Haggerty: Bruins flirting with first slump since October

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Haggerty: Bruins flirting with first slump since October

TAMPA Tim Thomas was in the middle of answering a question about Tampa Bay snapping a seven-game losing streak with their win over the Bruins when he stopped dead in his tracks.

The verbal pause was particularly jarring because his first instinct response was Well, we looked like the before shutting off his thought in midstream. The intimation from Thomas was pretty clear: that the Bruins were instead playing like the team that hadnt yet won a game in 2012.

But the Bs goaltender instead pulled back on the self-inflicted verbal jab while freely admitting Bostons 5-3 loss to the woebegone Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum was another sure sign theyre in full struggle mode. But he was choosing his words with careful precision as if he was cutting multi-colored wires to defuse a ticking time bomb.

They didnt look like that against us. We looked like that slumping team, said Thomas, with 26 saves in a very average-looking performance. Its been a few games, but if there was just one thing then it would be easy to fix. But its a whole group of things that are adding up and combining together. One thing is that we need to be stronger on our sticks. Were getting stripped if youre looking at all of the last few games.

Mediocre Eastern Conference foes like the Hurricanes and the Lightning have seemingly lulled the Bruins into a catatonic slumber where theyre playing just well enough to lose close games. Defensive breakdowns forced Thomas into scramble mode throughout the game, and the best goaltender in the worlds glove hand betrayed him on a Dominic Moores game-winning shot launched from the left face-off circle.

The goal arrived with less than four minutes to go in the game, and is exactly the kind of wince-inducing goal that Thomas has avoided for a very long time.

It appeared the puck might have caromed off Andrew Ferences stick immediately after the shot, but the Bs goaltender said it was simply a good shot that fooled him.

It just beat me, admitted Thomas. It was a combination of that and the 1100th of a second hesitation to see if it was going to go off Ferences stick.

Thomas took the blame for the loss, but the suspects were many in defeat.

The offense is moving at a plodding pace while missing the speed of Rich Peverley and Brad Marchand over the last several games, and has managed only six shots on net in the first periods of each of the last two games.

Even the mighty tower of defensive power Zdeno Chara was on the ice for two of Tampa Bays even-strength goals during the Tuesday night loss. Chara was caught watching along with Johnny Boychuk and David Krejci when Vinny Lecavalier potted the Lightnings first goal amid a sea of Bruins defenders in the first period.

The performance wont be headed for Big Zees Norris Trophy resume tape this season, but instead speaks to a hockey club finally paying for an advantageous schedule in the first half of the season.

The Bruins are amidst a tough stretch of five games in seven days, and emotions are clearly running low. There were no fights and few scrums despite Tampa Bay tough guy Pierre Cedric-Labrie taking runs at Bs players during his six shifts on the ice.

Long stretches of the game didnt look like the Bruins team thats showed up for big games throughout this season.

We know we can be better defensively. We have to be better five-on-five because were just slacking right now, said Daniel Paille. Weve been giving up three or four goals a game over the last few games. We take a lot of pride in team defense and weve got to get back to that mentality weve had over the last few months.

It was clear before the game even began that the Lightning had much more revenge on their mind for last years Eastern Conference Finals. It was alluded to during the pregame video presentation at the Bolts home rink, but those seven games seem like a very long time ago to the Black and Gold.

Things seemed very much against Boston early in the game when a trio of Bruins were beaten to the loose puck by Lecavalier, it seemed that way when the Lightning outhit the Bruins by a 23-18 margin through 60 minutes and it seemed that way when turnovers by Joe Corvo and Milan Lucic led to a Tom Pyatt garbage man goal in the second period.

Sure there were several dicey penalty calls against the Bruins over the final two periods that helped usher in the defeat and even a diving call against Tyler Seguin -- but losses to lowly teams in two of their last three games isnt about a fickle bounce of the puck.

I dont think its our confidence. I would say our work ethic and our compete level werent there. Were no better and no worse than anybody else, said Julien. When we dont compete were a very ordinary team. I think thats what we are right now. I thought we had a really poor first period and we dug ourselves a hole.

We tried to pick up our game a little bit and then at the end we got the kind of calls that were disappointing. No doubt that well take the blame for the loss, but we certainly didnt get any help from the refs tonight. Our goaltending tonight was okay. Our whole game was just okay. It really is about everybody. Weve gotten used to certain guys playing a certain way and right now theyre not. We need to sharpen up and compete a little harder.

Claude Julien was loathe to let any talk of a slump creep into the conversation prior to Tuesdays game against the Bolts, but the Bruins are dipping their toes into the slumping swamp water. It could simply take a marquee matchup against the New York Rangers this weekend at TD Garden to snap the Bruins out of their flat line performance, or four days away at the NHL All-Star break might be needed to recharge the batteries.

Whatever it is the Bruins are badly in need of something with a whole host of negative characteristics creeping into their game. Strong individual performances of the few are narrowly holding things together presently, but that wont go on forever if things dont change.

Its not a slump now, but it will be soon if things arent turned around by the guys in the Bs room with some good old-fashioned Bruins hockey.

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

BOSTON – The wait is finally over for the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley.

Bradley will return to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after having missed the previous 18 games (and 22 out of 23) with a right Achilles injury.

“I’m excited to be back out there,” Bradley said. “I can’t wait for the game to start.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will play with a minutes restriction for the first week, and adjust accordingly.

“I wanted to come back four weeks ago,” Bradley said. “But I have to do what’s smartest. Those (medical) guys know better than me. It was tough listening to them. But we came to a compromise I guess you could say and I can play tonight. I’m happy with that decision.”

Bradley said the training staff wanted him to get more practices playing at the level he’s accustomed to, prior to returning to action.

But with the Celtics’ schedule, practice time would be few and far between so limiting his minutes initially is indeed a compromise of sorts.

Although rookie Jaylen Brown has done a solid job filling in for Bradley with the first unit, Stevens had every intention of Bradley returning as a starter.

“He’s our starting two-guard,” Stevens said. “We started the year really well as far as that group playing together. We haven’t had that group playing together very often. Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) are both able to give us a lot off the bench as well as if we need to plug them into a (starting) lineup later on. We feel good about that.”

As far as handling Bradley’s minutes this week, Stevens has a very simple approach to what he needs to do.

“I’m just going to play him in the first couple of stints,” Stevens said. “And when his minutes run out he won’t play anymore. It is hard if you’re trying to save minutes for the end. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense with getting stiff, sitting for a long time, coming off a long lay-off.”

Bradley is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds. A first-team All-NBA Defender last season, Bradley is also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.