Boston Sports Year In Review: The Highs And Lows Of 2011 In Beantown

The year is about to end, and as always, there were plenty of highs and lows in the Boston sports scene. From the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup to the epic collapse of the Red Sox, 2011 was certainly an unforgettable year.

Another year is in the books, and so is another set of memories. In Boston, there were plenty of memorable moments in 2011 that will be remembered for decades to come. Some were good, resulting in championships. Others were not.

It was a mixed year for Boston's sports teams, that's for sure. The Boston Bruins snapped a 39-year title drought with a glorious run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox fell apart, and that's putting it nicely.

With the calendar year about to turn over, here's a look at the highs and lows of 2011.

THE HIGHS

TIM THOMAS AND THE BOSTON BRUINS WIN 2011 STANLEY CUP: Tim Thomas turned arguably the greatest postseason performance in Boston sports history, leading the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup title since the 1971-72 season, capped off by a thrilling seven-game series against the Vancouver Canucks. The B's turned in a solid regular season, finishing with a 46-25-11 record, a Northeast Division title and the No. 3 overall seed in the Eastern Conference. In the first round of the playoffs, the B's took on the rival Montreal Canadiens in what would prove to be an epic series. Montreal took Boston to seven games, and the score was tied at 3-3 after regulation. Nathan Horton scored the game-winner to send the B's to the second round, where they would sweep the Philadelphia Flyers with revenge of the mind. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lighting locked horns for another seven-game series, with Horton once again scoring the game-winner in Game 7 to send Boston to the Cup Final. Vancouver won the first and second games at home, but the Bruins responded with an 8-1 win in Game 3 and a 4-0 win in Game 4 in Boston to tie up the series. In Game 5, the Canucks escaped with a 1-0 win to take a 3-2 series lead. With their backs to the wall, Thomas and the Bruins posted a 5-2 win at home, forcing Game 7. The B's cruised through Game 7 to earn a 4-0 win, clinching the Cup. Thomas finished the playoffs with a 16-9 record, a 1.98 GAA and a .940 save percentage. The playoffs may have only lasted two months, but the legacy of Thomas and the 2010-11 Bruins will live on forever.

TOM BRADY, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS DOMINATE THE REGULAR SEASON: The year started with a first-round playoff loss to the New York Jets to bring the 2010-11 season to a grinding halt, but the 2010 NFL MVP Tom Brady and his New England Patriots responded with a great 2011-12 regular season that has them in prime position to make a deep playoff run in 2012. Brady and the Pats began the year with 38-24 demolition of the Miami Dolphins behind a career day for Brady, who threw for 517 yards and four touchdowns. Brady put forth another tremendous game in Week 2 against the San Diego Chargers, throwing for 432 yards and three scores. After a hiccup in Week 3 against the then hot Buffalo Bills, New England rattled off three straight wins over the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. Then, the Pats hit some turbulence when they lost back-to-back games to the Pittsburgh Steelers (25-17) and the New York Giants (24-20). Ever since, Brady and company have been on fire. New England has won seven straight games since Nov. 13. and has a chance to finish the year with a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. We don't know what's in store for the Patriots in the playoffs this time around, but the Pats are looking like they could do some serious damage once the postseason rolls around. Thanks to Brady and the ever wise Bill Belichick, the Pats are where they belong -- on top of the conference. There truly isn't anything else in the NFL like the Patriot Way.

BOSTON COLLEGE'S LUKE KUECHLY DOMINATES COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Boston College's football team had a season to forget, completing the season with a dismal 4-8 overall record and a 3-5 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. There were injuries and disappointing performances all around, but there was one player who stood tall -- junior linebacker Luke Kuechly. The 2011 season was a remarkable one for Kuechly, who is projected to be a top 15 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft if he chooses to forgo his senior season. Kuechly led the nation in both total tackles (191) and solo stops (102) while totaling three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown in the season finale. Through three seasons, Kuechly has already broken the school record for career tackles (he has 532) as well as the ACC single season and career tackles record. He also had an FBS-leading streak of 33 straight games with 10 or more tackles that was snapped in the win over Miami in the final week of the 2011 season. For his efforts, Kuechly was the recipient of a plethora of prestigious honors and awards. Kuechly won the Bronko Nagurski award, honoring the nation's top defensive player, as well as the Butkus Award honoring the country's best linebacker. In addition, Kuechly won the Lombardi Award, the Lott IMPACT Trophy and was named an AP and Walter Camp First Team All-American. As far as conference honors are concerned, Kuechly was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the All-ACC First Team.

KEMBA WALKER, UCONN MEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM DEFY ODDS IN NCAA TITLE RUN: You can't win five games in five days. That's what consensus says. Not only did Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies win five games in five days to win the Big East Conference Tournament, but they went on to win six more games in the NCAA Tournament to claim the school's third national championship. Walker and the Huskies went 21-9 overall and 9-9 in Big East play and entered the Big East Tournament as a No. 9 seed. In the first round, UConn cruised past DePaul, 97-71. The Huskies proceeded to down No. 22 Georgetown, 79-62, in the second round before squeaking out a 76-74 win over No. 3 Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, UConn edged rival Syracuse, 76-71, in overtime before edging Louisville 69-66 in the championship game. Upon reaching the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies continued to roll. UConn beat Bucknell in the second round, 89-52, and defeated Cincinnati 69-58 in the Round of 32. A 74-67 win over San Diego St. in the Sweet 16 and a 65-63 win over Arizona in the Elite Eight set the Huskies up with a Final Four match against Kentucky, which they won 56-55. UConn proceeded to defeat Butler, 53-41, in one of the most uneventful NCAA title games in recent memory. Walker averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 2011 and was named a finalist for the College Basketball Player of the Year award. Walker was named a First Team All-American and won the Bob Cousy Award honoring the nation's top point guard.

