Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals preview: Game 1

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Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals preview: Game 1

It will all come down to defense in the end for the Boston Bruins.

Their bread and butter is keeping the opposition out of the back of their net, and that defense takes on many Black and Gold forms. There will be Patrice Bergeron manning a shutdown forward group with Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, and showing exactly why he's the favorite to take home the Selke Trophy this season. It will be interesting to see how Bruins coach Claude Julien deploys his shutdown forward line and his shutdown "D" pairing of Zdeno CharaDennis Seidenberg with the Capitals splitting up their elite forward groups.

Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom are with rugged forward Jason Chimera on one line, and Alex Ovechkin is bombing down the wing on a crash-and-bang line with Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. So much will be asked of second defensemen pairing Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference, and perhaps they'll get some assistance from defense-minded centers like Bergeron and Chris Kelly.

"It's about everybody on the ice -- all six guys -- knowing exactly who is out there. Especially when it's the guys with high skill level," said Bergeron. "We need to make sure we look behind our shoulders for the man without the puck. Their skill guys are great players and they make great plays. We need to play together, communicate a lot and hang tough in our own zone."

One area the Bruins don't want to dwell too much on is Chara's mission to shut down Ovechkin. It's pretty clear the B's Captain will be on the ice whenever the Russian superstar hops over the boards, but Claude Julien felt like that was short-changing the rest of the players on both teams.

"I think people are forgetting about the rest of the players in the series," said Julien in a chiding tone. "There's more than these two. They certainly play a big role, but at the same time there's a lot more depth from both sides. There are a lot of players that can do some damage in this series. We have to stay aware of that. It's a lot of hype for the media, but for us as coaches we prepare for a little bit more than that."

All that being said, Julien will be calling No. 33's number early and often just to be safe.

PLAYER MOST IN NEED OF HIS TIRES PUMPED: Joe Corvo. He's been much-maligned after a difficult regular season and he was headed for a bevy of healthy scratches to start the playoffs until Adam McQuaid came down with an upper-body injury. Now it's up to Corvo to make up for his lackluster, mistake-filled regular season and add something to a power play that he'll be a key member of to start. Corvo will be playing the point opposite Zdeno Chara, and should get his share of chances to unleash his heavy shot if the Washington PK is overloading on Chara's side of the ice. Otherwise Claude Julien won't be taking too many chances throwing Corvo on the ice to start things up.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: "We don't even talk about that. We're focusing on Game 1. You can't be looking at something whenyou're not eventhere" --Zdeno Chara when asked about Boston's desire to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

KEY MATCHUP: What else but Chara vs. Ovechkin? Thegap-toothed Russian superstar sniper against the cold-blooded superhumanly big and strong Bruins defenseman. This is like a match made in Ivan Drago's dreams. Chara has consistently had good luck against the rugged, skilled Ovechkinbecauseboth players like to inflict their will through physicality, and Ovechkin has perhaps lost a little bit of his speed as age and conditioning have caught up to him. He is still Ovie, however. If theCaps star winger goes off then the Bruins are in trouble, but if Chara is able to bottle up and frustrate Ovechkin then the series is won. Expect Washington to do whatever they can to get Ovechkinattacking from Dennis Seidenberg's side of the ice, but Chara willstill be involvedheavilyin Operation Shutdown Ovechkin.

STAT TO WATCH: 87 -- the number of points that Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin combined for while onthe ice together this season. It's the third-highestin the NHL behind lines headed by Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg.

INJURIES: Tomas Vokoun (groin) and MichaelNeuvirth (lower body) are not expected to be available. Neuvirth might be able to go later in this round; Vokoun's return is murky as the series begins. The Bruins announced Wednesday that right wing Nathan Horton will not be available this postseason because of a concussion. Defenseman Adam McQuaid (upper body)and backup goaltender Tuukka Rask (groinabdomen)are both out for Game 1, though defenseman Johnny Boychuk (knee)is expected to play despite a knee injury.
GOALIE MATCHUP: Tim Thomas is only the second goaltender in NHL history to win the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup all in one season, and all hockey eyes are looking to see if he can recreate the brilliance while turning 38 years old this month. He'll need to be excellent if the Bruins are hoping for a deep run. Braden Holtby has 21 games of NHL experience and has never appeared in an NHL playoff game prior to Thursday night. He is Washington's third string goaltender and it would be an amazing story if he somehow backstops the Capitals to success in this playoff series.

John Harbaugh: Ravens’ trickery different than Patriots ‘deceptive’ formation

John Harbaugh: Ravens’ trickery different than Patriots ‘deceptive’ formation

FOXBORO – John Harbaugh explained on Thursday the difference between the rules loophole his Ravens exploited recently and the one the Patriots exploited in the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff Game that caused him to cry, “Foul.”

What it boiled down to? Everyone knew about the loophole the Ravens took advantage of when they committed an en masse holding penalty at the end of the game against the Bengals. 

