Holtby getting into Bruins' heads during series

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Holtby getting into Bruins' heads during series

WASHINGTON, DC The Bruins thought they might have found something with Braden Holtby in Game 3.

They were getting traffic to the front of the net, and cashing in on rebounds that have seemingly been there since the very beginning of the series.

The Caps lost the blocked shot battle for the first time in the series, and it seemed the tide was turning.

But it turned out to be more of the same in Game 4 as Holtby and the Capitals defense was once again on display in a Game 4 win thats evened the series at 2-2.

David Krejci felt like the Bruins could have scored five or six goals against the Washington defense given their chances, but you wouldnt have known it by the centers zero shots on net. He was going to the danger areas at points, but Krejci didnt look poised to score at any point during the game.

In fact he hasnt looked that way in four games now with no points, no goals and a minus-1 after leading the Bruins with 12 goals during last years playoffs. Holtby has been a giant factor in all of that despite the Bs perceived scoring chances.

We had so many chances that my line could have scored five goals easily, said Krejci, a refrain that many utter in the playoffs when a goaltender has taken it away from them. But we didnt so its frustrating. I had a couple of great ones. Its frustrating when you get some chances and you want to score so badly. Maybe we need to relax and take a couple of deep breaths.

Give Holtby credit because hes a good goalie, but 45 shots on net you need more than one goal. We had six guys who scored 20 plus goals in the season and we have one goal on 45 shots? Its frustrating, but I still believe its coming.

The Caps goaltender once again stood on his head with 44 saves in Washingtons 2-1 victory over the Bruins, and gave the nip-and-tuck series a fourth one-goal game in four tries thus far.

Its pretty clear the Capitals mean business when Alex Ovechkin plays less than three minutes in the final period with Washington singularly focused on goal protection at all costs. But for Holtby hes in the middle of everything he always dreamed about while on his way to the NHL as a 22-year-old.

Every time I've watched the playoffs, there's kind of a burning in me, I think with every player, that they want to be there, said Holtby, who has joined Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth in the playoff tradition of rookie Caps goaltenders. That they think they can get to that level. It's just the start of the playoffs right now. I'm just trying to learn, try to improve and see how long we can go.

The Bruins were focused on getting traffic in front of the net and generating better offensive chances for their top-end forwards, but they couldnt consistently do that in Game 4. Some of that was Bostons inability to bully their way to the front of the net, but there was another factor thats beginning to loom large.

Holtby is starting to take on the face of a rookie goaltender poised to upset a heavy favorite in a playoff series something Ken Dryden did to the Bruins many years ago, but something Cam Ward did in recent years with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The bottom line is that the 22-year-old rookie goaltender standing on his head, and a Washington defense that blocked 12 shots in the third period, deserved a hard-nosed playoff win.

The story of the Capitals if they can advance beyond the first round will be the play of their rookie netminder, who made textbook saves of all manners against Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand throughout the game. Its pretty clear hes starting to get into the Bs heads as theyre rushing almost every good scoring chance they get around the net.

Holtbys .953 save percentage is second behind only Cory Schneider among the playoff goaltenders, and his GAA of 1.60 has equaled Tim Thomas in a playoff series featuring sparkling puck-stopping. The difference is that Holtbys save percentage is nearly 20 points higher than Thomas, and hes outplayed his decorated counterpart at times.

Holtby was chastising himself a bit for allowing a goal to Rich Peverley that tied the game in the first period on a shot he felt like he should have stopped. But from that point on he was a brick wall stopping 31 shots in the final two periods, and stoning Patrice Bergeron during a last second flurry with the goaltender pulled.

The Washington goalie made one unorthodox stop on Lucic during a rush to the front of the net in the second period, and that was the save of the game in Holtbys mind.

I guess I was in a zone to a certain extent in the second period I felt pretty good. I don't know. There's still improvement. There are still times Milan Lucic when he cut across the middle in the second period; that could've easily been a goal, said Holtby. There's still some improvement. I felt good, but far from perfect.

Holtby is far from perfect, but dominating the Bruins. That is not something a struggling group of Bs forwards wanted to hear.

Lengel hopes to help Patriots function as 'well-oiled machine' when asked

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Lengel hopes to help Patriots function as 'well-oiled machine' when asked

FOXBORO -- Want a sense of what it's like for a player to come into the Patriots locker room in the middle of the season and drop everything in order to familiarize himself with a new place and a new system?

Ask Matt Lengel about his socks.

"It just got to the point where I was living out of my suitcase in my hotel room," Lengel said on Thursday. "I was like, just forget it . . . I'd wear the same thing in the facility. I just didn't care. 

