Fifteen thoughts from Bruins-Sabres

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Fifteen thoughts from Bruins-Sabres

BUFFALO Here are five thoughts from the first period of the Bruins and Sabres with both teams locked in a scoreless tie after the first 20 minutes of action at the First Niagara Center.

1) A couple of good stops by Tuukka Rask in the first period particularly on a Derek Roy tipped puck right in front of the net in the first minute of action. You had to expect that Rask would be motivated after getting humbled here his last time in Buff, and hes been good. A much tighter hockey game as well with both teams doing a good job clogging up the neutral zone, but it appears that whatever work Rask has been doing with goalie coach Bob Essensa is helping.

2) A shot on net and a perfect five-for-five in the face-off circle while David Krejci is playing right wing for the Bruins. Hes put together another solid period after an encouraging performance against the Blues, but a little actual offensive production looks like something the Bs will need tonight.

3) Bruins defensemen looking a little slow on their skates tonight. Thomas Vanek blew right on by Adam McQuaid but missed the net with a shot, and Tyler Ennis looked like he went through Zdeno Charas legs while attacking the left post. But Tuukka Rask was able to hold the post and keep it scoreless.

4) Corey Tropp with three shots on goal playing in place of Brad Boyes. I think hes already matched Boyes production over the last two weeks.

5) Mike Knuble a health scratch again against the Montreal Canadiens and apparently not too happy about it. Its time for the Washington Capitals to do the right thing and trade the classy veteran. No way to treat a guy like Knuble unless theyre planning to deal him.

SECOND PERIOD

BUFFALO Here are five thoughts from the second period of the Bruins and Sabres with the Bs trailing Buffalo by a 1-0 score after the first 40 minutes of action at the First Niagara Center.

1) Another tired-looking performance by the Bruins following an encouraging one. No emotion, small pockets of physicality around large pockets of labored skating and little sustained traffic around Ryan Miller. There is still 20 minutes to go, but weve seen this Bruins team quite a bit lately.

2) Joe Corvo was decent two nights ago in St. Louis, but hes been bad tonight against the Sabres. Incredibly passive and afraid to shoot from the point on the power play and way off with his transition passing while breaking out of the defensive zone. There have been way too many of these games from Corvo this season. The defensive shortcomings are forgivable, but the offensive deficiencies are mystifying.

3) Ryan Miller brought the good stuff again tonight. Eighteen saves including a shoulder shrug stop when Tyler Seguin had a chance all alone after stealing the puck inside the blue line. Hes flowing with confidence when hes making stops like that on shots roofed to his glove side.

4) Huge swing in momentum when the Bruins fanned on their first power play attempt without a single shot, and the Sabres stormed right back down with an Andrej Sekera goal at the other end. Two power plays with nothing to show for it really isnt a good look for the Black and Gold.

5) Chris Kelly leads Bruins with four shots on net and has been active tonight. One of the most energetic players for the Bruins. They need more playing like him the final 20 minutes.

THIRD PERIOD

BUFFALO Here are five thoughts from the third period of the Bruins and Sabres with the Bs and Buffalo tied at a 1-1 score and headed to overtime after the first 60 minutes of action at the First Niagara Center.

1) Great energy from the fourth line in the third period. They earned the power play that helped set up Zdeno Charas game-tying goal. Did their jobs in the energy department at most important juncture of game. Six shots on net for them as a unit.

2) Johnny Boychuk covering for Zdeno Chara when hes caught up ice and diving face-first to block a Jordan Leopold shot from the slot to open the third period. The people criticizing his new contract extension should watch plays like that. Boychuk is fearless and wants to win. The Bruins need players like that.

3) Tuukka Rask with encouraging signs throughout the game. Twenty-two saves and many of them in high-traffic situations with plenty of bodies around the net. It was his best game in over a month and finally gets the Finn back on the right track.

4) Six shots on net for Chris Kelly and plenty of blue collar scoring chances around the net. The Bruins are beginning to rouse up those competitive juices and its obvious in some of the individual performances.

5) Give the Sabres credit, they started playing the proper way in the second half of the season. But it was way, way too late to try to get back into the hunt for a playoff spot.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.