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What a difference a year makes for Bruins

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  March 4, 2011 06:50 AM

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Spinning the roulette wheel while wondering why the Red Sox even allow Ino Guerrero to handle a bat ...

For those who may not remember, Sunday will mark the 52-week anniversary of the day that changed Marc Savard's life. That was the day that Matt Cooke blindsided Savard and dealt him a devastating head injury that derailed Savard's career and began a two-week stretch that was the low point of the Bruins' 2009-10 season.

One year later, the Bruins are a very different team in the wake of last night's 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning that gave the B's the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are playing together. They are fighting for one another. And they are the midst of a seven-game winning streak that has experts around the country, including team president Cam Neely, identifying them as one of the true threats to win the Stanley Cup.

Of course, there is a great deal of hockey remaining in this season and we all know how the story goes. The Bruins haven't won a title in nearly 39 years. They are the obvious ugly ducklings among Boston's four major sports teams. Playoff hockey and regular season hockey are two entirely different things, and yet one must be encouraged by how the Bruins have performed, in the front office and on the ice, throughout this regular season.

The results are what they are, but the Bruins are where they are at the moment for a very simple reason.

As head coach Claude Julien told reporters in the wake of last night's victory, "Let's not focus so much on the end result more than what we have to do to get it."

At a time like this, it is important to remember who the Bruins are. The team built by Peter Chiarelli has ample talent, but Bruins do not have more talent than, say, Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago or Philadelphia. Nonetheless, talent alone does not win hockey games. What the Bruins have become is a nice blend of offense and defense, youth and experience, talent and hard work. What the Bruins are, more than anything else, is consistent and deep, a club that sends waves of skaters at the opposition.

Still, Julien is right.

If the B's at all forget what it has taken to get them to this stage, someone should remind that, a year ago at this time, they looked like the club that wouldn't even fight for itself.

As for the Celtics, Danny Ainge's most recent makeover raises obvious questions, and not solely because of the Kendrick Perkins departure. How the bench comes together over the final quarter of the season will have a significant bearing on just how far the Celtics go. The Celtics must get Delonte West healthy and settle into a rotation before the playoffs start, something Doc Rivers is entirely capable of doing.

Amid all of the maneuvering that has taken place with the Celtics over the last week, let's not forget the simplest truth: when Kevin Garnett has been fully healthy, the Celtics essentially have been the best team in basketball. In retrospect, the difference in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers last year was not the absence of Kendrick Perkins - Lakers center Andrew Bynum was hobbled and rendered virtually useless, too - but rather the failings of Garnett. Playing at something less than 100 percent after a knee injury the previous season, Garnett had three rebounds in Game 7. Pau Gasol had 18. The Lakers won that matchup throughout the series - Gasol, and not Kobe Bryant, should have been series MVP - and the Celtics have virtually no chance of beating anyone when Garnett loses his matchup.

For what it's worth, Garnett has posted a double-double in six straight games and seven of the last eight. In the last nine games, he has averaged 11.4 rebounds. If Garnett keeps playing like that and the bench at all comes together, nobody will remember who Perkins is come May and June.

Logan Mankins has had Tom Brady's back for the last six years, but even with Mankins joining the list of plaintiffs in a potential antitrust suit against the NFL, do not be fooled: Brady has Mankins' back this time around. Brady has a new long-term contract and absolutely no reason to concern himself with what happens in the NFL labor dispute, but he is proving now more than ever that he is a team player.

The NFL Players Association is still going to have trouble convincing people like Antonio Cromartie to hold firm when the time comes, and in that way Brady obviously has less to lose. He has made a lot more money than someone like Cromartie has. And yet, because men like Brady, Peyton Manning and quarterback Drew Brees have been rewarded by NFL owners as much as any players, it is an encouraging sign to finally see NFL players all standing on one side of the line with the owners on the other.

Brady, Brees and Manning do not need the union.

The union needs them.

The Red Sox will open their 2011 season in precisely four weeks, and we all know that Jon Lester should be the starter, just as he was in Game 1 of the 2009 playoffs. That is hardly anything new. But while we're on the topic of lineups and pitching order, let's remind everyone of the simplest reason some people pitch first or bat first.

It gets you more chances.

With regard to the pitchers, here's what that means: in theory - and isn't all of this theoretical? - each of the five spots in the Boston will get at least 32 starts. Only the Nos. 1 and 2 positions will get 33. That makes the No. 2 starter, in theory, as valuable as the pitcher who takes the ball on Opening Day, at least if you base importance on opportunity.

Of course, the Red Sox are unlikely to keep all five starters healthy for an entire season, as they did in 2004. The rotation will be juggled and changed to accommodate off days, injuries and other variables of the like. But if you're basing your argument on logic and math, the second spot in the rotation is every bit as important as the first because those two pitchers will get more starts than any others on the team.

When you look at it that way, does Opening Day really matter at all?

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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