Home-and-home series vs. Ottawa important for B's

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Home-and-home series vs. Ottawa important for B's

BUFFALO The Bruins control plenty of late season destiny in their hands over the next two games.

Boston wraps up their 11-day, six-game marathon road trip with a showdown against their closest Northeast Division competition in Ottawa on Saturday night, and then host the same Senators hockey club at the TD Garden Tuesday night.

Thats what hockey people like to call a home-and-home series dont you know?
After Bostons 2-1 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, the Bs find themselves in a situation where they could potentially fall from second all the way to seventh in the Eastern Conference seeding if theyre swept by the Sens.

Ottawa trails the Bruins by three points with Boston holding three important games in hand, and the potential outcome from the two divisional tilts could swing from wildly beneficial to fairly disconcerting from Bostons perspective.

Claude Julien said his hockey club was excited to take on the challenge, and that makes sense after putting together solid back-to-back efforts for the first time in six weeks of unsatisfying hockey. Its finally time to play some games that will hold long-lasting postseason ramifications.

This is where a lot of things are going to be decided here. Whether we make it a tight race or whether we really push them down, said Claude Julien. The games in hand will only be handy if we win those. Weve got a big challenge tomorrow. Theyre waiting for us at home and weve got to travel there. Well be ready for the task.

With Tuukka Rask reclaiming his mojo in the shootout loss to the Sabres, things set up for Tim Thomas to seize the goaltending reigns against a Senators team hes dominated throughout his career.

It will be Thomas first return to the Scotiabank Place setting where he took home his fourth straight All-Star Game victory a month ago. Hes 22-8-2 lifetime against the Senators with a 1.98 goals against average, .937 save percentage and six shutouts in his career.

Meanwhile Ottawas starting goaltender, Craig Anderson, will be out for both games after cutting his hand in a cooking accident with a kitchen knife earlier this week.

The plot thickens with Boston and Ottawa also currently lined up to play each other in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today, so there should be plenty of motivation from each side on Saturday nightand then again on Tuesday night.

Theres no choice but to play with playoff-style hockey intensity from both sides with home ice advantage and serious playoff seeding on the line, so its time for the real Bruins to stand up.

Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

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Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler left Sunday's win over the Texans feeling pretty good about himself. One week after being relegated to the No. 3 corner role on the Patriots defense, he played every snap and allowed just two catches for 10 yards.

“I think I’m building,” Butler said afterward. “I think I’m taking it a step at a time. There’s a lot of football to be played, so whatever you see, judge me.”

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And we have. There was the pass-interference penalty in Week 1. There was the botched pick-play coverage with Patrick Chung in Week 2. But even with those mishaps mixed in, Butler's energy and effort did not seem to wane on film.

He caught Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill for a tackle from behind to prevent a first down in the season-opener. Against the Saints, his hard pass breakup on top Saints wideout Michael Thomas was a bright spot for the Patriots secondary.

In Week 3, that effort was there again. Targeted twice while in coverage on DeAndre Hopkins, Butler did well to jam Hopkins at the line of scrimmage and then limit the game's highest-paid receiver to zero yards after the catch.

When asked about Butler on Tuesday's conference calls, both Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia struck tones that were strikingly different than the ones that made headlines when discussing Butler the week prior.

"Yeah, I think Malcolm did a good job," Belichick said. "I mean, all of our defensive backs I thought were pretty competitive. We had some scramble yardage and loose plays and things like that. But I mean, the normal passing game we were pretty competitive on. But like anything else, there are certainly a lot of things we can do better."

That goes for Butler, too, who admitted last week that he hadn't been playing up to his standards.

On one of those scramble-drill plays Belichick referenced, Deshaun Watson found tight end Ryan Griffin for a 35-yard gain, which included several yards after the catch when Butler was among the defenders who missed the chance to try to wrestle Griffin to the ground.

There were occasions though -- like Watson's first-quarter third-down scramble that Butler helped to stop, forcing the Texans to kick a field goal -- when Butler's want-to was evident.

"I thought Malcolm played really well," Patricia said. "We certainly didn’t play great at all as a defense. I’m not saying that but I think the guy really tried to go out and play extremely hard. 

"This is a very competitive guy. Malcolm steps up to the challenges that you place in front of him. He goes out and competes, he works hard, he tries to do it the right way and he really tries to get better every week. Look, we had a productive week last week for him and working through. But it’s a new week and we’re going to try to get the same consistency every single week and that’s what we’re trying to do."

A week ago, when asked about Butler's performance, Belichick and Patricia weren't quite as glowing.

"I don’t think anybody’s performance this season is really where it needs to be or where it will be," Belichick said at the time. "We all need to do a better job."

"I think with Malcolm, he’s kind of in a boat with everybody else," Patricia said. "We’re trying to get better."

Part of the reason Butler may have been relied upon as much as he was could have been due to the fact that fellow corner Eric Rowe -- who started in Week 2 opposite Stephon Gilmore -- was inactive with a groin injury. 

How Butler will factor in against the Panthers in Week 4 remains to be seen, but if his work against the Texans improved his confidence, then that would seem to benefit the Patriots defense as a whole. 

"Things that we're confident in," Belichick said, "we do more aggressively, we do quicker, we do with probably better overall execution than things we're not confident in . . . 

"It’s a fine line there between confidence and overconfidence and taking it for granted, as opposed to just being right in that sweet spot of having an edge, having confidence, being alert and aggressive."

Report: Dwyane Wade close to reuniting with LeBron James in Cleveland

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Report: Dwyane Wade close to reuniting with LeBron James in Cleveland

The LeBron James-Dwyane Wade reunion is happening in Cleveland.

Wade, 35, who won two championships with James with the Miami Heat, is "nearing a commitment" to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported. 

Wade, bought out by the Chicago Bulls after one underwhelming season in a return to his hometown, will clear waivers Wednesday, become an unrestricted free agent and can sign for the $2.3 million veterans minimum with the Cavs. 

Wojnarowski reported that Wade considered offers from the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and a return to Miami, where he won two titles with James in 2012 and '13 and one with Shaquille O'Neal in 2006. 

The Cavs, of course, have remade James' supporting cast significantly since reaching the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season in June. 

Kyrie Irving was traded to the Celtics in a deal that sent Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to Cleveland. Thomas' injured hip is expected to keep him from playing until January, giving Wade, who averaged 18 points for the Bulls last season and 23.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds in his career, an opportunity for more minutes.