Saturday, February 4, 2012

Patriots-Giants, Then and Now

Just to humor those New England sports fans who include omens in their spiritual diet, here is a brief set of contrasts between the Boston and New York sports scenes leading up to the last Patriots-Giants Super Bowl matchup and those landscapes leading up to this Sunday’s kickoff.

Super Bowl XLII took place at University of Phoenix Stadium, an NFC venue housing the Arizona Cardinals. Super Bowl XLVI will be conducted inside Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of an AFC tenant in the Indianapolis Colts.

The Patriots beat the Giants in East Rutherford to secure their spotless, 16-0 regular-season record in Week 17 of the 2007 campaign. The Pats brooked the last of their three losses in the 2011 regular season at the hands of Eli Manning and Co. in Foxborough.

The 2007-08 Giants avenged three regular-season losses in the subsequent postseason against the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers and the Patriots themselves. To date, this year’s New England squad has spent its playoff run avenging losses from previous playoff runs against the likes of the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens.

During the 2007 NFL regular season, the New York Yankees circumvented the F-word when they parted ways with long-time, ring-bearing manager Joe Torre. During the 2011 NFL regular season, the Boston Red Sox circumvented the F-word as they relieved long-tenured, multi-championship manager Terry Francona of his duties.

In both 2008 and 2012, the Boston Bruins defeated the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 31. The prime difference is that the former meeting took place in Canada’s capital whereas earlier this week, the Bs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to claim a 4-3 victory at TD Garden.

Leading up to Super Bowl XLII, the Bruins were unbeaten in their season series with the Rangers, having won each of three meetings. Leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, they are winless in their slate with the Blueshirts, having lost their only encounter to date in a 3-2 overtime decision.

Neither the Celtics nor the Bruins were active on Super Bowl Sunday in 2008. They will both be occupied at midday this Sunday, hosting the Memphis Grizzlies and visiting the Washington Capitals at noon and 12:30 p.m., respectively.

But, of course, there are also some similar signs that ought to enliven the Giants’ faithful. For instance, the New York Knicks were not active the day of Super Bowl XLII and will not be the day of Super Bowl XLVI. The Rangers did play that first February Sunday of 2008 and will face the Flyers this Sunday.

Take these any way you please, but they’re all here for you if wanted.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 4

1994: The home season debut of John Blue, who had been with the parent club until the last week of January, invigorates the Civic Center as the goaltending prospect backstops a 5-3 win over the Cornwall Aces with 33 saves. Sergei Zholtok pitches in four assists at the other end.

1996: The P-Bruins delete 1-0 and 2-1 deficits before surmounting the Falcons, 3-2, at the Springfield Civic Center.

2000: The P-Bruins turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead, only to see the visiting Lowell Lock Monsters surmount that for a 4-3 differential until 2:03 remains in regulation. At that point, Cameron Mann draws a 4-4 knot and Antti Laaksonen averts overtime with the game-winner with 1:26 to spare in regulation.

2001: Peter Skudra backstops his third win in as many nights with a 3-1 decision against Worcester at the Civic Center.

2005: Andy Hilbert assists on all three goals in a 3-0 home win over Hartford, moving him ahead of Sergei Zhotolk as the P-Bruins all-time leading point-getter with 188.

2011: Two unlikely goal-getters in Lane MacDermid and Brian McGrattan (goal, assist) spell the difference in a 2-1 win over Springfield at The Dunk.

Friday, February 3, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 3

1995: After leading 5-2 to commence the third period, the P-Bruins authorize four unanswered goals by the Syracuse Crunch. But in the remaining 13:19 of regulation, they insert four of their own, including two by Dave Reid, who finishes the night with a hat trick as part of a 9-6 thriller at the Civic Center.

1999: The P-Bruins throttle the Beast, 9-3, at the New Haven Coliseum. Veteran blueliner Terry Virtue pilots the offensive onslaught with a goal and a playmaker hat trick.

