Mitch's Sports Report: Middlebury Women Advance To NCAA Frozen Four; Bruins Hope To Tame Wild West
I know I've said before, and recently, that the Boston Bruins have a tough schedule ahead of them, and I'm saying it again today as they begin a stretch of eight of their next nine games on the road, including a three-game western swing starting tonight against some of the best teams in that conference.
First, the Bruins skate against old friend Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks, a team the Bruins lost to way back in November when they seemed like a much different (and lesser) team than they do now. But the Sharks are much improved as well and in third place in the ultra-competitive Pacific division. The Bruins, meanwhile, have a tenuous one-point hold on first place in the Atlantic. Boston got some help holding on to that top spot last night when the New York Islanders came back from a 2-0 deficit to score three unanswered goals in the third period to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2, keeping Jagr and company tied for second place with Tampa behind the Bruins. The Montreal Canadiens host the Panthers at the Bell Centre tonight so Boston fans will be in the odd and uncomfortable position of rooting for the Habs to keep Florida at bay.
The Bruins have been much better on the road than at home this season, but they have struggled against the three teams up next for them on the left coast, going winless against the Sharks, Ducks, and Kings while being outscored by a combined twenty to eight goals in the process. On the plus side the Bruins go into tonight's match-up with youngster David Pastrnak showing a hot hand. The 19-year old phenom has four goals in his last four games and another young gun, Frank Vatrano, has been called up to the big club from Providence, where he's been scorching the AHL of late. If the Bruins can get some wins on this road trip they should be in excellent shape for the playoffs as the season winds down over the next two weeks, but there's still a lot of teams lurking that can overtake them, and a losing streak of any moderate length could see them back in the wild card hunt rather than jockeying for home ice as one of the top three in the Atlantic.
In college womens' hockey the Middlebury Panthers broke open a 1-0 game with three goals in the third period on their way to a 4-0 win over UMass-Boston in the NCAA Quarterfinal game at Kenyon Arena. Maddie Winslow scored the first and only goal the Panthers would need as Julia Neuburger recorder the shut-out in net. The fourth-ranked Panthers advance to take on top-ranked Plattsburgh State in the NCAA Semifinals Friday as Middlebury returns to the final four for the first time since 2013.
In the NBA the Boston Celtics take on the Pacers in Indiana. The Celtics will be without small forward Jae Crowder for at least a couple of weeks after Crowder suffered a high ankle sprain, and that will be a blow as Crowder is having a career year for the Celtics this season. However, the C's may see the return of Kelly Olynyk to the line-up tonight as he recovers from a shoulder injury.
To spring training, and while Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval hit his first home run of the pre-season yesterday against the Pittsburgh Pirates he also committed his third error of the spring. Much of the attention has been on Hanley Ramirez to see if he can handle the defensive responsibilities at first base for the first time in his career, but if Sandoval struggles defensively at third as he did last season, the Red Sox will be faced with the prospect of letting Sandoval ride the bench, perhaps in favor of Travis Shaw, whose natural position is first, but has played third as well and is tearing the cover off the ball so far this spring. The Problem with sitting Kung Fu Panda is that it represents a whole lot of money going to waste on the pine if he's not the every day player Boston hoped he would be when signed a big multi-year contract two seasons ago.
And of course March Madness is upon us with the teams now set for the mens' NCAA basketball championship. But today being the Ides of March I would caution against filling out a bracket for reasons of superstition. Then again, if you know a secret to getting all the way to the Final Four with most of your picks still standing, let me know the next time you're picking numbers for a big lottery payoff.