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Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Boston Bruins wrote the book on heartbreaking losses

I honestly don't know how many ways I can express the same thought I've had and written down numerous times in the last few years: the Boston Bruins find new and different ways to lose games (and series). It's just what they do. The higher the stakes, the bigger the tragically epic failure.

So while last night's 3-2 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals was heartbreaking, I can't say it was surprising. At all. If anything, you almost have to step back and appreciate the carnage since there's nothing like a Bruins flop (ever since the Red Sox got their shit together in 2004) to get the blood boiling in this day and age.

After giving up the winning goal with 18.5 seconds in Game 1, the B's outdid themselves by blowing a 2-1 lead, hanging on for overtime but then losing in 11 seconds (the second fastest goal in playoff overtime history).

Much like the B's always remind you of their inadequacies, the NHL always seems to rear its ugly, deformed head at the worst times. Canucks forward Alex Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron in Game 1 but the NHL didn't suspend him or even fine him. Would you believe that he was Vancouver's best player last night, scoring two goals and having an assist?

So yeah, seeing that lowlife be the one to get the winning goal, putting Vancouver two wins away from its first Stanley Cup in its forty year history is about as painful an ending as any Hollywood hack could concoct for Game 2.

Handing out the blame pie for the OT goal is hard to do. Andrew Ference (who for some reason was out there to start overtime) started off the terrible play by putting the puck off the boards, right to Vancouver. Tim Thomas (30 saves) was the bigger goat though as the came flying way out of control and not only took himself but Zdeno Chara out of position too as Burrows faked a shot, whipped around the net and stuffed it in. When you blame Thomas though, you also must realize that Boston wouldn't be anywhere near the Stanley Cup finals without him. He's the best goaltender in the world right now but like Bill Belichick or anyone else, just because he's great doesn't make him bulletproof when it comes to criticism.

This was a game that the Bruins had to win. They sleepwalked through the first period with Burrows scoring a weak power-play goal (his eighth goal of the playoffs) from Chris Higgins and Sami Salo at 12:12. The shot appeared to handcuff Thomas as it squirted through his body and over the goal-line.

Boston responded with its best period of the first two games in the second. Its two most invisible forwards stepped up: Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi. Lucic tied it at one with his fourth goal of the playoffs at 9:00 from Johnny Boychuk and David Krejci. It was a simple play as Lucic went to the net (what a concept!) and was able to put in the rebound past Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo (28 saves).

A Mark Recchi power-play goal was one of the most unlikely scenarios (he hadn't scored one since January, really) entering the game but there he was, getting it done at 11:35 (his third of the playoffs). He tipped in a wrist shot by Chara, Patrice Bergeron also assisted. The goal still doesn't justify Claude Julien sticking with him for all this time when he hasn't shown a pulse on the power-play but I digress.

Vancouver predictably came out on fire in the third period since they realized the importance of the game for their side. Thomas held the fort for a while but it was only a matter of time before the Canucks tied it up. Daniel Sedin came out of witness protection to score his ninth of the playoffs at 9:37 after a sweet feed from Burrows. Alex Edler had the second assist.

I was at a bar for the game and I can admit that I had barely settled in for overtime before it was over (I'm sure most people had the same reaction). It was over before it began and the craziest part was that Boston actually won the opening face-off!

Game 3 is tomorrow night at TD Garden and needless to say, it's a must-win for the B's. Lose and they'll be swept, no question. Win and they can make this somewhat interesting. They've proven through the first two games that they can play with Vancouver. The problem is that the Canucks have stepped up when they needed to while the Bruins have choked badly in two huge spots.

It's about time: J.D. Drew hits his first walk-off hit for the Red Sox (in the 14th inning)

It's only fitting that a game that goes 14 innings (the longest Boston Red Sox game of the season), complete with a four-run lead blown in the ninth and having two players ejected, that J.D. Drew delivered the first walk-off hit of his Red Sox career.

Things were going well for Boston (32-26) as they went into the bottom of the ninth up 7-3 yesterday afternoon at Fenway Park on the Oakland A's (27-32).

Then closer Jonathan Papelbon started giving up hits in a non-save situation like he always does and before you knew it, he was tossed along with catcher Jason Varitek for arguing balls and strikes.

Oakland tied it up at 7 in the ninth and both teams scored a run in the 11th before Drew (2 hits, 2 RBIs) drove in Carl Crawford (4 hits, 3 RBIs, 2 runs) in the 14th for the winning run.

Alfredo Aceves (3-1) was the unsung hero and turned out to be the winner as he went the last four innings for the Red Sox. He allowed one earned run on three hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

It's hard to remember since this game went five hours and 17 minutes but this started out as a tasty pitching matchup between A's stud Trevor Cahill and Red Sox ace Josh Beckett. As usual, that's not how the game unfolded.

Cahill went seven innings but he allowed five earned runs on eight hits with a walk and eight strikeouts.

Beckett went six innings, allowing three earned runs on four hits with three walks and four strikeouts.

Things got off to a good start for Boston as Adrian Gonzalez hit a solo homer (his 11th of the season) in the first. Drew added an RBI single, driving in Crawford in the fifth, for a 2-0 lead.

Josh Willingham tied it up in the sixth with a two-run single in the sixth. The Red Sox responded with three runs. Dustin Pedroia had an RBI single, Kevin Youkilis had an RBI double and Crawford had an RBI single in the frame.

Cliff Pennington drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh but Crawford's two-run double in the eighth made it 7-3 good guys.

You knew something was up in the ninth when Pedroia let a routine grounder go through his legs, scoring a run. Pennington had an RBI double and Conor Jackson tied it with an RBI single as Papelbon melted down literally and figuratively (the first ejection of his career).

Ryan Sweeney put Oakland ahead with a sacrifice fly in the 11th but Jacoby Ellsbury (4 hits, 2 steals) tied it with an RBI double which knocked in Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Boston goes for the sweep today but I wouldn't bet on them since John Lackey returns from the DL and his rehab stint in the minors. He faces Oakland lefty Brett Anderson, who is good and typically gives the Red Sox trouble.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Canucks score with 18.5 second left, take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals 1-0 over the Bruins

I was getting set for overtime in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals last night at the Rogers Centre. I was going to crack another Sam Summer with my buddy, tweet my overtime winners for both teams to ESPN's John Bucigross and pray that the Bruins could find a way to steal it.

Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres had other plans though as they teamed up for a goal with 18.5 seconds left in regulation en route to a 1-0 Vancouver win over Boston.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (33 saves) deserved better since he played outstanding, particularly in the third period when the B's started to skate in quicksand and the ice tilted towards the Canucks. The winning goal wasn't his fault at all either as it was the result of a misplay by defenseman Johnny Boychuk, a great pass by Kesler to start the play, Hansen's pass to Torres and his professional finish.

Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo is a Gold medal winner as we all know and one of the NHL's best but he's prone to giving up weak goals and juicy rebounds. Not last night. He had 36 saves which is a little misleading since Boston only had a handful of great chances.

Since they're so heavily favored and carry the weight of Canada on their shoulders, a loss in Game 1 for the Canucks would have been huge. The pressure would have mounted and who knows how they would react? Now, I'll say that the Bruins need to win Game 2 or else this series might not go past five games.

Two subplots to come out of Game 1: Alexandre Burrows clearly bit Patrice Bergeron's finger in a scrum after the first period ended. We'll have to see if the NHL comes down hard on him or looks the other way during its showcase series. 2) Dan Hamhuis left in the second period with an injury after flipping Milan Lucic near the boards. He's one of Vancouver's top two defensemen so his loss would be a big one.

The Rogers Arena crowd was pumped during the pregame but the B's (and refs) systematically took them out of it. There were a ton of penalties on both sides but each team went 0 for 6 on their power plays.

The good news is that Boston's penalty kill was awesome but they won't keep that up if they continually put Vancouver's lethal power play (28%) on the ice. Ditto for the Bruins' pathetic power play which has now dipped to 7% in the playoffs. They had a four-minute advantage in the first period that they couldn't cash in on despite nine shots and a 5 on 3 in the second period that didn't give them anything tangible except a partial breakaway by the Canucks.

There's an extra day off before the pivotal Game 2 on Saturday night. I have faith that Thomas will play great again but the real question is if the Bruins can solve Luongo and stay out of the penalty box?

White Sox sweep the Red Sox at Fenway Park

For the life of me I can't figure out why, since they're not particularly good, but you can't dispute the ironclad fact that the Chicago White Sox own Fenway Park right now.

After polishing the Boston Red Sox off yesterday afternoon 7-4 for a three-game series sweep, Chicago (27-31) won its seventh straight at Fenway. They're 13-2 against Boston (30-26) in their last 15 games and 9-1 since the start of last season. What do you want me to do, call the White Sox my daddy? (Pedro Martinez reference).

A 3-0 lead for the home team didn't mean much as Tim Wakefield (6 innings, 4 earned runs, 7 hits, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts) and the Boston bullpen melted down in a rare midweek afternoon game.

Gavin Floyd (6-5) was shaky at first but he settled down and got the win. He went 6.2 innings, allowing four earned runs on nine hits with a walk and a strikeout.

The Red Sox put up three in the second inning as Jed Lowrie drove in David Ortiz with a ground-rule double and Jarrod Saltalamacchia knocked in two with a single.

Brent Lillibridge got an RBI double in the fourth to pull Chicago within 3-1 before the White Sox tied it in the fifth. Alexei Ramirez (3 hits, 3 run) drove in a run with a ground out before Carlos Quentin hit an RBI double. Wakefield could have got out of the inning on a clear out on the basepaths by Juan Pierre but that's not how the goober umpire saw it. Instead, Quentin got the hit and Boston spiraled out of control.

Lillibridge hit a solo homer in the sixth but Ortiz answered with his 13th of the season in the bottom of the frame to tie it at four.

It was the Paul Konerko show from there as he had an RBI double in the seventh which scored Ramirez and then a two-run bomb (scoring Ramirez) in the ninth off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.

White Sox closer Sergio Santos got a 1-2-3 ninth with a strikeout for his ninth save of the season.

Matt Albers (1-3) was charged with the loss after giving up three hits (including Konerko's double). He has come back to Earth after a great start in his Red Sox career.

Some scary stuff too as Rich Hill threw a pitch and then came out with an elbow injury. Dice-K is going to be out for the entire season with Tommy John surgery but nobody cares about that. Hill was a local guy that had found himself this season with Boston. Hope he's OK. Plus, he was the Red Sox' only lefty in the bullpen. Hideki Okajima is in Pawtucket but he has nothing left at this point. Theo Epstein is going to have to get some more reliable bullpen options.

The Red Sox are grateful to have a day off today after going for almost three straight weeks without one (and no, the last three days don't count). The Oakland A's come to town this weekend for a three-game set.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Should I tell the Red Sox that the White Sox are terrible?

The summer weather is finally here but with the Boston Bruins in their first Stanley Cup finals in 21 years, the Boston Red Sox have a few more weeks of anonymity before everybody starts paying more attention to their games.

It's a good thing that nobody cares right now since the Red Sox (30-25) aren't playing very well at the moment. Boston dropped its third straight game overall, 10-7 last night at Fenway Park to the Chicago White Sox (26-31).

As long as Ozzie Guillen has been manager of the White Sox, they've always had lineups that could put up big numbers since they hit bombs. The lack of starting pitching and shaky bullpens has made them an afterthought in the crappy American League Central, making them miss the playoffs the last few seasons.

I don't expect Chicago to do much this season either but they look like they're about to sweep the Red Sox at Fenway which would be pretty embarrassing.

Alfredo Aceves (2-1) for Boston last night and he didn't have it after excelling in his first two spot starts. In five innings, he was knocked around for eight runs (six earned) on eight hits with three walks and a strikeout.

Journeyman Phil Humber (4-3) started for Chicago and he continued his surprisingly good season. He went 7.2 innings, allowing four earned runs on nine hits with a walk and five strikeouts.

For the second straight, the White Sox got out to a quick start and never looked back from there. They put up four runs in the second and one in the third for an early 5-0 lead. Gordon Beckham (3 hits) had an RBI single in the second, Brett Morel followed with a fielder's choice, Alexei Ramirez (4 hits, 3 RBIs) had an RBI single and A.J. Pierzynski added a ground-rule double.

Jason Varitek got the Red Sox on the board with a solo homer in the second, his second of the season.

Ramirez had another RBI single in the fourth before the White Sox put up three in the sixth on an RBI single by Juan Pierre, RBI double by Carlos Quentin and sacrifice fly by Paul Konerko.

The Red Sox added some runs in garbage time to make it close but Chris Sale came on to strike out Adrian Gonzalez on three pitches for his second save of the season.

Drew Sutton had an RBI single in the eighth and David Ortiz hit a three-run homer (his 12th of the season). Josh Reddick added a sacrifice fly in the ninth and Sutton had an RBI double.

Scott Atchison gave up two earned runs on four hits in relief. Bobby Jenks made his first appearance since May 1 and threw a scoreless eighth despite giving up two hits. Dan Wheeler had a scoreless ninth where he worked around a walk and a hit.

Tim Wakefield starts this afternoon against Gavin Floyd in the series finale. The Red Sox need a win before they have tomorrow off. Gotta get back to the roll they were on for most of May now that June is here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Red Sox honor the troops and veterans on Memorial Day by laying down to the White Sox

Boston (30-24) came home last night for the start of a homestand against the Chicago White Sox (25-31) at Fenway Park and they lost again, 7-3.

A two-game losing streak is hardly news in baseball, the streakiest of all sports, but more puzzling was Jon Lester's latest struggles. Lester (7-2) had an seven-game win streak snapped but that was deceiving since he hadn't pitched well in his last few starts but still picked up wins.

Last night, he threw a season-high 127 pitches but only went 5.2 innings, allowing seven earned runs on eight hits with four walks and four strikeouts.

The White Sox were bolstered by Jake Peavy (2-0) who many moons and shoulder surgeries ago used to be one of baseball's best pitchers. The hard drinking, dippin' good old boy went seven innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits with two strikeouts.

Chicago loaded the bases in the first inning and A.J. Pierzynski (2 hits) came through with a two-run single up the middle.

Boston got a run back in the first as Adrian Gonzalez (2 hits) crushed his tenth homer of the season, a solo shot into the Red Sox bullpen.

Providence, RI native Paul Konerko (2 hits) smacked a solo homer over the Monster in the third for a 3-1 White Sox lead.

Dustin Pedroia tied it up in the third with a two-run single of his own.

That's as close as the Red Sox would get through as Alexei Ramirez (2 hits) knocked Lester out of the game with a bloop two-run double in the sixth. The next batter, Carlos Quentin, added a two-run single off Dan Wheeler and that was it.

Alfredo Aceves goes for his third straight solid start tonight as he takes on Phil Humber.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hell yes! WOOOOOOOOOO! Bruins reach their first Stanley Cup finals since 1990

I never played a day of organized hockey in my life so I'm not going to sit here and claim that the Boston Bruins have been my everything since I strapped on a pair of skates.

However, I will say that as I've gotten older and the three other Boston professional sports teams have all won championships in the last decade, the Bruins have become the last place for a real fan existence that you can find in this town. Up until now, the B's haven't been trendy, they always let their fans down and they are one of the most frustrating franchises in sports.

Well no more complaining from me or other true Bruins fans as they won the Eastern Conference finals last night by virtue of a scintillating 1-0 Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden.

Boston is back in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990 and they'll get it started on Wednesday in Vancouver against the Canucks.

It's only fitting that their epic series was capped off with one of their greatest wins in franchise history. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas made 24 saves for his second shutout of the series and Nathan Horton had the game-winner at 12:27 of the third period (his eighth of the playoffs) to send the Garden into delirium.

People hate on soccer when it's 0-0 but it's hard to picture a hockey game being much more exciting even though both teams failed to score a goal for over 52 minutes of regulation. Unlike the NBA where the refs have to be front and center all the time, the NHL refs assigned to the game last night stayed out of the way and didn't call a single penalty (first time that's happened in 20 years)!

When Milan Lucic was stuffed on a breakaway on the first period, it was clear that Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson (37 saves) was sharp and it would probably be a very low scoring game.

Kudos to Tampa Bay for playing their asses off. Star Steven Stamkos took a Johnny Boychuk slap shot right off his nose in the second period and he only missed a few minutes of action. His face was disgusting but I have a new found respect for him since he sucked it up and got right back out there.

Andrew Ference started the goal with a long breakout pass to David Krejci. Dangerous David put a perfect backhand pass right between Roloson, a pair of Tampa Bay defensemen and on Horton's stick. All he had to do was redirect it in.

The Bruins will be heavy underdogs against the Canucks, who rolled through the Western Conference, but they wouldn't want it any other way. It's been clear in the postseason that this is a different Bruins team. They're not the choke artists of the past as they proved again and again (beating Montreal in a Game 7 overtime, sweeping the Flyers, beating Tampa Bay in another Game 7).

I'm not making any predictions but I think it's going to be a really good series. You have to remember that Vancouver has never won a Stanley Cup in their 40 years of existence (a longer drought than the B's by a year) so it's not like Boston's facing Detroit or something. The Bruins have Thomas, Zdeno Chara and a team full of guys that know their roles and don't get rattled.

Hockey in June! Pinch me.