Branch embracing limited role with bigger goal in mind

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Branch embracing limited role with bigger goal in mind

FOXBORO -- Deion Branch could be somewhere else. He didn't necessarily have to be standing behind a podium at Gillette Stadium.

But he was. Because he chose to.

Branch was "released" twice. Once before the regular season began, and again in November. Both times, the personal belongings in his locker and the nameplate above it remained untouched.

Both times, he knew he'd be back.

But he had other options. Had he taken those options and not accepted his limited role to be part of a contender, he wouldn't be answering questions about Sunday's AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens, on Friday.

As a veteran who wants another championship, Branch is now the poster boy for unselfishness.

"That's the thing about this team," said Branch on Friday. "We've got a bunch of guys who are unselfish. And that's what's important. I think we put the team first, in everything that we do. And that's just something that creates success upon a team. We've got a bunch of guys who probably can leave here and start elsewhere. But I think most of all, this is where guys want to be. They enjoy it. They enjoy playing here. They enjoy being in the locker room. We take the coaching that coach Belichick gives us, and we put it out on the football field. I think the way that this team prepares before each and every game, is what separates us from every team."

Separating Branch from other players in the league is his willingness to be cut twice in a season, and remain patient. Not just with waiting to get the call back, but also with his limited role on the field.

Branch has only three catches since Week 16, and he hasn't seen the end zone once all season. But he's learning something new about himself every day.

"I didn't think I was this patient," said Branch. "Being a starter in the NFL for so long, and now, the role that I have, I didn't know if I could do it. And I see that I can because the goal is bigger than just me just wanting to be out on the field, starting every game and contributing. I want to do all those things. But at the same time, if coach needs me to go in on third down, then I just have to do my job. That's just one of the things that I've accepted. And I'm going to roll with whatever coach needs me to do."

Belichick needs him to be a leader. Because Branch has been there before. And he's trying to get back. A message that was evident on Friday, regardless of his role.

"It means a lot," said Branch. "This isn't our biggest goal though. Trust me. It's a blessing to be a part of this game, to have an opportunity to play in the AFC Championship. But the goal is bigger for this team."

Rask out of Bruins' must-win game vs. Islanders with 'lower body injury'

Rask out of Bruins' must-win game vs. Islanders with 'lower body injury'

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – In another body blow to the playoff chances for the Bruins, Tuukka Rask will be out tonight with what the B’s are calling a “lower body injury”  for their must-win game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said that Rask came to the Bruins practice facility on Friday and got treatment on his lower body, but determined “he wouldn’t able to go” in Boston’s biggest game so far this season. Instead, backup Anton Khudobin will get the nod against the Isles. His last start was 10 days ago against the Calgary Flames, but he's a goalie who's also riding a four-game winning streak headed into a mega-important game for the Black and Gold, who have lost four in a row to damage their playoff hopes.

“He came in [on Friday] with some discomfort in the lower body, so he had some work done and didn’t feel like he’d be ready to go today,” said Cassidy of Rask after the Saturday morning skate in Brooklyn. “We had talked about getting Anton [Khudobin] in any way, and that was part of it. Those plans are always subject to change.

“So there’s no real surprise in that area, but we’re monitoring it really closely. We expect that he’ll be able to practice on Monday.”

There was no sign of injury for Rask in the 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Thurday night, in which he gave up five goals and looked shaky in the second and third period. Cassidy confirmed that Rask's equipment issue with his skate in the Lightning game had nothing to do with the injury. Rask was soft-voiced and trailed off in a couple of his answers while taking his share of responsibility following the Tampa loss and certainly seemed uncharacteristically downcast after that particular defeat.  

Rask’s surprise absence has a lot of parallels and a bit of the same feeling to the Bruins goaltender also being unable to play in last year’s regular season do-or-die finale where the Bruins dropped a brutal, pathetic 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators to knock them out of the playoff race.

One always wants to give a player the benefit of the doubt when an injury is involved, but one can’t escape the feeling that Boston’s No. 1 goalie should be able to play on Saturday in a must-win game, with so much on the line, if he’s expected to be healthy enough to practice a couple of days from now.

The Islanders and Bruins each have 82 points but the Bruins sit out of the playoff picture, in the ninth spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference, heading into tonight's showdown. 

Rookie Zane McIntyre has been called up on emergency recall to serve as Khudobin's backup vs. the Islanders. 


 

Knicks' Noah suspended 20 games by NBA for drug policy violation

Knicks' Noah suspended 20 games by NBA for drug policy violation

NEW YORK - Joakim Noah of the New York Knicks has been suspended 20 games without pay for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.

The NBA announced the suspension Saturday, saying Noah tested positive for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator LGD-4033 – something that can be found in over-the-counter supplements.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports first reported the suspension.

Noah has not played since Feb. 4 and was likely to miss the Knicks’ final 10 games this season because of a knee injury. The NBA said Noah’s suspension will begin with the ”first NBA regular season or playoff game for which he is eligible and physically able to play.”

Noah is in the first year of a four-year, $72 million contract. He and the Knicks (27-45) have been a disappointment this season. He averaged 5.0 points and 8.7 rebounds in 46 games this season, and has been limited to 75 games over the past two seasons.