Haggerty: Good vibes return to TD Garden in Black and Gold

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Haggerty: Good vibes return to TD Garden in Black and Gold

Perhaps the best way to describe Sundays first practice of Boston Bruins training camp was a carnival atmosphere that was missing only the calliope music and the sword-swallowing bearded lady.

Close to a thousand diehard Bruins fans traveled to TD Garden to watch the Bruins open up training camp after the first 119 days of the 2012-13 NHL season were wiped away due to the greed, stupidity and stubborn turns taken by the NHL lockout.

It was a celebration of NHL hockey with fans applauding and cheering as each Bruins player walked down the runway and hopped onto the ice.

There is nothing better. These fans are unbelievable. It feels good as a player stepping on the ice and hearing those fans cheering, said Nathan Horton, who has been envisioning that moment for nearly a calendar year after being knocked out of commission by a Tom Sestito hit back on Jan. 22 of last year against the Flyers. There is nothing better. It felt so good.

Quite simply: it was a continuation of a love affair thats raged on between the Boston sports fan and this particular set of Black and Gold skaters over the last five years.

It was a great day for hockey, said Claude Julien, simply and correctly.

All across North America there were hockey revivals in places as far-reaching as Vancouver and Sunrise, Florida, and there was quick forgiveness for many that had smoke coming out of their ears just a few weeks ago. It helped that both the NHL owners, executives and players and pretty much everyone involved with the sport was ready to say Im sorry in some form or fashion once the four months of madness ended with a signed Memorandum of Understanding around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night.

First it was the NHL schedule for everybody to pore over, then information on a quick six-day training camp and on Sunday morning Cam Neely was talking about free healthy wraps, fountain sodas and other concession items the Bruins will be giving away free at all January home games at TD Garden.

These are things that hopefully our fans can appreciate because Lord knows that we appreciate our fans, said Neely.

Neely followed up the free goodie offers by posing for an endless amount of pictures and signing autographs during the Sunday practice session as a steady stream of Bruins-garbed fans walked up to the private section where Neely, general manager Peter Chiarelli, assistant general manager Don Sweeney and assistant general manager Jim Benning were evaluating the players on the ice.

The message was pretty clear: the fans do matter to the Bruins and its more than just a Thank You, Fans painted in blue lettering on the ice.

Some may continue a bitter jihad against the NHL after their latest work stoppage that should have been avoidable. Some will watch the Bruins games on TV and swear to never spend another dime on a league that has taken its fan base for granted far too many times in the past. There might even be NHL teams in places like Phoenix or Florida that wont ever truly recover from the Great Lockout of 2012 and will instead relocate to a hockey city with a much warmer fan embrace.

But most Bruins fans in the city of Boston simply wanted their Stanley Cup-worthy team back out on the ice, and yearned for another Tyler Seguin rush up the ice, another Milan Lucic beat-down of an unfortunate opponent and another scorched Zdeno Chara slap shot that seems to defy the laws of physics.

They simply wanted their Bruins back and that finally happened on Sunday after a few more drawn-out moments courtesy of the lawyers doing their thing while drawing up a workable contract.

It was very exciting. Everybody was just pumped to be out there and skating in front quite a big number of fans, said Dennis Seidenberg. To hear them cheer for us was a good feeling. I think everybody here is just looking forward to playing on Saturday in the home opener vs. the Rangers and playing Bruins hockey again.

So now amid the good-feeling and Hakuta Matata moments at TD Garden as fans pass around free peanuts and discount-priced Dougie Hamilton jerseys from the souvenir shop, there will also be the matter of a 48-game regular season to be played. It will be immediate and exciting, and every game is going to have ramifications that couldnt even be imagined in the customary 82-game meat grinder.

It took pain and more than a little gnashing of the teeth to get to this point, but Sunday proved that the NHL and the Bruins are back with a vengeance as the New England Patriots enter the final weeks of their playoff lives, the Boston Celtics seem fated for Old Man Basketball oblivion and Red Sox spring training doesnt have quite the luster of 10 years ago.

Its been said all along that it would have been disastrous for the sport if the entire 2012-13 NHL season was cancelled, and a second entire year within the last eight was gone. Instead there will be life over the next four months and there will be a full round of Stanley Cup playoffs that will cause hard feelings to fade as they did for the NBA last season.

Sunday was the first step, and it was a good one. All that was missing from the scene was a Black and Gold Bozo the Clown handing out Bruins Balloon Animals to hockey-loving tots in the Gardens lower bowl.

But its not too late. Maybe thats the plan for Tuesday nights free Black and Gold scrimmage where the good vibes will just keep on coming.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.