Turco makes B's debut, gives Thomas much-needed rest

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Turco makes B's debut, gives Thomas much-needed rest

PITTSBURGH It wasnt the way Marty Turco wanted to break in with the Bruins, but at least the Boston coaching staff knows the 36-year-old has still got game.

Turco made his Bruins debut and got into his first NHL game in nearly a calendar year when Tim Thomas was yanked to start the second period in a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center on Sunday afternoon.

His last NHL appearance was in relief for the Blackhawks last year on March 17, and he became the first goalie other than ThomasRask to appear in the Bruins game since Manny Fernandez on April 11, 2009.

Turco entered a 3-0 game to start the second period with the Bruins killing off a leftover penalty a fairly low-pressure situation given it appeared the game was already lost. Turco came in and made 20 saves over the final two periods with his scrambling, athletic style, and gave the undermanned Bs a chance to get back into the game. It was an encouraging first step for a goalie that will need to perform well over the next month of hockey.

He moves the puck pretty well. He was moving around a lot and talking quite a bit on the ice, and giving the guys some life. You could tell he was excited to be back out there playing, said Claude Julien. I like the way he came into a tough situation and the way he handled it.

Turco was at his best making a sprawling, double-stacked stop on a Jordan Staal partial breakaway in the second period, and then flashing a quick glove hand on an Arron Asham screamer in the final 20 minutes. He also showed a skill retrieving the puck and starting the Bruins transition game with crisp passes from the crease, and thats something that isnt exactly second nature for Thomas and Rask.

Turco was happy to make his Bs debut, but he wished it had been under more joyous circumstances.

My job is to be ready to get in there. My general sentiment is that it felt good to get back in there and play again, said Turco. But I always maintain that I play to win. Thats usually the final things I look at. So it was disappointing. We played hard and created opportunities to close the gap, but we couldnt. Weve got to figure this out quick.

Ive been playing this game a long time and crazy things can happen. The perspective Ive gained over the last 16 months or so is that I would be ready to get in there. It was good to get in there. Every minute I was in there I felt more comfortable. I just wish I could have made a couple more save to help the guys gain some momentum.

Instead Turco and the Bruins now find themselves up a mere two points in the Northeast Division with only two games in hand on the Ottawa Senators.

The lead seems to shrink with each passing day and the Bruins cant fully snap out of their midseason funk.

One silver lining: Julien and the Bs coaching staff will feel much more comfortable calling Turcos number to spell a clearly gassed Thomas over the next few games. Thomas now has an .860 save percentage in seven games during the month of March, and its pretty clear playing nine games in a row have worn down a Bruins goalie that hasnt played consistently well since the beginning of January.

There was some thought maybe Thomas had turned the corner when he executed 19 out of 20 saves against the Sabres in an impressive win last week, but the 37-year-old worsened as the back-to-back games unfolded this weekend. Turco should get the Tuesday night start against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and at least give Thomas three days off before potentially coming back against the Florida Panthers. Julien may even decide to give both games to Turco and really put Thomas on ice for a long stretch, but that may be difficult to do given the importance of the remaining 14 games on the schedule.

It was a good opportunity for Marty to get in there today. He skated this morning for about 20 minutes, so he was warmed up, said Julien. We were down by three goals to Pittsburgh, so it was a good chance to see how ready he was. I thought he did a great job. He certainly gave us a chance when he was in net.

Tim has played a lot lately, so this was certainly a good opportunity to give him some rest and let Marty take over.

Unfortunately everybody has become aware of Tuukka Rasks value to the Bruins and to his goaltending partner as Thomas numbers have steadily declined while his playing time has skyrocketed over the last month.

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.