Bruins in perfect position for playoffs

717758.jpg

Bruins in perfect position for playoffs

Now that the 82-game regular season is over with a shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres, the Bruins can pinpoint exactly when things turned around for them this season.

There was the 10-game hangover to start the season, the two months of dominating hockey in November and December and then the heavy malaise that infected the Bs just after the holidays.

The Bruins tried plenty of different things to jump start their time during the two plus months of mediocrity, but it took until the Ottawa Senators had overtaken the Bruins for the Northeast Division lead for those Bs to finally get their Stanley Cup champion house in order.

The Bruins capped off a 9-2-1 finish to their regular season with a 4-3 shootout win over Buffalo on Saturday afternoon, and now theyre hitting the postseason with both confidence and positive momentum. The winning streak didnt just magically happen for the Bruins, however.

After a horrifically bad trip through Pittsburgh and Florida in early March, the Bruins flip-flopped with the Ottawa Senators in the standings. For a brief 24-hour period the Sens were in the Northeast Division lead over the Bruins, and with that came a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

That turn of events pushed Boston down to the No. 7 slot in the East, and that was all the Bruins needed to slap themselves silly and escape their funk. The Bruins went out and beat the Flyers in a Saturday afternoon matinee performance, and reclaimed their No. 2 slot never to be lost again.

Maybe that was kind of a realistic wake up call. We were still kind of a .500 team and other teams were playing much better hockey than the .500 hockey that we were playing, said Zdeno Chara. So they made that jump to the second seed and we got the six, seven spot in the Eastern Conference and that for sure wasnt good enough for us.

Once you see it on the board thats when you actually realize okay this is something that we need to address and we made some adjustments and we were playing better.

While its not always ideal, the Bruins have long been a hockey team that plays a better brand of hockey when their collective backs are squished up against the wall.

We had to do something. We kept digging ourselves a hole, and the hole just kept getting bigger for us, said Patrice Bergeron. We knew that if we kept going down that path that it was going to be too difficult to turn it over. We talked about it as a team and we found a way.

It wasnt rocket science. We just came back to playing our game at our speed, and stopped worrying about what the other team was going to do to us. It was more about what we were going to bring to them. Were not the kind of team that should be worrying about the team thats in front of us. Were a team that should just be going from the get-go.

As many concerns as cropped up during their season-worst four-game losing streak punctuated by allowing six goals to both the Lighting and the Panthers in back-to-back games, they disappeared over the seasons final dozen tilts. Tim Thomas back in elite goaltender form, the defense stabilized once Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were paired back together and the Bs third line scored enough to give the Bruins a deep fleet of scoring forwards.

While Claude Julien wouldnt deny that brief flip-flop with Ottawa was a turning point factor in the Bruins finally getting the engine moving again, the Bs coach saw a veteran hockey club that finally got the playoff scent back in their nostrils. The energy and enthusiasm churned out by the playoffs brought the Bruins back to their style of play, and now theyre in the thick of it with the Washington Capitals invading Boston for Thursdays Game 1 of the playoffs.

Falling behind Ottawa had some sort of an impact. Im not going to say its impossible or doesnt do a single thing. I dont think we liked seeing ourselves in the seventh spot, but the one thing that really helped us through it is that we started sensing the playoffs were getting close, said Claude Julien. We knew that we had to play better to be a good playoff team. As I said numerous times, I think it was more of a mental struggle this year than anything else.

Our guys are well-conditioned athletes, so physically its never an issue. But the mental part was an issue. If your mind tells you youre tired, youre going to look tired. If your mind tells you youre not then youre going to perform with better energy. It was a big mental obstacle that we had to overcome this year because our guys, at one point, we looked tired. I think once the excitement of the playoffs started getting closer and we started seeing the playoffs around the corner -- all of a sudden we started getting excited again. And you say, Oh, look, they dont look like theyre tired. They look like theyve got a lot of energy. Well, I gave them days off, but those days off alone wouldnt have been enough. The big part right now is our psyche. If were excited to go into the playoffs, then were going to be just as good as any other team.

The Bs psyche is clearly important headed into another grinding postseason, but there is one thing Julien underplayed. If the excitement and proper frame of mind is there then the Bruins should be better than any other team out there in the NHL as 16 teams vie for the Stanley Cup.

While the Ottawa Senators deserve little thanks for dropping out of the playoff picture when it could have been them playing the Bruins in the first round rather than the Capitals, they played a supporting role in the forward movement thats got the Bruins rolling headed into the playoffs.

All it took was one day of the Bruins looking up at the Senators in the standings, and Boston is locked, loaded and ready for the long road ahead.

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder. 

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.” 

As soon as the two made eye contact, Crowder knew it was one of the many intimidation methods used by Cousins against opposing players. 

Crowder wasn’t having it. 

“That’s my guy; he’s my guy,” Crowder said of Cousins. “He plays a lot of tactics against a lot of other players. I’ve earned that respect with him. He knows I’m going to fight him just as hard as anybody else. We leave it on the court. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve become friends, just playing ball, playing basketball the right way.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics make big plays down the stretch

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics make big plays down the stretch

BOSTON – When the fourth quarter rolled around on Friday night, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a down-to-the-wire fight with the Sacramento Kings. 

It was the kind of game that in the past has brought out the scrappy, get-it-done-somehow brand of basketball that has in many ways come to define the Celtics under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens. 

And it was on full display Friday night as the Celtics made all the big plays at both ends of the floor down the stretch to beat the Sacramento Kings, 97-92. 

After Sacramento cut Boston’s lead to 90-87, Al Horford drained a 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game again. 

Isaiah Thomas came up with a pair of free throws that turned out to be huge, because shortly after he made them the Kings got a 3-pointer from DeMarcus Cousins that made it a 95-92 game.

The Kings had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth when Horford was credited with his sixth block of the game, this time on DeMarcus Cousins.

Horford was immediately fouled and went to the free throw line where he sealed the victory by making a pair.

Those were the kind of plays we saw often last season being made by the Celtics who finished in a tie for the third-best record in the East. 

This year, not so much. 

“For the most part we got what we wanted (in the fourth quarter) and we got the stops we needed even,” Thomas said. 

Which is the kind of game Jae Crowder and the rest of the guys who have been here awhile, have grown accustomed to.

“We got back to being the aggressive team,” Crowder said. “We came out and imposed our will early; that helped. But if the game comes down to what it was tonight, we have to be the team that comes out on top. It was like a playoff game, real physical. We have to grit it out, grind it out.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday night’s game.

 

STARS

Al Horford

So this is what an ultra-aggressive Al Horford looks like? The four-time All-Star had a season-high 26 points which included knocking down four three-pointers to go with eight rebounds and six blocked shots – yes, six blocked shots.

DeMarcus Cousins

While his fiery temper hasn’t died down completely, his incredible offensive skills and brute strength is what folks are talking more about, finally. He led the Kings with a game-high 28 points to go with nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and four blocked shots.  

 

STUDS

Isaiah Thomas

His streak of being Boston’s outright scoring leader ended at 14 games, but he’s more than happy to take a back seat for one night if it means getting a victory. Horford led the charge on Friday night, but Thomas still chipped in with 20 points, seven assists and two steals. 

Matt Barnes

Although he missed eight of his 11 shots from the field, the 36-year-old Barnes was rewarded for his hustle and effort as he finished with a double-double of 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.

Jae Crowder

Boston needed tough plays to be made on Friday and Crowder was up the challenge all night. He finished with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting to go with three rebounds, three assists and a steal. Good things happened when he was on the floor, evident by his game-high plus/minus of +15.

 

DUDS

Rudy Gay

He finished with 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting but the Kings needed more from their second-leading scorer who finished almost seven points below his 19.6 points per game average. That stands out on a night when the Kings lost by just five points.