Friday, June 28, 2013

NESN Is Foolish to Break Up the Naoko-Edwards-Brickley Line

NESN has decided not to renew the contract of Bruins "sideline" reporter Naoko Funayama, so as of this summer she will no longer be working for the regional sports network.

You fools!

She was great. She did her job well. Her reports were concise and to the point. She wasn't distracting. She didn't steer the broadcast away from the game. She played her part in the well-balanced line of Funayama-Edwards-Brickley. Edwards brought the colorful character, Brickley brought the expert analysis, and Funayama brought the ground-level reporting.

Funayama did what fewer and fewer sideline reporters do: REPORT. She had a good rapport with the players, and she was respected by everyone (as evidence by the stream of Tweets about her losing her job). Who else would inspire both media colleagues and Bruins players to mourn her departure?

The word "Naoko" is trending on my Twitter at the moment. For a sideline reporter. On this week of all weeks in Boston sports.

I don't know why NESN did this. It certainly can't be for failing to do her job. They must have a replacement in mind.

Maybe she'll be replaced by some bleached blonde bimbo with hair extensions who spends less time reporting in the dressing room than she does undressing players with her eyes.

Maybe she'll be replaced by some Bill Simmons type, who doesn't try to get a good answer, but rather tries to ask a question that becomes a story in and of itself.

Maybe NESN wants Bruins broadcasts to be like Red Sox broadcasts, and have a sideline reporter that moderates social media discussions, and relentlessly promotes the non-sports aspects of the on-air product.

Or maybe she'll be replaced by Leah Hextall, who is a fine reporter, and Ron Hextall's niece, but I just don't see the need to replace Naoko at all.

Unfortunately, working hard, being respected by peers and interviewees alike, and taking your job seriously are no longer the hallmarks of sports journalism. This is the era of the loud, bombastic, speculative sports journalist. This is the era when eye candy is more important than substance. This is the era when a TV channel would rather employ a reporter who asks questions that piss off the interviewee, as opposed to a reporter who gets their questions answered.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Latest Photo of Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron was recently released from the hospital. He played Game 6 with a broken rib and torn cartilage. After the game he punctured a lung (had it punctured during the game he would have been physically incapable of playing). Even though the B's didn't win the Cup, it's impossible to not be proud of the effort they put into this playoff run, from Campbell's broken leg to Bergeron's flesh wounds.

Zdeno Chara at Canobie Lake Park

It's all over the internet. Zdeno Chara was photographed riding the Rowdy Rooster at Canobie Lake Park, evidently drowning his post-Finals sorrows by spending time with his family (he has a 4-year old daughter). But he's so gangly and awkward that everything he does, apart from play hockey, looks weird. He's a trim 6' 9" white guy with an Amish beard, he looks out of place no matter what he's doing.

In this Instagram photo he looks like he just got finished fighting Confederates at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Good for him, spending time with his family, and he was nice enough to take pictures with people as well. Seems like a nice guy off the ice. I've heard a theory about tall people being nice, because if they're not extremely kind they'd come off as intimidating.

I'd shit my pants and run, though, if I saw him on the bumper cars the same time as me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Police Arrest Aaron Hernandez, Patriots Release Him

It's been a bad day for Aaron Hernandez. He's been arrested, and he's lost his job.

The Patriots, very quickly, released Hernandez. He hadn't even had time to be booked and arraigned before the Pats cut him loose. Which surprised me. Why not wait to at least hear the charges? The speed and timing of this release makes me think it came from the Krafts. They want nothing to do with this dirty business.

In all honesty, he seems guilty of something. Whether that's murder or being an accessory or just obstruction, we can't know yet. Even if it is only obstructing justice to protect a friend, the instant he decided to put his thug friends ahead of his commitment to the Patriots, he made his choice what team was most important to him. You want to Keep it Real and not cooperate with police? You're on your own, kid.

He was officially released today, but he hasn't been a part of this team since this crap started.

What Tim Thomas Did in 2011 Was Pretty Amazing

After the Penguins series it was impossible to not compare Rask in '13 to Thomas in '11. Rask's numbers were better. He was improving as the playoffs went on. He had just shut down the best offense in the NHL, allowing only 2 goals in 4+ games of hockey. He carried the Bruins to the Finals.

It wasn't meant to be, though. The Bruins weren't able to push around the Blackhawks like they had the Canucks in '11. They didn't get into Chicago's head. Crawford had a heavy glove but he didn't have Luongonian meltdowns.

And Rask wasn't as good in the Finals as Thomas was in 2011. Yes, that was a difference between the two years. This isn't a criticism of Rask. It's a reminder of how absurdly inhuman Thomas played in 2011.

The two finished with eerily similar postseason numbers. Rask had a 14-8 record, Thomas was 16-9. Rask had a 1.88 GAA, Thomas had a 1.98. Both had save percentages of .940. Rask's was .93955, Thomas's was .93993. So every 2,500 shots, Rask would allow an extra goal. What's the difference?

The big difference was how they performed in the Finals. Rask allowed 16 goals, Thomas allowed 8. Rask's GAA in this series was 2.21, which is very good. Thomas's GAA against Vancouver was 1.15, which is unfuckingreal. Even if you take out Rask's worst game, that 6-5 shootout in Game 4, Rask's GAA was 1.65, higher than Thomas's in 2011 (and if you take out Thomas's worst game in those Finals, he had a 0.84 GAA).

Rask came down to earth in this series after his Game 3 shutout. In the last 3 games he allowed 11 goals. And while only a few were ones he should have stopped, and he made plenty of brilliant saves that kept the Bruins in those games, he was no longer carrying the team. The Finals were his second worst series of the playoffs, behind the Toronto series.

Thomas saved 96.7% of the 246 shots he faced in the 2011 Finals, a record. He made 238 saves, another record. He allowed the fewest goals ever in a 7-game Finals series.

I think we forget how well Thomas played in that Vancouver series. Two of his losses were 1-0. In Game 3 when the Bruins won 8-1, it was a great 1st period by Thomas that kept the game 0-0, and led to the Bruins' embarrassing Luongo. We remember the Bruins eventually owning the Canucks, but it was a tough series. The Bruins were down 2-0, then 3-2. We look back at the final scores of games and see 4-0, 5-2 and forget how hard those games were for the team to win, and how much easier it was to win because of Thomas.

In the Finals Thomas was named the #1 star in all 4 Bruins wins. And in the losses he was named #2 star twice and #3 star once.

And let's not forget the 1-0 shutout in Game 7 against Tampa Bay. That was clutchness.

One thing that's remained the same with the Bruins from 2011 to 2013 is that they sometimes have these really crappy, almost lazy periods. They commit dumb penalties or struggle in the neutral zone, or worst of all they give the puck away in dangerous areas. That's when guys like Rask and Thomas are asked to be the best goalie in the world to keep the B's from falling behind or blowing a lead. Thomas did that in 2011. Rask did that most of the time in 2013, just not all the time. And not in the Finals.

