Patriots impressed by Flacco's poise

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Patriots impressed by Flacco's poise

FOXBORO -- Which quarterback has the postseason's best passer rating?
Joe Flacco. 
Baltimore's signal caller tops the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning with his 102.5 playoff rating. He has the highest yards per attempt average (10.75), most touchdowns (5), fewest interceptions (0), and second-most yards per game (307). 
The numbers from two performances alone don't answer the question of whether or not Flacco is an elite quarterback, but they do mean something. A win over the Patriots in this weekend's AFC Championship would mean something more. 
A fact New England is acutely aware of. 
"He's a great quarterback, I don't care what nobody says about him," Vince Wilfork said Wednesday. "One thing he does is stay poised. No matter how bad things get or how good things are. He is a tough quarterback. He is a competitor and it shows. He is putting his team in good situations. He doesnt turn the ball over much. When they ask him to make plays he has made them. He seems to always have a good game against us. He is a very, very physically and mentally tough football player."
Flacco's Ravens are 1-2 against the Patriots in playoff games. Personally, the quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. He bested Tom Brady when their teams met in September, completing 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in Baltimore's 31-30 win. 
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said there are a few fundamental reasons why Flacco presents such a challenge.
"Id say his ability to number one, not turn the ball over and number two, to make big plays, and number three, to score points, which theyve scored a lot of points this year which is really what the name of the game is. Its about points, not all the other stats that we sometimes like to throw out there. Those are the areas that he's excelled in. And I think if you're scoring points, youre not turning the ball over, then probably playing pretty well."
Wilfork circled back to Flacco's composure, which was exemplified in the quarterback's work last weekend. The Divisional Playoff between the Ravens and Broncos featured four ties. Every time a lead was grasped it was done by the Broncos. But whenever Flacco looked undone, he managed to reign it in. 
There was that three play, 36-second stunner of a scoring drive before halftime that featured passes of 11, 15, and 32 yards. 
Decision making? Check. 
There was that 70-yard touchdown bomb fired to Jacoby Jones that forced overtime. 
Accuracy? Check. Arm strength? Check. 
"No matter how bad it gets, he seems to block everything out and play football and it showed again last week against Denver," said Wilfork. "Throughout the course of the game it wasnt perfect, but he made the throw and they made the catch for him. It said a lot about that football team. 
"He is definitely one of the tougher quarterbacks in this league. He has a big heart and he plays to win."
Winning Sunday? That would be the most convincing vote of confidence Flacco could get. 

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

BOSTON – The final score on the Jumbotron Friday night said the Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns 130-120.
 
But there was a clear and undeniable sense of loss on the part of the Celtics, even if Friday’s victory was their third in a row and sixth in the past seven games.
 
The Celtics (47-26) hope to continue on their winning ways tonight against a Miami Heat team currently among a handful fighting for one of the last playoff slots, but are doing so without Dion Waiters (ankle) who has been instrumental in their surge after an 11-30 start to the season.
 
Beating the Heat (35-37) will require Boston to play better than they did against the Suns, a game Boston won, but in many ways had the feeling of defeat.
 
Yes, Devin Booker’s career-high 70 points was very much a blow – a huge blow – to the pride of a team that takes tremendous pride in its defense.
 
But the sense of a loss came in the form of purpose while playing as close to their potential as possible.
 
The Celtics fell short on both fronts Friday night.
 
Being just one game behind Cleveland (47-24) for the best record in the East, the Celtics understand getting as many wins as possible is the mindset right now.
 
But coach Brad Stevens knows that while winning is important, how the team plays is even more valuable.
 
“Like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”
 
Is this Stevens’ way of trying to motivate his players after a not-so-great performance?
 
Or is he seriously concerned that his team isn’t as good as their record?
 
The Celtics, by their own standards, and to those of us on the outside looking in, know they are a better team than the one we saw on Friday night.
 
Not having Avery Bradley (sick) certainly hurt Boston’s efforts defensively.
 
Still, a Friday night’s game wore on, Booker’s confidence only grew and the Celtics’ desire to shut him down or at least slow him down, began to dissipate like an ice cube in hell.
 
And that’s a problem - a big problem - for a team that has to be connected at both ends of the floor for an extended period of time in order to play at the level their capable of and, most important, give them the best shot at emerging victorious in the postseason.
 
That’s why Stevens isn’t too caught up in the team’s chances of catching Cleveland, or whether they go into the playoffs riding a fat winning streak.
 
“I’m not going to get caught up in winning a couple of games in a row and all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I want to get caught up in playing well. We’ve shown ourselves capable of playing well, we have not sustained it throughout a game. And it’s been pretty consistent.”
 

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.