With only six games left on the NHL schedule the Bruins get their first chance to officially lock up a playoff spot with a victory Thursday night against the Washington Capitals.
The Bruins hold a five-point lead over the Ottawa Senators in their own division, but wont be wrapping that up against a Washington Capitals team that faces elimination with one more loss. The Rangers, Penguins and Flyers have already wrapped up playoff berths, so the Bruins would be the fourth conference team to cross that particular finish line.
Boston also cant come anywhere close to locking in the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference with the Florida Panthers only four points behind them, but punching a stamp into the Stanley Cup dance is the first step for a Bs team with high aspirations.
Thats the first step, right? Going in the right direction . . . clinching a spot is the right thing and youre playing a team thats really battling hard to get themselves into the playoffs. We all know that here, said Claude Julien. We can say it and pretend its just smoke coming out of my mouth, but this team here is going to be tough to play against tonight.
The desperation makes it tough. I like those kinds of challenges. Those are the challenges you need to finish the season with and bring the best out of your hockey club. Were going to have to be at our best if we expect to win tonight.
With the Bruins winning five of their last six games it appears they are very much back on course, and that theyre aiming to keep a few streaks moving strong along with the postseason-clinching final result. The Bruins would move to four consecutive wins with a triumph over the Capitals and there is little doubting Bostons motivation to make it their seventh straight game allowing two goals or less as theyve put the defensive clamps on as of late.
There is so much for us to play for right now. Were battling for home ice advantage and being No. 2 in our conference, said Krejci. As a team our game is coming along in the last five or six games, but we cant sit back. We cant take any games lightly and its time to build some good momentum with six games left. Were getting there . . . close to playing the way we want to play.
As has been the case lately there will be plenty on the line for both teams when the Bruins and Capitals take the ice Thursday night at TD Garden.
CHICAGO -- It could happen Thursday night, or perhaps sometime this weekend in New York, where he always hits well.
But sometime soon, David Ortiz is going to tie, then surpass, Carl Yastrzesmski as the second-greatest home run hitter in Red Sox history.
Ortiz hit his sixth of the season Wednesday night, giving him 451 for his Red Sox career, one behind Yastrzemski. Ted Williams is, of course, the Red Sox' all-time leader with 521, safely out of reach.
"Know what happens when that's happening?'' asked Ortiz, when told of the approaching milestone. "I'm getting old, man. Like I always say, whenever they mention your name right next to the legends, it's something that, humbly I can tell you, is an honor.''
What makes Ortiz's spot on the list all the more amazing is that he has reached these heights after being discarded by the Minnesota Twins some 14 years ago.
He arrived as a backup first baseman, initially stuck behind Jeremy Giambi on the Red Sox depth chart. He'll retire, later this year, as one of the handful of best hitters the franchise has ever known.
On nights like Wednesday, the context seemed to have Ortiz himself in awe.
"I was just a guy who was trying to have a good career,'' said Ortiz, “and put (my) family in a better situation. Now, all of a sudden, these things are happening. It's a blessing.''
It's a stretch to suggest that these things are happening "all of a sudden.'' To the contrary, they're the result of a remarkable stretch of 14 seasons in Boston.
Only now are the numbers coming into focus. And what numbers they are.
Beyond Ortiz's ascension on the all-time lists for the both Major League Baseball and the Red Sox in particular are the improbable feats of a 40-year-old who is performing this season at a level that would be impressive for a hitter a decade younger.
* When Ortiz homered off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances last Friday, he did so on a first-pitch curveball. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated noted that Betances had thrown 355 first-pitch curveballs in his career; Ortiz was the first to hit a homer on one of those pitches.
In fact, only six of the first 355 had even been put in play.
Ortiz hit his well into the Monster Seats to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.
* On Wednesday night, Ortiz became the first lefthanded hitter to ever homer off White Sox lefty starter Carlos Rodon.
Since last July 2, Ortiz is third among all lefthanded hitters in hitting homers off lefthanded pitchers. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who was being benched as recently as last June against some lefty starters.
And what did Rodon learn about that particular showdown?
"Don't throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,'' said Rodon.
Sounds like a good strategy.
It's fairly amazing that a 40-year-old, in his final season, is enjoying all these firsts. But Ortiz has lasted this long, and played at such a high level, precisely because he works to get better all the time.
Manager John Farrell noted that Ortiz hadn't faced Rodon before Wednesday night and didn't look particularly good in his first two at-bats, grounding into a double play and hitting a flyout.
But Ortiz is forever making mental notes, getting ready to make adjustments and process what he's seen.
"His retention is great,'' marveled Farrell. "He understands what he's seeing after just one at-bat.''
There's still more than five months to go in the regular season and a lot can happen in that span. But after a month in 2016, it seems likely that we are in the midst of one of the greatest final seasons a player has ever enjoyed.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, a good friend of Brad Stevens, is out in Indiana.
Pacers president Larry Bird made the official announcement on Thursday.
Vogel’s contract was up in Indiana and Bird elected to not renew it. That, according to Bird, was hard for Vogel to hear.
Both Bird and Vogel spoke shortly before Bird’s press conference with members of the media, and that’s when Bird gave him the news.
There is speculation now as to who will take over as head coach. With Kevin McHale removing himself from consideration for the Sacramento Kings job, there was some thought that he could become the head coach of the Pacers under good friend and former teammate Bird.
That isn’t going to happen either.
Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while lamenting what it appears the choices will be for US President in the fall.
*Don Cherry and Ron MacLean have at it with the Alex Ovechkin slash to the wrist of Sidney Crosby and Crosby’s theatrics that ensued afterward.
*Matt Murray is proving to be a difference-maker for the Pittsburgh Penguins between the pipes, and could be a nightmare for the Washington Capitals.
*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rob Rossi says that all of the little things that Sidney Crosby is doing are adding up for the Penguins in all of the best ways possible.
*In the shameless plug department, here’s episode No. 15 of the Great American Hockey Show podcast. Jimmy Murphy and yours truly break down the plight of the Bruins with Mike Giardi, and then talk Bruins, sports talk radio and his tumultuous couple of years covering the B’s with the one and only Mike Felger.
*Ken Hitchcock might be one of the oldest coaches in the NHL, but he still hasn’t reached a level of satisfaction with a Blues team in the thick of things right now.
*Here are 10 big reasons to tune into this year’s World Championships, with Auston Matthews registering as the biggest reason for most hockey fans.
*NHL writer Jon Lane has Bob Hartley hoping to seek some new opportunities after getting fired by the Calgary Flames.
*Tampa Bay Lightning VP Dave Andreychuk sits in on Sirius XM Satellite Radio to talk about the Lightning/New York Islanders playoff series.
*Plenty of turns on the coaching and GM carousel that the My NHL Trade Rumors blog has you covered for today.
*Former B’s netminder Chad Johnson is coming off his NHL season with the Buffalo Sabres, and he has a few secrets for his success.
*For something completely different: some harrowing video from the Fort Mac forest fires up in Alberta that is truly a scary situation. Those looking to help out can send money to the Canadian Red Cross, who are supporting all of the people that have lost so much in one of the most beautiful parts of Western Canada.