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.
Dan Shaughnessy ran a piece this week calling the Bruins the No. 4 team in town these days. He wasn’t wrong. They are.
Of course, the claim isn’t really a discussion about the Patriots or Red Sox, as they’ll always be the two most popular teams in town. It’s about the Bruins being behind the Celtics, which again, they are.
Yet while the general premise of the story was correct, there was an issue to be taken with the piece. Shaughnessy wrote that, “In terms of overall interest and championship hopes, [the Bruins] are a distant fourth.”
That’s where he’s wrong. Nobody would argue against the Celtics garnering more interest (even if the Bruins might have a stronger fanbase), but championship hopes? The teams are deadlocked.
The Celtics are one of the top teams in a league in which only one team (the Warriors) has a chance. The Bruins are a middle-of-the-pack team in a league in which the literal last team in the playoffs (the No. 16 seed Predators) went to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
This isn’t about which team is better, because that’s not close. The Celtics have three All-Stars in their starting five and the third overall picks from each of the last two drafts. They’ve also got one of the best coaches in the league.
It’s also not about who will likely go farther. The Celtics will at the very least reach the Eastern Conference finals. The issue is that they’ll then either be eliminated by the Cavaliers or earn the opportunity to perhaps get swept by the Warriors in the Finals.
That leaves the Celtics with a certainty of a very good season, but also close to an impossibility of a championship season.
As for the Bruins, they probably won’t be much better than they were last season, if at all. This season was always the one to watch in the Sweeney era, as it will see the biggest implementation of the young players drafted. There should be at least four Sweeney draft picks on the team this year (Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson), plus youngsters from the Chiarelli era still pushing for jobs.
The biggest change figures to be on the back end, where the Bruins should have the best top-four they’ve had since Sweeney dealt Dougie Hamilton. A lot of that rides on McAvoy, but there remains hope on the back end in future seasons with Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril trying to eventually break in.
Will the Bruins rule their division the way the Celtics will? Most likely not. The guess here is that Tampa and Montreal will finish ahead of teams like Boston, Ottawa and Toronto.
Yet there isn’t a Cleveland or a Golden State waiting to swallow up whoever does emerge throughout the playoffs, and that’s what leaves the Bruins and Celtics with equal chances at a title. The Penguins have won back-to-back titles, but the Bruins have gone 4-1-1 against them in the regular season the last two years. They’re hardly the unstoppable force that exists in Golden State.
So in terms of buzz, offseason moves and anticipation for a new season? Sure, the Celtics have it all over the B’s. I’m certainly way more excited for basketball season. When it comes to championship hopes, however, the B’s and C’s are no different.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Coach Sean McVay walked into the postgame news conference and immediately asked, "Anyone have a beer?"
He probably wasn't the only person who wanted a drink after watching a surprisingly thrilling Thursday night shootout between his Rams and the San Francisco 49ers that wasn't decided until Los Angeles prevented a potential game-tying 2-point try and then delivered a rare defensive stop after blowing the onside kick in a 41-39 victory.
"We talk about mentally tough, be your best regardless of the circumstance," McVay said. "I thought the players did that. They found a way in spite of some of the ups and the downs to come away with the win."
While the defense came up big late, it was the offense that carried the day for the Rams (2-1), who have gone from the lowest-scoring team in the NFL a year ago to a dynamic one through three games under McVay.
Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns, Todd Gurley ran for 113 yards and scored three TDs and Robert Woods (108) and Sammy Watkins (106) each topped the 100-yard mark receiving in Los Angeles' second 40-point performance of the season. The Rams have 107 points in all so far, the second-most in franchise history after three games to the 119 by "The Greatest Show on Turf" squad in 2000.
"Since I've been here we haven't been able to do that," Gurley said. "Hopefully we can keep putting points together, keep working together and keep learning from this. I think we left a lot more points off the board."
This win didn't come easy as the Rams nearly blew a 15-point lead, giving up two late touchdowns, fumbling a kickoff return and failing to recover an onside kick. But Los Angeles managed to stop a potential game-tying 2-point conversion on a deflection by Troy Hill and then used an offensive pass interference penalty against Trent Taylor and a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to stop the Niners after the onside kick.
The 49ers (0-3) scored five touchdowns after failing to get any the first two weeks but still came up short in part because a missed extra point by Robbie Gould forced them to try for 2 on their late touchdown.
"I just rushed it, I missed it, I made a mistake," Gould said. "Obviously, I wish I didn't do that, or we'd probably be playing in overtime right now.""
This time it was a tired defense that hurt San Francisco. After facing 79 plays in a 12-9 loss at Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers appeared to run out of gas on the short week as Goff frequently had wide-open receivers, especially on third down.
The Rams were 8 for 12 on third down, including all three of Goff's touchdown passes.
The Rams needed all that offense on a night where Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.
QUICK START: The Rams took just 12 seconds to get on the board as Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted Hoyer on the first play from scrimmage and returned it to the 3-yard line. Gurley ran it in on the next play to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.
"I just told him to start over," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Got to go back to work. We didn't change anything, went right on with the script. But it was a tough way to start out."
DROUGHT BUSTER: The 49ers came into the game without a touchdown on the season but broke through in the first quarter with some help from the Rams. After Blake Countess jumped offside on a punt, the Niners took advantage of the second opportunity and drove to score on Hoyer's 9-yard run 126:43 into the season. That was the longest it took a team to score its first TD since 2006 when both Tampa Bay (143:03) and Oakland (127:10) took more time.
FOURTH DOWN CALLS: Both teams drove to the opposing 1 on their opening drives of the second half with help from a Willie Mays-style basket catch by Watkins and a perfect toe drag on the sideline by San Francisco's Pierre Garcon. But the Rams opted to kick a short field goal, while the 49ers went for it and converted on Carlos Hyde's 1-yard run that cut Los Angeles' lead to 27-20. Hyde added a second 1-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
INJURIES: Rams S Lamarcus Joyner left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. ... Los Angeles C John Sullivan injured his groin in the second half and Watkins and Tavon Austin left with concussions. ... 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), FB Kyle Juszczyk (neck), DL Tank Carradine (ankle) and LB Brock Coyle (concussion) all left with injuries in the second half.
UP NEXT: The Rams travel to Dallas on Oct. 1. The 49ers visit Arizona.