Panthers won't sneak up on B's this time around

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Panthers won't sneak up on B's this time around

WILMINGTON, Mass. It was truly one of the few down moments over the last two months for the Bruins, and its something theyll be looking to avenge Friday night in their final home game before a post-Christmas West Coast swing.

The Panthers frustrated the Bruins with their lane-clogging defensive system and goaltender Jose Theodore stepped in for a performance that had old-time Bs fans flashing back to his days with the Habs. While the Bruins also dropped a game in Winnipeg, that game was the second half of back-to-back games after an emotional victory in Pittsburgh, so that gave the team a built-in excuse for defeat.

Florida just plain outplayed the Bruins as they have many teams en route to their high seeding within the Eastern Conference, so the motivation should be there for the Bruins where it might have otherwise wouldnt.

It was one of those games where we felt like we played great and didnt get the result that we wanted, said Milan Lucic. Weve got to do a lot of the same things we did last time against them, but we need to find a way to beat their goaltender. Theyre obviously a team thats played great in the first 35 games of the season, and theyve found some new life with the additions that they made this summer with players and the coaching staff."

After all, anybody looking at the schedule prior to the season would have circled a home game against the Florida Panthers on the Friday before Christmas as the kind of game that wouldnt raise anybodys heart beat. But the Panthers are much improved and the Bruins will have a challenge getting motivated with a few days off after defeating their arch-rival Habs Monday night.

Its a game that we should be able to use as a measuring stick because they've proven to be one of the big teams in the East this year, said Lucic. Its a bigger game than its been in the past against the Panthers because theyve elevated their game and theyve beaten us once already this year.

So they should be a properly motivated Bs bunch whether Rich Peverley plays or sits it out with a nagging undisclosed ailment. The matchup could also see a Florida team thats regressing to the mean after a nice run. The Panthers have dropped a pair of games (to the Senators and Coyotes) as they wing their way into Boston, and have one of the weakest goal differentials among playoff teams with a plus-4.

Florida is average in every category aside from goals against average (8th in the NHL at 2.4 goals allowed per game) and that is partially due to the hard work and disciplined system of head coach Kevin Dineen and top assistant coach Craig Ramsay. In many ways this years Panthers are reminiscent of that first Bs team under Claude Julien, which was long on effort and discipline, while coming up a little short in the offensive firepower category.

The bottom line on all of this: the Panthers still sit only two points behind the Bruins in the standings, and it will be exactly the kind of challenge that Pittsburgh or Philadelphia provides without any of the usual fanfare.

Its tough to sell the game down there. When you have the choice between the beach or a hockey game its a tough sell, said Gregory Campbell, who was dealt from the Panthers to Boston prior to last season. But if they win which theyre doing now theyll always attract fans. I know that organization works really hard to put fans in the stands, and the easiest way to do that is to win.

Theyve made the right moves and to be honest there arent a lot of guys that are still there from when Nathan Horton and I played there. A lot of teams might not be taking them seriously, so theyve gotten a win here or there because of that. But they are for real and theyre a good team. Their system is good.

Not bad for a Florida hockey club that hasnt made the playoffs in the last 10 years.

It will most likely be a chess match like the last game was at TD Garden with the two teams locked in a scoreless tie until Florida finally scored a few minutes into the third period. That broke the deadlock and became the difference in a contest of defensive wills and conservative execution.

Theyre a young thats coached well and they work hard, so we have to be prepared to compete, said Campbell. Theyll be playing their third game in four days with some travel in Ottawa, so thats something weve got to take advantage of.

One harrowing thought for the Bruins: they would have to hope they dont see this Florida team in the playoffs given their style of play and ability to frustrated opponents with hustle and strict, fundamental defense.

The Panthers may not be able to score much, but theyve been playing hard hockey games nearly every time out.

The Bruins will get another firsthand look in a rare Friday night hockey game in Boston, but nothing should surprise them this time around.

Ainge: Isaiah Thomas visiting hip specialists, no decision yet on surgery

Ainge: Isaiah Thomas visiting hip specialists, no decision yet on surgery

BOSTON – The last 2 1/2 games for the Celtics have come without Isaiah Thomas (right hip) and it has certainly been a factor in Boston trailing Cleveland 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals heading into tonight’s must-win for the Celtics to keep their season alive.
 
There have been rumors that if the series with Cleveland were closer, maybe that would lead to a return to the floor for Thomas.
 
“No. No way. He’s done [this season],” Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s "Toucher & Rich" show this morning.
 
Ainge said there’s still swelling in the hip, and it probably won’t go down enough for doctors to make a determination whether surgery is needed for another couple weeks.

Thomas was in New York City earlier this week visiting a hip specialist. He's expected to consult with at least two more before making a decision as to what's the best course of treatment.
 
“Everybody agrees if there’s anything that needs to be done to it surgically, it helps...if the inflammation goes down,” Ainge said. “The recovery [time] would be quicker.”
 
The injury initially occurred on March 15 against Minnesota.
 
Ainge said he didn’t become too concerned about it until after Thomas re-aggravated it in Game 6 of the second-round series against Washington and was questionable to play in Game 7.
 
“I was worried going into the Cleveland series that he was nowhere near himself in Game 1 or 2,” Ainge said. “And Game 2 in the second quarter it was clear he was in a lot of pain. No way we could go out and allow him to play the second half.”
 
Boston was blown out 130-86 in Game 2. In the first half, Thomas had two points and six assists, while missing all six of his shots from the field.
 
Ainge said there was “a lot” of irritation and inflammation around the affected joint in Thomas' right hip.
 
“It had gotten worse from the MRIs he had before,” said Ainge, who added that it would have been “irresponsible to allow him to play anymore.”
 

Butler reaction to Gilmore signing: 'We got another good player'

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Butler reaction to Gilmore signing: 'We got another good player'

FOXBORO -- Thursday's OTA practice at Gillette Stadium gave reporters their first opportunity to see both Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore on the field at the same time.

Once Gilmore signed with the Patriots earlier this offseason, there was no guarantee he'd actually team up with the 27-year-old in his fourth season out of West Alabama. But Butler wasn't given an offer sheet by the Saints or anyone else, he wasn't traded, and now together they make up one of the most talented cornerback duos in the NFL. 

"Um, nothing much really," Butler replied when asked for his initial reaction to the Gilmore deal. "Nothing much really. We got a better player. We got another player. We got another good player on this team. Anything to help the team win, I'm down with."

Depite the fact that Gilmore is the one who received the big-money contract from the Patriots earlier this year, Butler had nothing but good things to say about his teammate following Thursday's workout. 

"He brings the size and the coverage skills," Butler said. "One of the best guys in the league. Very underrated. [He's] come in, head down, working hard. Just trying to build off each other no matter what."

Butler acknowledged that the corner group, which also includes Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones, has some work to do when it comes to their communication, but he indicated he'll be happy to chip in wherever he's needed. The Patriots could use some help in the slot following Logan Ryan's departure to Tennessee, and Butler said he'd be open to playing inside.

"Wherever they put me, I'm gonna play that role," he said. "I'm ready to play the slot if that's what it is."