Harvard gets 12 seed, will play Vanderbilt

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Harvard gets 12 seed, will play Vanderbilt

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Kyle Casey remembers hearing Vanderbilt called "The Harvard of the South" when he was recruited by both coming out of high school.

Vanderbilt, which has the advantage of playing in the Southeastern Conference, was in his final three with Harvard and Stanford. But Casey, who's from Medway, Mass., chose to stay close to home with the goal of trying to get Harvard back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Truman administration.

"I couldn't be happier with my decision to come to Harvard," the Crimson forward said Sunday after they were given a No. 12 seed and a matchup with fifth-seeded Vanderbilt in Albuquerque, N.M., in the first round of the NCAA tournament. "I'm at THE Harvard University. There's no beating that."

Harvard has not been to the NCAAs since 1946, and it had never won an Ivy League title before sharing the crown with Princeton last season. With no conference tournament, the schools played a tiebreaker for the right to the league's automatic NCAA berth, and Princeton won the game on a buzzer-beater with 2.6 seconds left.
This year, Harvard (26-4) won the Ivy title outright, clinching it when Princeton beat Penn in the regular-season finale on Tuesday. But even though they knew their name would be called during the selection show, the Crimson players still looked tense waiting for the brackets to be filled out on television.

"Last year, just praying and hoping our name is going to come up on the board, just makes the moment even more special for us," guard Brandyn Curry said.

Sitting in a function room in the school's athletic administration building, with an eight-seat crew shell suspended from the ceiling above them, the players waited as two other regions were announced. During commercials, they tapped away on their cellphones while fans - at least one wearing a Jeremy Lin Harvard jersey - milled around.

When they were finally announced, the players jumped into the air and hugged.

"To make the tournament and see our name come up to make it legit, all the specifics didn't mean anything to me," guard Oliver McNally said. "I love the sport of college basketball. I love the tournament; I think it's the best sporting event. This is one of the dreams I've had in my life."

He's about to experience reality.

Vanderbilt (23-10) was still in New Orleans, where it upset No. 1 overall seed Kentucky on Sunday in the SEC tournament final, when it learned that it was a No. 5 seed. The Commodores are making their third straight NCAA tournament appearance and fifth in the last six years; they have lost three straight first-round games.

"We were just excited to hear our name called," said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, who played in the tournament when he was at Duke. "We know this great tournament is going to be as sensational as it's always been, with a number of great games that we hope to be a part of."

Harvard set a school record with 26 wins this year, breaking into The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in its history and climbing as high as No. 21. The Crimson also won with Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving, beating then-No. 22 Florida State in the process.

"We've done a lot of things a lot of players have come here to do," Casey said. "It's really humbling to do something here that's never been done before, when so many things have been done here."

Harvard's last NCAA tournament appearance was in 1946, when the Crimson lost to Ohio State and then fell to NYU in a regional third-place game. If the Crimson can win their first NCAA game ever, they would face either fourth-seeded Wisconsin and No. 13 seed Montana for a chance to reach the round of 16.

But if they do, they would be playing the regional semifinals at the TD Garden in Boston.

"I want to win. My career's over when we lose so I want it to last as long as we can," said McNally, a senior. "It's just going to be heartbreaking if you don't win. We wouldn't be competitors if that's not how we looked at each game."

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

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Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

BROOKLYN, NY – It wasn’t particularly entertaining and it won’t be all that memorable down the ride aside from the timing and importance of the meeting between the Bruins and Islanders. But it was a solid 2-1 team win for the Bruins over the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Saturday night with the B’s grinding all the way down to the end while protecting a one-goal lead through much of the third period.

Nearly everybody across Boston’s roster contributed in the major victory over the team trying to bypass them in the wild card standings, and it was a beautiful thing. Anton Khudobin stepped up when Tuukka Rask couldn’t start Saturday night’s showdown with a lower body issue, and Riley Nash supplied both Boston goals from a fourth line that’s played some of their best hockey lately.

It was unlikely heroes all around for the Black and Gold in the tightly-wound contest, but that diversity of talent and production can be a very good thing for a team looking to make that playoff push.

“You have to stay with it. You have to stay in the moment and stay with the game no matter what’s happening during the game. That’s how you get results, and that’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We just got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone. We got away from it the last few games, and it was nice tonight to be back playing a low-scoring game like what we’re used to playing.”

When it was all said and done the Bruins only allowed 19 shots on net and also killed off six penalties in the kind of grinding defensive showdown that you haven’t seen all that much out of the Black and Gold lately. It was exactly what Cassidy was looking for to snap the four-game losing streak, and once again start pushing the Bruins upward into the playoff chase.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard and fighting that hard to see pucks and find pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Cassidy. “From the goalie on out, everybody was in there [in the win]. It was a tough game. It was a nice Bruins win. We had been doing it with offense earlier, and we’ve got to be able to do it both ways. You need to be able to win 2-1 hockey games, and it had been awhile.”

Now it’s simply up to the Bruins to be feeling good about their latest win while going back to basics, and looking for more next time around after ending their worst losing streak of the season.

Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

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Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

BROOKLYN, NY – Things didn’t go so well last season for the Bruins when Tuukka Rask suddenly wasn’t well enough to play in the last game of the season, so there was good reason for the B’s to be a little nervous when their No. 1 goalie again couldn’t answer the bell Saturday night vs. the Islanders.

Anton Khudobin had won four games in a row headed into Saturday night, of course, and in his previous start he’d helped snap a 10-game winning streak for the Calgary Flames. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when Khudobin stood tall for the Bruins making 18 saves in a tight, nervy 2-1 win over the Isles at the Barclays Center.

“You don’t have that many shots, but maybe 10 scoring chances…that can be tougher than seeing 30 shots and same amount of scoring chances,” said Khudobin. “But I’m glad got the job done, we got our points and we got the ‘W’.”

It wasn’t wall-to-wall action in a game where both teams combined for 37 shots on net, but it was still impressive that Khudobin and the B’s special teams killed off six Islander power plays in such a tight hockey game. After the B’s backup netminder was lauded for the way he battled in the crease and competed for pucks like his team’s very life was on the line in a pivotal game.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I loved his performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

One could spend days analyzing Cassidy's words and wondering much of that was deserved, appreciative praise for Khudobin, and how much of that might have been a veiled message to Boston's No. 1 goaltender sitting back home in Boston. 

The best save of the night probably won’t even count as a save for the Russian netminder. It was John Tavares, after having beaten Khudobin once in the first period, moving into the offensive zone with speed during a third period power play, and getting an open look at the net front in the high slot. Khudobin thought quickly and dropped into the unconventional double-stack pad save that seemed to throw Tavares off just a little, and the Isles sniper smoked the shot off the crossbar rather than tying up the game.

“I didn’t touch it. I didn’t really have time to get there, so the only thing I tried to do was the two-pad stack, old school Bob Essensa-style,” said Khudobin, who has now improved to 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals against and an .899 save percentage this season. “Then he hit the crossbar. You need to get some luck in this league, and if you don’t get luck you’re going to lose games.”

A little luck and a little good, old-fashioned battling between the pipes was enough for Khudobin and the Bruins in Saturday night’s mammoth win. Now the questions become whether or not to go right back to Khudobin again on Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.