Haggerty: Bruins are keying on early start to short season

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Haggerty: Bruins are keying on early start to short season

The early theme to the Boston Bruins season is already well underway.

After limping out of the gate with a 3-7 record last season as visions of Stanley Cup glory still dancing in their heads and maybe a few lingering headaches from a summer of triumphant toasts and beer-soaked celebrations it took two months of determined, energetic hockey just to insert them back into the playoff race.

With a shortened 48-game regular season on tap this time around, the Bruins cant afford a slow start with only 3 months of hockey determining their playoff worthiness.

You really cant afford to have even one bad month, said Johnny Boychuk. That could take you right out of things.

Bruins center Chris Kelly compared it to the NFL where every game will have meaning, and the normal dead period or two during an 82-game regular season will be kaput.

If you told us we had to play every day from now until June guys would be ready to play and happy to be back, said Kelly. It will be key to get off to a good start, continue playing well and get better with each game.

Instead it will be divisional grudge matches and conference showdowns right out of the chute to determine who is worthy and who will be outside the playoff scene in a year where their owners badly need the Stanley Cup postseason box office revenue.

The first game against the Rangers is going to feel a little like an exhibition game, said Lucic. It will be a new experience for all of us. But I think we always do a good job of keeping each other accountable.

The way I look at it, its not going to happen unless we make it happen. Last season it didnt start happening for us until we decided to go out and make it happen, and thats when we went on that incredible two-month run. The first 10 games we almost just expected it to happen just because were the champs.

That incredible two-month run included a 12-0-1 mark during the entire month of November, and going 23-3-1 in a period from Nov. 1 Jan. 5 that ended up being last years pinnacle moments for the Black and Gold.

So the expectation is that the Bruins are keenly aware of their own recent team history. Bs head coach Claude Julien will surely stress the importance of a strong start to the season, and team leaders like Zdeno Chara, Chris Kelly, Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron

Weve played the same way for the last five years with Claude. He expects a lot out of us and we expect a lot out of him, said Lucic. I dont want to say we take it for granted, but I think we did take it for granted at the start of last season. That was obvious in the way that we started the season.

So its up to us to come out the right way, practice the right way and have a good start to the season. It brought back great memories when the Kings lifted the Cup, but it also light that fire in you again. You want to taste that again.

It will be a challenge, of course. Guys like Lucic and Tyler Seguin become friends with New England Patriots players like Dane Fletcher, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski over the last couple of years, and got the inside scoop on last years abbreviated NFL training camp from a players perspective. The bottom line: nagging hamstring and groin injuries could be a big issue affecting Bostons jump out of the gate if the players start doing too much, too quickly.

Talking to a bunch of the Patriots guys in their short training camp, a lot of them got hurt with pulled muscles. I was talking to offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer about it and he hurt his back last season, said Lucic. You need to pay really close attention to stretching before, stretching afterward, getting a massage, cold baths and all of that type of stuff. We need to focus on all of that and nutrition is going to be a big part as well.

With the Bruins there will be some built-in advantages allowing them to get off the mark quickly: with continuity and high participation in the European leagues as two of the key factors.

While other teams like the Calgary Flames are ushering in a new coaching staff along with key new players, and the New York Rangers are introducing a shiny new piece in Rick Nash, the Bruins are virtually the same. Its the same coaching staff with the same systems coaching 11 of the same 12 forward and five out of six defensemen along with both goaltenders. Tim Thomas is the biggest subtraction from the team mix, and the Bruins have had eight months to get used to that adjustment while Tuukka Rask readies for his big shot.

That doesnt even mention that the nucleus was good enough to a win a Stanley Cup two years ago and should be poised to do it again this season.

Couple all of those factors with the simple fact that the Black and Gold had 12 Bruins skaters playing overseas the most of any team in the NHL and training camp shouldnt be too much trouble for many key players like Chara, Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, David Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg among others.

