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Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 5: Bruins bounced by Canadiens in Eastern Conference semifinals

12.29.14 at 10:26 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 5: Bruins bounced by Canadiens in Eastern Conference semifinals. To see the previous entries, click here.

The only thing that could possibly sting more than the Bruins’ Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals would be a Game 7 loss to Montreal in the playoffs.

Unfortunately for Bruins fans, that’s exactly what happened in 2014.

The B’s and Habs met in the playoffs for the 34th time in their history in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and the series was as heated, exciting and back-and-forth as one would expected from two longtime rivals. So it was only right for this series to come down to the ninth Game 7 between the teams.

The problem was only one team showed up for the start of the May 14 meeting. Dale Weise scored 2:18 into the first period and the Canadiens rolled to a 3-1 win at TD Garden to eliminate the top-seeded Bruins and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

For all the hype and drama leading up to a Game 7 at home against their bitter rivals, the Bruins played an uninspired first period in which they looked slow against the Canadiens’ speed and hesitant with the puck, resulting in Weise’s early goal. They committed three penalties and turned the puck over seven times in the period.

“That’s why we lost,” Milan Lucic said after the game.

Montreal went up 2-0 when Max Pacioretty scored on a one-timer midway through the second period. The Bruins finally beat Habs goaltender Carey Price, who made 29 saves, with 2:02 left in the second on a power-play goal by Jarome Iginla.

Daniel Briere finished the B’s off with a power-play goal with under three minutes to play to put Montreal up 3-1 late.

“We definitely didn’t play our best,” Patrice Bergeron said. “It’s the team that plays the best at this time that goes forward, and it wasn’t us. We definitely could have been — should have been — a lot better.”

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Read More: Carey Price, Dale Weise, Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban

Woody Johnson confirms firing of Rex Ryan, John Idzik, ‘will consider all options to improve the Jets’

12.29.14 at 9:10 am ET
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After weeks of speculation, Jets owner Woody Johnson made it official Monday morning, firing coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik only hours after the conclusion of the team’s forgettable 4-12 season.

“After extensive thought and reflection about the current state of our football team, this morning I informed Rex Ryan and John Idzik that they will not be returning for the 2015 season,” Johnson said in a statement. “Both Rex and John made significant contributions to the team, and they have my appreciation and gratitude for their efforts and commitment. Over the years, Rex brought the Jets a bold confidence and a couple of great postseason runs, which all of us will remember.”

Johnson brought in former Super Bowl-winning NFL general managers Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf to help him determine the team’s future.

“We will consider all options to improve the Jets,” Johnson said. “Getting the Jets back on track is my top priority, and today’s decisions are important steps towards achieving our goals.”

Ryan lasted six seasons in New York, going 50-52 (including playoffs). His tenure ended with a victory over the Dolphins in Miami.

“Just understand that I’m not afraid of anything,” Ryan said after Sunday’s game. “I’m not afraid of what lies ahead, I can tell you that.”

Read More: John Idzik, Rex Ryan, Woody Johnson,

Monday’s Morning Mashup: Jets coach Rex Ryan ‘not afraid of what lies ahead’

12.29.14 at 8:24 am ET
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Welcome to Monday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

MONDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
NHL: Red Wings at Bruins, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
NBA: Bucks at Hornets, 7 p.m. (NBA TV)
College basketball: UMass-Lowell at Boston College, 2 p.m. (WEEI-AM)
College basketball: Toledo at Duke, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
College basketball: San Francisco at St. Mary’s, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
College football: Liberty Bowl, Texas A&M vs. West Virginia, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
College football: Russell Athletic Bowl, Oklahoma vs. Clemson, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
College football: Texas Bowl, Arkansas vs. Texas, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Soccer: Premier League, Swansea City at Liverpool, 2:55 p.m. (NBCSN)

AROUND THE WEB:

Rex Ryan reportedly was to have a Monday morning meeting with Jets owner Woody Johnson, when the coach would be relieved of his duties after six seasons at the helm.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday night that Johnson would move quickly to fire Ryan as well as general manager John Idzik.

