnacion and one of yesterday’s villains, Justin Smoak.

And after Boston got him a one-run lead in the following half-inning, Price came out with 89 pitches to his total and only threw seven in the sixth.

That extended his outing by an inning and gave Boston’s bullpen some extra rest.

 

Blake Swihart looks like a natural in left field.

Even though his trade value is highest as a catcher, Swihart looks very comfortable in left. The question that remains with the change is his bat. If Swihart hits the same playing in left as he does behind the plate then there’s limited value in keeping him in left field once Brock Holt is healthy.

 

Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts’ at-bats in the sixth completely threw off R.A. Dickey’s start.

In addition to Mookie Betts breaking up the no hitter before Pedroia came up, Boston’s men up the middle extended their hitting streaks after grueling at-bats.

The two saw 19 pitches between them both, taking six balls apiece. With the knuckleball being unpredictable to begin with, it became that much harder for Dickey to get the ball by Boston’s two and three hitters.

After that, he got into another full count with Shaw, walking him after seven pitches.

Once he hit Hanley Ramirez in a 1-0 count that marked the 11th ball of the inning after throwing 25 in the previous five innings.

Dickey clearly tried to change his approach with hitters figuring out the knuckler the third time through, which led to his earlier than expected exit after throwing five innings of no-hit baseball.