I'd forgotten how many saves Thomas had to make after giveaways in '11.

Maybe the 2013 Bruins needed Rask to be great more than the 2011 Bruins needed Thomas to be great. That's arguable. Even if true, in the Finals Rask wasn't as great as he needed to be, or as he could be. Thomas was in 2011. Rask's best series was when the opponents had goalie issues and had whiny forwards who didn't play defense, in other words when the Bruins didn't need him to be great. Thomas's best series was the 2011 Finals.

I'm not ripping Rask, I'm pointing out that what Thomas did in 2011 is difficult to match. I'm not saying Rask was a main reason the Bruins lost, although that 5-hole goal in Game 6 is burnt in my memory. Rask, however, stopped being a reason that they were winning.

So sign Rask, because he has proven he's a good playoff goalie. Give Rask a new contract, but give Thomas his due credit.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I want to preface my thoughts by saying that I've seen the Bruins win a Cup, I've seen the Red Sox win a World Series after an eight decade drought, I've seen the Patriots win their first three Super Bowls, I even got to see the Celtics win Banner #17. I'm not as pissed or as stricken with sadness as others are. After witnessing all those Championships, everything since then has felt like an opportunity for a bonus.

Also, as nice as it would have been for the B's to win a title after what happened at the Marathon, I think it was enough to have a deep playoff run and let the City enjoy that. The last few weeks have provided a sense of back-to-normal for this town, and that's more than we could ask for.

Now to the series. The Blackhawks deserved to win. They arguably brought the most talent to the series with Kane, Sharp, and Toews. At the very least, they brought an equal amount of talent. And they played the best. More importantly, they played the best when it mattered most. They outscored the Bruins 6-5 in the 3rd periods this series, and 2-1 in OT. They had two dramatic comeback wins in Games 1 and 6.

The B's had some great periods in this series, very few great games. They relied on Tuukka Rask and Zdeno Chara to carry them. And in Games 5 and 6, Rask and Chara were not able to carry the team all the way.

I'm not saying Rask cost them this series. I'm not saying Rask was the reason this team lost. But if they had won Game 6, Rask wouldn't have been a reason that they won. Had they won Game 5, Rask wouldn't have been a reason they won. The first goal Rask allowed in Game 6 was inexcusable. For an NHL goalie to have an open 5-hole like that is unfortunate. And the other goals were also saveable. Rask was not sharp in Game 6.

I'm a Tim Thomas guy. I think the Bruins did more to help Thomas in 2011, and were also against a weaker opponent. I don't like the Rask in '13 vs. Thomas in '11 comparisons. The situations are so different. The ages are so different. There's no reason to not be able to enjoy both of these goalies perform. Rask didn't quite equal Thomas in 2011, but he has plenty of years left to challenge his old friend.

Again, Rask was not the reason the Bruins lost. He was the best goalie in this series. The Blackhawks were good enough to cover for their goalie's weaknesses and shortcomings. The Bruins had fewer shortcomings to cover for, yet failed to do so.

The stars shone for Chicago. Jonathan Toews scored 2 goals and added 3 assists in this series. Sharp scored 2 goals. Kane scored 3 goals with 2 assists. Bickell scored a goal with 3 assists and hitched himself to Chara like a 233 pound anchor. The Blackhawks had multiple Conn Smythe candidates, while if the Bruins had won this series it would have almost certainly been Rask to win the Conn Smythe.

Meanwhile, the Bruins leaned on Rask and Chara. Chara seemed to be worn out or hurt in these last games. That's part of the game.

Not enough Bruins stepped up as Chara and Rask played like human beings. Seguin didn't score in the Finals. Neither did Krejci (and he was painfully close to scoring in Game 6, that's an opportunity he has to finish). Neither did Horton. Neither did Marchand. Nor did the Bruins get a handful of goals from a defenseman.

Lucic and Bergeron scored 4 goals apiece in the Finals, Kelly and Paille each scored 2. Peverley, Boychuk, and Chara each scored 1 goal. Where was everyone else? If just one more forward had a big series, or if three forwards contributed with goals, this series would have been completely different.

Only two of the top-6 Bruins forwards scored in the Finals. The 3rd line scored as many goals as the 1st and 2nd lines. Not enough talented forwards showed up for the Bruins in this series. They had assists, they contributed, they just didn't score.

Ultimately, I'd rather lose to the Blackhawks than a team like the Canucks. I'd rather see Chicago win the Cup than a hockey-apathetic town like Tampa or Raleigh. I don't mind Chicago winning nearly as much as I mind the Bruins losing, or at least losing the way they lost. A Krug turnover, a soft goal allowed by Rask, a missed opportunity by Krejci. This series was so close to turning in the opposite direction. The Hawks made the plays, the B's made the mistakes.

I don't feel like we need to mourn this season. It could have produced more, but it didn't. It could have produced much less and ended in the first round with an epic collapse against Toronto. There does need to be some evaluation. The cap will be tighter in 2013-14. Seguin needs to realize his potential instead of being a 3rd liner. And the supporting cast needs to be changed. I won't miss Rich Peverley.

Thankfully there's no CBA BS to prolong our wait for more hockey.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

GIF Credit:
Yahoo! Sports

Morning Sports Radio in Boston Sucks

I turn on the radio this morning to listen to some sports talk while taking a shower, brushing my teeth, and all that. I turn on Toucher & Rich on 98.5 because I don't want to get Whitey thoughts on WEEI, or hear about today's Senate election, or listen to two dunderheads in love with their own opinions fail at understanding the game of hockey.

Unfortunately, T&R babble on and on just as badly as D&C. After enduring 3 minutes of commercials featuring people with fake Boston accents in an effort to endeer (endee-yah) themselves to the people of Massachusetts, I get to listen to Toucher and Rich go on a tangent about this weird, very inside joke about Adolfo's father encouraging him to have kids. This goes on and on. Not mentioned in passing. And then a caller joins in talking about how overwhelmed he is by 4 children. This would be great stuff if the show were called The Fatherhood Hour on NPR, but it's allegedly a sports radio show on a station that stylizes itself as sports radio.

I don't want to be required to listen to a show day in and day out to understand the jokes. And I don't want to listen to stupid jokes about wacky Adolfo and his zany father on a frigging sports radio station, the morning after a Stanley Cup Final was lost, days after a championship winning basketball coach left town, and a week after a Pro-Bowl tight-end was implicated as being involved in a murder. I know it's crazy of me to anticipate sports talk on a sports talk station, especially with such a lack of stories to discuss. Call me persnickety.

We have two sports talk stations in Boston. Yet finding sports talk in the morning on either of them is a hit or miss proposition. And I'm tired of it.

Vents closed, rant over.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Chicago Kane, They Shaw, They Crawford

Were the Bruins ever the superior team in Game 5? Apart from a brief series of plays in the 1st period, the Bruins rarely imposed their will on offense. They didn't move the puck well through the neutral zone. They weren't able to string together successful puck battles. And defensively they were sluggish and late. If not for some brilliant stops by Tuukka Rask, the Bruins would have lost this game by 4 or 5 goals.

