Rick Porcello is no longer a ground ball pitcher

We learn at a relatively young age that first impressions are incredibly important, and it’s something that sticks with you forever. In fact, I’d argue it’s one of the most vital lessons we learn. It’s just so important to be conscious of how you’re behaving the first time you meet someone. It is simply human nature to associate someone with how you felt about them when you first met, and it’s extremely difficult to deviate from that thought. Just ask Rick Porcello, who is still being referred to as a ground ball pitcher just because that’s who he was for the first part of his career.

Now that he’s entered the second stage of his career — his prime — it’s time we retire this “fact” about the righty. It’s no longer an accurate way to describe Porcello, and it hasn’t been since he came to Boston prior to the 2015 season. This might be obvious, but I still frequently hear people call him a ground ball-oriented pitcher. It also isn’t meant as a knock on the righty, of course, as he’s been doing just fine for himself. Despite no longer relying heavily on the ground ball, he’s coming off a season in which he won the Cy Young and is looking damn near as good this year outside of one horrendous night.

Generally speaking, we think of grounders as the preferred ball in play for pitchers, particularly in this day and age with the most complex defensive shifts we’ve ever seen. It’s impossible to allow a ball to go over the fence when it’s kept on the ground, after all. However, as long as fly balls stay in the park often enough, a fly ball-heavy approach can work just as well if not better, since fly balls that stay in the yard are harder to convert into hits than grounders. Porcello has been having a ton of success with fly balls.

Boston Red Sox v Detroit TigersPhoto by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

If you look at Porcello’s batted ball data on Fangraphs, you’ll notice a clear trend over the last five years. Back in 2013, when he was still in Detroit, the former first round pick peaked in terms of inducing grounders. In that season, 55 percent of the batted balls against him were hit on the ground, the third-highest rate in all of baseball. The next season, his final in Detroit, that rate fell to 49 percent. In his first season in Boston, it continued to fall to just below 46 percent before getting down to 43 percent last year, when he won the Cy Young. We’re only seven starts into this season, but Porcello’s ground ball rate has continued to drop. Right now, just 39 percent of balls in play against him have been hit on the ground, a rate that puts him in the bottom-quarter of the league.

When dealing with samples as small as the early-season sample from this season is, there’s always a fear that one or two games can hugely skew the numbers. In fact, that is the case with Porcello’s ERA thanks to a drubbing from the Rays early in the year. That’s not the case with his ground balls, though. Of those seven starts, just two have included ground ball rates of 50 percent while the rest have seen rates below 40 percent. Looking back at last year, the results were similar. Of his 33 starts, just ten included at least half of the balls in play being hit on the ground, while 14 included ground ball rates under 40 percent.

The big reason for this, of course, is a change in approach from Porcello. His repertoire is a large part of that, and it’s something that’s been discussed in many places before. To summarize, he’s not relying nearly as heavily on his sinker as he did with Detroit, when he threw the pitch almost half of the time. Since coming to Boston, that usage is down below 40 percent, with more four-seamers and curveballs being thrown. In addition to the repertoire change, you’ll notice that Porcello is more willing to attack his opponents up in the zone. Obviously, this reduces the likelihood of ground balls, but it also increases the ability to get strikeouts. This season, Porcello is striking out over a batter per inning.

The fear that comes from allowing so many fly balls is that it will lead to a ton of home runs, and it’s a rational fear. In fact, he’s already allow eight home runs this season, giving him a horrendous rate of 1.67 home runs per nine innings. Of course, that is one of those instances where a small sample skews things, as half of the home runs were allowed in the one start against the Rays. Porcello is probably going to give up around one home run for every nine innings he pitches if he allows this rate of fly balls moving forward, which isn’t ideal but it will work fine for him. His batting average on balls in play should fall below .300 with this fly ball approach and the outfield defense behind him, and when you combine that with his impeccable control that means a lot of those home runs will be solo shots.

Porcello has turned himself into a consistently good pitcher, something some of us (read: me) weren’t expecting to see at any point. What’s even stranger is he’s done it while slowly changing who he is as a pitcher. It’s something that’s been happening for half a decade, and it’s time we finally come around and call Porcello what he is. He’s no longer a ground ball pitcher, he’s simply an outstanding pitcher.

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Turf war: Celtics come home for critical Game 5

This is a war.

With the bad blood—some spilled, some boiling—there’s no better word to describe this second round series with Washington. This is a war. After splitting four games in the regular season and now four games in the playoffs, the Celticsand Wizards are engaged in a war of words, a war of attrition, a war of nerves, and potentially two of the next three games in the Garden, a turf war.

A three-day armistice before Wednesday’s pivotal Game 5 will give the Celtics plenty of time to regroup and it’s a break they desperately need. Avery Bradleyjoins the list of the walking wounded with another hip pointer. Every strategy and every tweak to the starting lineup has not been able to stem the tide of an advancing John Wall. Boston’s aerial attack in Game 1 with 19 three pointers and Isaiah Thomas going nuclear with 53 points in Game 2 notwithstanding, Washington has dominated, winning games in the trenches: defense, rebounds, and toughness.

And yet, we’re at a stalemate. No one has been able to win on the other team’s home court and the series is tied 2-2 heading back to Boston on Wednesday night. After two stirring comeback wins to start the second round, the Celtics have surrendered momentum to the Wizards, but none of that matters if Boston can protect their home floor. Boston has been engaged with Washington for the last week, but this has been just another campaign in a bigger conflict that started in October.

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics - Game TwoPhoto by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Over the course of six months, the Celtics crisscrossed the country and proved they were the best team in the Eastern Conference over an 82-game stretch. Home court advantage is earned and although the Celtics come home after a brutal 121-102 loss, the blood, sweat, and tears that earned them the privilege to play Game 5 on the parquet will give the franchise and the city another chance to embody Boston Strong.

There are some stats and analytics that are in the Celtics’ favor that could point to a Game 5 win. Game 4 was marred by turnovers; those can be cleaned up. Boston was 30-11 in the Garden, including a 17-2 to close out the regular season. In the playoffs, their hustle stats are up in the 02114 zip code: they grab more offensive rebounds, score more second chance points, score more points in transition, and score more points in the paint.

After taking zero free throws on Sunday night, Thomas lobbied the refs hard in his post-game presser for more calls. “It’s got to be called differently,” Thomas said, “they were very physical. The refs were allowing them to hold and grab and do all of those things.” The Wizards have blitzed IT and to their credit, that’s dulled Thomas’ ability to lead the charge for the C’s. Back in Boston, that should change with a home whistle on his side and a capacity crowd of 18,624 cheering him on.

The thought has crept into my mind that maybe the Wizards are just the better team. It’s a sum of all fears. They’ve been together longer, they have more experience, and this is a culmination of their rebuilding efforts that started when they drafted wall seven years ago. Under perfect circumstances on a neutral court, Washington might beat Boston 51 out of a 100 times. But wars aren’t fought in a vacuum. They’re fought in their house and in ours.

This is a call to arms, not for just Isaiah Thomas or his teammates. Frankly, they don’t need it. We know how resilient these Boston Celtics are and have been all year. They’ve battled injury and doubt. They’ve weathered trade rumors and learning curves. They’ve overcome bad losses with big wins against the NBA’s best. No, this is a call to arms for us.

If you’re at the Garden for Game 5, join the fight. Boston and its sports fans have recently been stereotyped and demonized by the actions of a few at Fenway, but they don’t represent the spirit of the city and its sports teams. It’s time to rally the troops. In all my time as a Celtics fan, there are few moments that I will cherish more than the “Let’s go, Celtics!” chant at the end of Game 6 in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. They lost that game by 19 points, but that crowd cheered like they were raising another banner that night and you can still hear it echo every time something amazing happens in that building. This is a hard working team deserving of that kind of home court support. Let’s give them that advantage Wednesday night.

Patriots Rookie Jersey Numbers Revealed

Traditionally, during the week following the draft, the New England Patriots present their highest draft pick to the media. Yesterday was that day, although the ceremony looked a bit different this year as the team brought out every member of its rather small 2017 draft class.