“I think we all expect what’s going to happen is going to happen,” Ryan said Sunday, adding: “Just understand that I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not afraid of what lies ahead, I can tell you that.”

The Jets gave Ryan a nice sendoff with a 37-24 victory over the Dolphins in Miami, leaving his career record (including playoffs) at 50-52.

“Deep down everybody was playing for him,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “It’s only right to send him out with a win.”

Said David Harris: “He is one of us. He makes it fun to come to work every day, no matter what the situation.”

On the Jets’ first play from scrimmage Sunday, Ryan called the same play that Joe Namath and the Jets used in their Super Bowl III upset of the Colts in Miami, a rush to the left side.

“That was a tribute to the real Jets fans out there,” Ryan said. “I told the team it would work for three yards and it went for seven. So who says I don’t know anything about offense?”

Jim Harbaugh is done in San Francisco, reaching a mutual agreement to leave the 49ers after the team’s disappointing 2014 season.

Harbaugh had one year remaining on his five-year, $25 million contract.

“Jim and I have come to the conclusion that it is in our mutual best interest to move in different directions,” CEO Jed York said. “We thank Jim for bringing a tremendous competitive nature and a great passion for the game to the 49ers. He and his staff restored a winning culture that has been the standard for our franchise throughout its history.”

Harbaugh ends his tenure with a 49-22-1 record, including a Super Bowl appearance after the 2012 season.

“It’s been the time of my life,” Harbaugh said after Sunday’s 20-17 victory over the Cardinals left the 49ers with an 8-8 record. “Been a lot of great memories, great moments. … It’s been a tremendous four years, it’s been a pleasure to work and serve for this organization. I feel great about what we accomplished.”

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Read More: Jim Harbaugh, Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon, Rex Ryan

Reports: Jim Harbaugh, 49ers mutually part ways

12.28.14 at 8:04 pm ET
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In a move that surprised no one, Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers have mutually parted ways, according to multiple reports.

Harbaugh has been the coach of the 49ers since 2011 and went to the Super Bowl in 2012. Things were ugly in San Fransisco this season, as the 49ers went 8-8 and missed the postseason.

The coach is now a top candidate to be the next coach at the University of Michigan.

Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 6: Patriots lose to Broncos in AFC championship game

12.28.14 at 10:21 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 6: Patriots lose to Broncos in AFC championship game. To read other stories in this series, click here.

Alfonzo Dennard and the Patriots couldn't keep up with Demaryius Thomas and the Broncos in the AFC title game. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alfonzo Dennard and the Patriots couldn’t keep up with Demaryius Thomas and the Broncos in the AFC title game. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Patriots’ 2013 season was not quite like the ones fans are used to.

Sure, New England boasted a solid 12-4 record, clinched the AFC East well before season’s end, earned a first-round bye and breezed past its divisional-round opponent to reach its third straight AFC championship game. But this Patriots team limped its way through the season as a group pillaged by losses to a number of key players.

It started with tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested weeks before training camp and subsequently released by the team before being charged with murder. But that was just the start of the Pats‘ woes, as the likes of Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Rob Gronkowski were lost for the season with major injuries.

However, fans still sought that coveted fourth Vince Lombardi trophy after the Patriots won five of their last six regular-season games to win their fifth straight division title, then crushed the Colts, 43-22, led by 166 yards and four touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.

Up next, as expected, was Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Broncos. It would be the 15th time Tom Brady and Manning would square off, the fourth time they would meet in the playoffs and their second matchup of the season.

The Patriots rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat the Broncos, 34-31, in overtime at Gillette Stadium in the regular season. But with a 13-3 record to end the year, the Broncos hosted the Jan. 19 meeting for the right to play in the Super Bowl.

With all that was unique and difficult about the Patriots’ season, one thing was similar to the year before: It ended with a disappointing loss in the conference title game.

This time, the Broncos manhandled the Patriots defense for 507 total yards in a 26-16 beatdown in a game that wasn’t as close as the scoreboard read.

“You can’t win when you can’t get off the field,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said after the game. “That’s basic fundamental football. They do a good job of keeping the sticks moving with various formations.”