Is Zdeno Chara out of gas? Has playing 30 minutes a night taken its toll? Maybe Chicago's Bryan Bickell is starting to chop the giant down. Bickell has focused on Chara all series, pushing Chara's buttons, making Chara exert himself even after the puck's gone and the whistle's blown. Bickell's not a small guy at 6' 4" 233 pounds. And all he has to do is focus on Chara. Chara has to deal with Bickell AND defend the crease AND play the point on power play AND play 25+ minutes against Chicago's best, fastest forwards.

Chara left Kane wide open on Kane's first goal. No excuse. And although Chara scored the lone Bruins goal, his performance was one you'd like to forget but won't be able to for awhile.

Offensively the Bruins looked lost. Marchand without Bergeron is like Robin without Batman. The Bruins barely had an offense in this game. They were sloppy in the neutral zone, they turned pucks over, they didn't get pucks deep into the offensive zone. When they won possession battles there wasn't support to take advantage of it. The few good plays they made, like Jagr's moves through traffic from the halfwall to the net, were individual efforts, not team-based offense.

The Bruins managed 5 shots on goal in the 2nd period. Five! Then only 9 in the 3rd. They're facing a goalie who has shown repeated vulnerability and they're making his job easy by failing to force him to make saves. On average in this series, the Blackhawks are getting 5 more shots on goal per game than the Bruins. Crawford will allow goals. But you have to get shots on goal to make that happen.

Give credit to Chicago. Kane was brilliant, nearly scored a natural hat-trick. Patrick Sharp was robbed a few times in the 1st. The Blackhawks did a good job harassing the B's in the neutral zone. They controlled the ice in front of both nets. This was the Blackhawks' best performance in the series. And the Bruins' worst.

Game 6 tonight. Without Bergeron it's time to dig deep. Chara, Marchand, Seguin, Kelly, Peverley, everyone has to play up to their potential. And then find a way to play a little better.

Photo Credit:
Scott Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

GIF Credits:
Yahoo! Sport

Friday, June 21, 2013

Coaches Gather at Fenway

On Tuesday June 18th, Fenway Park hosted the Second Annual Coffee with the Coaches, a fundraising breakfast to benefit the Boston Chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). The event featured a panel of easteemed professional and college coaches: Red Sox Manager John Farrell, Notre Dame football Head Coach Brian Kelly (who was born in Everett, raised in Chelsea, and played football at Worcester's Assumption College), Connecticut Sun Head Coach Anne Donovan (who has 4 Olympic gold medals in women's basketball as a player and 2 as a coach), and newly appointed Boston College football Head Coach Steve Addazio.

The event was hosted by WEEI's Michael Holley and Mike Salk, and raised $95,000 for PCA-Boston.

What struck me about these coaches was how different each of their situations are, and how that requires them to adjust to those different and always changing situations. The job description of a coach changes every day, every game, and every season.

Three of the coaches (Farrell, Donovan, and Addazio) are in their first seasons running their squads. Although Farrell has already been an assistant coach with the Red Sox.

There is also a vast difference in what each coach is expected to do. Kelly's Fighting Irish finished last season 12-1, runners up in the National Championship game. And at the other end of the table was Steve Addazio, who inherits a BC program that went 2-10 last year and hasn't played a bowl game since 2010. Kelly has to reload after losing talented seniors, Addazio has to rebuild a program from scratch. Kelly is expected to contend for a BCS bowl, Addazio is expected to lead the Eagles to bowl eligibility.

Anne Donovan and John Farrell are also in unique positions. Donovan's Connecticut Sun have been a competitive team, but they've yet to win a WNBA Championship. She's tasked with pushing them over the top. Farrell inherited a Red Sox team that was in utter disarray, despite high expectations and a high payroll. He's tasked with reintroducing winning baseball to Boston, and ending an era of bitter disappointment.

Despite the different situations, different styles, and different philosophies, all the coaches have a tremendous respect for the impact a coach can have on someone.

Both Donovan and Addazio reflected on coaches in their lives who pushed them to maximize their potential. For Donovan, who is 6 feet, 8 inches tall, she discussed a high school coach who "Would not let [her] just be tall," and challenged her to add more dimensions to her game than just sitting under a rim, rebounding, and shooting layups. Addazio spoke of a Little League baseball coach who made him a catcher, even though he wasn't especially enthusiastic about the idea, and mentored him to be a leader. Neither of these coaches would be who they are or where they are without the coaches who coached them.

The coaches also found common ground on several issues.

Addazio and Farrell had similar philosophies on how to rebuild their respective teams. Addazio is making an effort to "Squeeze selfishness out," while Farrell is working with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to change the culture of the team, to find the right "People inside the player," as he put it.

Both Farrell and Donovan agreed that athletes are all looking for direction, and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. So that even if they're getting paid millions of dollars, they still want more from the game.

When asked about concerns in high school sports, Brian Kelly, Addazio, and Farrell all spoke about social media and the effects of over confidence on young athletes in the recruitment process. Kelly mentioned the need to keep recruits humble, despite the constant praise and attention they receive. Addazio told a story about a parent who bragged about their 12-year old son being "Phenomenal." To which Addazio asked "Where do you go from phenomenal?"

Coaching is one of the most demanding and unique jobs in sports, from guys like Farrell coaching millionaire professionals to youth league volunteer coaches teaching kids the fundamentals of the game. Coaches, particularly in youth sports, can have a tremendous impact on the lives of their players. Because those coaches are uniquely positioned to push kids to be, as the PCA's motto states, better athletes and better people. There are so many lessons that can be learned through sports, and kids are eager to learn them. As PCA founder Jim Thompson put it Thursday "Youth sports leaders are among the most important leaders in this country," with the ability to affect "Hundreds of kids' lives."

And with the $95,000 raised at this breakfast, that's exactly what the Positive Coaching Alliance will strive to do in the Boston area, as well as in their expanding number of chapters across the country.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Celtics-Clippers Trade Talk Sounds Like Soap Opera Plots

I don't follow the NBA. I'm a very passive Celtics fan, only really paying attention in the playoffs. My basketball IQ is lower than Shaq's career free throw percentage. Maybe lower than his three-point percentage. I'm trying to follow this Doc Rivers-LA Clippers drama, and it sounds so much like someone describing the plot of a soap opera.

Blake and Chris don't like each other, but Chris wants to play with Blake because Blake helps them win. If Chris can't play with Blake, or with Kevin and under Doc, he'll leave LA and go somewhere else. That's a love/hate work relationship there.

Doc and Kevin want to stay together. And Paul wants to stay with Kevin. If Kevin leaves, Paul might quit. If Doc leaves, Kevin will probably quit. If Doc, Kevin, and Paul leave, Rajon will take over the business in Boston. Classic love triangle with a young buck waiting in the wings to take over the company.

