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.

Gronkowski takes exception to Cowboys’ ‘Do Your Job’ sign

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Gronkowski takes exception to Cowboys’ ‘Do Your Job’ sign

The Dallas Cowboys have a “Do Your Job” sign posted in their locker room and “Gronk Nation” isn’t happy about it.

Here’s an excerpt from “Gronk Nation” - the website of Rob Gronkowski and his family - about “America’s Team” co-opting the slogan of the 2014 Patriots' Super Bowl run: 

While we all know that the Pats thrashed the Cowboys 30-6 last October and Dallas hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since the 1995 season, so they need all the motivation they can get – but can’t America’s Team come up with their own slogan instead of stealing ours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First impressions of Red Sox’ 2-1 loss to Rays

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First impressions of Red Sox’ 2-1 loss to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- First Impressions from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field:

 

* When the guy who was 0-for-34 produces the go-ahead RBI, it's probably not your day.

The Red Sox and Rays were tied 1-1 in the seventh when Steven Souza Jr. singled to lead off the inning. That brought Mikie Mahtook, hitless in his last 34 at-bats to the plate.

Naturally, Mahtook roped a line-drive double to left field, scoring Souza all the way from first base. It was that kind of day for the Red Sox, who were 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and stranded five baserunners.

For a team that still leads the majors in runs scored, the Red Sox have shown an uncanny ability to go cold at the plate.

On Thursday afternoon, that happened again, while the most unlikely hero for Tampa Bay came through in an improbable spot.

 

* The Red Sox' struggles with the bases loaded is almost comical.

It happened again.

In the sixth inning, the Red Sox loaded the bases with no out. Mookie Betts then hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring one run. Hanley Ramirez then walked, re-loading the bases, this time with one out.

But Jackie Bradley Jr. then swung at the first pitch and hit into an inning-ending, rally-killing 4-6-3 double play.

In two plate appearances with the bases loaded, the Sox failed to get a hit.

The Sox are hitting .216 with the bases loaded (24-for-111), ranking them 14th in the American League. Only Seattle and Detroit have had more bases-loaded opportunities, and yet the Red Sox rank in the second half in runs scored in such situations.

 

* Drew Pomeranz is showing no signs of innings fatigue

True, Pomeranz failed to provide a shutdown inning in the sixth after the Red Sox had gotten him a run in the top of the inning.

Still, Pomeranz pitched into the seventh and allowed just two runs while striking out a season-high 11 batters.

In his past five starts, he's compiled a 2.37 ERA, and both the power to his fastball and the sharpness to his curve offer no evidence that he's hit any sort of wall despite already establishing a career high at the major league level with five weeks remaining in the season.