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Demaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning

Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 7: Red Sox bolster offense with signings of Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez

12.27.14 at 4:21 pm ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 8: Red Sox bolster offense with signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. To read other stories in this series, click here.

Pablo Sandoval comes to Boston after helping the Giants win their third World Series in five seasons. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Pablo Sandoval comes to Boston after helping the Giants win their third World Series in five seasons. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Red Sox made some big splashes early this offseason when they acquired veterans Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.

Boston looked for offensive help after the team finished the 2014 season with 634 runs, 18th fewest in baseball. Especially at third base, the Red Sox saw inconsistency and instability from former prospect Will Middlebrooks. After starting a promising career with 15 home runs in 75 games in 2013, Middlebrooks finished this past season with two home runs and a .191 batting average.

Even before the season ended, analysts saw a potential fit for Sandoval in the Boston lineup. ESPN’s Buster Olney said the Giants were worried a team would make a push for the third baseman, who averaged 20 home runs and 86 RBIs per season since his debut in 2008.

“I saw the Giants the last couple of nights, and there’s a lot of anticipation within that organization that someone’s going to make a run at Pablo Sandoval. That team could turn out to be the Red Sox,” Olney said on Sept. 24. “He would fit them in a lot of regards. When I talked to some people with the Giants about that, they were nodding their heads and said, ‘You know what? He’d be a really good fit.’ Because he could play third base, and he had a good year defensively.”

Sandoval went on to have one of the greatest offensive postseasons of all time, collecting 26 hits over 17 playoff games. In the World Series, Sandoval finished with 12 hits and four RBIs in the seven-game set. All eyes were upon him as he grabbed the last out of Game 7.

A few teams emerged as possible suitors for Sandoval as free agency commenced, with the Red Sox and Giants at the top of the list. Sandoval visited Boston for the first time in the middle of November. The Red Sox and the player reportedly discussed a multi-year contract in the $90 million range.

Soon after his initial visit, Sandoval made his final decision: He would be a a member of the Boston Red Sox. He signed a reported five-year, $95 million deal that included a team option for a sixth season. The third baseman said it was time for a different adventure after spending the first half of his career with the Giants. He also said he was eager to play with his new teammates.

“I want a new challenge,” Sandoval said. “I made that choice to be here in Boston because I need a new challenge. The legacy they have here. To show them the fan support they have here. That’s what I wanted to make sure I made the right decision. It took me a long time, but I’m happy to show the fans all the support they gave to this team. Now I want to show I came here to give them the support to go into the postseason again.

“It’s exciting for me to be with Hanley and David Ortiz. Like everyone says right now in media relations, it’s the ‘Three Amigos.’ It’s just exciting to be part of this lineup and this organization.”

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Read More: Ben Cherington, hanley ramirez, John Henry, Pablo Sandoval

Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 8: Patriots acquire standout CB Darrelle Revis

12.27.14 at 9:20 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 8: Patriots acquire standout cornerback Darrelle Revis. To read other stories in this series, click here.

Darrelle Revis helped turn the Patriots defensive secondary into one of the team's strength. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Darrelle Revis helped turn the Patriots defensive secondary into one of the team’s strength. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Heading into the 2014 offseason, the Patriots were in desperate need of a premier pass-catcher. Instead, they got one of the league’s best at shutting down other team’s receivers.

The courtship of Darrelle Revis was brief and profitable. The veteran cornerback agreed to a deal with the Patriots on March 12 just hours after being released by the Buccaneers in a cost-cutting move.

Revis, whose best days were with the rival Jets from 2007-12, helped transform a New England defensive secondary that had struggled the previous few seasons, leading some to call him the 2014 Patriots MVP.

Heading into the final two games of the regular season, Revis had been targeted 74 times by opposing quarterbacks, who completed just 50 percent of those passes. The passer rating of those QBs when throwing at Revis was 68.7.

With Revis — along with some other key additions — the Patriots defense has improved from a rank of 25th in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed last season to 16th in yards and eighth in points.

You needn’t convince Tom Brady of Revis’ importance to the team.