Meanwhile, in New York, the Commissioner of the Association, David, has stepped in and declared that Doc and Kevin cannot go to LA, and DeAndre can't go to Boston. It's like Stern has burst into a wedding just as the priest asks "If anyone has any objections to this marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace."

It's As the NBA Turns or Days of Our Stern.

Bruins Back to Square One With Chicago

The Blackhawks took this game by the proverbial horns and never let go. The Bruins spent the whole game chasing them. And then in the overtime the B's played conservative try-to-be-mistake-free hockey, while the Blackhawks gambled and went for it. And the result was a Chicago win, and a 2-2 series. It's now a best of three series, and the Blackhawks have home ice.

Some things that alarm me about this game are the names of the players that scored for Chicago. Kane, Seabrook, Sharp, Toews. Kane hadn't scored in this series, and Toews hadn't scored since May 25th, his only other goal of the playoffs. Some of these Blackhawks were sleeping giants, and they woke up in Game 4.

For the first time, the Blackhawks beat Rask straight-up for a goal. The overtime goal was a puck Rask should have stopped.

Another Bruin that disappointed was Chara. For two Chicago goals, Chara was sitting on his ass on the ice, pushed down somehow. He was -3 in this game, and that's very rare for him. He hasn't been -3 in a game since March 11, 2012 against Pittsburgh.

All the aspects of the game that the Bruins dominated in Game 3, the Blackhawks improved on. In faceoffs it was essentially even, Chicago won 39 and lost 38. In special teams the Bruins scored 2 power play goals but allowed a power play goal and a shorthanded goal. And as weak as Crawford has looked on his glove side, Rask also gave up some goals he could have stopped. Rask allowed the same number of goals in this game as he had allowed in the last 5 games combined.

The Blackhawks also got offense from their myriad of star players. Toews, Kane, Sharp, Seabrook. The Bruins grinded out offense, but most of their big names didn't score. Krejci didn't score, neither did Horton, neither did Marchand, and Seguin only managed 1 shot on goal and a -3.

The Blackhawks played deeper last night.

So it's all starting over. 2-2 after four games, only three left, what's going to happen?

That's the billion dollar question. Will Rask and Chara recover and resume playing amazingly? Will Toews and/or Kane get hot and start scoring? Chicago's power play finally scored, will that continue?

As a Bruins fan, I'm worried. I feel like a giant has been awoken, and now the B's have a real fight on their hands. They are capable of defeating the foe, but everyone needs to chip in. Seguin can't be quiet anymore. Chara and Rask can't allow easy goals. All lines have to click.

Game 5 will be Saturday night in Chicago.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bruins Break Deadlock

Everything that had been even and level about this series was lopsided last night. The Bruins dominated in the faceoff dots, Rask was clearly better than Crawford, and special teams play heavily favored the Bruins.

The Bruins haven't lost on home ice since Game 5 of the Toronto series. That's 7 in a row. Home ice might be why the B's were so much better at faceoffs (40-16, 71.4%) in Game 3. The Blackhawks had previously been able to match the Bruins in the dots.

What truly decided this game was goaltending and special teams. Rask didn't need to stand on his head, just do his job. He really hasn't been straight-up beat for a goal by Chicago in this series. Meanwhile Crawford's glove side seems very vulnerable. The Bruins are targeting him high glove side, and that's where Paille beat him in Game 2 and last night.

The Bruins are also dominating on special teams. Not only has their power play scored twice, not only has their penalty kill shut down Chicago, their penalty killers are creating very dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunities. Chicago have adjusted their PP unit to focus on the area of the ice closer to the net, but they can't get anything set-up to execute that plan. Meanwhile, on the Bruins power play, Jagr and Bergeron executed a similar strategy to perfection in the 2nd period.

Chicago looked lost for most of this game. I don't think they're accustomed to playing without the puck this often. They seem to be trying to adapt, but last night the Bruins had an answer for them at every turn.

Game 4 Wednesday night. Let's hope the Bruins continue to avoid big mistakes, continue to win battles, and Rask continues to play like he's playing.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Monday, June 17, 2013

Splitting Up to Boston

In Game 1 the Bruins started strong, the Blackhawks finished strong. In Game 2 it was the Blackhawks who started strong, and the Bruins who finished strong.

The B's were fortunate to escape the 1st period only down 1-0. Chicago was beating them everywhere, on the boards, in front of the net, in the neutral zone. The Blackhawks outshot the Bruins 16-3 to start the game, and 19-4 in the period. If not for Tuukka Rask stopping 18 of 19 shots, and if not for Nathan Horton's back-checking potentially preventing another Torey Krug turnover from becoming a Chicago goal, the Bruins might have found themselves with a steep hill to climb.

Then the game flipped. Although the B's only managed 24 shots in the remaining 2+ periods, they held Chicago to 15. All the good chances were Boston's. Marchand hit the inside of a post. Jagr hit a post in overtime. This time Corey Crawford was making the big saves to keep the Hawks in the game.

Putting Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, and Tyler Seguin together worked almost immediately. Seguin was sing his speed to make plays without the puck, and Kelly's goal was a product of Paille's maneuvering more than anything else.

Why did it take Julien so long to separate Kelly and Peverley? Both have slumped all season long, and both have to try to emerge from those slumps while playing with a slumping player.

This line would strike again in the overtime. And their contributions were the difference in the game. It isn't always the big names that win these games, especially when two talented teams meet. It's the role players and grinders that provide the separation between winning and losing.

Speaking of which, once either of these teams figures out their Power Play, that's going to be the difference in a game. It was almost the difference in Game 1.

There are reasons for Bruins fans to feel optimistic. The B's now have home-ice advantage, they've won in Chicago, they're a turnover away from being up 2-0, Rask has been great, and so on.

My cup isn't half full. Nor is it half empty. It's half. This series is dead even. 186 minutes of hockey and each team has 5 goals. The Bruins have the better goalie but the Blackhawks are getting more shots on goal. The faceoffs in Game 1 were 58-56. The Bruins had Chris Kelly in Game 2, the Blackhawks had Dave Bolland in Game 1.

The margin between these two teams has been imperceptibly slim. Every edge one team has is counteracted by an edge on the other. Mistakes (advantage Chicago so far), goaltending (advantage Boston), special teams (advantage Boston), scoring from defensemen (advantage Chicago), these are the factors that will determine the victor of the series.

Game 3 tonight in Boston.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tyler Seguin: An Incomplete Forward

Tyler Seguin this, Tyler Seguin that. Yesterday sports radio was electrified with criticism of the 21-year old. He's only scored 1 goal in the playoffs. And he only scored 16 goals (pace for 27 in an 82 game season) in the regular season. The expectations were high for Seguin, and he hasn't come close to reaching them.

How much are the Blackhawks focusing on shutting down Seguin? That's all you need to know about how much of a non-threat he has become.

He's an incomplete forward. He has unreal skills with the puck, and he's fast. Under Julien he's learned how to play solid defense, and he uses his speed to back check well. However, on offense, he hasn't learned how to do anything but use his God-given talents. He needs to learn how to play the full game, not just speedy breakaways.

You watch scorers like Stamkos and see them, without the puck, drift into dangerous scoring areas. The puck will be in the corner or along the boards, and Stamkos will just slip into the high slot, with nobody paying attention to him. And sometimes the puck finds him, and the goalie has no chance to reposition and react.

When Lucic scored 30 goals in 2010-11, he did it by finding those dangerous areas before the puck found him. Seguin's skills are much more refined than Lucic's, so imagine how many goals Seguin could score if he figures out how to do this.

Seguin doesn't yet have the instinct or awareness to do this. He's never had to develop these aspects of his game. He's always been so much better than his opposition that sheer talent was enough to beat OHL and Swiss-A league players.

Speaking of his time in Switzerland, what motivated that decision? Money? "Atmosphere?" Why didn't he go to the KHL, the best league in Europe. Or up to Sweden or Finland? Why did he pick a league that isn't very good? He scored 25 goals in 29 games, but did he learn anything? He was -2 over there. Was he trying?

Europe suited Seguin's style. He's more comfortable in the middle of the ice. A wide ice sheet in Switzerland must have been heaven for him. In the North American playoffs, though, the game is played along the boards. There is no such thing as time and space in the middle of the ice. Or anywhere, for that matter. And you certainly can't skate around with the puck in the middle of the offensive zone without being challenged, and challenged hard.

Seguin should try to learn from how David Krejci and Jaromir Jagr play along the boards. These guys aren't monsters, they're not known for their physical play, but they're so good at winning puck possession battles along the boards. These battles are like faceoffs against the glass, with no linesmen involved. Seguin doesn't do well in these battles. He doesn't seem to want to engage in them.

Maybe he's worried that he won't do well outside his comfort zone. Maybe he's so confident that he doesn't feel the need to adjust his game. I don't know, I'm not a psychologist.

I do know that Seguin is not as complete or well-rounded of an offensive player he could be. He's done well to learn Julien's defensive style of play. It's now time to learn how to play NHL offense. He doesn't have to be a power-forward, but he does have to go to the boards like Krejci. He doesn't have to be a pure goal-scorer like Stamkos. But he must diversify his game.

It might be too late to do that in this season. Next year must be a year of adjustment for Seguin.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Blackhawks Play Two Games to Win One

This game is dedicated to all those who thought that the Blachawks were just like the Penguins. This game is dedicated to WEEI talking head Mike Salk who proclaimed he "Couldn't imagine any scenario" in which the Blackhawks would beat the Bruins. You cocky, foolish bastards.

The Bruins were up by 2 goals with 12 minutes left. They then blew that lead. Sound familiar?

And anyone that actually watches hockey knows that the Blackhawks are never out of it, even down by 2 with 12 minutes left.

Nobody thought Torey Krug would be a liability. He was a surprise benefit in the Rangers series. The Penguins never did much to exploit his inexperience. I think we all forgot that he is an AHL defenseman playing against the best team in the NHL. His foolhardy giveaway, in an exceptionally dangerous part of the ice, will all his teammates moving forward for offense, was unforgivable. I think it's time to switch Krug out for Dougie Hamilton, who has demonstrated a more thorough understanding of the defensive system the Bruins play. If a pass isn't there, don't chance it. Wait for the smart play to present itself.

I think we all know now that this will be a long series. The Blackhawks are not a team that is going to give up games without a dogged fight. They stole this one.

Game 2 thankfully comes after an extra off-day, Saturday night in Chicago.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why the Blackhawks Worry Me

I'm glad the Bruins are in the Stanley Cup Finals so we can focus on something other than Tim Tebow.

I've heard the Blackhawks being compared to the Penguins, who were dispatched with ease by the Bruins. And I can see some surface similarities. Chicago scored almost as many goals as the Penguins in the regular season. They have big names like Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Toews. They've recently won a Cup. Et cetera.

These Blackhawks are NOT the Penguins. The Penguins had goaltender issues, the Blackhawks don't. Corey Crawford might not be a household name, but he had a 1.94 GAA and .926 save percentage in the regular season. He also had a 19-5 record. In the playoffs he has a 1.74 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Rask is at 1.75/.943 for comparison.

The Blackhawks do not depend on their power play to score. They scored the second most goals in the NHL but had the 19th best power play percentage. They score 5-on-5. And that's dangerous because they don't rely on penalty calls to generate offense. Their PP was 1 for 14 against the Kings (7.1%), and is 7 for 51 in the playoffs (13.7%).

They're capable of playing defense. Their talented forwards don't sell out on offense. And they have defensemen and a goalie that can prevent goals. They allowed 102 goals in the regular season, fewest in the NHL. Their penalty kill was 3rd best in the League (the Bruins were 4th best). And Chicago just finished a defensive minded series against the LA Kings. They also beat the Red Wings in a low-scoring Game 7, 2-1 in overtime.

They have more character than Pittsburgh. They came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Detroit. They grinded out wins against the defending champions. And during their 21-0-3 start to the season they found ways to win every night. They didn't simply roll over less talented opponents. They stole games in that streak.

And as well as the Bruins played against Pittsburgh, they've been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year. Even against the Penguins, they played outstanding in Games 1 and 2, poorly during regulation of Game 3, and flat in Game 4. Which Bruins team will show up in this series?

So I'm not as confident, not as comfortable, not as sure as most people seem to be about this series.

This series is going to be decided by small, slim margins. Both teams struggle on the power play. Whoever can get some production from their PP unit could be the difference in a game, maybe even the series.

Both goaltenders are playing well. Rask is probably the hottest goalie in the NHL. If he comes down to earth a bit, the skaters in front of him need to play better. Same goes for Crawford. If Crawford cools, then the pressure will be on the Blackhawks to step up and support him. I feel like one of these goalies is going to have a shaky game. Not a horrible game, just allowing a soft goal or two. Which goalie will it be? Neither was a starter when these teams won Cups. Crawford is 28, Rask is 26. One goalie having an off-night could be the difference in the series.

Which cold scorer will get hot? Tyler Seguin has 1 goal and 3 assists in the playoffs. Jonathan Toews has 1 goal and 8 assists. Which one of these guys will score a few goals in this series? Both of these guys are capable of winning games with their offense. One of them could steal a game with a pair of goals.

I hesitate to announce my prediction for the series. I don't want to pick against the Bruins. I don't want to pick against a hot goalie. So I won't. Bruins in 7.

The Joys of Being a Boston Fan in the 21st Century

The Bruins advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals is the latest example of what's been a trend in Boston sports: deep playoff runs. As a sports fan growing up in the '90s, when it was a major achievement if teams merely qualified for the playoffs, this is simply a terrific time to be a Boston sports fan. These are the good old days.

