Bruins hope they're back in first for good

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Bruins hope they're back in first for good

BOSTON -- The Bruins are back in their rightful place among the Eastern Conference teams.

After falling out of the No. 2 spot in the East for the first time since Nov. 30 when Ottawa won on Friday night, the Bruins reclaimed their place atop the Northeast Division with a 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers at TD Garden on Saturday.

The Bruins are ahead of Ottawa by a single point, but they also currently have the tie-breaker by virtue of their two games in hand on the Senators. The Senators gained no ground on Boston when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the lowly Maple Leafs on Saturday night, and are running out of chances to unseat the reigning Cup champs.

It appears the divisional title could come down to the final regular-season matchup between the Bruins and Senators in April, but Boston seems much more concerned with putting out a consistent all-around effort in each of their remaining 11 games.

I think we know that time is running out here, said coach Claude Julien."With 11 games left, its important that we bring that kind of an effort, that kind of a game, night in, night out right now.

"We all know, first of all, that we want to be part of the playoff scene. Second of all, we want to be in the best position possible. And thirdly, you want to make sure you play your best hockey once the playoffs start. You have to build toward that and weve got a lot of building to do.

The Bruins took an early lead for the first time in eight games against the Flyers on Saturday, they allowed less than three goals for only the second time in 11 games during the month of March as Tim Thomas finally got his game back on track. But the bottom line is still pretty similar: The Bruins and the Senators sit in the standings with the same number of points, and Boston needs to keep winning if it hopes to retain home ice in the postseason.

Its hard to envision a defending Stanley Cup champion completely collapsing under the weight of pressure to simply qualify for the postseason, but injuries and a lot of hockey over the last two years are taking their toll. Its up to the Bruins to completely ignore all those nagging issues and simply focus on taking care of the business at hand.

It was great. I think everyone was focused, said Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins' effort on Saturday. We put that road trip in the past and tried to learn from it. We have 11 games left. Weve got to make a statement for us as a team. I think we did that against the Flyers with a great effort overall. We found a way. Yes, it wasnt easy, but still we found a way.

Its never easy for the Bruins, but theyre finding a way to hang on to their playoff pole position despite a list of hockey clubs vying to take it away from them.

Report: Cavs. Pacers, Nuggets discuss deal involving George, Love

Report: Cavs. Pacers, Nuggets discuss deal involving George, Love

Don’t count the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the Paul George sweepstakes just yet.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes, the Cavaliers are still working on a way to get George with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Ohio.

The latest rumor involves a three way deal being discussed between the Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, and Denver Nuggets. According to Hayes, the deal would send George and Kenenth Faried to Cleveland and Kevin Love to Denver.

Presumably, Indiana would end up with good picks and a few young assets.

Click here for the complete story.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.