Panthers won't sneak up on B's this time around

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Panthers won't sneak up on B's this time around

WILMINGTON, Mass. It was truly one of the few down moments over the last two months for the Bruins, and its something theyll be looking to avenge Friday night in their final home game before a post-Christmas West Coast swing.

The Panthers frustrated the Bruins with their lane-clogging defensive system and goaltender Jose Theodore stepped in for a performance that had old-time Bs fans flashing back to his days with the Habs. While the Bruins also dropped a game in Winnipeg, that game was the second half of back-to-back games after an emotional victory in Pittsburgh, so that gave the team a built-in excuse for defeat.

Florida just plain outplayed the Bruins as they have many teams en route to their high seeding within the Eastern Conference, so the motivation should be there for the Bruins where it might have otherwise wouldnt.

It was one of those games where we felt like we played great and didnt get the result that we wanted, said Milan Lucic. Weve got to do a lot of the same things we did last time against them, but we need to find a way to beat their goaltender. Theyre obviously a team thats played great in the first 35 games of the season, and theyve found some new life with the additions that they made this summer with players and the coaching staff."

After all, anybody looking at the schedule prior to the season would have circled a home game against the Florida Panthers on the Friday before Christmas as the kind of game that wouldnt raise anybodys heart beat. But the Panthers are much improved and the Bruins will have a challenge getting motivated with a few days off after defeating their arch-rival Habs Monday night.

Its a game that we should be able to use as a measuring stick because they've proven to be one of the big teams in the East this year, said Lucic. Its a bigger game than its been in the past against the Panthers because theyve elevated their game and theyve beaten us once already this year.

So they should be a properly motivated Bs bunch whether Rich Peverley plays or sits it out with a nagging undisclosed ailment. The matchup could also see a Florida team thats regressing to the mean after a nice run. The Panthers have dropped a pair of games (to the Senators and Coyotes) as they wing their way into Boston, and have one of the weakest goal differentials among playoff teams with a plus-4.

Florida is average in every category aside from goals against average (8th in the NHL at 2.4 goals allowed per game) and that is partially due to the hard work and disciplined system of head coach Kevin Dineen and top assistant coach Craig Ramsay. In many ways this years Panthers are reminiscent of that first Bs team under Claude Julien, which was long on effort and discipline, while coming up a little short in the offensive firepower category.

The bottom line on all of this: the Panthers still sit only two points behind the Bruins in the standings, and it will be exactly the kind of challenge that Pittsburgh or Philadelphia provides without any of the usual fanfare.

Its tough to sell the game down there. When you have the choice between the beach or a hockey game its a tough sell, said Gregory Campbell, who was dealt from the Panthers to Boston prior to last season. But if they win which theyre doing now theyll always attract fans. I know that organization works really hard to put fans in the stands, and the easiest way to do that is to win.

Theyve made the right moves and to be honest there arent a lot of guys that are still there from when Nathan Horton and I played there. A lot of teams might not be taking them seriously, so theyve gotten a win here or there because of that. But they are for real and theyre a good team. Their system is good.

Not bad for a Florida hockey club that hasnt made the playoffs in the last 10 years.

It will most likely be a chess match like the last game was at TD Garden with the two teams locked in a scoreless tie until Florida finally scored a few minutes into the third period. That broke the deadlock and became the difference in a contest of defensive wills and conservative execution.

Theyre a young thats coached well and they work hard, so we have to be prepared to compete, said Campbell. Theyll be playing their third game in four days with some travel in Ottawa, so thats something weve got to take advantage of.

One harrowing thought for the Bruins: they would have to hope they dont see this Florida team in the playoffs given their style of play and ability to frustrated opponents with hustle and strict, fundamental defense.

The Panthers may not be able to score much, but theyve been playing hard hockey games nearly every time out.

The Bruins will get another firsthand look in a rare Friday night hockey game in Boston, but nothing should surprise them this time around.

Top Red Sox prospect Sam Travis out for year with torn ACL

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Top Red Sox prospect Sam Travis out for year with torn ACL

As good as things have gone for the Red Sox so far in 2016, their 2017 prospects took a bit of a blow over the weekend.

Sam Travis -- one of the organization's top prospects, and someone who opened a lot of eyes with an impressive spring-training showing this year -- suffered a torn ACL on Sunday while playing for the Pawtucket Red Sox and will be lost for the rest of the season. He was hurt while playing first base, collapsing as he chased down an opposition baserunner during a rundown play. He had to be helped off the field, and the extent of the injury was announced on Monday.

With David Ortiz retiring at the end of this season and Hanley Ramirez expected to replace him as the full-time designated hitter, the door was open for Travis to become the Red Sox' first baseman next year. Playing at Triple-A for the first time, the 22-year-old Travis -- honored by the Red Sox as their Minor League Offensive Player of the the Year in 2015 -- was hitting .272/.332/.434 with 10 doubles, 6 home runs and 29 RBI in 47 games.

Now, however, it's almost a complete certainty Travis won't be able to start next season in Boston. And depending on what the Red Sox do in the offseason to replace Ortiz, such as a signing a free agent to a multiyear contract, Travis' path upward in the Sox organization may become less wide open . . . if not blocked.

Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

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Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

OAKLAND, Calif. - As Stephen Curry dribbled out the clock in a raucous Oracle Arena, Kevin Durant could only stand and watch.

The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals, while Durant's future in Oklahoma City is much less certain.

Two nights after blowing an opportunity to close out the defending champion Warriors at home, the Thunder got sent home for the summer when they lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals 96-88 on Monday night.

Instead of becoming known as the team that knocked off the Warriors after their record-setting 73-win regular season, the Thunder will be remembered for a playoff collapse. They became just the 10th NBA team to lose a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead and now head into an uncertain offseason with Durant eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

If he does leave the only franchise he has played for in his nine-year career, he will do it having failed to deliver the championship to Oklahoma City. The closest the Thunder have gotten in Durant's tenure was when they lost the NBA Finals in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.

They then lost in the second round the next season, in the conference finals in 2014 to San Antonio before missing the playoffs entirely because of an injury to Durant last year.

But under first-year coach Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City earned the third seed in the top-heavy Western Conference this season and then upset 67-win San Antonio in the second round. The Thunder followed that by winning three of the first four games against the Warriors, with a pair of lopsided wins at home.

But after losing Game 5 on the road, the Thunder blew an opportunity to eliminate the Warriors at home on Saturday night. Oklahoma City led by seven points with less than five minutes remaining but made only one basket and committed six turnovers down the stretch of a 108-101 loss that could haunt the franchise for years.

The Thunder responded on the road in Game 7 by taking a 13-point lead in the second quarter. But once Curry and Klay Thompson started hitting Oklahoma City with a flurry of 3-pointers, the Thunder had no answer. The Splash Brothers combined for 13 3-pointers as Golden State outscored Oklahoma City by 30 points from behind the line.

Oklahoma City's stars were no match. Russell Westbrook missed 14 of 21 from the field and shot just 36.8 percent in the three potential clinchers. Durant finished with 27 points but took only 10 shots in the first three quarters.

Durant did score seven straight points to cut an 11-point deficit to four with 1:40 remaining. But Serge Ibaka then fouled Curry on a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down, allowing Golden State to build the lead back to seven.

Durant then missed two shots and could only stare blankly when Curry ended Oklahoma City's season with a 3-pointer with 26.8 seconds left. Now the Thunder can only hope it doesn't end Durant's tenure in Oklahoma City as well.