Since 2001, this will be the 11th time that a Boston team has been in a championship series/game. Each Boston team has been in at least 2 championship series/games. There have been 49 total championship series/games this century (would've been 50 if not for the NHL Lockout in 04-05), and Boston teams have won 7 of them (14%), and been a part of 11 (22%). Almost 1 in 4 championships involve a Boston team.

What's really enjoyable are the deep playoff runs. Because let's face it, none of us have any impact on the on-field/court/ice success of these teams. We share in the glory as if we did, but we don't. And we also conveniently don't share in the epic failures, like the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox, or in 2010 when the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead against Philly. So as much as we gloat about our teams winning, it's more about the fun of watching our teams win.

What's truly fun is enjoying the extra baseball/football/basketball/hockey. What's fun is going to a packed bar on a Tuesday night to share an experience with strangers and friends. And anything that can postpone the time when baseball is the only sport available is a good thing.

The local teams have been in the final four of their league's playoffs 16 times this century (Patriots 7, Celtics 4, Red Sox 3, Bruins 2). We've seen a total of 76 playoff rounds involving Boston teams (Patriots 24, Celtics 23, Bruins 17, Red Sox 12), and we've seen our team triumph in 48 of those series/games (Patriots 17, Celtics 14, Bruins 9, Red Sox 8).

We've been able to enjoy hockey and basketball in May and June. We've been privileged to watch baseball in October. And football season for us extends into January and February. Our weather seasons up here are sometimes erratic and sometimes very short. But our sports seasons in New England, in this century, have been significantly longer than average.

Situations to Use Tim Tebow

Yesterday Tim Tebow arrived, and the difference in his arrival to New England compared to his arrival to New York demonstrates how different his role here will be. Last year Tebow had his own press conference when he was introduced as a member of the Jets. Yesterday he briefly spoke with the media, gave a stock "happy to be here" statement that I'm sure was prepared beforehand and given Belichick's blessing (pardon the religious pun). And let's also remember that Rex Ryan didn't seem to want Tebow on his team. I'm sure Belichick does, or he wouldn't be here.

I know it's a little weird to talk about a football player playing football, and not talk about media circuses and the Gospels, but let's try. Here are some situations in which Tim Tebow could be a good player to have on the field:

The Jets used him as a protector on their punt team. It makes sense. Not only is he a big guy, but he's a threat for fakes. Both running and passing. Even if you don't fake, the opposing team must respect the possibility, and that might mean their return isn't as focused on blocking.

FG Holder:
Again, for the potential to fake.

Short Yardage/Goal Line:
You line Brady up under center. Brady's as good as it gets at the QB sneak. You also line Tebow up as a tailback. Or even a fullback with Ridley or Vereen as the tailback. So as Brady moves under center, if the sneak doesn't look like a good option, he can hand it off to Tebow. Or fake a handoff to Tebow and go play-action and throw it to Gronk or Hernandez. Or hand off to Ridley/Vereen and have Tebow block. Or have Tebow run in the opposite direction of the ball and fake out the defense. Tebow will draw attention when he's on the field.

The traditional fullback is an endangered species. Belichick has frequently used players from other positions to fill the role, from linebackers to tight-ends. There are very few times when this need arises, short-yardage is one of those times. So is running out the clock late in games (which the Patriots don't do in the traditional way).

There are times that require powerbacks and fullbacks. Vereen (205 pounds) is not a powerback. Ridley isn't much of one either (220 pounds). Tebow weighs 236. He's strong. He can be the fill-in fullback.

This one seems far-fetched. The Patriots have Gronkowski and Ballard. Hernandez is kind of a slot guy, but still a tight-end. Tebow could be used as a 3rd tight-end, again in short yardage situations. I have no idea how well he can catch. You don't want a guy bobbling the ball when defenders are all around him, eager to snatch up a loose ball for an interception. I have to see Tebow's hands before wanting him to play any tight-end.

Trick Plays:
Josh McDaniels got a little too clever with his trick plays last year. He loved using Edelman in crazy reverses and option runs. I hope McDaniels doesn't get overly creative with Tebow trickery. There are moments for trick plays. Two-point conversions, for instance, are a great time to line up Tebow and Brady next to each other in shotgun formation and get weird.

So with Tebow, you fill up some of the lower slots on your depth-chart. #3 QB, #3/#4 RB, #3/#4 TE, and he holds, and he plays on the punt team, and he's in jumbo packages.

Does he put you over the top? No. And we don't even know how many, if any, of these tasks he'll be able to carry out. But there are potential roles he can play. He can be like Steve Buscemi or Paul Giamatti, parts of the supporting cast that are only in a few scenes and help add texture and depth to the movie. So just imagine Steve Buscemi, only with the paparazzi following of Kristen Stewart combined with Lindsay Lohan.

But didn't Ichiro have a huge media following when he played in Seattle? And did the Boston Sports Media worry as much over the media attention that Daisuke Matsuzaka was going to bring with him? I think we're witnessing the media overreacting to the impact that the media's overreacting will have on a team. This is the media's version of Inception.

Photo Credits:
AP Photo

Monday, June 10, 2013

Patriots Sign Tim Tebow

Emotionally, I hate this. I am not a Tim Tebow fan. I don't hate him, I just don't have any reason to like him. I hate the mania that surrounds him. There's nothing I've seen from him that I like. I hate his fans, and that's not his fault, but I hate seeing his fans happy. And now their happiness coincides with my happiness as a Patriots fan.

From a strictly football perspective, it makes sense. It's not a major plus. It's a low-risk type of acquisition. As a #3 QB you have a guy with NFL experience, with athleticism, with playoff experience. His mechanics suck, his decision making is questionable, but as a #3 last resort, project QB, why not? What is there to lose?

And he is an athlete and can play in different spots, maybe as a goal-line runningback, maybe as a #4 tight-end, whatever.

All his on-field negatives as a passer are irrelevant because I don't think he'll see the field as a quarterback unless something awful has happened or the Patriots are up by 28 points with a minute left. And in other spots he'll see the field if he deserves it. Hopefully not in many trick situations, Josh McDaniels likes those too much in my opinion.

The Patriots drafted a rugby player once. They signed a track athlete. They're willing to give athletes a chance to earn a spot on the roster and on the field. They now have a #3 QB who might be able to find minor roles in other aspects of the game. Why not?

As far as the off-field negatives (in this day and age we consider someone with no criminal record to have off-field negatives), the whole "circus" that accompanies Tebow, I'm not too worried. There won't be any QB controversy between he and Brady. The media interns at Gillette Stadium will have to print more credentials for training camp. And the Patriots coaches and players will have more questions to answer without really answering. What team is better at defeating the media's attempts to excavate interesting stories and extract juicy quotes than the Patriots?

Bill Belichick vs. The Media. Who's the favorite in that battle?

This is a huge story for a #3 quarterback who might play special-teams and goal-line situations. This is a potential minor improvement to the Patriots roster with a player who has garnered far too much attention, praise, and hatred for who and what he has done. The Tim Tebow story is a feedback loop. The media is making a circus of it because it is a media circus. This is a story about a story.

If you're like me and emotionally upset about this, I'm going to quote The Book of Rob:

"This isn't the end of the world."
-Rob 3:16

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Insert Pun With the Word "Sweep" in It

For the second time in three years the Bruins are going to the Stanley Cup Finals. And I still cannot believe how they got there, by sweeping the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tuukka Rask and the Bruins only allowed the Penguins to score 2 goals. This was a team that scored 3.4 goals per game in the regular season, and had been scoring 4.3 goals per game in the playoffs. Then they scored 2 goals in 4 games.

The Penguins' power play had a 28.3% success rate in the playoffs before this series. The Bruins successfully killed all 15 penalties in this series.

Sidney Crosby scored 3 goals in Pittsburgh's series with the Islanders, then 4 more against Ottawa. He had 15 postseason points before this series. He finished the series with 15 postseason points. He was -2 with 13 shots on goal.

Evgeni Malkin had 16 postseason points before facing the Bruins. He still has 16. He was -5 in the series, with 21 shots on goal, all saved by Rask. He only managed to get 1 shot off in Game 4.

Rask and Zdeno Chara shut down the Penguins. They absolutely and completely silenced Pittsburgh's big guns, their medium guns, and their little guns. Iginla had 0 points and was -4. Letang had 0 points and was -5. Morrow disappeared with his 0 points and only 1 shot on goal. James Neal took 20 shots but had no points and was -7.

Iginla decided not to end his season in Boston, but that's exactly what happened.

Chara's stats don't tell the full story. He had 0 points, but was +5. He played 119 minutes. That's 2 hours of hockey against Crosby, Malkin, and the best offense in the NHL. And he was +5.

Now the most impressive statline, that of Tuukka Rask...

275 minutes and 19 seconds in net, 2 goals allowed, 136 shots faced, 134 saves, 2 shutouts. That's a .985 save percentage. That's 1 goal allowed every 67 shots. His GAA was 0.44. That's absurd. Less than half a goal every 60 minutes. In the playoffs Rask has a .943 save percentage, and a GAA of 1.75. And since Game 4 against the Rangers when he allowed a few soft goals past him, he's only allowed 3 goals in 5 games.

He's officially a contender for the Conn Smythe. Depending on what happens in the next round.

It looks like the Bruins will face Chicago in the first Original Six Stanley Cup Final since 1979.

I can't wait.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Keep Calm and Win the Fucking Game

So much to say about this game. To make a long, long story short: the Bruins played their worst 3 periods of the series then played 2 of their best. Tuukka Rask bailed them out 53 times. Vokoun and Rask dueled in the overtime. Jaromir Jagr kept making good plays and eventually the plays Jagr started were finished by Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

Now let's get into details. For most of this game I was getting angrier and angrier at the Bruins. They scored early thanks to a Pittsburgh mistake in coverage, then played the type of hockey that has allowed opponents to come from behind against them all season long. For one stretch in the 2nd they were outshot 10-2. In the 3rd they were outshot 14-4. Pittsburgh had 8 scoring chances in the 3rd, the Bruins had 0.

The B's weren't dumping the puck on offense. They were trying to carry it in, then screwing around in the middle of the ice in the offensive end, instead of keeping the puck along the boards and trying to win battles. On the power play this inept strategy was exposed even more acutely. There were also a handful of neutral-zone turnovers that the Bruins simply didn't make in Games 1 and 2. Also some dumb, inexcusable penalties. All this gave Pittsburgh great chances to score. Rask was the reason Pittsburgh didn't score.

This was Rask's stand-on-your-head, become-a-Conn-Smythe-contender, where-legends-are-made performance. He was unflappable. The only goal he allowed, no human goalie could save. 53 saves on 54 shots. In this series he's stopped 108 of 110 shots (.981 SV%), and only allowed 2 goals in about 11 periods of play (0.56 GAA in this series), all against the highest scoring offense in the NHL. Such a high level of goaltending against such high level of scorers sounds eerily similar to what Tim Thomas did against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.

Bergeron won the game in a fraction of seconds. Rask's play for 95 minutes allowed Bergeron to win it.

Some honorable mentions to some Bruins' defensemen. Zdeno Chara played 42:05, all of it great. In the 2nd regulation period he broke up a golden scoring opportunity that Evgeni Malkin would have had. It was a play only he and his vast reach could have made.

Andrew Ference logged almost 35 minutes of ice-time. He played his solid, physical brand of hockey. He left a few marks on a few Penguins.

Johnny Boychuk led the Bruins with 5 blocked shots, 2 of which came in double-overtime when Pittsburgh mounted a major scoring threat.

Dennis Seidenberg didn't have a bad game, but did make some weak/unwise passes trying to move the puck out of the defensive zone. This led to longer Pittsburgh possessions, more shots, more chances, more anxiety from me. However, he sharpened up in overtime.

All of the Bruins seemed to elevate their games in the overtime. Milan Lucic skated hard, Jagr looked half his age, Horton created a few chances for himself, even the faceoffs seemed to even out.

One player we didn't see in overtime was Gregory Campbell, who blocked a shot with his femur, then gutted out the remainder of the shift, doing what he could as a stationary obstacle. That determination energized the Bruins for the next 4 or 5 shifts. That's what you can't see on paper when you look at a roster. That's what you can't count on when all you do is assemble talented all-stars like Pittsburgh. This group of players in Boston have been together for a long time. They play for each other and for the team. And newcomers like Jagr and Krug see that, want to be a part of it, and if they buy into it they're accepted.

I don't know if Pittsburgh has that. Are Crosby and Malkin leaders? How does their leadership stack up against Chara or Bergeron? Or Ference? Or Campbell? Or Thornton? Does Pittsburgh have the same camaraderie in their rank and file? Chemistry counts.

Game 4 is Friday night. A sweep would be fantastic for so many reasons. Crosby, Iginla, and of course Cooke would all end their season in Boston. It would be glorious. Let's hope.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Stanley Cup Roundup*

I really hope the Bruins were watching last night's Hawks/Kings game. I'm sure they were. Because even though the Bruins have a 2-0 series lead, even though they outscored Pittsburgh 9-1 in those two games, even though the Penguins look lost and confused, the score of Game 3 is 0-0. Chicago dominated Game 2 of their series, just as the Bruins did, then went to LA and lost. Just because Pittsburgh looks uncomfortable doesn't mean the Bruins can afford to get comfortable.

The Kings somewhat remind me of the Bruins. They've built their team around goaltending and defense. They also get offense from that defense. Last night Slava Voynov had a goal and an assist. He's scored 5 from the blue-line for LA in these playoffs and has 11 points. That's the most goals for a defenseman (tied with Boychuk), and most points (tied with Chara).

LA is scary good and they're the ones 2-1 down in this series because Chicago is also scary good. The Blackhawks have so many weapons. Bryan Bickell scored his 7th goal of the playoffs last night. Patrick Sharp has 8 goals, tied with Krejci for the most in the postseason. Marian Hossa has 6. And they still have Jonathan Toews, who only has 1 goal so far but is capable of so much more. And unlike Pittsburgh, Chicago's scorers aren't just tallying goals against the Islanders or Senators in a 6-2 blowout. Many of these goals have come in tight games and in crucial moments.

On paper, whoever wins the Western Conference will be the favorite to win the Cup. On paper.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Bruins Make Penguins Their Bitches-burgh

9-1. The Bruins have outscored the Penguins 9-1 in two games. Not even the most insanely optimistic, glue-huffing, delusional Bruins fan could have envisioned this. Game 1 was tighter than the 3-0 score suggested. Game 2, however, was an utter beatdown. The Penguins had no chance.

The Penguins are horrible at goal prevention. Their goalies suck. Their defensemen are not imposing at all. And their best forwards simply do not play defense. Crosby and Malkin are both -3.

Meanwhile, Rask has had his two best playoff games in this series. All 6 Bruins defensemen are doing an excellent job controlling the crease. Threatening pucks have drifted in and out of the blue paint with no Penguin able to get a stick on them because the Bruins are tying them up. And the Bruins forwards are all helping on defense.

I don't think the Bruins are playing a ridiculously physical series. It's just that the Penguins have no answer for the potential of physical play. Deryk Engelland against Milan Lucic? Really? And what "power" forward can match Chara?

And what does Crosby, their fearful leader, do? He flops like an NBA player. Actually, it's more like a Brazilian soccer player. Then after his dives he takes forever to get up off the ice. Then he skates to the nearest zebra and whines for 30 seconds.

This sense of entitlement, and this notion of expecting the game to play out a certain way is one of the reasons Pittsburgh is down 0-2. Maybe they got cocky after disposing of the Islanders and Senators, who were probably the 16th and 15th best teams in the playoffs, respectively. Now they're being challenged with talented forwards, intelligent defensemen, and a tough goalie. Things aren't going to plan and the Penguins don't know how to handle it.

Every group on the Bruins, from goalies, to defensemen, to forwards, is far and away the best group the Penguins have faced in this postseason. Rask is the best goalie they've faced. Chara-Seidenberg-Boychuk-McQuaid-Krug-Ference is the best group of defensemen. And from Krejci to Paille, these 12 forwards are the best the Penguins have faced.

On the flip-side, what Pittsburgh defensive pairing is going to go against the best line in hockey these days: the Krejci line? Who are Pittsburgh's shutdown d-men? Leading up to this series we were worried about matching up against the Crosby and Malkin lines. Who does Pittsburgh have to contend against the Krejci and Bergeron lines?

The Penguins have built a team to score goals, not prevent them. They're kind of like the 2007 Patriots or the 1995 Cleveland Indians. They can win with offense, but can't win any other way.

And they don't know how to win against an equal opponent. They do know how to whine.

This series is still young. The Bruins, hopefully, smell the blood in the water, and will strike at these wounded Penguins like a pack of hungry killer whales.

Game 3 Wednesday night in Boston.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Monday, June 03, 2013

Bruins Leave Penguins in Ruins

Before reveling in the Bruins' 3-0 victory over Pittsburgh, I must point out that the score doesn't do justice to how close this game was. Pittsburgh hit 3 posts, and one puck dribbled along the goal-line, kept out by flakes of snow, and perhaps the hockey gods, who are still cross at Matt Cooke for what he did to Marc Savard. And Erik Karlsson. And what he tried to do to Adam McQuaid.

What made Cooke's hit on McQuaid so dirty is what led up to it. This wasn't an instance of Cooke contesting with McQuaid, then McQuaid putting himself vulnerable, then Cooke deciding to finish his check anyway. Cooke was jousting with Krug. McQuaid, apparently unchallenged, went to the boards to get the puck. When McQuaid turned and made himself vulnerable, Cooke stopped playing Krug, and with a surge of energy he went after McQuaid's back, driving McQuaid, spinal column first, into the boards. Cooke was not going to touch McQuaid until McQuaid showed his numbers to Cooke. McQuaid's vulnerability is what attracted the vulture Cooke to hit him.

And the reaction of the Pittsburgh crowd demonstrates the kind of spoiled morons they have for fans down there.

Anyway, to the game. The Bruins did a few things that put them in position to win:

#1 Rask
Tuukka was great. He made a few tough saves. He didn't make saves tougher. He adapted his play to each situation. Sometimes he looked like a standard butterfly goalie, solid and predictable. Other times he flailed around like Dominek Hasek, keeping the puck out of the net with instinct and sheer will.

#2 No gifts
The B's did not have bad shifts. They didn't make bad turnovers in dangerous areas of the ice. Pittsburgh is good enough to generate their own offense, for the Bruins to win this series they can't afford to give the Penguins bonus opportunities.

#3 Neutral zone
The Penguins were almost never able to move the puck through the neutral zone without some minor disruption. This threw off their timing, and more importantly it frustrated them. They're used to skating through the zone unimpeded. This got under their skin more than anything, I think.

#4 First line play
Lucic, Krejci, and Horton find another gear in the playoffs. Lucic becomes a speed demon. Krejci becomes a tough along-the-boards grinder, and Horton becomes a smooth scorer. Horton has 4 multi-point games this postseason. He's also +17. Krejci is +14, leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs in points, and has the second most goals. Lucic is +11.

#5 Under their skin
Zdeno Chara is +9 in the playoffs. He goes against the best forwards the opposing teams have, and he's +9. And having to play against him every night pisses off even the best of players. In this game both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby tried to get physical. That's way out of their element. And for Crosby against Chara, that's way out of his league. Chara would end Crosby. When Crosby was trying to antagonize Chara (and also elbowed Rask who had a great "wtf, mate? I'm a goalie" reaction) it reminded me of footage from protests in the Middle East, when unarmed civilians throw rocks at tanks. It's like really man? Do you really want this to get real? This is what Chara did to a guy who was 6' 6" and 238. Crosby is 5' 11" and 200.

Crosby, who is teammates with Matt Cooke, had this to say about the game's level of physicality:

"They're letting a lot go out there, and the more it gets like that, the more it’s going to escalate. You can only control and channel that stuff so much. You keep letting guys do that stuff, you’re just going to push the envelope. That’s something we obviously want to stay away from, but it’s kind of a natural thing when it gets like that."

What a whiny dink.

So this was a great win. Starting a series with a road win, it doesn't get any better than that.

All this being said, you can't rely on the posts all series long. You can't lean on your goalie and one line all series long. And I'm sure Pittsburgh will adjust and adapt to what the Bruins are doing to them in the neutral zone.

There were also a lot of "zero tolerance interference" penalties called. This favors Pittsburgh, who have the best PP units the Bruins have faced, and also have an aggressive PK group. The fewer penalties, the better.

Game 2 is tonight. A win would be titanic. A loss wouldn't be the end of the world. The Bruins are playing with house money, which has sometimes been when they play their worst. This is a chance, however, to really get in the driver's seat of this series.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar