Bruins need to guard against overconfidence with Backstrom out


Bruins need to guard against overconfidence with Backstrom out

ARLINGTON, VA It would be natural for the Bruins to start relaxing now that gifted playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom is suspended for Game 4 on Thursday night.

Backstrom led all Washington forwards with an average of 23:06 of ice time per night in the first three games of the series, and had a goal and an assist while playing an active role.

So while its true the Capitals got used to life without Backstrom when he missed 40 games because of a concussion this season and its also true the Caps beat the Bruins a couple of times without their center Washington does lose something significant with Mathieu Perreault skating in his place.

That means the Bs will be on high alert for overconfidence, and need to be mindful of taking the Caps a little too lightly now that theyve seemingly got a grasp of the tenor of the series.

Obviously the league suspended Backstrom with what they felt was the appropriate amount of games and its over and done with, said Milan Lucic. With him out of the lineup and with him being a big part of their team, our mindset is that we cant take them lightly at all.

They battled a lot of the end of the season without him and played well without him. So theyre still going to bring their best because its a big game for both teams.

The gravity of Game 4 should be enough to keep the Bruins focused on the task at hand, and its something the veteran players know can tip the balance of the series.

As a player you hope you can come in and keep up with the pace of the game said Washington's Mike Knuble, who has played in plenty of Game 4 scenarios with the Bruins and with the Caps over the years. Its a very pivotal point in the series and Game 4 can be a very decisive game. A lot of things can turn on that. We just want to even the series and play whatever role I can whether its two minutes or 20 minutes.

Theres the additional motivation provided by accusations of headhunting and crossing the line by the Washington coaching staff. But most of that is he saidhe said stuff, and both clubs are expected to bring their best in a game that could give the Bruins a chokehold on the series if they take home a victory.

I think right now both teams are really focused on being at their best and thats what makes a series interesting," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "No matter what is happening here as far as a rivalry is concerned -- the emotions and everything else -- I think theres still that respect that exists between the two teams. We know that theyre a good team. Were not just saying it.

We know it. We respect that and thats why we know we have to be at our best and that we got to keep improving. Im pretty sure they feel the same way.

The Capitals will be missing their best playmaker operating at a surprisingly high level coming off a concussion, and the Bruins are starting to set the thumping tone in the series. It would be easy to start thinking Game 4 is in the bank, but that would be a big mistake indeed.

Thomas won’t play Friday night vs. Raptors

Thomas won’t play Friday night vs. Raptors

WALTHAM, Mass. – The Celtics are about to hit one of the toughest stretches of the season and they’ll have to do it for at least one more game without their leading scorer, Isaiah Thomas. 
Thomas, who suffered a right groin injury on Monday against the Houston Rockets, did not play on Wednesday against Orlando and said that he will not play in Friday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors. 
“It’s day to day. I want to play. I want to be out there but it’s the smart decision to hold out and wait until it’s 100 percent,” Thomas said during a Season of Giving event for children of the Military Friends Foundation held at the Celtics’ practice facility. “If it was a playoff game I would be out there for sure.”
However, after consulting with a number of medical personnel, Thomas decided the best thing for him and the Celtics was to sit out Friday’s game which, along with Wednesday in Orlando, will be the first two he has missed since the 2014-2015 season. 
Thomas said there’s no specific timetable for his return, but he said he is planning to travel with the team to Oklahoma City for their matchup against the Thunder on Sunday. 
“It’s eating me a live to sit, but I have to do what’s best for my body, I have to do what’s best for this team,” Thomas said. “I need to be 100 percent healthy to give this team what I can give them.”
The Celtics are hoping for similar success they had Wednesday in Orlando (a 117-87 victory) on Friday against Toronto.
“They played a hell of a game last night,” Thomas said. “They’ll be ready tomorrow.”
The fact that Thomas intends to travel with the team is a good sign that the groin injury isn’t too serious. 
If he doesn’t play at Oklahoma City, that likely means he’ll return to action on Wednesday at San Antonio. 
“I’m going to do what I can to get back out there on the court,” Thomas said. “I gotta be smart about this. I don’t want this to linger on this season.”
Replacing Smart in the lineup against Toronto will most likely be Marcus Smart. 
Smart, who has been a replacement starter at small forward and point guard this season, had 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals against the Magic. 

Mitch Moreland fancies himself an ideal fit with Red Sox

Mitch Moreland fancies himself an ideal fit with Red Sox

Mitch Moreland put up mediocre numbers and won a Gold Glove in a walk year. For his efforts, he received a one-year, $5.5 million contract on the open market. 

That’s not a lot. Maybe his .233 average stood out to teams more than his 22 homers, but either way it’s somewhat surprising that a one-year deal on low money is the best he could do given the fact that his career average was .258 prior to last year and he’d hit .275 or higher in two of his previous four seasons. 

The contract might not be a major score for Moreland, but he said choosing Boston was. 

“I had a couple options, but really just the whole fact that it’s place that I really wanted to play,” he said of Boston. “Getting an opportunity to come here and be a part of a winning environment, being part of a winning environment and having a chance to go out and play for a championship is huge to me, personally, and this is a great option. 

“What they were able to do last year, you know you were in for a fight when you were playing these guys. It was a gritty group of guys that had a ton of talent. I like to think of myself as that type player, as a gritty type player and hopefully I felt like I could fit in here and move forward and try to help out and make that goal happen of winning a championship. 

“That’s the main goal as far as playing this game for me. I feel like we’ve got a great opportunity here, and that was before the [Chris] Sale news broke, too, you know? So seeing that also, it just shows you that we’re in it. We’re in it and trying to go all out to make that happen. I’m happy to be a part of it.” 

It doesn’t hurt that his batting average is higher at Fenway Park than it is in any other stadium in which he’s had at least 30 at-bats. Moreland has hit .341/.378/.683 with four homers and eight RBI in 41 career at-bats at Fenway. Asked to explain his success in Boston, he noted that “comfortable” was the only word that came to mind. 

So what is the Red Sox’ plan for the former Rangers first baseman? To play him at first against righties and let Hanley Ramirez DH, John Farrell said. 

Farrell did also point to Moreland’s recent work against lefties. Last season was one of two in his career (the other being 2013) in which Moreland had a better average against lefties than against righties. Moreland hit .277/.320/.479 against southpaws last season, with .221/.293/.407 marks against righties.

“Against right-handed starters, Mitch will be the first baseman,” Farrell said. “That gives us the flexibility to DH Hanley in that spot. One thing I also mentioned to Mitch is we’re certainly open to his at-bats growing in number against left-handers, last year was his best year against left-handers in his big league career.

"With Mitch, getting everyday at-bats against right-handed starters at first base and Hanley moving to the DH slot, that alignment, we also have the ability against quality left-handers, where Hanley would go back to first base and then we’ve got the ability to rotate some guys through the DH slot. 

Added Farrell: “His strengths as a player are many, but we feel this is a very good fit in a number of ways, and positionally first and foremost.”