Playoff-bound Bruins can catch their breath

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Playoff-bound Bruins can catch their breath

UNIONDALE, NY With a playoff spot secured and a Northeast Division title imminent with Ottawas next loss, the Bruins can finally begin making primps and preparations for the upcoming playoff run.

Sure there remains one more statement game on Sunday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden between two Eastern Conference heavyweights looking to land one last roundhouse punch before a potential conference final match. Theres also one last trip to Ottawa against a Senators team that looks like theyre on a crash course to be Bostons first round foe.

But for all intents and purposes the Bruins can start resting players, easing their own minds about their regular season fate after some stressful moments and start making mental preparation for a postseason that appears it will be even more challenging than last year.

Were coming off a really long year, so to clinch now and be able to manage ice time and be able to manage your players a little better, said Claude Julien. But were also playing some teams down the stretch that we could be playing later on in the playoffs. There are a lot of things to think about. We need to think about how we want to handle it moving forward.

The Bs rest period started Saturday afternoon with Claude Julien opting for Marty Turco between the pipes against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, and Turco rewarded his coach with 19 saves and a second-straight win. The 36-year-old wasnt mind-blowingly stellar between the pipes the P.A. Parenteau shot that beat him high glove side comes to mind -- but he didnt have to be while providing Boston with an adequate goaltender not named Thomas.

Turco seemed to realize he was potentially playing his last game in a very short stint for the Bruins, but the performance on Long Island allowed him to go out on a winning note if thats the case.

The win feels good. That was huge, said Turco. The guys were very good in front of me tonight. They have the luxury of confidence this year. This game when it comes down to it with the parity around the league is attitude, confidence and commitment to each other every night. This team possesses all of that.

You can tell it from the outside, but you can really see it when youre a part of it and you hear the choice words that they have as the game continues. Its a good feeling. Whether they need a goal or they need to hold on to a lead, they have all the tools.

Playing Turco has allowed Thomas two key days off over the last week, and there may be more of that coming in the final four regular season games with Anton Khudobin likely to get his number called in Boston very soon.

With Rask just starting to get out on the ice next week, Khudobin is the backup if Tuukka runs into any issues during his groin rehab.

Likewise big minute players like Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron will get a rest over the next 10 days, and Dennis Seidenberg is already enjoying one while sitting out with an infected cut on his left leg. Bergeron and Chris Kelly are the only two Bs players that have skated in all 78 games for the Bruins this season, and theres no need to make them play a full 82.

Theres also a pretty good chance everyone will also get to see the prized college free agent signed out of Michigan State, Torey Krug, now that the Bruins have all their postseason ducks in a row.

Essentially the Bruins are hitting the snooze button on the regular season, and setting things up for an anticipated long playoff run with everything close to clinched. One more win should secure them in the No. 2 spot as Florida has hit a rough patch in late March.

Things got a little hairy for Boston in the early days of the month when they were allowing six goals to each of the Florida teams.

But theyve stabilized over the last two weeks and Saturday was the first time in eight games theyve allowed more than three goals but the defense still only allowed 22 shots to the New York Islanders.

Its a far cry from the early Bs teams of the Claude Julien era which needed to hang in until the final couple of days of the regular season before getting their playoff ticket stamped. Now the challenge becomes convincing some of his heartiest players that a rest or two might do them before good before the playoffs begin.

We need to make sure were going in with a good attitude and the right frame of mind as we head into the playoffs, said Bergeron when asked if he needed a rest in the regular season. The more you keep playing the better you get. Its a good thing we clinched. Its why we play the 82 games, but we also want to keep playing hard.

Thats the kind of coaching challenge that Julien will take every day of the week, and twice on Stanley Cup Sunday.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.