Nobody had seen what the Patriots successfully pulled off when they made eligible receivers ineligible and vice versa and went on a touchdown drive that changed the tenor of the game.

“You’re right. I don’t want to get into all that,” Harbaugh said when I asked what the difference was. “That’s all been hashed out. I believe what I believe and I think it’s all been proven to be right.

“The point about [the punt hold] is, it’s been talked about, it’s been looked at, it’s been something that’s been used for 20 years so it’s nothing new,” he explained. “It’s nothing that hadn’t been addressed before by officials or the competition committee.”

Harbaugh said that, in Super Bowl 47, his Ravens used the tactic and his brother Jim, coach of the Niners, took it up with the Competition Committee. John Harbaugh supported the change, he said. The league declined.  

“Everybody knew about that so it didn’t create an unfair advantage for anybody,” said Harbaugh.

After the Patriots beat Baltimore in a tremendous game, Harbaugh was in a snit in his postgame press conference alleging the “nobody’s ever seen that [eligible-ineligible trickery] before.” He said the play was “illegal” and “deceptive.”

I mentioned that Alabama had run the play in a nationally televised game against LSU and that the Titans had done the same thing on a game-ending play against the Jets a few weeks earlier.

Aside from whether or not the information was accurately communicated by the officials, the tone of Harbaugh’s comments left little room for interpretation. He indicated the Patriots were underhanded and that his comments seemed to discredit New England.

“That was not the intent and if you go back and read my comments at the time and the tone of it anybody that takes it that way is taking it the wrong way,” said Harbaugh. “That was not the point of it at all. You had an eligible receiver that wasn’t identified and an ineligible receiver that wasn’t identified as such. The official had no way to identify that for the defense so there was no signal or any other way that they could do that. That was something that was addressed the very next week. If somebody wants to look at it some certain way, that’s not my concern.”

When I offered that referee Bill Vinovich not only identified Shane Vereen as being ineligible but added, “Don’t cover 34…” over the stadium mic, Harbaugh wasn’t having it.  

“That’s not something that had ever been gone over,” he insisted. “Players were never taught don’t cover that player. When you’re on the field, you can’t hear that microphone. That’s not something you can even hear or are listening for. The next week there was a tweak.”

Indeed there was. And not just with the officials then being on the hook to make more detailed announcements. The further tweak, perhaps spurred by the formation chicanery and Tom Brady’s recommendation that Baltimore “study the rules” came when the Ravens passed on intel to the Colts for the AFC Championship Game. One of the recommendations from Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg was to watch that the Patriots’ sideline staff didn’t monkey with the kicking balls. That was included in a letter to NFL Operations man Mike Kensil along with an allegation that it was “well known around the league” that the Patriots deflate footballs before the game and that the league needed to keep an eye on that.

Harbaugh hasn’t hidden from the fact he found Brady’s comment offensive.

"I was pissed off," he said this past summer. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed...So yeah, that should never have been said."

He has, however, disavowed any talk by his staff about the Patriots allegedly deflating footballs. "Any conversation that was had with the Colts had nothing to do with deflated footballs, which is what we've been saying since the very start," Harbaugh said in 2015. "I know that we've answered the questions from the beginning to the end very simply. Our yes is yes. Our no is no. We've answered questions directly and honestly and straightforward from the start."

Whether the Patriots’ formation plays and the Ravens response to it led to a $30M investigation that hijacked the NFL’s attention for 20 months and resulted in a four-game suspension for Brady is still not definitively known. Could Rosburg and the Colts equipment man have possibly discussed kicking ball chicanery without sharing notes on the belief the Patriots deflated footballs? Rosburg and former Patriots defensive coordinator and current Ravens coach Dean Pees were both spoken to by investigator Ted Wells. What did they offer

Just like everything else between Ravens and Patriots, it’s complicated.  
 
 

Will the Celtics have a difficult decision to make about Isaiah Thomas contract?

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Will the Celtics have a difficult decision to make about Isaiah Thomas contract?

Listen to a jam packed episode of the "Celtics Talk" podcast with Kyle Draper, A. Sherrod Blakely, and special guest Steve Kyler from Basketball Insiders.com

SUBSCRIBE Audioboom | iTunes | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher

Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely are back with another episode of the "Celtics Talk" podcast. This week, we start things off by discussing Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier - what their minutes should be...what their TRADE VALUE might be, etc.

Basketball Insiders.com writer Steve Kyler calls in to discuss where the Celtics fit in the East, how the incident DeMarcus Cousins got involved in at a bar in New York City might effect his trade value,  and would the Magic trade Nikola Vucevic.

Finally, a heated debate on will and IF the Celtics will pay Isaiah Thomas max money when his very affordable contract is up in a couple years. Should Brad Stevens limit his minutes to guard against injury?