“He’€™s a phenomenal player and I’€™ve loved playing with him,” Brady said last week. ‘€œI’€™ve hated playing against him, and I’€™ve had my fair share of those opportunities. He’€™s a great teammate. He’€™s a phenomenal player. I think the thing that I’€™m so impressed with is his coverage skills without getting penalties.”

Revis also appears to have bought into the Patriot Way, focusing on the team rather than individual performance.

“Look, it’€™s a team effort, it’€™s a defensive effort. It’€™s all aboard,” he said earlier this month. “We have great, talented players on this team, this defense. We just have to continue to play great team ball, chemistry ball. We’€™ve been doing that. Guys have been coming to work. It doesn’€™t have anything to do with me, or me being the focal point. Everybody is doing their job, and it’€™s working well for us.”

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Read More: Darrelle Revis, Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014,

Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 9: Celtics miss out on Kevin Love, draft Marcus Smart, James Young

12.26.14 at 5:14 pm ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 9: Celtics miss out on Kevin Love, draft Marcus Smart and James Young. To read other stories in this series, click here.

Marcus Smart (left) and James Young (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Celtics used their two 2014 first-round draft picks on guards Marcus Smart (left) and James Young. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Throughout the summer of 2014, Celtics fans were teased at the possibility of another superstar power forward landing in Boston, once again via a trade with the Timberwolves.

All-Star power forward Kevin Love was on the market, and after registering a career high in points (26.1) while pulling down 12.5 boards per game during the 2013-14 season, the UCLA product was in high demand for a multitude of teams.

The Celtics seemed to have the resources to net Love, with multiple first-round picks — including the sixth overall selection of the 2014 draft — at their disposal, as well as young tradable assets in power forwards Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.

The “Summer of Love” continued to grow into hysteria as the weeks ticked closer and closer to the draft — held on June 26. Excitement was at a fever pitch for Celtics fans on June 1, as Love was spotted at Fenway Park.

Photos later emerged of Love meeting with C’s captain Rajon Rondo, leading many to believe than the California native was scouting out one of his new potential destinations.

Even other athletes joined in on the news of Love’s appearance at Fenway, with Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz sending his own recruiting pitch to the Timberwolves big man via Twitter.

Despite the Celtics‘ interest in Love, other teams soon threw their names into the bidding, with squads such as the Warriors and Bulls linked to the 25-year-old All-Star. Reports of potential deals centered on the Bulls’ Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, as well as Minnesota’s reported interest in Golden State’s Klay Thompson, quickly dispelling any notion that the Celtics were the lone wolf in terms of negotiations for Love.

While many teams continued to harangue the Timberwolves throughout the summer, no deal was put in place by the time of the draft, leaving the Celtics to make their two first-round selections (sixth and 17th overall).

With the sixth pick, Boston selected Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, who averaged 18 points and 5.8 assists per game during his sophomore campaign with the Cowboys.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, James Young, Kevin Love, Marcus Smart

Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 10: Bruins trade Johnny Boychuk to Islanders

12.26.14 at 10:44 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 10: Bruins trade Johnny Boychuk to Islanders. To read other stories in this series, click here.

Johnny Boychuk (Francois Laplante/Getty Images)

Johnny Boychuk spent five productive seasons on the blue line for the Bruins before being sent to the Islanders in a cost-cutting move. (Francois Laplante/Getty Images)

It was a rare trade that, upon announcing its completion, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli acknowledged it made his team worse.

When the Bruins sent Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders on Oct. 4, there was no hiding the fact that the move was made purely for financial considerations. The Bruins sent the 30-year-old defenseman to New York in order to clear his $3.36 million salary from the books and because it appeared unlikely they would be able to re-sign him when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. They received two second-round draft picks and a conditional third-rounder in return.

“This doesn’t make us better now, obviously,” Chiarelli said at the time, “but it’s something that, when I look at it in a series of steps, I think we made the right move.”

With Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Reilly Smith set to become restricted free agents and Carl Soderberg an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, Chiarelli gave himself one less player to fit under the cap.

