FOXBORO -- With 90 seconds remaining and the Patriots ahead by 28, New England's Brian Hoyer dropped back and lofted a pass down the left sideline to the player who is arguably the team's offensive MVP. Rob Gronkowski hauled in the 22-yard reception and crashed to the ground with Bills corner Drayton Florence on top of him and teammate Ryan Mallett over both of them, exulting. The reception propelled Gronk past New Orleans' Jimmy Graham to set the record for receiving yards by a tight end. The record, previously held by Kellen Winslow (1,290), was held for a spell on Sunday by Graham, who finished his game against the Panthers with 1,310. Gronkowski needed five yards to pass Graham before the final reception. Given the disdain Bill Belichick regularly shows for yard-based statistics and the stress he puts on team accomplishments over individual stats, the pursuit of the record was fair evidence that records do indeed matter. "That last play, I had Billy O'Brien, the Patriots offensive coordinator call that because I wasn't sure exactly where Gronkowski was and I thought that he deserved a chance to go up and try and make another play," said Belichick. "He's had a great year and he's worked hard, I thought he deserved that. He made a nice play."The season finale has featured personal accomplishment pursuits in the past. From Doug Flutie's drop kick to Vinny Testaverde's touchdown pass to the team last year making sure BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a chance to get to 1,000 yards, Belichick has done it. I don't think he'd do it when a game was on the line, nor do I think he'd make repeated attempts to chase a record. For instance, if Gronkowski hadn't caught that ball, I'm not sure Belichick would have run another play solely to gain the yards. But there are clearly exceptions to the Belichick rules of stats being meaningless.
BRIGHTON, Mass – It certainly sounded like there were some things that made the Wednesday night loss in Detroit a little different for the Bruins.
The Bruins media corps conducted postgame interviews in the hallway rather than in the visiting dressing room after what must have been a combustible atmosphere immediately following the shootout defeat.
There was also evidence of anger in the visitor’s dressing room at Joe Louis Arena, according to reports, with a door off its hinges when the media was able to get a look inside the dressing room area.
David Backes confirmed something was different about the loss after blowing a pair of three-goal leads, and failing to follow up their dreadful no-show vs. the Islanders with a winning performance against another bad team in Detroit. The B’s forward said the plane ride home from Detroit was solemn and quiet, and that it was clear the Bruins team was “wounded” after a crushing loss.
“Both [losses] can be great lessons if we learn from it, and neither was very enjoyable. That was probably the quietest I think our guys were all year on that plane ride home from Detroit,” said Backes. “To me, that’s a great sign that it hit us in the heart, and it hit us where it really mattered. We’re thinking about how we can turn the tide and thinking about we can be victorious the next time out.
“We had the lead, and in a lot of instances you’re expecting, as you should, to come out of there with two points. We’re at the time in the season where wins need to be garnered and taken home.
“There were a lot of aspects where we should have grabbed the game back. When you feel like you’ve had a lot of opportunities to take the game and you don’t do it, it’s not a good feeling. I was reflecting on that during a very quiet team plane ride back from Detroit, and it seemed pretty clear that the whole team was feeling wounded. I think it’s a good sign that guys were feeling that way, and that means they’re going to do everything in their power to not have that feeling again.”
The words are encouraging from a 32-year-old natural leader in Backes, who has seen good times and bad as captain of the St. Louis Blues in his 10-year NHL career. But the proof is ultimately on the ice where the Bruins have games against the Blackhawks and Penguins coming up and face some very stiff tests coming off a couple of losses against the worst teams in the East that exposed Black and Gold fragility at this point in the season.
BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins, looking for a spark after terrible, back-to-back losses to the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings, are hoping the return of Matt Beleskey from a knee injury can help provide the inspiration.
The blue-collar left winger has missed the past 23 games with a torn MCL in his right knee suffered in early December against the Buffalo Sabres, but now he’s easing back into the lineup on the fourth line in Friday night’s showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Beleskey was skating with Dominic Moore and Austin Czarnik on the fourth line at morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena and should be expected to throw a few hard hits and play with some intensity in his return.
“I’m ready to go and excited to get back out there,” said Beleskey, who has been skating with the team for roughly a week after giving the knee sufficient time to heal. “I’ve just got to keep it simple and do what I do well: Be hard on pucks, take the body and just try and find your groove. You don’t want to expect too much in your first game back, but you just want to be able to contribute.
“’I’ve been saving [the pent-up energy] for a while, so I’m ready to get back out there and hopefully provide a spark for us.”
The Beleskey return also provides the player with a bit of a reset button after a slow start to the season that saw him with two goals and five points along with a minus-6 rating in 24 games played for the Black and Gold prior to his injury. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairs against the Blackhawks based on morning skate today: