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Red Sox Off to Worst Start Ever

By Bo Light
associate sports editor

Hey, how about those Red Sox? The defending AL East Champions have won a grand total of two, count 'em, two games this season, and are on pace to lose something like 140 games, easily the major league record for futility. With an offense that isn't producing, the worst defense in baseball, and pitchers who can't find the strike zone, the Bosox look like they need a few more weeks of spring training. Perhaps it has something to do with the weather; maybe when spring hits Boston, the Sox will start playing. And no, they won't really lose 140 games, but they'll need a major (we're talking really, really huge here) turnaround if they are to contend for this year's pennant.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers are threatening to become this year's Red Sox. The Tigers feature a weak rotation and poor defense, but their high-powered offense, led by a slugging first baseman, is winning them a lot of games. Sound familiar?

Of course, the Tigers do this every year; last season, they were three games behind Boston at the All-Star break. You probably could have guessed this yourself, but don't put any money on Detroit making the post-season.

On The Ice

Do you miss March Madness? Has your life seemed empty since the Super Bowl? Do you crave the intensity of post-season athletics? Well, fret no more, sports fans, just plunk yourself down in front of the television and watch some playoff hockey! (Alternatively, you could seek professional help. Seriously. This living vicariously through the achievements of others has got to stop.)

Defending champ New Jersey was eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, and with the Devils off playing golf, Lord Stanley's Cup will have a new home in June. In the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have battled all season for the top spot (Philadelphia took the top seed by one point), while in the West, everyone is trying to knock off the juggernaut that is the Detroit Red Wings. Who will win? Do you care? If so, check out the EA Sports Super-Duper NHL Playoffs Breakdown.

Eastern Conference

Bruins fans have something to cheer about; their team has made the playoffs for the 29th straight season, a professional sports record. Even better, the B's are playing their best hockey at the end of the season (13񪏖 in their last 18 games). Better still, they get to play the slumping Florida Panthers in the first round. Looks like an easy series for Boston. Don't count the Bruins out; they had important wins over both Philly and Pittsburgh down the stretch, and Bill Ranford is a reborn goalie since being traded from Edmonton.

The first game of the Canadiens-Rangers series went to overtime, and the way these teams play defense, don't look for many blowouts. Montreal took the first game away from the Rangers in New York, but the Canadiens lack discipline, and one bad penalty could be the difference in this series. Rangers in seven.

Don't count on Jim Carey to save the Caps against Pittsburgh; you need to score to keep up with the Penguins, and Washington lacks offensive punch. Speaking of offensive punch, Philadelphia scored seven goals in its first game against Tampa Bay; the scoring trend should continue.

In the second round, Boston will stun the world by knocking off the top-seeded Flyers. Yes, this is a huge upset, but the Bruins are hot, the Flyers are not so hot. Ron Hextall has struggled in the post-season in recent years, and Eric Lindros has not played well against Boston this year. Besides, New Jersey over Philadelphia was a big upset, too.

Do the Rangers have what it takes to beat Pittsburgh? In any given game, yes. In a seven-game series, not a chance. The Penguins offense, featuring the top three scorers in the league (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Ron Francis), should steamroll New York more than once, and if Tom Barasso gets hot in goal, the Pens should have no trouble moving on.

Last year, fifth-seeded New Jersey performed a miracle by smashing their way through Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, and then winning the Cup. This year, Boston is in position to repeat history. That's not happening, though. Every Bruins fan fears playing Pittsburgh, and with good reason; the B's have beaten the Penguins something like four times in the '90s. Yes, that's an exaggeration, but one well-made; Penguins in four.

Western Conference

How good are the St. Louis Blues since picking up Wayne Gretzky? Not that good, really. The Great One is still a masterful passer (the Magic Johnson of hockey, catchy, huh?), but the Blues don't have enough scorers to go far, though they should get past Toronto.

For the Chicago Blackhawks to get past Calgary, they really need to have Jeremy Roenick at full strength. Without Roenick, Chicago is forced to rely on Ed Belfour, who tends to be less than stellar in big games. Fortunately for the Hawks, Roenick is poised to come back, Belfour was excellent in the playoffs last year, and if Eddy does blow up, Jeff Hackett is ready to step in. Chicago in six.

Colorado seems to be in a first-round laugher against Vancouver; the Canucks are just another Pacific Division team primed for a quick exit. The Avalanche, on the other hand, are the one good team Way Out West; the ex-Nordiques have offense, defense, playoff experience, and something that was missing last year: Patrick Roy, a two-time Conn Smythe winner. Watch out for these guys.

Did that dork from The Boston Globe really pick Winnipeg to upset Detroit? Come on. Winnipeg? Do the Jets have a man up front to match Sergei Fedorov? Yes (Keith Tkachuk). How about Steve Yzerman, Keith Primeau, and Dino Ciccarelli? Nope. Do the Jets have a defenseman like Paul Coffey? Nope. Do the Jets have a goalie as good as Mike Vernon (or Chris Osgood)? Nope. Do the Jets have a chance? Nope.

The second round should also be easy for the Red Wings, though if the Blues were ever to live up to their tremendous potential, this would be an excellent series. Meanwhile, Colorado will move past Chicago; even with Roenick, the Blackhawks won't be able to match the scoring punch and physical play of the Avalanche.

The Western Conference final should be an excellent series; Colorado and Detroit are far and away the best teams in the West. The Avalanche has the star power to match Detroit at every position, but the Red Wings are a team with a mission. They are a machine, bent on winning the Stanley Cup and ending the 41-year drought. They cannot be stopped. Wings in six.

The Finals

Were you listening? Detroit. Mission. Machine. Cannot be stopped and all that. Sorry, Pittsburgh fans, Wings in seven. Get out the octopi.

Trivia Question

Did you really think I could go the whole column without talking about the Boston Marathon? Uta Pippig won her third consecutive Boston, but Cosmas Ndete was denied in his bid to win four years in a row by fellow Kenyan Moses Tanui.

Who holds the record for most consecutive Boston Marathon victories? Send your answers and other comments to easports@the-tech.mit.edu.

Answer to last week's question: Cecil Fielder stunned the world last week by stealing his first base in 1,097 games. Did the catcher have a broken arm? Martin Duke '97 sent in the lone correct answer.