As the second-seeded Bruins prepare to butt helmets withthe seventh-seeded Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals beginningThursday night at TD Bank Gardenwere fortunate to have a pair of veteran NHL beat writers representing eachteam as CSN Insiders.Joe Haggerty is a long-time beat writer for the Bruinsnow in his third season as Bruins Insider for CSNNE. Chuck Gormley is anotherveteran NHL beat writer who is in his first year as Capitals Insider forCSNwashington.com. So lets get the conversation started.@ChuckGormleyCSN: All right, Hags. Strap your helmet onbecause were gonna end this thing with a prediction. But lets start withgoaltending. The Bruins have a guy who last season became the first goaliesince Bernie Parent to win the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in the sameseason. Hows he looked for a 37-year-old guy?@HackswithHaggs: Im ready, Chuck. I put on the foilbefore I sat down at the keyboard. My first prediction is painlots of it.Thomas has looked good lately and hes getting older right before our eyes ashe turns 38 years old this month. He went through a long stretch in January andFebruary where he looked tired, old and far from the best form of himself wesaw in the playoffs. Some of that is natural given that he played 82 games lastseason and had a busy summer, and then appeared in 16 straight games duringFebruary and March once Tuukka Rasks groinabdomen blew up. In Thomas lastfive games of the season he was 4-0-1 with a 2.00 goals against average and a.931 save percentage, and looked much more like the athletic, unpredictablenetminder that mystified opponents last spring. In other words he looks likehes found his mojo. What about that goaltending situation in Washington,Chuck? The Bruins say theyre not licking their chops at the thought offresh-faced rookie Braden Holtby getting the call against them, but it lookslike a gigantic goalie mismatch on paper. @ChuckGormleyCSN: On paper, yes. But there's somethingabout Holtby that intrigues me, Haggs. He's only 22 and has appeared in justtwo playoff series (one in the Western League and one in the AHL) but he's gotthat swagger you want in a young goalie. He's aggressive, loves to handle thepuck and protects his crease like a Rottweiler. In fact, he reminds a lot of ayoung Ron Hextall, who (ahem) led the Flyers to the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals asa fiery rookie. Holtby will need to protect himself in that crease because withMichal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun nursing themselves back to health with the dreaded"lower body" injuries, the Capitals are one injury away from turningto emergency backup Dany Sabourin, whose last Stanley Cup playoff appearancecame in 2007 when Roberto Luongo needed to take a bathroom break in overtime ofGame 5. Now tell me a little bit about the Bruins' defense. We all knowZdeno Chara is a beast. Brooks Laich told us he remembers him breaking a VO2bike in training camp when they were both with Ottawa. But what about the rest of the Boston blue liners? CanOvechkin and the Caps take advantage? @HackswithHaggs: It may not be Ovechkin that takesadvantage, Chuck. I think the Bruins coaching staff is leaning toward throwingtheir top shutdown defensemen pair of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the Oviline. Im really intrigued by Dale Hunter putting a couple of battering rams inTroy Brouwer and Laich with Ovechkin, and that physicality could help wear downCharaDennis Seidenberg as the series goes on. But those two will play close to30 minutes a night, and everyone remembers how good they were at dominatingtheir zone in last years run to the Cup. Many, myself included, had Seidenbergas their dark horse Conn Smythe candidate last season, and hes a big key forthe Bruins. Hes like a big German machine that keeps absorbing hits and abusewithout flinching or slowing, and hes a far cry from the injury-plaguedprospect with the Flyers many moons ago. I think the real key here is how thesecond D pairing of Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference fares against the AlexSeminNicklas BackstromJason Chimera trio. Boychuk can sometimes get a littleover-aggressive jumping up in the offensive play and Ference can be overpoweredat times around the net, and theyll need to be just as good asCharaSeidenberg. The good thing about the Bruins is that Claude Julien has theoption of matching shutdown forward Patrice Bergeron with BoychukFerence, andthe Selke Trophy favorite is like having a third defensemen on the ice exceptthat hes a 60-point scorer and arguably the best face-off man in the game aswell. The one weak spot for the Bruins defense: Joe Corvo. With the AdamMcQuaid injury it appears Corvo will start the series in the lineup, and hes acomplete defensive breakdown waiting to happen. Boston will limit the amount of time hes onthe ice a la Tomas Kaberle last year but Julien is probably waking up in acold sweat dreaming about some of Corvos weaker moments while losing battlesaround the net. So wheres the soft white underbelly with the Capitals, Chuck?I seem to remember Dennis Wideman would trip over imaginary banana peels in hisown end of the ice when he was a member of the Bruins. It seems that Washington defense canbe exploited a little bit, eh?