Here in New England, many of us spent the weekend still grieving over the loss of the Patriots’ season. We’ve been working through the stages of denial and anger toward the ultimate goal of acceptance.

It’s still too soon to completely put away the missed opportunity of a fifth Super Bowl win, especially after watching Peyton Manning once again become America’s darling quarterback.

In a week, pitchers and catchers will come ambling into Fenway South and we’ll start thinking ahead to warmer days at the ballpark. But we’re not there yet. We need help getting our minds off of football.

In a 24-hour span Avery Bradley of the Celtics and the Bruins’ Brad Marchand gave us plenty to cheer about, and fanned the flames of hope that there are good times ahead for Boston’s teams – even with the football season behind us.

On Friday night Bradley nailed a 3-point buzzer beater to sink LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road. On Super Bowl Sunday Bradley followed up his winner with 25 points in a 128-119 win over the Kings.

Suddenly, the Celtics have won 9 of 10 and are sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference. With about a third of the season left they are within striking distance of the Atlantic Division lead. Celtics fans who wanted the team to tank it for higher draft picks just a year ago are thinking about a deep playoff run this spring.

Bradley’s dagger at the Quicken Loans Arena against a division-leading team was a statement win for Brad Stevens’ team and an energizing moment for Boston fans looking for something to cheer. The Celtics had blown a seven-point lead in the final three minutes against the Cavs, and were down by four points with 7 seconds left.

You’re not supposed to win games like that in the NBA – especially on the road. Stevens admitted to reporters after the game that it was the type of road win a team can build on.

“In the big picture it does count as one (win),” said Stevens, “but it gives you a sense you’re improving and getting better.”

For a change we can stop talking about the long-term future of the Celtics and start thinking about what this team can do now. GM Danny Ainge will get plenty of calls for his stockpile of draft picks between now and the trade deadline. He has shown his ability to maneuver his way to a contending team in short order. The Celtics aren’t ready to win it all – not just yet – but wouldn’t a trip to the Eastern Conference finals be nice?

On Saturday night Brad Marchand put away the pesky Buffalo Sabres with a penalty-shot goal in overtime at TD Garden. They call the rare hockey penalty shot “the most exciting play in sports,” and it doesn’t get any more exciting than a shooter-vs.-goaltender showdown in sudden death.

Back-to-back wins over the Buffalo Sabres won’t make you a contender, but the much-needed four points put the Bruins back in the mix for home-ice advantage in the playoffs, and just three wins out of first place.

Marchand – once called “The Little Ball of Hate” by the President of the United States – has become the player goalies hate to face. He has scored nine goals in the last 10 games and could be a 40-goal scorer before the season is through.

In today’s offensively challenged NHL we think of 40-goal scorers as elite players with incredibly high-skill levels. It’s time to think of Marchand in those terms. There is no one hotter on the Bruins now, and he delivered a much-needed win on home ice in the most exciting fashion.

“If we can learn how to win games like that now, it’s only going to help us down the road,” Marchand told reporters after the game.

The NHL’s trade deadline is less than three weeks away. There’s been talk of major changes coming, talk that practically no one is untouchable. Marchand, at 5-foot-9, 181 pounds, might be on that short list of players GM Don Sweeney can’t trade at the end of the month.

We were worried the end of the Patriots’ season would be the end of the good times for Boston fans. This weekend we were reminded a couple of hot teams might help us through the cold weeks ahead.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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