The simple fact that so many Bruins keyed in on a strong start to the coming season rather than bursting into giddy celebration the NHL is back lets everybody know that the players are already into business mode. The first item on the Bs to do list is bursting out of the gate and making a loud, unmistakable statement to the other Eastern Conference teams theyll be battling with.

Then things should just get better from there before they once again take a quick breath in May prior to the playoffs.

But it's first things first for the Black and Gold, and that means crushing the months of January and February.

Celtics hold off Heat fourth-quarter rally for 112-108 win

Celtics hold off Heat fourth-quarter rally for 112-108 win

BOSTON –  As the final 10 or so games for playoff-bound teams like the Boston Celtics were poked and prodded to see who would have the toughest go of things down the stretch, the Celtics were deemed to have the easiest go of things.

Somebody forgot to tell their foes because it seems every night the Celtics are in a down-to-the-wire battle that’s not decided until the final minute or so of play.

And Sunday’s game against the Miami Heat was no exception with the Celtics managing to outlast the Heat for a 112-108 win. 

A 3-pointer by Jae Crowder put the Celtics ahead 102-101, which was soon followed by a pair of Isaiah Thomas free throws and a Thomas lay-up which made it a 106-101 game.

Miami's James Johnson scored four straight to make it a one-point game (106-105) with a minute to play. 

But Boston managed to maintain their lead for the remainder of the game as both teams exchanged free throws and defensive stops before the Heat simply ran out of time.

Boston (48-26) has now won four in a row and and eight of its last 10. 

In addition, Sunday's victory matched the team's win total from a year ago, with eight games to play. 

And maybe most important, Boston has now set itself up to at a minimum have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a really strong shot at finishing with the top overall record in the East and with it, home court advantage throughout every round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

Both teams swapped one defensive stop for another, a free throw here with a few made baskets sprinkled in for good measure.

And with 4:50 to play, the score was tied at 99 following an Isaiah Thomas lay-up.

Boston went on a 7-2 run capped off by a driving lay-up by Thomas that made it 106-101.

But the Heat responded with a James Johnson dunk followed by a pair of free throws by Johnson which made it a 106-105 game with 1:23 to play.

Boston countered with – who else? – Isaiah Thomas whose driving lay-up which was set up by a Marcus Smart offensive rebound, gave the Celtics a 108-105 lead with 60 seconds to play when Miami called a time-out.

Thomas led all scorers with 30 points while Horford once again flirted with a triple-double, finishing with seven points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. 

This game being so close down the stretch wasn’t all that surprising when you consider it was a relatively close game most of the night.

Trailing 58-53 at the half, the Celtics knew that changes had to be made in order for them to regain control.

It didn’t take long to see that the Celtics’ plan of attack in the second half was to do just that … attack!

They were more aggressive offensively with their drives and ball movement.

Defensively, their close-outs were tighter, rotations more crisp.

Within minutes, the Celtics had the game tied up on an Amir Johnson basket and 3-pointer from Jae Crowder.

Boston began to get some separation behind a 9-2 run that gave them a 79-73 lead, and closed the quarter off by scoring six of the last eight points to lead 85-75 going into the fourth.

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Maye hits late jumper to lift North Carolina to Final Four

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NCAA TOURNAMENT: Maye hits late jumper to lift North Carolina to Final Four

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left, and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky 75-73 to earn the Tar Heels' second straight trip to the Final Four and 20th all-time in Sunday's showdown of college basketball's elite in the South Regional.

The Tar Heels (31-7) will play Midwest champ Oregon on Saturday in Phoenix in the national semifinal.

North Carolina took control with a 12-0 run within the final 5 minutes. Kentucky's freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk hit three quick 3s, the last two by Monk and his second with 7.2 seconds left tied it up at 73.

Theo Pinson brought the ball down, passed back to Maye. The sophomore from Huntersville, North Carolina, knocked it down for the win with his feet on the 3-point line.

The Wildcats had one last chance, but Derek Willis' inbound pass went out of bounds on the far end.

Kentucky (32-6) will miss out on the Final Four for the second straight year.