Haggerty: Bruins-Islanders preview

713676.jpg

Haggerty: Bruins-Islanders preview

UNIONDALE, NY The Bruins have clinched a playoff spot and they sit only two points and some good circumstances away from securing the Northeast Division title with a Saturday afternoon matine against the Islanders staring them in the face.

A game like this might have trouble written all over it for the Bruins, but Black and Gold assistant captain Patrice Bergeron expects the commitment to be there for Boston to finish strong with a chance to really secure their position within the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins have just grabbed hold of their game after it had eluded them for so long, and now is no time to start slacking against the sad sack Islanders once again.

The more we keep playing the better we get and the more we get into a groove, said Patrice Bergeron. Its a good thing we clinched. Thats why we play 82 games and we go through the entire seasonto wait for the real season to begin.

But we need to make sure were happy and not satisfied. We need to keep going strong for the next five games.

The Bruins get to put Bergerons words into actions against the Islanders at the forgettable NHL venue known as Nassau Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Patrice Bergeron has no need to get his tires pumped in the face-off circle or in the defensive end, but the great two-way center has only one goal in 16 games during the month of March. While Bergeron and the Bruins have been focused on the defensive end of the ice, they could certainly use some offensive boost from No. 37.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: We have five games left going into the playoffs and we need to make sure we have a good effort going into the playoffs. We need the right attitude and the right frame of mind, so we can make sure ready once the postseason starts. Patrice Bergeron on the mindset of the team in the final weeks of the regular season.

KEY MATCHUP: Matt Moulson has four points and two goals in three games against the Bruins this season, and has been a consistent thorn in Bostons side with his scrappy offense and quick hands around the net. It will be up to Zdeno Chara and the Patrice Bergeron line to neutralize the top-heavy forward group of the Isles with Molson, John Tavares and P.A. Parenteau doing all the damage on the Island.

STAT TO WATCH: .2 the number of points needed in a Bruins win and a regulation loss by the Ottawa Senators for the Bs to clinch the Northeast Division on Saturday.
INJURIES: Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are long term injuries for the Bruins, but Rask may be hitting the ice next week with an eye toward returning for the playoffs. Dennis Seidenberg is out with an infected cut on his left leg and Adam McQuaid is out with a cut over his left eye. Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (lower body) is also hoping to get back in action before the end of the season.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Marty Turco gets the starting nod for the Boston Bruins and will be looking to build on his victorious performance against the Anaheim Ducks last weekend. With the Bruins clinching a playoff berth and on the verge of securing the Northeast Division, expect the 36-year-old Turco to get his fair share of playing time over the last five games. Al Montoya has a 2.73 goals against average and a .917 save percentage against the Bruins this season, but its anybodys best guess who gets the starting nod for the Isles.

Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: The Top 2

top_100_plays_1-2.png

Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: The Top 2

We're down to the Top 2. 

These are the plays of the Bill Belichick Era you best never forget. And probably can't. They're the ones that led directly to championships -- most for New England, a couple for the other guys. Or they're plays that signified a sea change in the way the New England Patriots under Belichick would be behaving from there on out.

I did my best to stack them in order of importance. You got a problem with that? Good. Let us know what's too high, too low or just plain wrong. And thanks for keeping up!

PLAY NUMBER: 2

THE YEAR: 2014

THE GAME: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

THE PLAY: Malcolm Butler picks off Russell Wilson at goal line to save Super Bowl

WHY IT’S HERE: Is it the biggest defensive play in NFL history? You’d have a tough time making a case for any play to be ranked ahead of it. The play itself – Malcolm Butler sniffing out a quick slant to Ricardo Lockette on second-and-goal from the 1 with 26 seconds left – was a singularly great football play. The historical importance of it to the Patriots franchise in delivering a fourth Super Bowl title and preventing a third straight Super Bowl loss is even more far-reaching. It’s a play that symbolized a lot of things the Patriots under Bill Belichick have been about. It symbolized that it doesn’t matter how you got to the Patriots, it mattered what you did when you got there. Butler, an undrafted rookie who made the team in a tryout the previous spring, was on the field because another undrafted player, Kyle Arrington was getting lit up. A bold move but one that had to be made. It symbolized preparation and attention to detail. During the week of practice leading up to the game, Butler arrived late when the Patriots scout team offense ran the play and Jimmy Garoppolo beat Butler with a throw to Josh Boyce. The play needed to be sniffed out – it was by Butler and Brandon Browner – then executed with a great jam by Browner and an unhesitating break by Butler. It symbolized maintaining poise, which the Patriots had to do after the ridiculous juggling catch by Jermaine Kearse put Seattle on the brink of victory. It symbolized a measure of risk-taking and coaching by feel, as Bill Belichick eschewed a timeout and let the Seahawks run the play. That the coaches locking brains at the point – Belichick and his predecessor in New England, Pete Carroll – added another chapter to the backstory. You could write a book about this play.  

