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


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.

Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett


Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett

PITTSBURGH – So far this season, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 39 catches, 644 yards and five touchdowns. Making the numbers that much more impressive is the fact the numbers were rolled up with Gronk inactive for two games and fairly useless in another thanks to his hamstring injury.

Will the Steelers slow the roll of Robellus Grennetski?

Hard to imagine. As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, Gronk alone has tuned up the Steelers with 26 receptions for 403 yards and seven touchdowns in six meetings.

Fittipaldo explored the strategies the Steelers defense may unveil Sunday afternoon when the Patriots and Steelers get going. He also pointed out that the return of linebacker Ryan Shazier after a three week layoff and injuries for safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden may put Pittsburgh at a disadvantage.

Said Shazier: “They have the tandem they want at tight end. Now they can use tight ends the way they want. You have to respect everyone on the field. Both of them are good blockers, good pass threats and great at running after the catch.”

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Pittsburgh will alter its approaches.

“We have to be able to play more than one defense,” Butler said. “They’re very good and they’ll pick you apart if they can figure out what you’re doing. We just have to execute the defense more than anything else. If we can do that … that’s been our problem for the most part. Some of the things that went on last week, we missed some things we should have made mentally.”

What “went on last week” was a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh hasn’t been a big-play group so far -- eight sacks and three picks -- nor have they seen a gauntlet of great quarterbacks in the first six games. 

Interestingly, their losses have been to Ryan Tannehill and rookie Carson Wentz, probably the two quarterbacks one would figure Pittsburgh would do best against.
Between a smoking hot Brady and a can’t-be-stopped tight end tandem, there’s probably not a lot Pittsburgh can do aside from hoping for an off day.

Said linebacker Arthur Moats hopefully: “You have to continue to mix it up against (Gronkowski). You can’t give him the same look over and over. He has success on guys like that. If we disrupt him, and rush Brady and speed up his clock, I definitely think that will help out.”

In theory, perhaps. In practice? We’ll see.

Game notes: Patriots vs. Steelers


Game notes: Patriots vs. Steelers

A quick look at the information you need to know about today's Patriots-Steelers game:

TEAM RECORDS: Patriots 5-1, Steelers 4- 2

GAME TIME: 4:25 p.m. EST


TV ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson


NATIONAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Larry Kahn, Mark Carrier and Troy West

LOCAL RADIO NETWORK: Anchored by WBZ-FM (98.5 The Sports Hub)

LOCAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Bob Socci and Scott Zolak


LAST MEETING: Patriots 28, Steelers 21 on Sept. 10, 2015 at Gillette Stadium

* * * *
-- The Patriots are 8-11 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in their history, but are 4-2 at Heinz Field. Included in those four Heinz Field victories are two in AFC Championship Games (in the 2001 and 2004 seasons).

-- Tom Brady is 8-2 against the Steelers in his career.

-- The last time Brady played the Steelers, in 2015, he set a Patriots franchise record with 19 consecutive pass completions.

-- The Patriots are 108-70 (.607) in road games since 1994, the best record in the NFL over that span. The Steelers (97- 82, .542) are second.

-- The Patriots have yet to throw an interception in 2016, setting a team record for consecutive games without an interception at the start of a season (6). The NFL record for consecutive games at the start of a season without a pick is 9, set by the 1960 Browns. The Patriots' franchise record for overall consecutive games with no interceptions is 8, set in 2010.

* * * *
-- Rob Gronkowski has 67 overall touchdowns and needs one to tie Stanley Morgan (68) for the franchise record.

-- Gronkowski has 66 receiving touchdowns and needs one to tie Morgan (67) for the franchise record.

-- Gronkowski has 22 100-yard receiving games, including two in 2016, and is tied with Jackie Smith for the third-most among all NFL tight ends. The only TEs who have more are Kellen Winslow (24) and Tony Gonzalez (31).