Bruins looking to get into playoff mode early

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Bruins looking to get into playoff mode early

WILMINGTON, Mass. The time for meaningful talk and motivational chatter has come to an end for the Boston Bruins.

They havent logged consecutive wins in six weeks and they have the hockey team theyll be going to battle with this spring plus a piece or two thats still in the shop for repairs.

Despite all that, the Black and Gold sit entrenched in the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Rangers and hold a three-point lead over the Senators in the Northeast Division with four games in hand. They also find themselves on the other side of a hellish February with an encouraging win over the Devils in the memory bank, but there have been feel-good wins since Jan. 12.

What the Bruins need now more than consolation prizes and false senses of security is a return to the focused playoff mentality that makes them such a handful to deal with. Its no surprise that the Bs havent quite been the same hockey team since they fell to the Vancouver Canucks in a hyped rematch at the beginning of January.

But the Bruins need to get that postseason mojo back thats made them so special in the past, and could make them a hockey force to be reckoned with once again. Chris Kelly has been through plenty of these so-called playoff pushes, and he knows now is the time for the Bruins to really start making that final push.

A 20-game stretch at the end of the season is a short enough span to begin pushing with the kind of kick that would make Usain Bolt nod with pride.

With a month or a month-and-a-half left, you want to fine tune your identity. You want to get into all of the little things that help you win games now rather than when the playoffs start, said Kelly. You cant just say oh, well do it when the playoffs start or well do it a week before the playoffs. With 20 games left you want to be confident that youre playing your best hockey going into the postseason.

What the Bruins dont need is mediocrity continuing to seep into their game. They have a winnable game against the New York Islanders at home on Saturday afternoon and a statement tilt against the Rangers in their first trip to Madison Square Garden in front of a national audience on Sunday afternoon.

It provides another opportunity for the Bruins to finish out on the other side of their annual February swoon, and it puts them in the proper mindset for the postseason.

That means paying attention to details, bringing the full range of emotion and physicality back into their game and eliminating the one crap period thats sullied their efforts over the last two months.

You hope its going to start happening, and you hope that the win over the Devils was a good start to that, said Claude Julien. Theyre a good team. Theyre a tough team to play against and theyve been really good on the road.

Hopefully our guys are getting into that mindset. I feel that around the dressing room that were headed in that direction.

It sounds easy, but its a difficult task for a Bruins team that admittedly needs to regain the identity thats made it special over the last two years. The Bruins are a special hockey club when they intimidate and overpower opponents with their size, strength and snarl, and theyre something slightly above average when theyre simply skating through the motions.

Theres been way too much of the latter and not enough of the former with the Bs since suspensions and injuries began wearing them down. David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tyler Seguin all got the memo that the playoff push began once the calendar moved to March, and now its time for the rest of the team to get into that playoff state of mind.

Saturday's Red Sox-Rays lineups: Porcello goes for 22nd, Holt at 3B

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Saturday's Red Sox-Rays lineups: Porcello goes for 22nd, Holt at 3B

Closing in on the A.L. East title, the Red Sox look to make it 10 wins in a row tonight when they play the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg.

Right hander Rick Porcello (21-4, 3.08 ERA) goes for his 22nd win for the Red Sox, opposed by Rays right-hander Matt Andriese (8-7, 4.41). Porcello is coming off a complete game victory in Baltimore.

The Red Sox began the day with a magic number of four to clinch the A.L. East with eight games to play. They could clinch a wild-card spot tonight with a victory and a Baltimore Orioles loss. 

Brock Holt starts at third base and Chris Young is in left field for Boston.

The lineups:

RED SOX
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Brock Holt 3B
Chris Young LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Sandy Leon C
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Rick Porcello RHP 

RAYS
Logan Forsythe 2B
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Evan Longoria 3B
Brad Miller 1B
Corey Dickerson LF
Nick Franklin DH
Mikey Mahtook RF
Alexi Ramirez SS
Curt Casali C
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Matt Andriese RHP 

Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

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Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It’s a bit of a helpless feeling for an NHL general manager watching their star players participate in an intense hockey tournament like the World Cup of Hockey that doesn’t directly benefit their respective teams.

Not helpless because of the tournament’s outcome, obviously, but helpless because players could return from Toronto dinged up, or even worse significantly injured.

Aaron Ekblad had to shut it down for Team North American with what many speculated was a concussion, and Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray is out a month, or more, with a broken hand sustained playing for the same young guns team.

So, it certainly must have been an uneasy few moments for Don Sweeney when Brad Marchand was pulled from Team Canada’s last game for the concussion protocol after a nasty-looking collision with Team Europe forward Marian Hossa.

Marchand went through the testing, and ended up returning to the game no worse for the wear. But it could have been a lot worse for a Bruins team that can’t afford to be missing Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or Zdeno Chara, who are still playing for teams alive in the semifinal round of the tourney.

“I would expect all of us to have been in a similar situation. For everybody - any general manager, coaches, staff, you're concerned about [injuries],” said Sweeney, talking about the World Cup and Marchand’s close call. “I mean, especially when you realize the stakes are going to go up as the tournament goes along. The pride involved - it's a risk. There's no question, it's a risk.

“But you also want to see them play their best hockey and they're not going to hold back. Yeah, it's a definite concern. You've got your fingers and toes crossed.”

David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask have already returned to Boston fully healthy. David Backes should be joining the team anytime now after Team USA’s rude dismissal from the tournament. But Sweeney and the Bruins still have their sensors out for the three B’s players taking part that aren’t quite out of the woods yet before returning to B’s camp in one piece.