PLAY NUMBER: 1

THE YEAR: 2001

THE GAME: Jets, Patriots

THE PLAY: Mo Lewis changes course of NFL history with sideline hit on Drew Bledsoe

WHY IT’S HERE: While the Butler interception at No. 2 cemented legacies and places in history, the play at the top of this list was the one that started it all. If you paid attention to what Tom Brady was doing in training camp practices and preseason games (30-for-51 for 390 yards) and contrasted it with Bledsoe’s performances (so underwhelming he played the bulk of the fourth preseason game and went 14-for-22), you could see the gap between $100 million franchise quarterback and sixth-round afterthought was closing. But even with the Patriots losing at Cincy to open the season and Bledsoe playing  poorly against the Jets, it was still going to be very difficult for Bill Belichick to press the eject button on Bledsoe. The team was building a new stadium and Bledsoe was the hood ornament for the franchise. With ownership trying to sell luxury suites and sponsorships, benching the only marketable player for the worst team in the league might not be prudent. Then Mo Lewis intervened. With 5:19 remaining and the Patriots trailing 10-3, Bledsoe was flushed to the right on a third-and-10 from the Patriots 19. As he neared the sticks, Bledsoe saw Lewis coming and slowed to go out of bounds, then seemed to remember it was third down and he needed to push forward. Lewis had all the momentum and his devastating hit sheared an artery in Bledsoe’s chest and gave him a concussion. It was a terrible injury that caused internal bleeding and put Bledsoe in some touchy moments in the hospital. And that’s what sucked. Here was a solid person of good character with a young family who’d given a lot for the franchise (albeit for a handsome paycheck) and now he was seriously hurt. But what happened in Bledsoe’s absence only confirmed what many suspected. He was an impediment to winning. It was that simple. I don’t doubt for a moment Brady would have eventually taken Bledsoe’s job even if the injury hadn’t occurred. It might have been that week anyway Bledsoe was so ineffective against the Jets. But the course of the 2001 season wouldn’t have been the same and almost certainly wouldn’t have ended with Bledsoe hoisting a Lombardi in the Superdome on Feb. 3, 2002.

 

NFL: 'No credible evidence' Manning used PEDs

peyton-manning-030716.jpg

NFL: 'No credible evidence' Manning used PEDs

The NFL released a statement on Monday saying that after a seven-month investigation into allegations made in a documentary produced by Al-Jazeera America, it found "no credible evidence" that Peyton Manning used HGH or any other performance-enhancing drugs. 

In its documentary, released in December, Al-Jazeera used former British sprinter Liam Collins to go undercover to try to expose PED use by athletes. Collins spoke at length with a supplement salesman named Charlie Sly, who claimed he worked with Manning at the Guyer Institute, an anti-aging clinic in Indianapolis following Manning's 2011 neck surgery, and that the Guyer Institute sent HGH to Manning's wife, Ashley.

Manning, who retired about a month after his Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50,  vehemently denied the allegations. Meanwhile, Sly -- who was recorded by Collins without consent -- later recanted his claims.

The NFL did not release all the details of its investigation, but it explained in its statement that both Mannings were "fully cooperative" with the investigation. They agreed to interviews and provided access "to all records sought by investigators," the NFL said.

The league did say that its investigation was led by the NFL's security and legal teams with "support from expert consultants and other professionals." 

"The investigation involved witness interviews," the NFL said, "a review of relevant records and other materials, online research, and laboratory analysis and review."

Al-Jazeera's documentary implicated several other NFL players, including Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. The league said that its separate investigations into those claims are ongoing.