The four rookies shared the stage, with the highest selection – third round defensive edge Derek Rivers – later talking to reporters. Following the event, the Patriots’ official Twitter accountposted a photo of Rivers inside the locker room as well as one of the rookies’ lockers.

The latter (tip of the hat to Patriots Inform’s Adam Bogdan), revealed the quartet’s jersey numbers:

DE Derek Rivers #95

OT Antonio Garcia: #63

DE Deatrich Wise Jr.: #91

OT Conor McDermott: #67

As a new member of the Patriots’ edge rotation, Rivers will be asked to do what Chris Long did in 2016: Provide depth and pass rushing upside. It is only fitting therefore, that the Youngstown State product will wear Long’s old number 95. In the past, it has also been worn by defensive edges Chandler Jones (2012-2015), Mark Anderson (2011) and Tully Banta-Cain (2006; 2009-2010).

New England’s second selection, fellow third rounder Antonio Garcia, will wear 63 on his jersey – and become the first offensive tackle this century to wear it. Since 2000, number 63 has exclusively been worn by interior linemen: Joe Andruzzi (2000-2004), Dan Connolly (2008-2014) and Tre’ Jackson (2015-2016) were the last three players to don it.

Fourth rounder Deatrich Wise Jr., on the other hand, will wear a number carried by defensive linemen in the past: 91. Even though the last player to call it his own was a linebacker – Jamie Collins –, the three before that were all playing on the line: Myron Pryor (2009-2012), the late Marquise Hill (2004-2006) and Bobby Hamilton (2000-2003).

New England’s final 2017 draft pick, UCLA’s Conor McDermott, was assigned a number formerly worn by two franchise greats. Long-time centers Dan Koppen (2003-2011) and Bill Lenkaitis (1971-1981) have both worn number 67, as has guard Josh Kline (2013-2015), the last player to wear it.

Wizards’ Kelly Oubre Jr. ejected from game three for bodying Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk

Kelly-on-Kelly crime, of the assault variety, occurred in the midst of game three.

Early in the second quarter, as the Wizards were literally running away with the game on a ferocious fast-break attack, tensions finally unleashed into fury.

Kelly Olynyk slipped off a screen on Kelly Oubre Jr., leaving the latter bodied on the ground. It was just one of countless physical interactions between these two teams to this point. Then, Oubre took it to the next level.

He rushed Olynyk, who was standing next to a referee, and shoved him to the ground as the play turned to the other end. The teams swarmed and minutes later Oubre was sent to the showers.

This almost certainly warrants a suspension. We will await word from the league. It was a strange encounter to say the least.

Celtics need to forget about game 3 against Wizards quickly

Mid-game, Brad Stevens talked to the team in the huddle about using the rest of the game to learn valuable information for the future. I’m going to say right up front that Brad’s much smarter than me and I’m sure he has a great process for situations like this. However, if it were me, I’d watch the first half with my coaching staff, take good notes on what the Wizards did differently, and promptly set the game film on fire. (Ok, in this digital age that probably doesn’t make logistical sense, but you get the point.)

I’m sure there are some strategies that the Wizards employed (like swarming Isaiah Thomas to get the ball out of his hands), but when it boils down to it, the Celtics didn’t execute very well, and the Wizards caught fire. Washington went on a 22-0 run and the game hovered in the 20-25 point range for much of the night. Take away that run, and the game is pretty close. Of course, that’s like saying the Titanic was a pretty good ship if you take away the part where it sinks.

This is where I like to take a big step back and look at the big picture. The Celtics were up 2-0, headed to Washington. The Wizards had their backs against the wall (no pun intended) and were playing to keep their season alive. Their bench was a complete no-show in the first two games, but bench players generally play their best basketball at home.

The Celtics also have a maddening tendency to take their foot off the gas when they have a team down (usually it happens mid-game, but it applies to a series as well). Add it all up, and one can hardly be surprised that the Wizards came away with a win. Regardless of how many points they won the game by, it still only counts as one loss for the Celtics.

