From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Greg Schiano glanced to his left where the three newest members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were seated and smiled broadly. All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, two-time Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and well-regarded cornerback Eric Wright comprise the biggest one-day free agent haul in franchise history and figure to play key roles in whether the first-year coach makes a successful transition from Rutgers to the NFL. "I think they're a perfect fit ... for what we want to do," Schiano said. Schiano noted that Nicks is a punishing blocker who will help the running game, Jackson is a proven deep threat who'll make the passing attack better and Wright is a much-needed addition for a defense that must improve if the Bucs are to rebound from a 4-12 finish that included 10 consecutive losses to end last season. Barely 14 hours after making a splash by signing Jackson to a five-year 55.55 million contract Tuesday, general manager Mark Dominik closed five-year deals Wednesday with Nicks, one of the key blockers for Drew Brees on the Saints' record-setting offense, and Wright, who's coming off a solid season with the Lions. Nicks received a 47.5 million deal that the four-year veteran called "humbling." Wright, who matched his career high with four interceptions for Detroit last season, got a 37.5 million package -- meaning Dominik negotiated deals totaling more than 140 million in one day after not spending much at all on other team's free agents the past two years. And it appears the spending spree -- the Bucs entered free agency more than 42 million under the league salary cap -- is done. "Our eyes are turned toward the draft," where Tampa Bay has the fifth overall pick and will seek to address other needs, Dominik said. "We've made our mark," the general manager added, "for what we wanted to accomplish." Jackson gives the Bucs the legitimate No. 1 pass catcher they've lacked since Keyshawn Johnson helped Tampa Bay win its only Super Bowl title 10 years ago. The three-time 1,000-yard receiver had 37 TD receptions in seven seasons with the Chargers and provides a deep threat for young quarterback Josh Freeman. Jackson's contract, which will pay the receiver 13 million in each of his first two seasons in Tampa Bay, was done in all 5's in honor of Freeman, who wears jersey No. 5. The 29-year-old was excited to be available after earning nearly 11 million in 2011, when San Diego put franchise tag on him. He missed most of 2010 in a salary dispute. Like Nicks and Wright, Jackson said money was the only lure to Tampa Bay. Each of them like the nucleus of young talent the Bucs have assembled since deciding to rebuild with youth after the 2008 season. Former coach Raheem Morris led the team to a surprising 10-6 record, narrowly missing the playoffs two years ago. The team took a step backward last season, when Freeman threw 22 interceptions (compared to just six in 2010) and Tampa Bay's defense set a franchise record for most points allowed. "They have the tools here to do big things," Jackson said. "I'm just looking to do my part." Nicks made the Pro Bowl in New Orleans that past two seasons and is considered one of the best pass blockers in the NFL. He's also excited that Schiano's blueprint for success revolves around what the coach hopes will be a productive running game that'll take some of the pressure off Freeman. The Saints led the NFL in total offense and threw for more yards than any club in league history last season. No disrespect for what his old team approach, but he is looking forward to opening holes for the run-oriented attack that Schiano expects to open things up for Freeman and the passing game. "We were pass first, pass second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth," Nicks said, adding that it will be "interesting" facing his old team twice a year in the NFC South. Wright, a five-year veteran, was with the Lions last season after spending four years in Cleveland. With Ronde Barber's future with the Bucs up in the air after 15 seasons and Aqib Talib confronting a legal matter off the field, the Bucs felt it was essential to pursue a proven cornerback in free agency. Jackson, who during last year's lockout was one of 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady V. NFL antitrust suit filed against club owners, said he doesn't anticipate the size of his contract creating pressure for him to be anyone other than the same type of player that made him one of the most attractive players available in free agency. Nicks and Wright expect to blend in well, too, although they know all eyes will be on them and Jackson. "We're not the big three like the Miami Heat," Nicks said, smiling. "But hey ..."
BROOKLYN -- For the second year in a row, Boston's franchise goaltender and $7 million man Tuukka Rask couldn’t physically answer the bell for one of the biggest games of the year.
Rask was unable to go Saturday night when the Bruins faced the Islanders at the Barclays Center because of a lower body injury. Anton Khudobin stepped in and helped the B's to a 2-1 victory that snapped their four-game losing streak, moved them past the Isles back in the second wild-card spot, and enabled them to close to two points behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.
It wasn't quite the same as last year, when Rask was too sick to play the win-or-go-home regular-season finale against Ottawa. The Bruins got shellacked in that one and missed the playoffs. There are still two weeks left in the regular season, so Saturday didn't have the same do-or-die consequences.
But Khudobin, who made 18 saves, gave Boston some energy and enthusiasm in the crease with the same kind of battling, chaotic style that Tim Thomas exhibited. Watching Khudobin throw a double-pad stack at John Tavares on a late third-period Islanders power play in a one-goal game was a clear sign that Rask wasn’t in net, and his unconventional technique perhaps distracted Tavares enough that he ripped his open shot off the crossbar and away from harm.
Afterward interim coach Bruce Cassidy fervently sang Khudobin’s praises, and almost seemed to be shedding some light on what they aren’t always getting from their top goaltender in these crunch-time games.
“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots," he said. "And you kill that many penalties. (The Islanders failed to score on six power plays.) It was a nice building-block win for us.
"I loved [Khudobin’s] performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”
So now the Bruins have a choice about what to do Tuesday against the Predators. And the hope here is that Khudobin gets a second straight start, whether or not Rask is healthy enough to go.
Khudobin has won five games in a row and has a 1.98 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage since the All-Star break. Rask, in contrast, has an inflated 2.91 GAA and .892 save percentage in that span.
More than that, however, there’s a real issue developing with Rask and how much trust the Bruins can have in him when the games matter most. He gave up a couple of bad goals in the loss to the Lightning on Thursday night, and afterwards looked like the boy who lost his dog when answering questions with a soft, unsure voice that began to trail off when it came time to accept responsibility for his part in the ugly defeat.
The downcast expression was a concern, and it certainly seemed like Rask was rattled mentally as much as he was beaten physically after that defeat.
So the overriding question now is: What good is a No. 1 goaltender if he doesn’t play like one when it matters most to his team?
Maybe Rask is seriously injured and we’ll find out after the season that he needs hip surgery, and was far less than 100 percent all year. Or maybe playing three games in four nights was too much of a strain, and he needed the weekend away from the ice after the unavoidable bump in workload.
The fact that the Bruins expect Rask to practice on Monday, however, really takes some of the oomph out of the serious-injury argument, and makes one wonder how he can practice Monday after not playing in the biggest game of the season on Saturday.
Maybe Rask was angered by Cassidy calling him out by saying the team “needs more from him” after the goalie's lackadaisical performance in the loss to Tampa Bay, and that played into the goalie’s sudden case of “lower body discomfort” on Friday after saying Thursday he felt fine physically.
Maybe Rask is frazzled emotionally after the burden of carrying the team at times this season, and he needed a few days away from the ice to recollect himself and get ready for the crucial seven remaining games on the schedule.
Still, the Bruins can’t look at Rask as someone they can rely on when the chips are down for the rest of this season. That cost them last year, and shame on the Bruins if they again make the mistake of putting all of their playoff eggs in the Rask basket.
Perhaps it’s time to even start thinking about other goaltending options this summer. Rask will no longer have full no-trade protection once the season is over. He's been inconsistent at best in the biggest moments over the years, and the B’s shouldn’t pay a goaltender like he’s one the best if he isn’t when the late-season heat is on.
But that’s a question to ponder in a month or two.
For now, the Bruins should ride the hot goalie -- Khudobin, who showed Saturday he's willing to battle his butt off -- and let Cool Hand Tuukka cool his heels on the bench while recuperating from whatever it is that kept him out of a gigantically important game in Brooklyn this weekend.
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