BOSTON CANNONS WIN 2011 STEINFELD CUP, MLL CHAMPIONSHIP: Lacrosse is not a big sport in Boston by any means in terms of popularity or media coverage, but you wouldn't know it based on the play of the Boston Cannons. The Cannons -- founded in 2001 as one of the original six member of Major League Lacrosse -- won the 2011 Steinfeld Cup, which is awarded to the champion of the MLL. The title was the Cannon's first in their 11-year history. The Cannons went 9-3 in the regular season and won a close contest against the Bayhawks, 14-13, before triumphing over the Hamilton Nationals, 10-9, in the final game to claim the championship title.

LOWS

BOSTON RED SOX SUFFER THROUGH WORST COLLAPSE IN MLB HISTORY: There have been some low moments in the storied history of the Boston Red Sox (Bill Buckner's little mishap comes to mind, of course), but there may not have been a lower occurrence in franchise history than the month of September 2011. The Sox entered the month with a nine-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card are were in contention for the AL East title. Yet an abysmal collapse in all facets of the game resulted in a 7-20 record in the month. On the final day of the season, the Red Sox needed only one win to at least force a one-game playoff with the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL Wild Card title, provided that Tampa Bay won its last game against the Yankees as well. Boston took a 3-2 lead over the Baltimore Orioles midway through the game, but the Sox gave away the game and ultimately lost in the ninth inning. A few minutes later in Tampa Bay, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run as the Rays completed a more-than-improbable comeback from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Yankees 8-7 in extra innings and clinch the AL Wild Card. After the season, the team completely unravelled amidst reports of some pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games in the clubhouse. The reports were later confirmed, and the story took off and the Sox become the butt of jokes everywhere. The dysfunction in the clubhouse ultimately cost manager Terry Francona his job, as well as the jobs of the majority of the coaching staff. In addition, Boston lost longtime general manager Theo Epstein to the Cubs. It was certainly a fall to forget for the Red Sox. With a new GM and coach in hand, the Red Sox will do everything in their power to erase those painful memories when the 2012 season begins in April.

CELTICS TRADE AWAY KENDRICK PERKINS, COLLAPSE IN PLAYOFFS: While I am personally in favor of the trade that sent Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder along with Nate Robinson in exchange for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic in the middle of the 2010-11 NBA season, the Boston Celtics certainly did not benefit from the trade down the stretch last season. Perkins, whose friendship with Celtics star point guard Rajon Rondo has been well publicized, was shocked that he was dealt away, as were most of the Celtics' Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Not to mention, the trade almost certainly had a negative impact on Rondo, who had a poor second half of the season. Although the Celtics swept the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, they ran into a brick wall in the second round against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat. The Heatles eliminated the Celtics in five games, and although Perkins' absence may not have been the direct cause of the C's early playoff exit, the lack of his presence under the basket definitely hurt them. The repercussions of the deal are even being felt this season, as the Celtics lack a true center (one like Perkins) and have lost Green for the entire season due to an aortic aneurysm. Green should be able to resume his career next season, and time will tell if he pans out. But for now, it's certainly looking like the Celtics botched that trade. Big time.

PATRIOTS SEASON ENDS PREMATURELY AGAINST JETS IN PLAYOFFS: The Patriots may be in good position through 15 weeks of the regular season this year, but they did start the year out with an unexpected loss to the hated New York Jets. New England went 14-2 and was the No. 1 seed in the AFC heading into the playoffs. After a first round bye, the Patriots faced a home playoff game against the Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs. Right from the start, the Patriots couldn't find a groove and fell behind 14-3 at halftime. New England eventually lost 28-21. The loss put Bill Belichick's game plan under the microscope, and if the Pats can't go deep into the playoffs this season, it may be again.

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION PLUMMET TO BASEMENT OF MLS: In the middle of the 2000s, the New England Revolution were one of the premier franchises in Major League Soccer. Those days are long gone, however, and the Revolution fell to the basement of the league in 2011, finishing with the second-worst record in the MLS. New England was 5-16-13 in the regular season. At the end of the season, the team fired the longest tenured coach in MLS history -- Steve Nicol -- and hired Jay Heaps to help lead the club's rebuilding process. There was good news for Revs fans, though, as Shalrie Joseph -- the team's best player -- has re-signed with the club.

The bottom line is that, as you can clearly see, there were good times and bad times in the year of 2011. Even with the bad, the Red Sox' collapse in particular, the good of the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup and the Patriots strong play triumphs over the turmoil of some of the city's other teams.

OUTLOOK FOR 2012: As we enter the new year, the Bruins and Patriots are once again in good position to have deep playoff runs and possible bring the city home two more championships. The B's are still relatively early in their season, but their play in the last few months has been remarkable, spurred on once again by a red hot Tim Thomas. As for the Patriots, they are on the verge of a 13-3 regular season and could set themselves up with a manageable road to the AFC Championship game and possibly the Super Bowl. As for the Red Sox, they haven't lost a lot this offseason and still have one of the most dangerous lineups in all of baseball. The Celtics likely won't win another title for quite some time, but in the weak Eastern Conference, they will make the playoffs. As we all know, anything can happen in the postseason. In college sports, UConn is looking like a legitimate championship contender and Boston College's men's hockey team could put together another run at the Frozen Four title. All things considered, things are looking very good.

Happy New Year's to all, and we hope you enjoy the year ahead in Boston sports.

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