Mitch's Sports Report: Celtics In 1st For 1st Time Since '08; Another Must Win For Bruins Tonight
The NHL calendar says the playoffs don't start for another two weeks, but you could fool at least four teams in the eastern conference for whom every game from now until the end of the season is essentially, a playoff game to make the playoffs.
The Boston Bruins are one of those teams, currently sitting with a tenuous grip on the final available wild card playoff berth, and tonight, after saying a brief thank you to the Nashville Predators, they'll go all-in (or they should, anyway) trying to do everything they can to beat that same team.
The "thank you" is because last night the Predators did the Bruins a big favor, defeating the NY Islanders 3-1 in Brooklyn, keeping the Islanders two points behind the Bruins for that last playoff spot. However, another team fighting for their playoff lives did win last night. The Tampa Bay Lightning came from behind to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime, giving Tampa Bay 83 points to Boston's 84 and making tonight's game against the Preds yet another must win for Boston. Taking away two points from the home contest (and the Bruins have not been real good on home ice) will not only create some separation between the Isles and Lightning, but could move the Bruins back in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the safer third place slot in the Atlantic division. The Bruins will need some help from the Florida Panthers for that to happen, as Florida skates against the Leafs in Toronto tonight, but a Boston win and a Toronto loss would leapfrog the Bruins by one point over the Leafs in the tighter-than-a-sardine-can east.
The Bruins may have Tuukka Rask back in net tonight. He missed the Bruins last game against the Islanders with a lower body injury and Rask had not been very good during Boston's most recent losing streak, which ended against the Islanders, despite my tirade against the Bruins which predicted an Islander win. Keep proving me wrong boys. I'd be only too happy to eat that crow and wipe egg from my face. But if Rask is back in net tonight, he needs to resemble the Vezina trophy winning goalie he's been rather than the shaky starter who was part of the team's ill timed four game losing skid.
In the NBA, the Boston Celtics were not in action last night, but they moved into sole possession of first place in the eastern conference anyway, because Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers got kicked into second following a blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs, 103-74 in Texas. That is a season-low point total for the defending NBA champs, but the Celtics will take it, now in first place in the conference for the first time since the 2007-2008 season, which is also the last season Boston raised a championship banner to the rafters. The Cavs are by no means falling apart just because they got pummeled by a very good Spurs team. In fact, San Antonio is 4-0 this season against both Cleveland and the Golden State Warriors, arguably the league's best two squads. But the Celtics can enter the playoffs with an extra boost of confidence if they do so as the number one seed in the conference and now they've got a one game lead over Cleveland in that race.
Locally, in college men's lacrosse action the Norwich Cadets fell behind early, trailing Plymouth State 6-0 heading into the second half, then scored five unanswered goals in the third quarter to pull closer, but in the end Plymouth State held off the Norwich rally for an 11-8 win in Northfield. Junior Matt Shea had a career high three goals for the Cadets in the losing effort.
The Middlebury women, however, did complete a comeback, topping College of New Jersey 6-4 in the Garden State. The Panthers scored three unanswered goals in the final six minutes to get the victory. Mary O'Connell had a hat trick to lead the Middlebury offense.
Finally, the UVM men's basketball team may have been ousted in round one of the NCAA tournament, but when it comes to academics, they made the national championship game. The Catamounts made it that far in Time Magazine's theoretical bracket that rates all 68 teams in the NCAA tournament based on graduation rates. The Catamounts are one of just 12 teams in the field with a 100 percent graduation rate. The Time tourney does have UVM losing to Bucknell, though, in the final.