2003: Andy Hilbert has a goal and an assist while Matt Herr charges up a playmaker hat trick, though their shorthanded PlanetUSA All-Stars fall to Team Canada, 10-7, at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

2008: The P-Bruins trail the visiting Worcester Sharks by a goal on three occasions before they score four unanswered en route to a 6-3 victory highlighted by Wacey Rabbit’s hat trick.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Friars Puckbag: An Assortment Of Observations On PC Men’s And Women’s Hockey

Reports hold that the NCAA might seek to venture beyond national boundaries and hold the 2015 men’s Frozen Four at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. In that nothing-should-surprise-us-anymore event, would Providence College get dibs on being the host institution if the Brian Burke-Ron Wilson tandem is still in office?

The PC women enter this weekend’s action one win, two Vermont losses and one Connecticut loss away from securing a Hockey East playoff spot. All of that could transpire between now and Sunday, pending a Friars’ victory in their lone engagement of the weekend at Boston College, a Maine sweep of the Catamounts and a UConn split of its weekend itinerary.

Know that adage some coaches like to slap around, proclaiming “It’s not how you start, but how you finish”? Look to men’s senior Matt Bergland and rookie Ross Mauerman for elements of truth.

With his team-leading 8-10-18 transcript, Mauerman would need a four-point outing at New Hampshire Friday night to match Bergland’s 7-15-22 jumpstart to his first 25 games. Bergland did not quite keep his initial pace, posting 22-29-51 totals over his subsequent 99 games. But all things considered, Mauerman is in a sturdier position to become the first PC puckster to hit triple-digits in the way of career points since Jon Rheault.

No telling what effect their fresh acquisition of Cal O’Reilly will have, but the Pittsburgh Penguins might enter TD Garden Saturday afternoon bearing Colin McDonald, who captained the Friars as a senior in 2006-07. McDonald, a Connecticut native, saw action in his sixth and seventh NHL tilts after being called up Tuesday prior to a home-and-home set with the Maple Leafs.

Rookie Haley Frade is in the exclusive company of UConn’s Carli Pridmore and Maine’s Katy Massey as the only WHEA skaters to have dressed for every possible game and still not have a penalty minute on her record. The key difference in Frade’s favor is she has played more games and chipped in a little more on the scoresheet, logging 2-5-7 totals in 29 appearances. Contrast that with Pridmore’s single assist in 28 games and Massey’s 1-1-2 log in 27 outings.

Seeing the highlights of last week’s Providence-Connecticut game at Schneider almost has this author wishing the NCAA would follow the NHL’s lead and have home teams in dark uniforms full time. Maybe then, instead of looking like baseball visitors, the Friars would spring for a solid black third jersey, preferably with the Providence shield emblem on the front.

How is it that the PC men have officially improved upon last year’s Hockey East finish and are already virtually assured their best overall record since their last playoff appearance, yet have a slight downturn in attendance? The Friars’ final figures from 2010-11 were a nightly median of 1,806 witnesses to 14 home games. They have had 15 recorded openings at Schneider Arena this season, yet they enter the homestretch having played to an average of 1,690 spectators.

Well, there is one possible theory behind that. PC had three of those games amidst the school’s month-long holiday break, which inevitably left the student section barren. But one of those was the Mayor’s Cup on New Year’s Day, which drew the fourth-best congregation to date with 1,883 people taking an interest in the civic rivalry.

Besides sparing themselves any drama for the subsequent two weeks and putting themselves within tasting distance of a playoff passport, there are some sentimental stakes in the women’s visit to BC this Saturday. Having spilled the first two-thirds of the season series, the Friars will have to at least muster a tie to avoid being swept by a conference rival for the first time since New Hampshire in 2005-06.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 2

1996: The P-Bruins splash a recent win drought while curbing Portland’s five-game unbeaten streak with a 4-1 win at the Civic Center.