“We’ve got a lot of people to sign,” Chiarelli said. “There’s a list of priorities, and part of my job is to prioritize things. That’s a little bit of how it shakes out. I’d love to keep this team together player to player as long as I could if I felt it was prudent on the hockey front and the financial front. I’ve tried to keep the critical mass together and will continue to provide the right moves for the organization.”

Boychuk said the writing was on the wall.

“Everybody knew somebody was going to get traded,” he said. “Everybody. Everybody on the team.”

When he received the phone call from Chiarelli, Boychuk knew it was bad news.

“Peter phoned me when I was just waking up from my pregame nap, because I was supposed to play [against Detroit],” Boychuk. “As soon as I said ‘Hello’€™ and he said, ‘€˜Hi, Johnny, this is Peter,’€™ I was like, ‘Ugh.’€™ You know that you’€™re getting traded when Pete calls you.”

Added Boychuk: “He praised me, and obviously I was upset. It was the fact that I was leaving Boston and there’s a lot of things going through your mind when it happened. He said all positive things. It’s not like I [got myself traded]. You try to make things as hard as possible. It is what it is.”

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Read More: Johnny Boychuk, Peter Chiarelli, Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014,

Friday’s Morning Mashup: LeBron James receives mostly positive welcome back from Miami fans

12.26.14 at 8:26 am ET
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Welcome to Friday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

FRIDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
NBA: Nets at Celtics, 1 p.m. (CSNNE)
NBA: Hornets at Thunder, 8 p.m. (NBA TV)
College football: Heart of Dallas Bowl, Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
College football: Quick Lane Bowl, Rutgers vs. North Carolina, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)
College football: St. Petersburg Bowl, NC State vs. Central Florida, 8 p.m. (ESPN; WEEI-FM)
Soccer: Premier League, West Ham at Chelsea, 7:40 p.m. (NBCSN)
Soccer: Premier League, Newcastle at Manchester United, 10 a.m. (NBCSN)
Soccer: Premier League, Queens Park at Arsenal, 12:25 p.m. (NBCSN)

AROUND THE WEB:

— The Heat welcomed LeBron James back to Miami on Christmas Day before sending him home to Cleveland with a loss.

James hugged and high-fived his former teammates, taking extra time to joke around with Dwyane Wade, then saw Wade score 24 first-half points en route to a 31-point night in the Heat’s 101-91 victory.

James, who finished with 30 points and eight rebounds, was the first player introduced of Cleveland’s starters, and the crowd wasn’t given much time to react before the next player’s name was called. However, he received an ovation when a video tribute was played during the first timeout of the game. There were some boos but mostly cheers for his first game in South Florida since his four-year stint there.

“We only play this game for so long,” James said. “You’ve still got life afterwards. For us we’re going to compete, we’re going to go about our business and do what we need to do in our profession. You’ll never let friendship come in between that.”

James expressed dismay that people criticize his decision to switch teams as a free agent.

“The question I have, which is kind of bothering me sometimes, is when a player decides to decide his own fate, there is always questions about it?” James said. “And, ‘Why did this guy do that, do that and do this?’ When an organization decides to go elsewhere for a player, it’s that they did what’s best for the team. Let’s figure that out some time.”

James said he has not had any contact with team president Pat Riley since announcing his plans to sign with the Cavs, but he spent Christmas Eve at Wade’s house.

“We didn’t have a bad breakup,” Wade said. “We played against each other for seven years, man. The weirdness just wasn’t there. It wasn’t like we played against each other our whole career and the breakup happened. We played against each other for seven years, then with each other for a period of time, then he went back to the same situation and I’m in the same place.”

Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “Couple of the best in this generation. Spectacular. I wish I could sit back and enjoy it like a fan, because it’s just fantastic basketball. … However long these two guys play, you’ll get your money’s worth.”

Rex Ryan might soon be headed out of town, but Geno Smith believes he can be with the Jets for the foreseeable future.

“I see myself being the quarterback here for a long time,” Smith said. “I see myself helping this team turn things around. Obviously, I’m a part of the reason why we are in this position, so I’d love to be a part of the solution.”

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Read More: Curt Schilling, Dwyane Wade, Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel