Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals Game 4 preview

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Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals Game 4 preview

WASHINGTON Things could get a lot bumpier for the Bruins and Capitals based on the personnel being employed by Washington coach Dale Hunter.

The Capitals will be moving bruising, fighting defenseman John Erskine in place of Jeff Schultz in the Washington lineup, and everybody knows that Erskine has a history with Milan Lucic.

The Washington tough guy dropped Lucic to the ice with a right hand back in 2008 when the Bs power forward was a 19-year-old rookie in the NHL. Erskine should bring the kind of tough vibe that the Capitals are looking for in Game 4.

"Erskine brings a sense of humbleness to the other team, said Washington defenseman Mike Green. And thats what we need.

The Capitals will also go with 39-year-old war horse Mike Knuble, who can still battle and utilize his big body around the net for loose pucks in the battle areas. With both veterans in the lineup, it appears the Capitals will respond to the bullying tone that the Bruins set while taking Game 3, and grasping a 2-1 series lead in the process.

The Bruins are properly motivated to leave Washington with another win and go up by a commanding 3-1 lead in the series but theres little doubt the Capitals are going to through their hardest punches at the Black and Gold on Thursday night.

Were a team that needs to be physical to have success. We need to play hard and be first on the puck. Tonight is no different and we need to bring that, said Patrice Bergeron. Were expecting a hard game and a tough game. Thats exactly what Washington has given us in the first three games of the series. Its a big game for us. We need to find a way to get on top.

There are many that say Game 4 is the most important victory or defeat in a seven-game series and both teams will be loaded for bare when the puck drops at the Verizon Center.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED -- Tyler Seguin has no points in three games against the Capitals, but he did show a noticeable uptick in willingness to battle in Game 3 against the Capitals. Seguin now has a 14-game goal-scoring drought in the playoffs after his big explosion during last years Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he appears to be going through the normal adjustment period for a young player. It took Stamkos almost the entire postseason to get into midseason form last year, so Seguin isnt in bad company. But the Bruins could certainly use his offense.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME -- I don't know. I don't care . . ." David Krejci when asked if the Capitals will use Nick Backstroms suspension as a rallying point in Game 4.

KEY MATCHUP -- Everybody will be watching to see if tough guy defenseman John Erskine will drop them with Milan Lucic now that hell be playing in his first game since Feb. 12 for the Capitals. Erskine has twice fought Lucic in his career and got the better of No. 17 during their bout during the Boston power forwards rookie season.

STAT TO WATCH -- 0-for-11: That's the Bs power play after three games, which is on track to match last years 0-for-21 during their first round series against the Montreal Canadiens.

INJURIES -- Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) is working out with the team and close to a return. Nathan Horton (mild concussion) has been shut down for the postseason. Adam McQuaid (headeye) has missed six of the last seven games with an upper body injury and didnt make the trip to Washington DC. Washington goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun were both on the ice Wednesday. Neuvirth could be close to returning, but Vokoun said he doesn't know when he can come back from what he deemed a significant groin tear.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP -- Still a series with superb goaltending even though the score was a little higher in Game 3. Tim Thomas made the save of the game in the third period when he stoned Jay Beagle just in front of the net to protect a 2-2 tie that eventually became a 4-3 victory for the Bruins. Brad Holtby looked a little more human with a couple of rebounds allowed in Game 3 once the Bruins achieved traffic in front of the net, but hes still boasting a 1.77 goals against average and a .942 save percentage in three games for the Caps.

At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

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At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

The Celtics are getting more than they bargained for against the Philadelphia 76ers who are once again, record-wise, among the worst teams in the NBA.

They didn’t look like it in the first half which ended with the Celtics trailing the Sixers 53-45.

Boston came into the game having won its last four road games. And they did so by playing solid defense, something that has been noticeably absent in the first half.

Philadelphia came into the game as one of the NBA’s better 3-point shooting teams and has lived up to the lofty ranking.

In the first half Philadelphia made nine of its 18 three-point attempts while the Celtics are way, way, way at the other end of the 3-point shooting spectrum while missing eight of their 11 3s with Isaiah Thomas making a pair with the lone other made 3-pointer coming from Marcus Smart.

The defense struggled, the offense never had any kind of flow and not surprisingly, the Celtics found themselves playing from behind most of the first half.

Here are the first half stars from Saturday’s game.

STARS

Sergio Rodriguez: His playmaking was solid as usual, but it was Rodriguez getting it going with his jumper that really produced surprisingly strong results for the Sixers. He had 11 points, four assists and a steal in the first half.

Isaiah Thomas: Playing his game which is shooting and attacking the rim, Thomas was Boston’s lone double-digit scorer in the first half with 15 points which is tops among all players.

STUDS

Dario Saric: It was a solid first half as Saric contributed both on the boards and the scoreboard. He had 10 points in the first half along with five rebounds.

Gerald Henderson: Henderson had one of those high efficiency-type games with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting.

DUDS

Celtics 3-point shooting: It was a miserable first half for a team that has been among the NBA’s leaders in 3-pointers made and taken this season. At the half, Boston has shot 2-for-10 on 3's.

Celtics defense: Boston has shown little to no signs of providing the kind of push-back they’ll need in order to leave Philly with a win. In addition to allowing Philadelphia to shoot 47.4 percent from the field, Boston also allowed the Sixers to knock down nine 3's.

Thomas becoming one of the NBA's best in the fourth quarter

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Thomas becoming one of the NBA's best in the fourth quarter

Isaiah Thomas has established himself as one of the NBA’s top players in the fourth quarter of games this season.

“I’d rather play that than any other quarter,” Thomas said.

But there will be times when the game’s flow or head coach Brad Stevens’ gut will tell him to go in a different direction with Thomas’ minutes which is something the two have had conversations about which has helped eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings.

“We’ve had player-coach talks, how he feels and how I feel,” Thomas said. “That’s the relationship we have. We changed it up a little bit (in the win over Sacramento) and I’m just happy we got the win.”

In that game, Thomas was replaced by Terry Rozier with 3:20 to play in the quarter and Boston trailing 66-63. He returned to the floor at the 8:31 mark and the Celtics were down 76-74.

“The key is, there are some times where you feel like those last few minutes of the third quarter will be real important moving forward,” Stevens told reporters prior to tonight’s game. “Especially based on how your team is playing. And you just have to make that decision. You have to make that decision, you take him out early in the third like we did (against Sacramento) and put him back in earlier; or play him through until the two or one-minute mark in the third, and then give him his rest up until the seven or six. Either way, we’ve talked about it like I do with all our guys, especially the guys that are playing and big in the rotation.

Stevens would love to come up with a game plan and stick to it with little to no changes being made.

But the NBA game is unpredictable and his job as the head coach is to make the necessary on-the-fly changes that best position the Celtics for victory.

“Ultimately there will be days that it will be very consistent and there might be a time or two where I’m gonna go with my gut,” Stevens said. “They know that and we’ve talked about it.”

And while Stevens’ decision may not sit well with some, players understand it’s all done to achieve one goal – win. 

“There’s a number of reasons why you make a decision to leave someone in or take someone out,” Stevens said. “Ultimately, we have to figure out game to game, moment to moment, what’s best for our team. That’s what I’m charged with. That doesn’t mean I’m always right. I’m not gonna act like that. Ultimately, those guys know I’m thinking about it all the time.”