1997: Bolstered by Clayton Beddoes’ multipoint effort, the P-Bruins sweep a three-game weekend slate with a 3-2 home triumph over Springfield.

2001: After old friend Steve Bancroft and San Jose Sharks prospect Jonathan Cheechoo pull the Kentucky Thoroughblades even, Eric Nickulas connects with 27 seconds left in regulation to finalize a 4-3 home victory. Jeremy Brown sets up the clutch clincher for a two-point night, having opened the scoring for Providence earlier on the night.

2007: With a 6-1 steamrolling over the visiting Portland Pirates, the P-Bruins charge up their second five-game winning streak in less than a month and improve to 10-0-1 in their last 11 ventures.

2008: The P-Bruins trail the Pirates, 3-0, until after the halfway mark of regulation. But between the 11:58 mark of the second period and the 18:51 mark of the third, Sean Curry, Pascal Pelletier, Jeff Hoggan and Matt Hendricks insert four unanswered goals to pilfer a 4-3 win from the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bruins Puckbag: An Assortment of Observations on Boston and Providence

When the Bruins face off with the Washington Capitals at 12:30 p.m. this Sunday, it will mark the second time they have played on Super Bowl Sunday when the Patriots are playing in the Lombardi Trophy Game. Previously, on Feb. 1, 2004, the Bs vanquished the Penguins, 4-1, at the FleetCenter hours before the Pats nipped the Carolina Panthers to claim their second championship.

In the Claude Julien era, the Bruins are 2-0-0 on Super Bowl Sunday, with both wins occurring in back-to-back years (2009 and 2010) at Montreal.

With Tuesday night’s come-from-behind, 4-3 triumph over Ottawa, Boston is guaranteed a split of its 24 games against Northeast Division cohabitants. With the exception of Buffalo, against whom they are 2-0-0, the Bruins have already won or split their six-game series with each divisional rival. And by the end of this month, with two wins over the Sabres, one over the Canadiens and one over the Senators, they could secure a victory in each season series.

Could Providence rookie and top point-getter Carter Camper be ready to answer a call-up to the NHL next season? If he makes enough of a consistent impression in this year’s homestretch and pads on a little more physical strength over the summer, there’s no reason why he couldn’t.

As recently as two months ago, the better part of the Bruins-related trade buzz had Boston shopping around Tuukka Rask, then the shoddier half of an otherwise sharp and stingy goaltending tandem. Now that the roles have reversed, people have thrust Tim Thomas into the rumor mill. Stop the madness.

This author is stumped as to which is more surprising: That Boston avoided any minor penalties or shorthanded situations Tuesday night or that fourth-liner Daniel Paille still has yet to take a minor penalty in 44 games-played this season. (So far, Paille’s only time in the bin has been for a fight with Florida’s Ed Jovanovski Jan. 16, so he needn’t necessarily bank on Lady Byng nomination.)

Sean Avery’s first two stints with the Hartford Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale, first in 2008-09 and then in October of this season, failed to overlap with a single encounter with the P-Bruins. Is Sunday, Feb. 19 the date when Ocean State puckheads finally get to witness the player they love to hate the most?

Tim Gleason, who was reportedly on the Bruins’ radar for a trade, was subtly removed from the market Tuesday when the Carolina Hurricanes extended his contract for four years. If Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli is still hoping to shake up the blue line, he should seek the services of Dallas Stars’ point-based playmaker Sheldon Souray.

On the other hand, if he builds upon his two assists Tuesday night, Joe Corvo may have finally fulfilled that role already.

Dennis Seidenberg joined Corvo, fellow rearguard Zdeno Chara and power forward Milan Lucic in Tuesday night’s multi-point club. And he channeled himself with a game-winning goal uncannily reminiscent of one he inserted 14 months ago against Tampa Bay.

Seasoned P-Bruins’ winger Jamie Tardif tallied seven goals, including six on the power play, in his first 18 appearances with the Spoked-Ps. In the 17 games since then, he has mustered a mere two tallies, both at even strength. Yet he is still responsible for nearly one quarter (24 percent) of the team’s 25 man-up conversions on the year.

With about two months remaining before any team hardware is doled out, the two frontrunning candidates for Boston’s Seventh Man Award are Andrew Ference and Rich Peverley.

The stay-at-home defenseman Ference is one goal away from a career-high five, hitting the net with more precision than ever and on pace for a new high mark of 32 points. Peverley could crack the 60-point plateau for the first time in four full NHL seasons and be tinkering on 50 assists by season’s end.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 1

1998: Jean-Yves Roy singlehandedly pole-vaults the P-Bruins over the Adirondack Red Wings with an equalizer and overtime goal in a 5-4 home victory.

2002: Multipoint outputs by Sean Haggerty, Andy Hilbert and Eric Manlow highlight a come-from-behind, 5-2 home victory over Worcester.

2006: Eric Healey captains the PlanetUSA All-Stars and logs a goal and assist while Tim Thomas sees action in one period of an eventual 9-4 loss to the Canadians at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.

2009: Peter Schaefer assists on both of Mikko Lehtonen’s goals, which effectively decide a 2-1 win over Worcester at The Dunk. The Sharks heavily outshoot Providence, 35-20, but Kevin Regan repels 34 out of 35 stabs.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: January 31

1997: Future P-Bruins Calder Cup hero Peter Ferraro watches helplessly from the penalty box as Mattias Timander scores his second goal of the night to bust a 1-1 en route to a P-Bruins’ home victory over Binghamton. It would be the last game between the two franchises as the Rangers would become the Hartford Wolf Pack the following season.

2003: Upon deleting two deficits and eventually tipping over the Saint John Flames, 3-2, the P-Bruins set a franchise record by extending their home unbeaten streak to 13 games. The win, however, is marred when it is found that robbers had snuck into the dressing room during the third period and taken the belongings of at least three players.

2004: Kris Vernarsky notches a goal and an assist to pilot a 3-1 road win at Hershey’s Giant Center.

2009: Martin St. Pierre strikes twice within the first nine minutes of the action and is joined in the multipoint club by Johnny Boychuk and Vladimir Sobotka (two assists each) in a 5-1 win at Lowell.

2010: Captain Trent Whitfield pilots a 6-0 rout of the Springfield Falcons at The Dunk with two goals and two assists. The win completes a home-and-home sweep that sees the Bruins outscore Springfield, 14-2, in 120 minutes of play.

2011: Jamie Arniel charges up a goal and an assist to help the Eastern Conference win the AHL All-Star Game, 11-8, at the Giant Center in Hershey.

Monday, January 30, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: January 30

1993: A 6-5 win at the Springfield Civic Center improves the P-Bruins to 5-2-0 on the year against the Indians.

2010: The P-Bruins go 5-for-6 on the power play and Jamie Arniel scores on a shorthanded penalty shot to rout the Falcons, 8-2, at MassMutual Center. It constitutes the franchise’s first victory on the penultimate day of January in 17 years and six tries, dating back to a previous visit to Springfield against the old Indians at what was then called the Springfield Civic Center.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: January 29

1995: Sergei Zholtok assists on both goals as the P-Bruins subsist on a 2-0 lead sculpted in the second period en route to a 2-1 win over the host Springfield Falcons.

1999: A 3-1 win in Albany augments the Baby Bs’ unbeaten streak to 16 games.

2000: Tim Lovell and Chris Ferraro extend their goal-scoring streaks while the team extends its point-getting streak, although they settle for only one as the host Syracuse Crunch pilfer a 4-3 overtime decision.

2007: Matt Lashoff starts on the blue line and posts a plus-2 rating for PlanetUSA as part of a 7-6 win over Canada at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum.