NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Columbus Blue Jackets

The Bruins’ Zdeno Chara, right, celebrates with Patrice Bergeron and teammates after Boston beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 on Monday night to clinch the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

IT WAS the best of times. It was the worst of times.

We’re talking, of course, about Monday night for New England sports fans.

Two games. Two very important games. Played at the same time. The Bruins won one of them, moving on to the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics lost the other, moving to within one game of extinction to cap a most puzzling basketball season.

Oh, and also at the same time, the Red Sox fell to 2-3 on the young season against the Orioles. Last year, when the Sox won 108 and then 11 more to win it all, they went 16-3 against the hapless Birds.

First, the Bruins.

As Jack Edwards might say: Two U’s, Two K’s — and two nails in the coffin of Tim Thomas’ ghost.

Yes, it has taken this long for Tuukka Rask to measure up to what Thomas did in 2011 (even though this is not Rask’s first productive playoff). While it’s true there are still eight wins to get before giving birth to yet another duck boat parade, Rask has proven himself more than worthy, more than qualified to win big games.

In the past, Rask would always come up just short. And while he did give up three in the third period of Game 5, he has carried his team at the most important time of the year.

Next up are the Carolina Hurricanes, the team formerly known as the Hartford Whalers (no, they likely won’t be wearing throwback Whalers unis). The ’Canes are a team that was well under .500 as the calendar flipped to 2019, but a team that took out the defending champs in Game 7 on the road — and then swept the Islanders, who had swept Pittsburgh. The series starts with games in Boston Thursday night and, reportedly, Sunday afternoon.

“They (the Hurricanes) have made it this far. They’re a very good hockey club,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the Columbus clincher. “We’ll have our hands full.”

And the Bruins, who won despite Columbus coach John Tortorella’s guarantee there would be a Game 7, go in with a hot goalie.

Rask’s numbers in this year’s playoffs: 8-5 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. Remember, though, he had 1.88/.940 numbers going to the finals against the Blackhawks in ’13.

This nugget from the Elias Sports Bureau folks Monday: “Tuukka Rask has two playoff series-clinching shutout wins for the @NHLBruins, including tonight’s 3-0 victory over the Blue Jackets. The only other Bruins goalies with that many series-clinching shutouts are Gerry Cheevers and Tim Thomas (each with two).”

Eight more wins to go.

On the brink

As enigmatic as the Celtics have been this season, nothing speaks louder than an exchange Kyrie Irving had with Chris Gasper of The Boston Globe after Monday night’s loss, in what could have been Irving’s final home game in the Celtics uniform.

The exchange took place after Irving had left the floor with the clock still ticking in the game.

Asked about going 19-for-62, 4-for-20 from 3-point range, Irving, who promised this was why he was in Boston for these games, said, “Who cares?

“I’m a basketball player. I prepare the right way. Like I said, it’s a little different when your rhythm is challenged every play down. You know you’re being picked up full-court. They’re doing things to test you. The expectations on me are going to be sky-high. I try to utilize their aggression against them and still put my teammates in great position while still being aggressive. I’m trying to do it all.”

And he’d better start succeeding.

Oh, and Irving also said, “I’m trying to do it all. For me, the 22 shots, I should have shot 30. I’m that great of a shooter.”

But while the focus has been on Irving, who may or may not opt out of here, Gordon Hayward has also been a disaster in the last three games: 4-for-18 and 17 points in the three losses.

Former Celt Kendrick Perkins is disheartened by what he’s seen, tweeting, “Zero togetherness is what I’m getting from watching the Celtics and Coaches tonight! Showed no heart and played Selfish basketball tonight! The Greek (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and the Bucks imposed their will in every way possible. Very disappointed.”

Optimistic about this team winning three straight? Well, we know it can happen. But here are some numbers that suggest otherwise: the Celtics are the 250th team trying to rally from down 3-1; only 11 have made it (and only three of those, including the ’68 Celtics, have done it with two road wins); and the Bucks haven’t lost three in a row all season, losing two straight only twice in assembling the league’s best record.

Divisive visit

The Red Sox will visit the White House on Thursday’s off day. Well, many of them will. Others, non-white players and a manager from Puerto Rico, won’t be going.

This is not about Republican or Democrat. This is not about liberal or conservative. This is about right and wrong and Alex Cora and others are not going. They don’t want to visit the current inhabitant of that very special building.

“It’s pretty tough to celebrate when we’re at where we’re at. I would rather not go and just be consistent with everything,” Cora said Sunday. “We talked about it and we decided this was the best way to do it.”

Perhaps he isn’t short on paper towels.

“Puerto Rico is very important to me,” he said. “During the winter I spent a lot of time back home, visiting my family and friends. Unfortunately, we are still struggling, still fighting. Some people still lack basic necessities, others remain without electricity and many homes and schools are in pretty bad shape almost a year and a half after Hurricane Maria struck.

“Even though the United States Government has helped, there’s still a long road ahead and that is OUR reality. I’ve used my voice on many occasions so that Puerto Ricans are not forgotten and my absence (from the White House) is no different. As such, at this moment, I don’t feel comfortable celebrating in the White House.”

Steve Buckley of The Atlantic caused a stir when he said it would be the white (with a small w) Sox attending. David Price, the new and outspoken David Price, retweeted it, a sign he was upset about who WAS going. He backed off, but there is a clear divide here. The players swear this will have no effect on the clubhouse and Cora said he will not address it with his team. We shall see.

Then, Tuesday, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com contacted David Ortiz — and Papi came down on the side of those not going.

Asked if he would follow Cora and not go, Ortiz said, “Of course, bro. Alex is in a tough spot right now, going there and acting like nothing is happening. It’s like you are going to shake hands with the enemy. Think about it, all the stuff that has been going on since he took office. People are angry. People are mad. He has divided people, that’s how it feels like.”


Finally, we said goodbye to our friend Andy Jick at a jam-packed Brookline chapel Tuesday – the long-time PA voice of the Celtics and Boston College sports passing away just shy of his 67th birthday. The Celtics had a moment of silence Monday night and had a presence at the funeral.

Truly a great among us, he will be sorely missed. RIP!

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.