Now if you’ll permit me, I’m going to take another gargantuan step back and look at the even bigger picture.

The Celtics have already reached their floor. Think back to the preseason expectations. There was a range of projections for the Celtics, but the general consensus was 52 wins and winning at least one series in the playoffs. At the very least they’ve gone over on the win projection, checked off one round, and have played competitively in round 2. Context is everything and blowing a 2-game lead would be a bad look, but it would still be within the range of original expectations.

I need not remind you that the offseason will bring all sorts of opportunities to make this an even better team with an even brighter future. But that’s another post for another day. (The NBA Draft Lottery is less than 2 weeks away.)

Ok, enough steps back, let’s step forward again. The series is 2-1, and the Celtics need to make some adjustments. Brad Stevens has to figure out the starting lineup, but whoever is out there for the tip has to execute better in the first quarter. If the Wizards are going to take the ball out of Thomas’s hands, the rest of the Celtics have to make them pay, and Al Horford will be key to all of that.

Obviously the Celtics will have to keep their cool and not allow themselves to get baited into ejections and suspensions like Kelly Oubre did in game 3. If Oubre is suspended for game 3, that will only further weaken the Wizards’ bench. The Celtics can’t afford to lose key players like that.

I kind of doubt Bogdanovic is going to hit another 4 threes in the next game, but the Celtics clearly can’t lose track of him (and they need to exploit him as a mismatch on the other side of the court). The Celtics need to put a body on Gortat and scrap for more rebounds. And yes, they need to find a way to free up Thomas and let him go back to work. It isn’t like this is the first time a team has tried to game plan Thomas out of the equation. Brad and Isaiah will figure it out.

In short, the Celtics need to put this game in their rear-view mirror and take care of business in game 4. If they can accomplish that, then they’ll have a commanding 3-1 lead going forward and a great shot at advancing.

The Patriots Are Potentially Looking Into….Richard Sherman?

Isn’t the NFL the best?

It’s the opening week of the MLB season, the NHL and NBA are barreling towards the end of the regular season, yet somehow the NFL continuously can dominate headlines.

On Monday it was Adrian Peterson, Tuesday it was Tony Romo and on Wednesday it was Richard Sherman.

According to the Seattle Seahawks general manager, John Schneider, the rumors that you are hearing in the news about Seattle fielding phone calls to possibly trade Sherman aren’t just rumors – those are facts.

“What you’ve seen lately in the news is real,” Schneider said. “That’s on both sides.” 

Clearly the Seahawks are doing their due diligence to see what they could get in return for Sherman, and yesterday, the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe got the ball rolling that the Patriots are one of those teams who definitely have shown interest in Seattle’s 4-time Pro Bowler.

I think it goes without saying that if Butler decides to sign his restricted free agent tender by April 21st and the Patriots don’t ship him off to the New Orleans Saints, the idea of having Butler, Stephon Gilmore AND Richard Sherman isn’t very realistic.

Butler is definitely the first domino that needs to fall.

According to Howe, nothing is imminent with a Sherman trade to any team, but there’s a very real possibility if it happens it would be during the run-up to the NFL Draft on April 27 – just after Malcolm Butler decides if he he will sign his tender.

My personal belief is that the Patriots are going to move on from Butler.

Butler has been an amazing player for the Patriots the past two seasons, and obviously was the sole reason that they were able to beat Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, but I think the Patriots are getting tired of hearing the reports that Butler is upset.

We heard repeatedly after the Pats signed Stephon Gilmore to a 5-year, $65 million contract during free agency in March that Butler was outraged that the Patriots had told him they would never pay a cornerback that much money and then went out and did it.

I get that he can be frustrated about it but c’mon man, IT’S A BUSINESS.

Bill Belichick saw an opportunity to make the team better and he jumped on it.

Now, more reports came out yesterday that Butler was “not pleased” with the Sherman-to-New England rumors. In my opinion, the only reason that the Patriots have this much interest in Sherman in the first place is because Butler is being such a baby about his situation.

I agree that Butler deserves to get paid – but I believe he deserves to get paid when his contract is up.

He’s playing on the final year of his rookie deal and the Patriots gave him a first round tender which means he would be making $3.91 million in 2017-2018. (Oh by the way, that’s more than a ton of players who are still playing on their rookie deals.) Butler should have signed the tender, played for New England in 2017 for $3.91 million, have another stellar season and then get PAID next offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Who knows, maybe that still happens, but I believe Butler is in too deep with the Patriots and they are ready to move on – especially if they think they can get Sherman as his replacement.

Here is what I believe could maybe down.

-The Patriots get Butler to sign his tender prior to April 21st.
-The Patriots trade Butler to the Saints, getting a first round pick back in return.
-During the first day of the NFL draft in Chicago, the Seahawks trade Richard Sherman to New England.

What would that trade look like? Apparently Seattle is looking for picks and a player in return (specifically a wide receiver, offensive lineman or young cornerback).

I think there are a couple different routes the Patriots could go in a trade to get Sherman.

I bet they could trade offensive lineman Tre Jackson (a 4th round pick back in the 2015 NFL draft) to the Seahawks along with a 2nd or 3rd round pick.

Jackson is most likely blocked in New England behind guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, so losing him wouldn’t hurt the Patriots very much. He’s shown potential and Dante Scarnecchia loves him. Seattle needs to desperately improve their offensive line and acquiring Jackson would be a good start for them.

Another route the Patriots could go is to trade Eric Rowe. Obviously Rowe isn’t anywhere near the caliber of a player that Sherman is but he’s younger and has a similar build to Sherman who showed flashes with the Patriots last year. Seattle wants a younger corner and we know they love big/tall corners so it makes a lot of sense.

My guess is that Seattle would have definite interest in Rowe but would require a higher draft choice – maybe a 1st rounder in 2018 for example.

But if the Patriots could make a deal similar to either one of those, I say they have to go all in to make it happen.

The Patriots still amazingly have $21,955,850 in cap space, so having Sherman on the books with an $11.4 million cap hit in 2017 and then $11 million in 2018 wouldn’t hurt the Patriots.

By his standards, Sherman didn’t have a great season in 2016 but still recorded 58 tackles, had 4 interceptions and 13 passes defended. Pairing him on the opposite side of Gilmore would borderline be unfair for other teams next season.

Here’s what you’re getting in Sherman:
-Super Bowl champion.
-4-time Pro Bowler.
-Sherman is allowing a 48.0 completion percentage and 50.3 passer rating since 2011 when he came into the league — both best in the NFL in that span.
-He has only allowed 1 touchdown in 12 career playoff games. 

Butler has been an amazing player for New England but I think he’s warn out his welcome at this point. I’ve loved every second of having Butler and watching the way he competes his tail off on every single snap but it’s just not worth the drama of having an unhappy player in your locker room for an entire season. I’d rather have Richard Sherman as a Patriot next season if it can happen.

NHL Playoffs: Bruins vs. Senators Roundtable

For the first time in 3 years, the Boston Bruins will be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite their usual end-of-season bed pooping, the B’s actually find themselves in a fairly decent position as we approach the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Dodging a huge bullet, thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on the season’s final day, the Bruins clinched the third seed in the Atlantic Division. In doing so, the B’s have avoided the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals.

Their opponent, however, is the second seed Ottawa Senators.

The Bruins competed in every game with the Sens this year, only to fall short in all 4, going 0-3-1 against the scrappers led by Guy Boucher. But as we all know, anything can happen in the NHL playoffs. Everyone is now full throttle and playing for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. Throughout this season, the amount of fire in this match-up, as well as hatred, is exactly why this may be one of the best Round 1 match-ups in the postseason bracket this year.

Now let’s take a look at who some of the notable players will be in the series:

Bruins

Most Valuable Player
Jordan: My MVP is going to be Patrice Bergeron. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll see that I have Bergeron as my favorite Bruins player, and rightfully so. The man just hops onto another level come playoff time. Even if it doesn’t translate into the scorecard. Bergy has been a horse in the playoffs, and I expect more of the same from him here. I can see him wracking up a point per game, and even netting a couple of clutch goals throughout the series, as well as being a monster on the dots as well.

Pete: Brad Marchand. Following his two game suspension, expect Marchand to re-join the team and play like a bat out of hell. Because of his spearing penalty, Marchand was stuck at 39 goals, which was ultimately a career-high, but he was not able to go out there and try to hit 40. Marchand has turned into a great all-around player. He used to just be able to score, but he now sticks his nose in there on the defensive end. I think Marchand is going to play motivated and ultimately lead this team to a series victory.

Nick: Tuukka Rask. The way Ottawa plays the 1-3-1 has given the Bruins fits all season. Couple that with the fact that their best puck moving D-man Torey Krug is likely out for the series, and it looks like goals are going to be hard to come by against the Sens. So in the Bruins are going to pull off the upset, Tuukka Rask needs to be lights out. Like shades of pre-Doomsday-prepper Tim Thomas lights out. If Tuukka can limit Ottawa’s scoring ability, the Bruins have a fighting chance.

Kaley: I’d have to say David Pastrnak. With an obvious career-high 34 goals this season in his third year in the bigs, Pasta had a serious breakout season. We were all waiting for him to burst and become the talented player that we all know he is, and this season, he did just that. While he was severely underutilized by Claude Julien in previous months and seasons, he has finally blossomed into what he is now. He looks like a veteran out there, whether it’s with his passing ability or his powerful checking ability or anything in between. While this will be his first playoff experience, I think that this is the perfect time for him to show the world what he’s capable of and help win some playoff games.

Unsung Hero
Jordan: In order to succeed in the playoffs, especially in the NHL, you need a veteran leader who can help show the young guys the ropes. And no one has played more postseason games on this Bruins roster than the 40 year old D-Man, Zdeno Chara (141). Big Zee seemed to have caught a second wind this season under interim head coach, Bruce Cassidy, and took off from the puck drop of his first game under the new HC. Now Chara may not score a ton, don’t even be shocked if he doesn’t score at all, but being along the rookie defenseman, Brandon Carlo, having Chara back there will prove to be huge for the confidence of Carlo.

Pete: For me, it is going to be about the little guys. The fourth line, the Kevan Millers, and Adam McQuaids of the world. The stars (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara) are going to be expected to perform. This game is going to be won or lost in two places: between the pipes and by the depth players.

Nick: Playoff series between evenly matched teams are often decided by bottom of the roster production. And as we all know by now, the Bruins are at their best when the fourth line is firing on all cylinders. The fourth line has been clicking for the last month of the regular season, and Riley Nash is going to make an impact on this series. Nash has been on the upswing in the last month of the season. Since the beginning of March he’s been a +6, after going -7 to start the season.  And while Nash, and line-mate Dominic Moore may not put up a ton of points in the playoffs, but they’ll be solid on both ends and score a game changing goal at some point in the series.

Kaley: This is an odd one, but I think Drew Stafford could have a big impact in this series. Ever since he arrived in Boston, Deadline Jesus has given Boston a huge lending hand on the third line in the second half of the season when the team needed it the most. Instead of having Jimmy Hayes out there dilly dallying with no clue at all, having Stafford out there get the little things done helped the Bruins’ offense a lot. While he’s only scored a couple of goals with the spoked B on his chest thus far, he did have one huge score with about 15-20 seconds left in the third period in a tie game not too long ago, and he’s more than capable of doing something to the likes of that again on a bigger stage. While he might not score a hatty every game, he’ll do some of the dirty work and simply do his job.

X-Factor
Jordan: This one is a no-brainer for me: Tuukka Rask. Starting in all 4 games against the Sens, Rask went 0-3-1 with a 2.49 GAA and a .902 save percentage. Now while those numbers look solid, they can be misleading. Rask wasn’t sharp in a couple of those performances, in fact in the second meeting between these 2 clubs, Rask allowed 2 goals in the first 5 minutes of the game. A game in which the Bruins lost 5-3. In order for the Bruins to make it past the first round, Rask needs to allow less than 2 goals per game.

Pete: It has to be Tuukka Rask. The Senators and Bruins are basically a wash at every position except for between the pipes. Rask is significantly better than Craig Anderson. Rask may be relied upon to steal a game or two, which should be a given considering he is a top-3 paid goalie in the league. 

Nick: The X-Factor – and the biggest question mark in the series – for the Bruins in this series is the play of the newly promoted young guns. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson was added to the NHL roster at the very end of the season, Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo went down and the Bruins were forced to sign Charlie McAvoy early, and we might even see Anders Bjork sign this week too. If these guys play in the playoffs they could end up being pretty big liabilities. But they were also all incredibly talented at their previous levels. McAvoy even served as an alternate captain for Team USA in the 2017 World Juniors. If these young guys can play up to the level of the NHL playoffs like Torey Krug did 2013, the Bruins could be cooking with gas.

Kaley: Defensemen. Simply the defensemen. With both Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo unlikely to see game action early on in the series, Boston will need guys like the Millers, Chara and even youngin’ Charlie McAvoy to step up. I have no doubt in my mind that Chara can quickly help McAvoy get settled in and also help the rest, as well. Tuukka Rask should be full steam ahead, and I have faith in him, but the defensemen need to be at the top of their game, too. The Senators aren’t some absolutely great offensive team that can’t be stopped. I think that if the D-men collectively come to play, they’ll be set.

Senators

Most Valuable Player
Jordan: Kyle Turris is my Sens MVP. In 4 games vs. the Bruins this year, he had 3 goals, including 2 in the Garden matchup on March 21. Turris is a guy that can be really sneaky for this Senators team, and if the Bruins aren’t mindful of him, he can erupt for a big series. Obviously he’s going to have a task dealing with Patrice Bergeron, but Turris is a more than capable player for this team and definitely has the talent to leave his mark on this series.

Pete: Erik Karlsson, or at least the Senators hope it will be. Karlsson’s health is a huge question mark and he may come back in his first game during Game 1 and realize he can’t go, but if he can, look for him to come out with a purpose. The Senators need him contributing if they want to win this series.

Nick: Craig Anderson OWNS the Bruins. He’s started and won 4 games against the B’s this year and allowed only 1.47 GAA with a .946 save percentage. If the Sens win this series, it’ll probably be thanks in large part to Craig Anderson standing on his head.

Kaley: Without Erik Karlsson, the Sens would be in big trouble. He experienced a lower-body injury in the final games of the season, and missed five of their seven remaining regular season games down the stretch. Ottawa is lucky that didn’t do them in, to be honest. If Boston fails to neutralize Karlsson, even though he’s probably not 100%, that could do Boston in. While it isn’t easy to keep Boston’s first line in place, Karlsson is capable of doing just that. While he isn’t the scariest dude around, at 175 pounds and 5’11”, he can do big things. If the Sens want to come out victorious and advance, they need Karlsson, and big time.

Unsung Hero
Jordan: Alex Burrows. Burrows was on the Canucks team that lost to the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. A series that was loaded with drama from the moment Burrows tried to bite off the finger of Patrice Bergeron. From that moment on, there was a target on his back. Expect Burrows to quietly be effective in this series, and for there to be a lot of edginess when he’s on the ice. But in order for the Sens to win this series, he has to be an effective leader since he’s got the Cup experience.

Pete: Dion Phaneuf. The 2003 9th overall pick is winding his career down with the Senators, but was once a major force for the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he has always been pretty shaky in the playoffs, especially in 2012-2013, where he posted a -6 +/- in 7 games. For some reason, I think Phaneuf can go off here. No rhyme or reason. 

Nick: Bobby Ryan, Everyone looking at this series is focusing on the injuries to Erik Karlsson and Torey Krug. But with all his injuries Bobby Ryan has kind of been a forgotten man this season. He’s had an injury riddled season and still has never matched the numbers he put up in Anaheim since he came to Ottawa. But he’s still a career 0.5 point per game guy in the playoffs and is a dangerous player. If he’s healthy he can be a big plus for the Sens.

Kaley: I’m going with Craig Anderson. I feel that Ottawa’s fully healthy defensemen corps will be at least a little bit shaky, as they have been as of late whether at full-strength or not. Their D-men, more often than not, hand over many a possession to either weaker or stronger teams. If they keep that up, Anderson will be forced to be at the top of his game, which he has the ability to do, especially against the Bruins. Anderson recorded a perfect 4-0-0 record and a .946 S% against the Bs this season, giving up just six goals in those four games. Expect Anderson to be at the top of his game.

X-Factor
Jordan: Erik Karlsson’s health is for sure the x-factor for this team. Karlsson missed the final meeting between these two teams, and the Senators looked very different without him, particularly on the power play. Karlsson, regardless of if he’s 100% or not, is still a force to be worried about when he’s on the ice. The only issue is if he’ll be able to suit up.

Pete: I have to agree with Jordan here. When Karlsson is healthy, he is one of the best players on the ice between these two teams. According to reports, Karlsson is recovering nicely and should be a full go come Game 1. A rested Karlsson could be a huge advantage for the Senators.

Nick: For variety’s sake I’ll avoid the Karlsson argument. The most important factor for the Senators in this series is their formation. The Sens rely on their 1-3-1 to keep teams stagnant in the neutral zone. The question now becomes can the 1-3-1 hold up against playoff physicality, and stay strong throughout a seven game series. When the 1-3-1 is right, the Bruins haven’t been able to stand up to it, and it could give Ottawa a huge advantage in this series.

Kaley: Not only Karlsson’s health, but Ottawa’s entire defensemen unit’s health. All Marc Methot, Cody Ceci and Karlsson missed crucial games at the end of the season. All three of those guys should be good to go, but that doesn’t mean they’re all at full, individual strength. If those three are still roughed up and Anderson has to do it all on his own, one mistake and the Senators are done for. Sure, it’s the playoffs and an injury isn’t going to stop any hockey player’s adrenaline from rushing, but two-thirds of those injuries were lower-body-related; something to keep tabs on.

Series Outcome:

Jordan: Despite the 0-3-1 record this year, I like the Bruins chances in this series. They’ve gotten closer and closer to beating this team every matchup, and with Marchand back, the Bruins are now at full strength. Barring a setback in the return of Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug from their respective injuries, the Bruins should be able to take one in Ottawa and win this series in 6 games. So for my prediction, I’ve got Bruins in 6.

Pete: I am extremely pessimistic with this series. For some reason, the Senators just seam to have the Bruins’ number. The Bruins won’t have Brandon Carlo to start this series, or Noel Acciari. Torey Krug’s status is still up in the air, and he may be the difference between winning and losing this series. Nonetheless, I think BU standout Charlie McAvoy can fill some holes, and who knows what Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork can do if he signs with the team and suits up for the playoffs. I have thought about this for awhile, and I think the Senators will win in 7 games, which pains me to say.

Nick: The Bruins have given me literally no reasons to believe they can win this series. They’ve been dominated by this team all season long and have no signs of breaking through. There would be no logical reason to pick the Bruins over the Senators. But, hockey is illogical as hell and I’ll be damned if I don’t pick the Bruins. Bruce Cassidy has had the Bruins playing overall great hockey since taking over. Tuukka Rask was nails in April and it could be the start of a hot streak. Riley Nash scores an overtime goal to seal a Bruins win in Game 7.

Kaley: From a rested and extra-motivated Brad Marchand to Patrice Bergeron’s faceoff ability to Tuukka Rask’s sudden fire burning inside of him in the final games of the season, the Bruins have the edge here. Ottawa’s regular season success against Boston is all in the past and means jack squat in mid-April. These teams know each other well, as all of their games against each recently have been close, and I expect that trend to continue. Special teams and goaltending will make or break the series for either team. The Bruins have the edge in nearly every category that you can possibly think of. I’m taking the Bruins in 6 tight games.