Haggerty: Bruins vs. Capitals preview

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Haggerty: Bruins vs. Capitals preview

The Bruins have started to find their consistency and mojo in their last three games, and they dont want to throw it away now.

Once again the Bruins will be facing a Washington Capitals bunch that should hungrier than them given the Southeast Division dog fight theyre embroiled in while holding tightly onto the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Caps managed only five out of a possible 10 points in their recent five-game homestand and now the Bruins represent the first stop on a long and winding road that will likely determine their playoff fate once and for all.

The Bruins meanwhile have won two games in a row for the first time in nearly two months, are playing the kind of hockey thats befitting a Stanley Cup champ and looked primed to go on an extended winning stretch before the playoffs begin. As it is so often for the Bruins its about balanced scoring with production from the fourth line, physicality and the goaltending component finally showing up against the Sabres.

The Bruins werent worried about winning streaks or consecutive victories as much as theyre now laser pointer focused on finding consistency in their game and feeling good about themselves with the playoffs around the corner. Jordan Caron has given the Bruins six points in his last three games and has whipped up the kind of production thats crucial at the right wing spot with injuries to Rich Peverley and Nathan Horton.

I dont think we can focus on going for three wins in a row or going for four wins in a row, said Kelly. I think we just need to realize that we need to be more consistent and we need to come out and play every game hard. If we do that the results will take care of themselves.

With 11 games during the first 19 days of March and a bevy of four-game weeks for the Bruins, Claude Julien gave the Bs an optional skate on Friday that big minute players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Dennis Seidenberg decided to spend off the ice. That sounds like a deal the Bruins might see more of going forward provided their coach is seeing the results on the ice.

A homeroad weekend against the Capitals and Penguins isnt any easy task for the Bruins, but the hard way is the best way to prepare for the playoffs.

I just want to make sure that I see a good effort from everybody, so whatever each individual needs to do to get there is their option, said Julien. Were looking forward to keeping our momentum going. You want to win hockey games, but what you want most of all is your team to compete hard every nightand want to be one of the best teams.

Weve been pretty good at that lately. I like the direction were headed in. I like the approach of our guys before the games. You can see them getting into the groove of understanding just how important every game is. Ottawa just wont go away. We need to keep playing good hockey.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Brian Rolston has one assist in six games with the Bruins, and has only managed nine shots on goal in those six games. Part of the reason to bring Rolston in was his willingness and skill shooting the puck, but that hasnt been seen enough thus far. Rolston was dropped down to the third line midway through Thursday nights win over the Buffalo Sabres and has experienced some turbulence adjusting to 15 minutes per night with the Bruins after getting spot duty for the Islanders prior to the trade. If anything could use a solid, productive game against the Capitals it would be Rolston now skating with Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kelly.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Both the Capitals and Penguins are playing well. Maybe theyre in different spots in the standings, but everyone wants those points going down to the stretch. Its going to be two hard-fought games. Its nice to get back-to-back wins, but we cant sit here saying we need to go for three in a row we need to go for four in a row. We just need to be more consistent. Chris Kelly talking about the challenge of matinees against Washington (at home) and Pittsburgh (on the road) this weekend.

KEY MATCHUP: Its always Zdeno Chara against Alex Ovechkin in a battle of Slovakian immovable object against Russian unstoppable force. Chara held the 26-year-old Ovechkin to zero points and a minus-2 in their only meeting of the season thus far as the Russian sniper was on suspension during Bostons first game in Washington DC. It should be a highly motivated Ovechkin given the questions that are being whispered about him while hes on pace for a pedestrian 30-goal, 60-point campaign for a Washington team on the outside of the playoff bubble.

STAT TO WATCH: 14-0-0 The Bruins record this season when Chris Kelly scores a goal. Claude Julien likes to talk about the importance of secondary scoring and that stat reflects it nicely.

INJURIES: Rich Peverley (right knee sprain), Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are long term injuries for the Bruins, and both Andrew Ference (lower body injury) and Daniel Paille (upper body) are day-to-day with the possibility of taking part in Saturday mornings warm-up skate. Brad Marchand suffered a stinger in his shoulder in the third period of Thursday nights game, but Claude Julien said hell be playing. For Washington playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom remains out with a concussion and defenseman Mike Green will be serving the first game of a three-game suspension for a head shot on Tampas Brett Connelly.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Itll be interesting to see whether Claude Julien gives newly signed backup goaltender Marty Turco one of the two starts this weekend against the Capitals and Penguins respectively. If its Tim Thomas it will be his eighth straight appearance, but hes coming off a solid 19-save outing in the win over the Buffalo Sabres. Tomas Vokoun has made both starts against the Bruins this season and is 1-1 with a 3.03 goals against average and a .902 save percentage against them while coming off a needed overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

CLEVELAND – There are 240 minutes of play in an NBA game, but Boston’s 112-99 Game 4 loss to Cleveland came down to seven (six minutes and 46 seconds to be precise).

That would be the amount of time left in the second quarter that LeBron James spent on the bench with four personal fouls (a first for him in the first half of an NBA playoff game ever) and Boston ahead by 10 points.

Boston could not have asked for a better scenario than that, especially considering how well they had played up to that point in the game and again, knowing that James wasn’t about to set foot back on the court until the third quarter.

But here’s the problem.

Boston’s 10-point lead when James left with four fouls.

Halftime rolled around and Boston’s lead was still at just 10 points.

Celtics players agreed that not finding a way to increase their lead with James out was among the more pivotal stretches of play in Game 4.

“They did a really good job of not letting it (the 10-point lead) get out of control while he was on the bench,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “Every time we scored, they came back and scored.  They answered back with everything we answered.”

While many will point to that stretch as a time when the Celtics failed to make the necessary adjustments to increase their chances of winning, it wasn’t as if the Cavs are a one-man team.

“They still have two All-Stars out on the court,” said Boston’s head coach Brad Stevens, referring to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. “With the best player in the world they go to unreal, but they’re still a pretty darned good team when those guys are out there.”

Irving had a playoff career-high 42 points which included him scoring 12 of Cleveland’s 14 points in the final 6:46 of the second with James on the bench.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, and you know, you can tell he puts in a lot of work in his game, a lot of respect from myself, my teammates,” said Avery Bradley. “We have to do a better job at defending him as a unit, trying to make everything hard on him. He definitely got a great rhythm going tonight, and I felt like we had a chance to make it harder on him.”

James still finished with a strong stat line for the night – 34 points, six assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

As good as he was on the court, the Celtics have to be kicking themselves for not doing more with the time James on the bench in the second quarter which in hindsight, was among the bigger factors in them now returning home facing elimination as opposed to being tied at two games apiece in this series.

“What are you going to do?” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love. “You have to continue to fight through it. At halftime, we were down 10. We made some adjustments on the defensive end and we just fought; we needed to. They got everything out of us tonight in that second half, but we played more inspired basketball as well.”