Chara's return sparks Bruins


Chara's return sparks Bruins

PHILADELPHIA Zdeno Chara couldnt smother the Cheshire Cat grin when asked if he was looking to make a statement when Jody Shelley invited him to dance during his first shift of the game.

It was also his first on-ice action in a week after suffering a left knee injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets the week before, but that didnt stop the 6-foot-9 defenseman from unleashing his fury against the Flyers tomato can. Chara tuned Shelley up with a series of stiff left-handed jabs and a couple of windmill right-hands that toppled the Flyers fighter to the ice, and the momentum was completely Bostons after already scoring first in the game.

I got a front row seat to a NHL heavyweight fight, said a smiling Tim Thomas, who watched the bout that started from a face-off in the Bs defensive zone.

It was the exclamation point to a nasty hockey game on a Saturday afternoon that had Shawn Thornton riding shotgun on shifts with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to keep Flyers players from taking runs at them. It was the kind of game that saw an instigator penalty tossed out when Johnny Boychuk came to the defense of Marchand and squared off with Scott Hartnell when the curly haired barbarian was attempting to take late shots at the agitator formerly known as Nose Face Killah.

The nastiness was all over the ice with the top two teams in the East fighting for supremacy, and the decision in both the fisticuffs and the standard action went overwhelmingly in Bostons favor by a 6-0 score at the Wells Fargo Center.

There were so many penalties on both sides that it took a little bit of the flow out of it. Those things happen, but it wasnt really the referees fault. It was just two teams out there battling, said Chara. I thought it was a pretty good game.

We tried to have really have a strong first 20 minutes and there were things happening right out from the opening face-off early on. Based on the early action everything else was happening.

The fight was so lopsided and so integral to Boston summarily knocking the wind out of the Flyers with a violent body shot that Claude Julien found himself thanking Shelly for going there following the victory.

What did at the beginning might not be the best trade-off talent-wise, but youve got to look at what else it does. He got challenged by a guy trying to set the tone for his team, and it worked the other way, said Julien. Zeeor if you want to say Shelley, gave us even more reasons to be prepared and be motivated. Hopefully we can build on that.

But enough about Charas third fight this season.

The goliath blueliner followed up on the fists of fury act with a power play blast from the left point in the first period and an assist on a Nathan Horton goal in the second period. The fight, the goal and the assist gave the Bs captain a Gordie Howe hat trick after missing two games with an injury, and signaled to the rest of the league that Chara is still very much more machine than man.

He was larger-than-life in Bostons whitewashing of the Flyers, and its only fitting that Charas return signaled Bostons ascension back into the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference. Both the Bruins and Philly have the same number of points, but the Bruins gain the slight advantage with the higher number of straight victories in the win column.

Chara finished with nearly 24 minutes of ice time and the four big shots on net that created two goals for the Boston offense, and it seemed he didnt miss a beat in his return.

He was good. He was solid. As much as we missed him, it was a good rest for him playing the kind of minutes he does. So he seemed really fresh tonight, said Julien. He was excited to play and he was ready.

A contribution that went a bit under the radar: the return to normalcy on the defensive side of the ice against a Philadelphia squad that leads the entire NHL with 3.66 goals per game. Granted the Flyers were without Claude Giroux and Chris Pronger headed into the game and then lost Sean Couturier to a nasty slap shot off the back of the head during Saturdays matinee but the Bruins still held Philly down with only 31 shots and exactly zero goals.

It wasnt anything close to the passive bunch of skaters that allowed the Kings and Senators to take 90 cracks at the net, but thats the power of the returning Captain. Its always difficult to miss the presence of Chara when hes out on the ice, and he made sure to announce it early and often to a Flyers team that certainly wished hed taken one more game off.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1


STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl


Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.