@ChuckGormleyCSN: No white underbellies here inWashington, Haggs. OK, truth be told the Caps' blue line lacks that monstershut-down guy that strikes fear in the hearts of opposing forwards, especiallysnarly guys like Milan Lucic. John Carlson (minus-15) has struggled at bothends of the ice this season but seems to have found his groove now that he'sbeen reunited with Karl Alzner as the top pairing. Hunter will try to get thatpairing out as much as possible against the Bruins' top unit of of Lucic, DavidKrejci and Rich Peverley, but they won't be able to match up physically andwill need to move the puck as quickly as possible. That's where thepuckhandling of Holtby comes into play. He's far better at moving the puck thanNeuvirth, who is questionable for this series. Mike Green has world-classtalent but hasn't shown much of it lately. He had no goals and one secondaryassist in the final 22 games after returning from abdominal surgery. He'll bepaired with Roman Hamrlik, who turns 38 on Thursday and looked as good as gonebefore the trade deadline. Hamrlik and Green seem like a natural fit butneither is particularly strong and have trouble with dump-and-chase teams thatcan get on them quickly. Bruins fans are all too familiar with Wideman, who wasgiven a hard time at the end of his stay up there but made his first All-StarGame appearance this season. His offensive numbers have tailed off recentlyand, as youve seen, he's not the best in his own zone. He'll be paired withJeff Schultz, who is 6-foot-6 but is not as physical as the Caps would like. Iactually give the Caps a bit of an edge on defense, especially with the thirdpairing. I've said for a few days now that with Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin,the Caps have more high-end talent up front than the Bruins, but youve got toagree the Bruins are deeper from top to bottom with their forward lines, right?@HackswithHaggs: Cmon Chuck, the Bruins didnt becomethe first NHL team to boast six 20-goal scorers for nothing. Depth is theirbuzz word for success and one of the biggest factors in their Stanley Cup fromlast season. They have three 20-goal scorers as their top three center spots,and Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand can play with anybody. Theydont have a single superstar-type forward like Ovechkin, but they have a groupof players that are consistently very good. There are a couple of things tolook for: Kelly, Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley were a dynamic third lineduring last postseason, and one of the biggest reasons they got by Montreal.While Kelly, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Rolston have been great over the lastmonth, Ill have to see them become a viable offensive weapon in the postseasonbefore Ill truly believe it. Its a big factor for Boston against teams with good depth. Anotherkey is Peverley being forced into a top-six winger role with Nathan Hortonruled out for the playoffs. Peverley has been rusty in a handful of games sincecoming back from a sprained knee, and theyll need offensive production out ofhim after he was without a goal in the final five games of the regular season.The X-Factor in all of this: Tyler Seguin. He more than tripled his pointoutput from last season (22 last year to 67 this year), became the youngestplayer in Bruins history to lead the team in goal-scoring with 29 strikes at 20years old and has already shown how he can single-handedly tear a playoff teamapart with his speed and creativity. Just take a gander at the tapes of Game 2against the Lightning during last years conference finals if you need arefresher, my friend. If Seguincomes to play with his A game then it could be a quick series. If the Capsare able to keep the Bruins forward groups off the board then it will be along, hard-fought series. Who is your X-factor from that Caps bunch, Chuckles?@ChuckGormleyCSN: First of all, only Chris Pronger, KeithJones and my kindergarten teacher are allowed to call me Chuckles. But I'll letthat go, Haggs, and surprise you with my X-Factor. His name is Jay Beagle andhe is one of those work-your-tail-off checking line centers who, along with linematesMatt Hendricks and Marcus Johansson, will see plenty of ice against the Krejciline. You may remember Hendricks from that shootout move he put on Thomas inthe Caps' last visit to the Garden on March 29. But if you ask me for oneplayer who can take this series to seven games it's Nicklas Backstrom. The guywas cruising along as the club's leading scorer before getting elbowed in thechin by Rene Bourque and forced to miss the next 40 games with concussionsymptoms. He is as important to the Caps as Bergeron is to the Bruins. He'llstart off centering a line with Alexander Semin, who by the way, is playinginspired hockey these days, and Jason Chimera, who ruffled some feathers bysteamrolling Adam McQuaid in his last visit to the Garden. Backstrrom hasplayed only four games since returning to the lineup but has gotten better eachgame and finished off the regular season with a goal, assist and roughing minoragainst the Rangers Ryan Callahan, which for him is the equivalent of a GordieHowe hat trick. So there you have it. And since I'm a gentleman I'll let youhave the final say in this. I'm going to pull a Brooks Laich and"guarantee" this will not be a short series. And the longer it goes,the better chances the Capitals have of pulling off an upset. Not sure how youfeel, Haggs, but the Caps have too much to lose -- like about a half dozenplayers and possibly a coach andor general manager to go out quickly. I seethis thing going seven games, but it pains me to say the Bruins are just toodeep for these Capitals. Bruins in 7.@HackswithHaggs: Ive seen many people in Boston start puffing outtheir chests with the notion that Alex Ovechkin and the Caps will simply giveup and give in because they dont have the burning desire to win a Cup. Id bethe first to say that the Bruins should win the series and are better than theCapitals in nearly every category aside from elite Russian hockey players ontheir roster. But I wholeheartedly agree that Washington isnt going to be an easy outbecause changes are in the offing for them if they dont really bring it in thepostseason. Who knows who could be gone, but I fully expect to see a dangerous,motivated Washingtonclub ready to fight the Bruins every step of the way. The one thing I wonder ishow gritty a series this is going to turn out to be with Dale Hunter as thecoach, and blue collar guys like Beagle, Matt Hendricks, Chimera and TroyBrouwer dotted up and down this roster. Everybody looks at the Capitals as askill team without the dirt and grime to win in the playoffs, but I thinktheyve added enough to make it really difficult on a team like the Bruins. Butthat being said, I think the Bruins offense will find a way to exploit guyslike Wideman and Green for enough offensive chances to provide two or threegoals a game and the Bruins are almost unbeatable when they score three goalsin a game. Itll be fun to watch and perhaps well even see Ovechkin and Charago toe-to-toe in a pay-per-view Eastern European event, but the Bruins willoutlast the Capitals in seven games. I cant believe we agree on this, Chuck.Maybe you guys from Washingtonarent so bad after all. See you at the Garden.@ChuckGormleyCSN: Looking forward to it, Haggs. Let the games begin.
BOSTON – From the outset of this season, the Boston Celtics were swimming upstream when it came to getting respect.
No matter how many wins they racked up, no matter how many upsets they managed to pull off, they were never going to do enough to satisfy the court of public opinion which wanted one thing and one thing only from the NBA: A third installment of Golden State against Cleveland in the NBA Finals.
The Warriors did their part by running through the West with 12 wins in as many playoff games.
Meanwhile, the Celtics will try to not just stave off elimination tonight, but continue to delay what so many believe is an inevitable Golden State-Cleveland Final.
Boston’s Al Horford understands that while the league this season has seen lots of individual success as well as teams that have overachieved, the thirst for Golden State versus Cleveland remains stronger than ever.
“We understand that’s what everyone has been talking about since the beginning of the season,” Horford said. “For us it’s just to focus … and play the Celtic way. And just come out here and fight and we’ll take it from there.”
The Celtics did that in Game 3 with Avery Bradley delivering one of the more memorable shots in the Brad Stevens era, a game-winning three-pointer that hit the rim four times before falling with 0.1 seconds to play as Boston squeaked out a 111-108 win.
Boston did a lot of good things in Game 4 and seemingly went into the half sensing that maybe just maybe they would even up the series at two games heading back to Boston for tonight’s Game 5 matchup.
But Kyrie Irving picked up the slack for a foul-plagued LeBron James, lifting the Cavaliers to a 112-99 win which puts them now just a win away from advancing to the NBA Finals.
Not only have folks both in the media as well as fans who have rooted for this series to be over, even merchandise sellers like Dick Sporting Goods have anticipated this series as already being over.
“It is what it is,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “It’s been like that all year; a lot of guys counting us out. At the same time, we’re trying to put ourselves in position to win each and every game.”
While that has been the goal, it certainly hasn’t worked out that way in this series.
Despite Games 1 and 2 being at the TD Garden, the Celtics lost both games by a total of 57 points.
And while they won Game 3 and had the Cavaliers on the ropes in Game 4 before losing, they know their chance to play NBA Finals spoiler is just about up.
“We know that’s the Finals that everybody wants to talk about, what everybody is looking forward to,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “We understand it. But we work just as hard as these guys. We just have to keep going out there and working. We’re not going to give it to them, and stuff like that. We just have to make it tough on them.”
BOSTON -- Chris Sale was perfectly happy to sit back and watch the Red Sox hitters do the work this time.
Sale cruised into the fifth inning, then was rewarded in the seventh when the Boston batters erupted for seven runs on their way to a 9-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night.
Sale (5-2) struck out six, falling short in his attempt to become the first pitcher in baseball's modern era to strike out at least 10 batters in nine straight games in one season.
But he didn't seem to mind.
"It was fun," said the left-hander, who received more runs of support in the seventh inning alone than while he was in any other game this season. "You get run after run, hit after hit. When we score like that, it's fun."
Dustin Pedroia waved home the tiebreaking run on a wild pitch, then singled in two more as the Red Sox turned a 3-1 deficit into a five-run lead and earned their third straight victory. Sam Travis had two singles for the Red Sox in his major league debut.
"I was a little nervous in the first inning," he said. "I'd be lying to you guys if I said I wasn't."
Mike Napoli homered for Texas, which has lost three of four to follow a 10-game winning streak.
Sale, who also struck out 10 or more batters in eight straight games in 2015 with the White Sox, remains tied for the season record with Pedro Martinez. (Martinez had 10 straight in a span from 1999-2000.)
After scoring four runs in support of Sale in his first six starts, the Red Sox have scored 27 while he was in the game in his last five. He took a no-hitter into the fifth, but finished with three earned runs, six hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings.
"Guys pulled through for me when I was probably pretty mediocre," he said.
"Martin threw the ball really well and I came in with two guys on and couldn't get an out," Dyson said. "Sometimes they hit them where they are, and sometimes they hit them where they aren't."
Asked if he felt any different, he said: "Everything's the same.
"If I get my (expletive) handed to me, it's not like anything's wrong," he said. "Any more amazing questions from you all?"
SEVEN IN THE SEVENTH
It was 3-1 until the seventh, when Andrew Benintendi and Travis singled with one out to chase Perez. Mitch Moreland singled to make it 3-2, pinch-hitter Josh Rutledge singled to tie it and, after Mookie Betts was intentionally walked to load the bases, Moreland scored on a wild pitch to give Boston the lead.
Austin Bibens-Dirkx got Benintendi to pop up foul of first base, but Napoli let it fall safely - his second such error in the game. Benintendi followed with a sacrifice fly that made it 8-3 before Travis was called out on strikes to end the inning.
Rangers: 2B Rougned Odor was shaken up when he dived for Betts' grounder up the middle in the third inning. He was slow getting up. After being looked at by the trainer, he remained in the game.
Red Sox: LHP David Price made his second rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket, allowing six runs - three earned - seven hits and a walk. He struck out four in 3 2/3 innings, throwing 89 pitches, 61 for strikes, and left without addressing reporters. 3B Pablo Sandoval also played in the game, going 2 for 4 with two runs.
"He felt fine physically," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, who added he would talk to Price on Thursday morning to determine how to proceed. "We had a scout there who liked what he saw."
Rangers: Will send RHP Nick Martinez (1-2) to the mound in the finale of the three-game series.
Red Sox: LHP Drew Pomeranz (3-3) looks to snap a personal two-game losing streak.