"I didn't want to think about having style. I didn't have time to do laundry. I was wearing the same pair of socks for a week, and then I'd find another pair and kind of let the other ones dry out a little bit. That's just what you gotta do. Things happen."

The second-year tight end was signed by the Patriots off of the Bengals practice squad back in Week 9 as a depth piece. But now with Rob Gronkowski on season-ending injured reserve after undergoing back surgery on Friday, and with Martellus Bennett dealing with an ankle issue that has limited him since Week 5, Lengel is a play away from becoming the lone available tight end on coach Bill Belichick's roster. 

"Matt's got a little bit of experience," Belichick said this week. "He was on the Bengals practice squad last year so he's picked things up, I'd say, ahead of a rookie type player. He has some experience there and he's got some skills. He's done a good job with what we've asked him to do. Works hard. He's been a dependable guy."

When Gronkowski was dealing with a chest injury that kept him out of the team's Week 11 win over the 49ers, Lengel was activated for the first time and saw the first six snaps of his professional career. In front of a handful of family members who flew in from different parts of the country he played six snaps, including one where he laid a strong block on first-round pick DeForest Buckner to help spring running back LeGarrette Blount for a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Lengel was inactive last weekend against the Jets, but will likely be back in uniform Sunday versus the Rams. He acknowledged this week that he felt as though he's progressed with his understanding of the offense with each passing week, and he indicated he would be ready to do whatever he's asked should the Patriots need him to take on a larger workload.

"Mentally, I feel a lot more comfortable," the 6-foot-7, 266-pounder said. "Even coming into the facility in the morning, going through meetings, sitting in a meeting, being told what to do, everything is just processing a lot smoother than it did. 

"When I first got here, I'd get [to the facility], try to learn the offense, then I have to pay rent back at my place in Cincinnati, but then I gotta find a place to live here. Then I'd come home after all that and I'd study. Now that's all calmed down. I go home, and I'm not living out of a suitcase right now which is nice. I'm not wearing the same pair of socks for two weeks just because I don't feel like dealing with it in the morning. It's pretty nice. It's a lot easier."

Remembering those first few weeks with the Patriots, Lengel referred back to something he'd heard about Mark Zuckerberg that helped him get by. Eliminating small choices -- like what to wear -- that popped up over the course of Lengel's day might've helped him save energy to pour into his new gig.

"He wears the same thing every day," Lengel said of Facebook's founder. "He says it's because he doesn't want to spend the energy. I don't really care about trying to impress anyone with fashion here. My fiancee's back in Cincinnati. I'm just wearing the same pair of sweatpants, same pair of jeans for two weeks in a row until I can move into my new place and find a washer and dryer. 

"That's the thing for me that helped. It really did take a little bit of anxiety out, a little bit of stress out. You're just trying to cut all the unnecessary out of your life for at least a few weeks."

Soon after he arrived to Foxboro, Lengel described himself to reporters as more of a blocking tight end given his experience. A member of the Northeastern football program before it disbanded, Lengel eventually transferred to Eastern Kentucky and finished his college career with 33 catches for 361 yards.

The Patriots will likely use a variety of players to piece together the responsibilities normally taken on by tight ends in Gronkowski's absence should Bennett need a breather. Fullback James Develin may see an increased role since he meets with the tight ends on a daily basis and understands their duties. Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming could continue to be used as a blocking tight end in certain situations in order to fortify the edges, as he's done in the past.

But there have been times -- like on Wednesday of this week -- when Lengel has been a one-man position group, getting one-on-one tutorials from tight ends coach Brian Daboll. Lengel said he has tried to make the most of those moments, as he has every meeting, in order to allow the Patriots offense to function without a hitch on the occasions he is called upon to be in the huddle.

"The way I look at it is this place is a well-oiled machine," Lengel said. "I'm here coming in to be a spare part. I don't want to do anything to hinder the performance of this team. I only want to try to make it better. Asking any questions, if anything is unclear, coach Daboll is awesome about letting me ask. He encourages me to ask questions because we're all just working for one purpose, and that's the team. That's a huge theme around here, and that's really impressed me about being here. Guys are all in for the team."

It's been a little more than a month since Lengel got the call letting him know it was time to get his suitcase together and head back to the area where his college career began. Coming off of a trip to London with the Bengals for their game against the Redskins, Lengel was watching NBC's "The Voice" with his fiancee when he was informed that the Patriots wanted to sign him to their active roster. 

"I was like, 'What? Huh?' In the NFL you just never know who's watching," Lengel said. "That's what's crazy about it. You always have to prepare like your name is going to come up. There's just always that voice in the back of your head saying, 'Hey, your time might be coming soon.' "

With Gronkowski out and Bennett playing hurt, Lengel's time in New England could come sooner than anyone anticipated.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

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But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”