<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Sports]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/sports http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Tue, 25 Nov 2014 23:31:02 -0600 Tue, 25 Nov 2014 23:31:02 -0600 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Kane, Toews Among Leaders in NHL All-Star Voting ]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 16:00:54 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/toews-10-29.jpg

The NHL All-Star Game in Columbus will be the first time the league’s best skaters will all be on the same surface since the 2012 contest in Ottawa, and fans are responding by getting fan voting off to a rollicking start.

Not surprisingly, the Chicago Blackhawks are getting a lot of love from fans, as three of their players occupy the six spots that are being voted on. Patrick Kane leads the way with over 73,000 votes in the first week that the ballot has been available, and Jonathan Toews is close behind him with nearly 72,000. Defenseman Duncan Keith currently ranks second among NHL defensemen in balloting, trailing only Montreal’s PK Subban.

Goaltender Corey Crawford is also getting plenty of love, as he currently ranks second among goaltenders in voting. He only trails Montreal netminder Carey Price, who racked up an impressive 83,000 votes over the past seven days.

Voting, which is open until Jan. 1, will determine the first three forwards, two defensemen, and one goaltender to be put on the rosters. The other 36 spots are determined by the league, and then the players selected name two captains, who then pick the two rosters that will do battle in the game. In the 2012 game, Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins were chosen as captains.

A couple of other Blackhawks are within shouting distance of winning spots in the game, with Brent Seabrook currently ranking fifth among defensemen in voting and Patrick Sharp currently sitting just outside the top 10 among forwards.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Why Half-Marathons Are Booming]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 13:19:50 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/NC-women-half-marathon.jpg According to statistics from Running USA, half marathons are now one of the most popular race events in the country and women are leading the way in record-breaking participation numbers, making up 61-percent of half marathon runners. NBC News' Erika Edwards reports.]]> <![CDATA[First Quarter Report: Three Impressions of 2014-15 Blackhawks]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 12:04:03 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/171*120/456992906.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks are a quarter of the way through their 2014-15 season, and over the next few days, we’ll be looking at where they stand 21 games into the season.

Today’s question is this: what are the big impressions fans should be coming away with through the first quarter of the season?

Shots, Shots, Shots

To anyone who has ever watched a Blackhawks game on TV or heard Joel Quenneville give a postgame press conference, the mantra is always the same: get bodies and pucks to the front of the net.

So far this season, the Blackhawks have certainly fulfilled the latter part of that equation, averaging 36.1 shots per game. That is good for the top spot in the NHL and is nearly three shots per game better than the second-place team, the New York Islanders. To put that disparity in perspective, if you go 2.7 shots per game below what the Islanders average, you drop all the way down to 13th place on the list.

That kind of shot dominance wasn’t providing much in the way of scoring for the Blackhawks, as they were averaging just over two goals per game after a dozen games. They were only converting on 5.6% of their shots on goal at that point, which was the worst mark in the league and nearly half of what they averaged last season.

That number has since turned around, and the Blackhawks have since climbed to seventh in the league in scoring. If both trends (tons of shots, improving shooting percentage) continue, then the Blackhawks should see their results improve in terms of wins and losses.

Quenneville Finally Getting the Chemistry Right

Going into the season, the Blackhawks looked as though they would have Brad Richards centering the second line with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad. People were understandably happy about this development as it both validated Stan Bowman’s decision to sign Richards in the first place and meant that Kane would finally get the second line center he deserved (and not a possession-draining anchor like Michal Handzus).

Instead, Quenneville opted to put Andrew Shaw in the role, and Kane struggled out of the gate. The coach, seeing the offensive decline on that line and on others, feverishly switched line combinations like crazy, and continued to see inconsistent results.

Now, with Richards once again with Kane on the second line, things seem to be improving quite dramatically. Richards has had a solid November with three goals and five assists, and Kane has certainly blossomed with the veteran center, racking up eight points (four goals, four assists) in his past five games.

The question now is whether or not Quenneville will have the itch to shuffle things up again when Patrick Sharp returns (likely around December 3 against the St. Louis Blues). Will he put Shaw back as the second line center? Will he bump Kris Versteeg down in the lineup? These questions have yet to be answered, but it will be interesting to see how the coach approaches things.

Special Teams Have Been Special

When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, their penalty killing unit was one of the big reasons why. Led by Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik, the group was arguably the best in the entire league, and their ability to erase the mistakes of their teammates through an aggressive blend of forechecking and responsible positioning made them the envy of the NHL.

When Frolik was traded to the Winnipeg Jets in the summer of 2013, things took a turn for the worse. That penalty killing unit that had been so good the season before vanished, and they went from being the best to one of the worst groups in the NHL. Things did improve as the season wore on, and they ultimately wound up 19th in the league in that category, but the dominance wasn’t there.

Fast forward to this season however, and things are right as rain. Kruger is still arguably the most important component, and several other forwards have joined him in that fight. Ben Smith has been excellent in the penalty killing role for the Hawks, benefitting greatly from all the even-strength time he’s gotten with Kruger. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa also continue to be excellent in short-handed situations, and Brandon Saad has even gotten in on the act.

It’s exceedingly rare for a team as adept at scoring as the Blackhawks are to be so good defensively, but it’s truly a team-wide mentality. Forechecking and backchecking are critical parts of the game to a team that emphasizes puck possession as much as the Blackhawks do, and that dedication to doing the little things right has been apparent on the penalty kill all season long.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks 4th-Most Valuable NHL Team]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:16:55 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/495205629.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks’ resurgence has been one of the biggest stories in sports over the past seven years, and that rise to prominence has continued to yield dividends both on the ice and for the team’s bottom line.

According to new NHL franchise valuations by Forbes Magazine, the Blackhawks are the fourth-most valuable franchise in the NHL, worth approximately $825 million. The Toronto Maple Leafs top the list, with a worth of $1.3 billion, and the New York Rangers ($1.1 billion) and Montreal Canadiens ($1 billion) also finished just ahead of the Blackhawks.

While they aren’t the most valuable American team, the Blackhawks do have some reason for optimism, as their valuation increased by 32% from last year. That is the second-highest rate of growth in the NHL, trailing only the New York Islanders’ sale-boosted 54% rise from last season. The Blackhawks also rank fourth in the league in revenue, with $172 million coming in last season.

The one question we don’t know the answer to is whether or not that surge in value means that the team is turning a profit. According to team owner Rocky Wirtz, the team still lost between $10 and $20 million despite winning the Stanley Cup in 2013.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Can Bears Slow Down Lions' Potent Passing Attack?]]> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:56:28 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/459466318.jpg

The Chicago Bears’ defense put on a clinic against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon, but when they face Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, their run of defensive dominance will be in serious jeopardy.

Everybody knows that the Lions are a really good passing team, but they aren’t just a one-headed monster anymore. The M.O. for the Lions used to be “throw the ball high toward Calvin Johnson, and let him come down with it.” Now, that method still works (he has 38 receptions for 578 yards and three touchdowns this season), but he also has a more-than-capable running mate in Golden Tate, who leads the team with 72 receptions for 1047 yards through 11 games.

Complicating matters for Chicago is that Kyle Fuller, who suffered a knee injury on Sunday, was listed as “no participation” on the Bears’ injury report for Monday, and head coach Marc Trestman didn’t seem optimistic about the cornerback’s chances of recovering in time to play Thursday. Add in the broken hand and hip pointer issues he’s been dealing with, and you have a player who is taking an absolute beating in his rookie season.

If Fuller is unable to go, it would appear that Demontre Hurst would get the first crack at defending against Johnson, with Tim Jennings likely lining up against Tate. Neither one of those matchups is particularly appealing, even after Hurst forced a Vincent Jackson fumble in Sunday’s win, and Stafford could be in for a good day against the weakened secondary.

So how can the Bears slow down the Lions’ passing attack? Other than getting really good safety play from Chris Conte (who had an interception in the win over the Buccaneers) to help the corners, the thing the Bears will have to rely on is their pass rush. Stafford has been sacked 33 times this season, and the Bears are coming off a game in which they got arguably their best overall defensive line play of the season.

Pressure up the middle from Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff, as well as speed off the edge with Willie Young (who could be looking to make a statement against his former team) and Jared Allen could keep Stafford from getting comfortable in the pocket, and that alone would minimize pressure on the outside corners in this game.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[First Quarter Recap: Who is Blackhawks' MVP Thus Far? ]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 16:29:04 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/161*120/458599266.jpg

When the Chicago Blackhawks passed the 10:00 mark in the second period of Sunday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, they officially hit the quarter pole of their 2014-15 season. Over their first 21 games, the Blackhawks have seen their fair share of ups and downs, with injuries, offensive struggles, and solid play from youngsters dominating the headlines so far this season.

Over the next few days, we’ll be taking a look at where the Blackhawks are a quarter of the way through the season, and today’s question is a simple one: who is the team’s MVP so far?
Here are our nominees (and feel free to add your own if you feel another player is deserving of consideration):

Corey Crawford

Even though he missed several games due to injury, Crawford has had a really nice season so far for the Blackhawks. His 9-5-1 record may not be spectacular, but his 1.98 GAA and .926 save percentage in the first season of his new 6-year contract with the Blackhawks are certainly good enough to get the job done.

What’s perhaps been more impressive with Crawford this year has been his consistency night in and night out. He hasn’t allowed more than 3 goals in a game this season, and even on nights when he makes occasional mistakes (his rebound goal allowed to Radim Vrbata against the Canucks Sunday wasn’t good), he still makes some incredible saves, like the glove save on a deflection during that same game.

Niklas Hjalmarsson

Hjalmarsson’s body takes a beating throughout the season, as his penchant for shot-blocking comes at a heavy price. Despite that, he hasn’t missed a game yet this year, and even as Johnny Oduya has dealt with some consistency issues on the second pairing, Hjalmarsson has continued to play consistently well at both ends of the ice.

Patrick Kane

Kane’s October was nothing to write home about, but ever since he was linked up with Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards, his production has really begun to go up. Over the past 5 games, Kane has 4 goals and 4 assists, and he has racked up 14 shots on goal during that span.

What’s been just as notable this season from Kane has been his defensive ability. Not known as a player who is going to forecheck like Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, Kane has done well in that area so far.

“Playing with good players, you learn a little bit more,” he told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I think my defense has improved pretty much every year since I came in the league – that’s one of the things you try to pride yourself on, getting the puck back and [creating] some offense off it.”

Jonathan Toews

Tied with Kane for the team lead in points, Toews too has had to deal with some rotating linemates with Patrick Sharp’s injury earlier in the year, and he still is doing all of the little things on defense and special teams that make him so important to the team.

Even without Sharp for a good chunk of the month, Toews has still maintained a nearly point per game pace, with 5 goals and 5 assists so far in November. Playing with Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad has helped the team’s captain out, and they are being looked to as a shutdown group on defense in addition to their offensive exploits.

And the Winner Is…..

It is a really tough decision with several players making such a big impact, but we’re narrowly going with Crawford. Even while the team was struggling to score goals earlier in the season, Crawford was helping to keep them in games, and he’s been game to do just about anything asked of him. He had to play both games over the weekend against Edmonton and Vancouver after Antti Raanta fell ill, and he did a really nice job despite the 1-1 record he put up.

Kane and Toews were both really close to usurping Crawford’s crown, but Kane’s early-season inconsistency hurt his candidacy, and we’d like to see a bit more production from Toews on the power play in the second quarter of the season.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Danault Sent Down to Rockford]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 16:07:37 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/174*120/456929204.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks were off the ice on Monday afternoon, but they still made a roster move as they sent Phillip Danault back to the Rockford IceHogs.

Danault has played in the Hawks’ last two games, skating on the third line and getting some limited work in. He didn’t pick up a point in either game, but he largely looked to be playing his center position well and made a good impression on the coaching staff.

The move likely means that Andrew Shaw, who has missed the first three games of the team’s circus trip, will be back in the lineup Wednesday night against the Colorado Avalanche.

Shaw has been out with an upper body injury that may or may not have been caused by his fight with Antoine Russell earlier this month (Joel Quenneville insists that it wasn’t, but some speculation has been that it was), but with Danault’s demotion it would appear that Shaw will slot back in on the third line.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pieces of Wrigley Field Up For Sale]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:58:03 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/80913564.jpg

Looking for the perfect gift for a Cubs fan? Pieces of Wrigley Field that were removed during its renovation are now for sale.

In anticipation of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Cubs Authentics announced Monday the debut of its Wrigley Field Collection, which will feature game-used and authenticated memorabilia such as bleacher seats, flags, scoreboard tiles, signage and celebrity guest memorabilia along with items removed during the Friendly Confine’s restoration and expansion.

The collection will offer the authenticated items in limited quantities throughout the season for purchase or bidding.

"The Wrigley Field Collection is the best way for fans to secure an authenticated piece of Wrigley Field history," Cubs Senior Director of Marketing, Alison Miller, said in a statement. "Whether it's a flag flown at the ballpark during the season or a Budweiser Bleacher seat removed as part of the restoration, Cubs Authentics and the Wrigley Field Collection offer both the team and our fans a chance to preserve the history attached to these great items."
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Trestman Provides Little Clarity on Briggs, Fuller Injuries ]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 14:12:26 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/171*120/455467708.jpg

The Chicago Bears’ defense looked outstanding in their 21-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but the win may have come at a cost as two of their most important players suffered injuries in the game.

Linebacker Lance Briggs left the game with a groin injury just before halftime, and cornerback Kyle Fuller was forced out of the game with a knee injury, likely suffered on Mike Evans’ touchdown catch in the second quarter. He tried to play through the injury, but he was eventually ruled out of the game just after halftime.

On Monday, head coach Marc Trestman was mum on updates for the injuries, saying only that they were both “ongoing situations” and that both players would be evaluated on Tuesday.

Complicating matters for the Bears is that they have a short week ahead of them as they prepare to face the Detroit Lions on Thursday. Things are even worse for Fuller, who has dealt with a hip pointer and a broken hand during the last few weeks. Adding a knee injury to the table could slow him down even more as the Bears prepare to face Calvin Johnson and the Lions, and after Detroit was blown out by New England on Sunday, they’ll surely be looking to make a statement against Chicago.

As for Briggs, he too has been dealing with injuries this season, missing three games with a rib ailment. A groin injury would be an unwelcome development for the Bears’ defense, as they played perhaps their best game of the year in terms of filling gaps and stopping the run against the Buccaneers. Losing him would put extra pressure on Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin at the linebacker spot, and the Lions could really punish the Bears over the middle of the field if Briggs isn’t around to call out plays on defense.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Defensive Line Makes Statement in Win Over Bucs]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:39:36 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/459462040.jpg

The Chicago Bears haven’t made it easy for themselves the past couple of weeks, but what matters is that they have now won two consecutive games after beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

While a big share of the credit for the game has to go to the Bears’ defense as a whole, as they only gave up 13 points and forced four turnovers in the contest, their defensive line play was what really set them apart. They racked up five sacks on the afternoon, and their aggressive approach paid dividends as Josh McCown could never quite get settled into the passing game.

The Bears’ defensive line was also instrumental in holding the Buccaneers to just 66 yards of rushing on the day, with Doug Martin carrying the ball 11 times for just 27 yards.

The big plays of the day came on the turnovers that the line forced. There was the first quarter interception that McCown threw, forced by Stephen Paea’s penetration through the center of the line. McCown also fumbled the ball away in the third quarter, with David Bass outmuscling Tampa Bay right tackle Demar Dotson and slapping the ball out of the quarterback’s hands.

The biggest play of the game came on a Tampa possession late in the fourth quarter. With the Buccaneers facing a fourth-and-one play in Bears territory, McCown attempted to run a quarterback sneak up the middle of the field. Pushing forward, the Bears’ defensive tackles were able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage, and Jared Allen made the key stop as he wrapped up McCown’s legs and Ryan Mundy finished the job over the top as he grabbed McCown’s upper torso.

The play was a perfect encapsulation of everything that the line did correctly during the game. They got pressure around the edges with Allen, and Jeremiah Ratliff’s initial push allowed Mundy to jump over the top of the pile to keep McCown short of the first down marker and essentially seal the game for the Bears.

All season long the Bears have struggled to get pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback, the team could be starting to turn a corner with their results over the past few weeks. The real test will come as they face a Detroit Lions team on Thanksgiving, but if they can get the kind of play they got from their tackles and ends on Sunday, it could be a sad holiday for their NFC North rivals.




Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[11 Games In, Who Are the Bears?]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:34:47 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/4594619302.jpg Dan Hampton says the Chicago Bears still have time to turn their season around.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Looking Ahead to Bears-Lions]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:29:52 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000009828451_1200x675_362933315695.jpg The Chicago Bears take on Detroit on Thanksgiving.]]> <![CDATA[Bears Fans Express Gratitude]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:31:07 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000009828409_1200x675_362933827692.jpg Sports Sunday viewers answer the FanZone question: "What are you thankful for?"]]> <![CDATA[Hampton: Thursday's Game Means Everything]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:31:52 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000009828085_1200x675_362933827693.jpg The Chicago Bears have won their last two games but they've got a formiddable opponent on Thanksgiving.]]> <![CDATA[Game Photos: Bears vs. Buccaneers]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:35:55 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/459462954.jpg The Bears beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-13 at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks Fall to Canucks]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 08:05:53 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/190*120/453537993.jpg

Playing their third game in four days, the Chicago Blackhawks’ piping hot offense was doused in cold water as the Vancouver Canucks used a Jannik Hansen hat trick to score a 4-1 victory on Sunday night.

Radim Vrbata scored a crucial insurance goal for the Canucks as they picked up the win. Kris Versteeg scored the lone Blackhawks goal on a second period power play tally.

As the game got started, Vancouver came out with speed that the Blackhawks had trouble matching, but fortunately they were able to keep the Canucks off the board. Nick Bonino looked especially lethal, picking up two quick shots on goal that forced Corey Crawford to make saves early on.

A little bit later in the frame, Luca Sbisa drilled Patrick Kane into the corner boards, and when Kris Versteeg took exception to the hit he was whistled for a two-minute minor. Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad both had quality scoring chances short-handed, but it was Vancouver that ended up capitalizing as Hansen received a pass from Derek Dorsett and flipped it past Crawford to put Vancouver up by a 1-0 margin.

The Blackhawks got a power play of their own late in the period as Brad Richardson was sent off for cross-checking, but they couldn’t generate any shot attempts as they continued to struggle in that department. Vancouver ultimately outshot the Hawks by a 13-11 margin in that first period and held a one-goal edge through 20 minutes.

When the second period got started, the Blackhawks got another power play as Alex Edler was sent off for high-sticking, but the power play looked even more lethargic on their second opportunity. Passes connected around the perimeter for Chicago, but no shot attempts could find their way through the aggressive Canucks’ point forwards as the Hawks continued to trail.

A little less than eight minutes into the period, the Blackhawks went on the man-advantage for the third time in the game, but this time their puck movement was accompanied by shots from the point, and they scored to tie things up. The puck eventually found its way to Duncan Keith at the point, and when he fired in a shot toward Ryan Miller, Versteeg got his stick blade on the shot in midair and deflected it into the goal to tie things up at 1-1.

An Adam Clendening penalty had the potential to give Vancouver the momentum right back, but Crawford had other ideas. First it was Kevin Bieksa feeling wronged, as his shot from the point found traffic in front and had to be fought off by the Hawks’ goaltender. Henrik Sedin then had a golden opportunity from in the blue paint as he received a pass from Radim Vrbata, but Crawford was somehow able to kick across the crease and slam the door with his leg pad.

The Canucks opened the third period aggressively once again, with Chris Higgins missing the net on a 2-on-1 rush early on. Bonino got another chance from in close off a rebound, but he was forced to rush the shot because of an impending stick check by Brent Seabrook, and he ended up firing it off the post to keep the game tied.

With 13.5 minutes remaining though, the Canucks’ pressure finally yielded results, and they took the lead. Dorsett collected the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, and when he feathered a shot toward the middle of the ice, Hansen got a stick blade on it and deflected it just inside the top right corner of the net to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead.

The Blackhawks got a power play of their own a short time later, but once again their inability to get shots on target came back to haunt them. The best chance came on a Saad shot from the slot, but it ended up deflecting off of Bryan Bickell and skipping wide of the cage as Vancouver retained their advantage.

That lack of ability to finish ended up costing the Hawks with about 2.5 minutes to go as Vancouver scored a critical insurance goal. Daniel Sedin got into the offensive zone on the rush, and he tapped a pass back to Chris Tanev. Tanev’s shot was saved by Crawford, but a rebound trickled loose and Vrbata pounced on the rebound and fired it home to make it 3-1.

The Canucks put the final nail in the coffin with about 42 seconds to go as Hansen got in behind the defense, picked up the loose puck and tapped a shot into the empty net to give himself his first career hat trick and his team a 4-1 victory.

The Blackhawks will take a few days off before taking on the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Best of NFL: Week 12]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 21:20:52 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/459467122.jpg Don't miss the most dramatic images from the twelfth week of the 2014 NFL season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hawks Look to Win Third Straight Road Game]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 16:39:12 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/458233150.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks are two-for-two so far on their circus trip after a 7-1 shellacking of the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night, and they’ll look to go three-for-Canada as they take on the Vancouver Canucks Sunday.

That Saturday game was the antithesis of their effort on Thursday against Calgary, and it was exactly what the doctor ordered, unlike the game against the Flames, which saw the Hawks commit six penalties and a slew of defensive errors. Fortunately, they were able to persevere through that one, but a more consistent effort was needed against Edmonton, and that’s what they got.

Spearheading the effort was Marian Hossa, who had gone nine consecutive games without a goal before Saturday’s tilt. He finally broke that streak with a power play tally in the second period, and for good measure he threw in three assists to pace the rout. Jonathan Toews also had another outstanding game, winning 65 percent of his face-offs and scoring twice to continue his recent successes.

The offensive explosion was welcome (as was the fact that they largely stayed out of the penalty box), and they’ll be looking to continue it against the Canucks Sunday. As a team, Vancouver is allowing more than three goals per game so far this season, but they will likely have Ryan Miller in net for them against Chicago. The Hawks had plenty of success against Miller in the postseason when they ousted the St. Louis Blues, but so far this season the veteran netminder has a sparkling 12-3-0 record and a 2.74 GAA.

Another player to keep an eye on in the game will be forward Radim Vrbata. After joining the Canucks from the Phoenix Coyotes in the offseason, he’s quickly found his offensive touch, and lately he’s been unstoppable as he has three goals and seven shots on goal in the team’s last two games.

Of course, the Canucks wouldn’t be the Canucks without the exploits of the Sedin twins, and both of them look fantastic so far this year. Daniel and Henrik have combined for nine goals and 31 assists so far this season, and they’ve been lethal on the power play as they have eight power play points apiece for Vancouver.

In order to win this game, the Blackhawks will have to do two things. The first and most important is to play solid defense against that Sedin line. In the early days of this rivalry, it was Dave Bolland that was looked at as the Sedin-stopper, but now, the onus will likely fall on several lines. Toews will probably get some assignments against the group, as will Marcus Kruger’s line. The latter will likely be a matchup that the Canucks will seek out, but considering their penalty killing prowess, the Hawks could end up on the positive side of that battle.

The other key to victory for the Hawks will be to continue their efficient passing and shooting strategy from the past two games. The second line of Brad Richards, Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg has been especially good, and they should get some favorable matchups as the Canucks look to slow down the Toews line on defense. Look for that group to get some solid scoring chances, and if they can get a couple of goals it should really help the Hawks as they look for another road victory.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday Spotlight]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 11:55:36 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP747099438720.jpg New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has had a stand-out first season, and recalls that he has always been ready for the Sunday spotlight.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Third Quarter Surge Gives Bears Win Over Bucs]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 09:32:27 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/459459704.jpg

The Chicago Bears' offense only gained 68 yards in the first half, but the third quarter was a different story as Matt Forte rushed for two touchdowns and Alshon Jeffery hauled in a touchdown reception to give the team a 21-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Forte rushed for 89 yards on the day and hauled in five passes to complete his day. Jay Cutler was relatively quiet on offense, but he did throw for 130 yards and a touchdown as the Bears won their second consecutive game. 

The Bears started out the game with the football, but their first quarter offensive struggles continued as a Brandon Marshall false start penalty helped set up a three-and-out on the opening possession.

Defensively, the Bears didn’t look much better in the early going, as Josh McCown found Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson open for first down passes. The defensive line finally stepped up after that, with Cornelius Washington blowing up a second down run with an excellent swim move inside and Stephen Paea hitting McCown as he released a pass, allowing Chris Conte to intercept the floating ball.

It appeared that the Bears were going to go three-and-out once again on their second drive, but they were bailed out as the Buccaneers were flagged for roughing the kicker. Even that penalty wasn’t enough to kick start the Bears, as Cutler was blasted by Gerald McCoy thanks to some poor blocking from Brian de la Puente. The ball ended up coming loose, and the Buccaneers recovered in Bears’ territory.

As the second quarter got underway, the Buccaneers’ offense finally broke through, and it was their star wide receiver that was able to do it. Mike Evans juked Kyle Fuller at the line of scrimmage off the snap, and he cruised wide open into the end zone to catch a touchdown pass from McCown to make it 7-0 early in the frame.

The Bears and Buccaneers exchanged three and outs on their next two possessions, and when Chicago got the ball back about halfway through the second quarter, they moved it down the field a bit thanks to Marquess Wilson and Dante Rosario each making nice catches. An illegal block in the back by Alshon Jeffery halted the momentum however, and after Forte was stopped well short of a first down, Robbie Gould’s 54-yard field goal attempt bounced off the upright to keep the Buccaneers ahead by seven.

The offensive woes for both teams continued as the corner wound down, but on their final possession of the first half, the Bucs were able to penetrate deep into Chicago territory. Jackson hauled in a catch on third and 23 to extend the drive, and even though the Bears did stop them short of a first down, Patrick Murray booted through an easy field goal to make it a 10-0 game as the half came to an end.

After the Buccaneers were forced to punt the ball away to start the third quarter, the Bears’ offense finally came to life and was able to get on the board. Big completions to Marshall and Martellus Bennett set up a first and goal for Chicago, and on the third and goal play Jeffery got separation in the end zone and hauled in a bullet pass from Cutler to make it a 10-7 contest.

The Bears’ defense came to life after that touchdown, with Paea blasting McCown with a hit to force another punt. Unfortunately for them, the team’s offense wasn’t able to respond to the gift, and they too went three-and-out on their next possession to allow Tampa to hold onto their lead.

In spite of this setback, the defensive line once again came up big for the Bears and gave the offense prime field position. David Bass chased down McCown on a roll out to the left side and stripped the ball out, and Christian Jones fell on it. On the first play from scrimmage, Forte used a great block from Jeffery to find a seam and rush into the end zone, giving the Bears their first lead of the day at 14-10.

McCown continued his struggles on the first play of the next Tampa possession, throwing an interception into the waiting arms of Ryan Mundy. Four straight runs by Forte yielded positive results, and on third and goal he dove in over the goal line to give Chicago a 21-10 lead with just three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Buccaneers’ offense finally came back to life after the quick Chicago scores, with McCown completing three straight passes for first downs. He ended up finding Jackson for a fourth, but the receiver had the ball punched out of his arms by Demontre Hurst, and Tim Jennings recovered the fumble to give Chicago their fourth forced turnover of the game late in the third quarter.

Both teams exchanged unsuccessful drives as the fourth quarter got underway, but the Bears were able to finally start eating away some clock as they ran the ball effectively. On a third and six play they opted for a passing play however, and Cutler’s toss fell incomplete and forced Pat O’Donnell to come out and punt the ball away once again.

McCown’s struggles were nowhere to be found as Tampa started out their next possession, and he made some key throws to move them down the field. None were bigger than a long pass on third down that Jackson was able to haul in for a first down, and even though Washington and Paea each picked up sacks on the next two plays, the Bucs still got a field goal for their troubles as Murray booted it through the uprights to make it a 21-13 game with just under five minutes left in the game.

The Bears went three-and-out on their next drive, but to make things worse they committed a false start penalty on the ensuing punt and then O’Donnell shanked the kick, putting it out of bounds at the 45-yard line. Their defense stood tall once again however, as Will Sutton made a huge stop on a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak attempt by McCown to stop the drive.

With just 20 seconds left, the Bears did have to punt the ball back to the Buccaneers one more time, but the visitors couldn’t muster a comeback as they dropped to 2-9 and gave the Bears their second consecutive win.

The Bears won’t have much time to savor this victory as they will have to prepare for a Thanksgiving showdown with the Detroit Lions on Thursday morning.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Buccaneers vs. Bears: Three Matchups to Watch ]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 09:47:51 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/cutler+mccown+getty.jpg

On what is likely to be a rainy day at Soldier Field, the Chicago Bears will look to win their second straight game as they take on former head coach Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Before the two teams take the field, there are three matchups that Bears fans should keep an eye on as the team tries to get only its second set of back-to-back wins this season.

Jay Cutler vs. Josh McCown

It’s the battle that a lot of Bears fans have been waiting for ever since he signed with the Buccaneers in the off-season. Josh McCown will return to Soldier Field on Sunday and look to best the man that he was forced to replace on several occasions due to injury last year.

While last season was a revelation for McCown, with 13 touchdowns and just one interception, this season has been more of a struggle. Dealing with injury concerns from the word go, the quarterback has finally begun to turn things around, throwing four touchdowns in his past two outings since re-taking the starter’s role from Mike Glennon.

As for Cutler, he too is coming off a solid performance, throwing for 330 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over the Minnesota Vikings last week. He has talked all week about how he looks to McCown as a mentor, but surely he would like nothing more than to stick it to his critics and those who think that the Bears made the wrong decision this off-season (however misguided that notion is).

Kyle Long vs. Gerald McCoy

For the Buccaneers, a lot of what they do on defense is predicated around the ferocious power and speed that McCoy brings to the table on a weekly basis. Armed with a huge contract extension he signed last month, McCoy has been dominant ever since, racking up four and a half sacks and a stuff even as his team has struggled a bit to lend him support.

On Sunday McCoy will look to make life difficult not only for Cutler, but also for the Bears’ running game. The Bucs aren’t a stout defense by any stretch, currently ranking as the third-worst passing defense in the league and just 22nd overall in rushing defense, but having a weapon like McCoy in the middle means that numbers don’t necessarily tell the full story.

It’s going to be up to Long on Sunday to make sure that McCoy doesn’t have an easy time of things. With his strength and ability to gain leverage off the snap, Long has already been selected to one Pro Bowl in his young career, and it’s not hard to imagine that he’ll get a few more invitations to the event before all is said and done.

Kyle Fuller vs. Mike Evans

This matchup is one worth getting excited about. One of the league’s leading contenders for defensive rookie of the year will be going up against a player that is on an epic tear at the moment and could wind up winning the award on the offensive side of the ball.

Evans, the Texas A&M product who blends size with surprising speed, started out the season slowly but has turned up his game considerably in the last three weeks. In those games, he’s hauled in 21 passes for 458 yards and five touchdowns, and he’s almost single-handedly kept the Buccaneers in games during those contests.

Trying to stop him is going to be a tall (all puns intended) order, but Fuller is going to give it a good shot on Sunday. Drafted because of his ability to get physical at the line of scrimmage, Fuller will need to pull out all the stops as he looks to keep Evans contained, but that will certainly be easier said than done as the cornerback has to deal with a player possessing a six-inch and 40-pound size advantage over him.

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<![CDATA[Danault to Make NHL Debut as Blackhawks Take on Oilers ]]> Sat, 22 Nov 2014 17:03:31 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/117271798.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks will go for their second win in a row to open their annual circus trip on Saturday night when they take on the Edmonton Oilers, but they will once again be doing so short-handed, as Andrew Shaw will miss his second straight game.

Skating in Shaw’s place for the game will be new call-up Phillip Danault, who will make his NHL debut for the Hawks. During the team’s morning skate Saturday, he was on the third line with Bryan Bickell and Daniel Carcillo, with Ben Smith resuming his normal spot on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom.

The Blackhawks will also have a different goaltender in net, as Antti Raanta will make his first start since Oct. 25. In that game, he gave up three goals on 31 shots to the St. Louis Blues, and Scott Darling ended up making three straight starts before Corey Crawford returned from injury. Raanta was sent down last week briefly to get a start for the Rockford IceHogs, and he captured a win in that game.

To wrap up the roster decisions being made going into the game, Adam Clendening will also likely make his second straight appearance for the Blackhawks, with David Rundblad looking to be a healthy scratch again for Chicago.

This game will be an interesting test for the Blackhawks, especially considering where they are at in the circus trip. They just played a game Thursday against a Calgary Flames team that gave them everything they could handle, but the Blackhawks were also uncharacteristically sloppy in the game, committing six minor penalties. They also gave up two power play goals, and they’ll certainly have to clean both areas up moving forward.

In spite of those struggles, the Hawks did end up getting the victory, and they will be heavily favored in this game. The Oilers are in the Pacific Division basement, and they are in the bottom 10 teams in the league in both goals for (23rd) and goals allowed (27th) this season. Their special teams aren’t much better, as they rank 25th on the power play and 18th on the penalty kill.

Those numbers aren't anything to be scared of, but the Hawks can’t afford to get complacent. The results of the Calgary game speak for themselves, and with players like Taylor Hall (who has eight goals and 11 assists in 13 games against the Hawks) facing them, Chicago has to make sure that they focus on cleaning up the undisciplined penalties and sloppy defensive play that plagued them on Thursday night.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Chris Williams Out Sunday for Bears]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:08:29 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/457897090.jpg

The Chicago Bears signed kick returner Marc Mariani earlier in the week as an insurance policy in case Chris Williams wasn’t able to play on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it appears that their forethought was rewarded as Williams was ruled out of the game on the team’s Friday injury report.

Defensive end Trevor Scott and linebacker Darryl Sharpton were also ruled out for the game, but the big blow is losing Williams in the return game. He has been far from great during his time in the role, but he was a better fit than Senorise Perry or Rashad Ross was, and to not have in the lineup will be some unwelcome news.

Despite the loss, the Bears feel confident in Mariani’s abilities. He was selected to play in the 2010 Pro Bowl after returning a punt and a kick-off for touchdowns with the Tennessee Titans, but injuries have prevented him from suiting up the past two years.

With the Bears, he’ll get a fresh start, and Bears brass is optimistic that he will bring them success in this so-far painfully bad area.

“First of all, he’s got great what I call ‘returner mechanics,’” Joe DeCamillis told the media this week. “He runs through the ball on kickoff returns; he catches punts like textbook.”

Fortunately for the Bears, the injury report was mostly positive, as wide receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Josh Morgan were all listed as probable for Sunday’s game. Jordan Mills is still listed as questionable, and head coach Marc Trestman said he will be re-evaluated on Saturday.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Buffalo Bills Hitch Rides Aboard Snowmobiles]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:53:34 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/KRAIG+URBIK1.JPG

Up to seven feet of snow wasn't going to stop the Buffalo Bills from flying out to Detroit for Monday’s game against the Jets — even if some players needed a novel way to get to the Bills’ stadium and a bus to the airport.

“Just texted with a Bills player who was picked up on a snowmobile to head to his game,” tweeted Albert Breer, national reporter for the NFL Network. “So in 10 years of covering the NFL, that’s a first.”

The game was supposed to have been played in Buffalo on Sunday, but was moved to Detroit because of the deadly storm.

The blizzard dropped 85 inches of snow on Buffalo, enough to bury Snookie, Jim Kelly and even Yao Ming.

On The MMQB, Peter King describes the planning that went into the "snowmobile rescues."

"I have covered the NFL for 30 years, and I must say I have never heard an NFL executive say he hoped a snowmobile would come up big for his team in advance of a game with big playoff implications," he wrote.



Photo Credit: EMILY URBIK
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<![CDATA[Kane Shows Flair for Dramatic Again in Blackhawks' Victory]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:45:42 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/175*120/457315830.jpg

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane certainly has a flair for the dramatic, and he displayed that ability again on Thursday night as his third period goal lifted the team over the Calgary Flames by a score of 4-3.

During the first two periods of the game, Kane found himself on the bench quite a bit, but through no fault of his own. With the team committing five minor penalties during those periods, Kane was forced to be a spectator as the penalty killing unit did its work, but in spite of that, he still contributed. His assist on Brent Seabrook’s second period goal was especially good, with Kane finding the defenseman open in the slot and feathering a pass through traffic to get him the puck.


The big story of the game was Kane’s third period goal. It’s been known for a while that Kane can stickhandle like a pro in all situations (his epic puck-handling video through a myriad of pucks remains remarkable to this day), but in an on-ice situation that most guys wouldn’t embrace facing, Kane made jaws drop and his teammates rejoice:

Kane’s day wasn’t done after that goal either. Even though he’s known as a scoring threat and a brilliant passer, Kane has been working hard on his defense this season, and sure enough with a minute remaining in the game and the Hawks having to play strong defense against an aggressive Flames push, the forward was on the ice with his teammates.

After the game was over, Kane was asked about this third period performance, and he summed it up perfectly to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus:

Chicago is used to athletes who can flip a switch and dominate a game. In the past, it was a player like Michael Jordan. In modern times, Chicago White Sox hurler Chris Sale is must-watch television. On Thursday night, Kane reminded all of us once again that he is at his best when the pressure is at its highest, and he continues to push his game to new heights.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Jose Canseco Pranks Everyone with Finger Hoax]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:56:59 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP565783519558.jpg

Looks like Jose Canseco gave everyone the finger. 

The former Major League Baseball player took to Twitter at the end of October to announce that he had shot off his middle digit and had it reattached during surgery. Last week, Canseco claimed that the mangled finger fell off during a poker tournament because it had been “very loose” and “smelling really bad.” He also said he would be selling the thumb and gun that shot it off on eBay a few days later.

“Maybe I will make it a package the chrome 45 caliber Remington with the finger both for sale a package deal," he tweeted on Nov. 17.

But despite continuing to post on social media about the plan, Canseco reportedly will not be selling his appendage to the highest bidder—it was all just a prank.

When TMZ reporters followed up about the details of the unique eBay sale, Canseco finally admitted it was all a hoax, the site reported. He said he thought of the whole plan when he saw a fake finger in a Halloween store. 

What remains true, NBC Sports reports, is that the prankster did shoot off his finger but had it successfully reconnected with surgery.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Blackhawks Place Sharp on LTIR, Recall Danault]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 11:06:53 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/484439389.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks have had to get creative with their salary cap situation this season, and on Friday they made another move to clear up room as they placed Patrick Sharp on long-term injured reserve and recalled Phillip Danault from the Rockford IceHogs. 

The move is a retroactive one, meaning that Sharp won't necessarily sit out the next 10 games for the Hawks. Joel Quenneville said Thursday that Sharp should begin skating soon, but that he isn't sure whether or not he'll come back for the end of the current road trip that the Hawks are on. Sharp has been out since November 4 with a lower-body injury that he sustained against the Montreal Canadiens. 

As for Danault, he has been off to a solid offensive start for the IceHogs this season, scoring three goals and dishing out seven assists in 14 games. He was a first round pick of the Blackhawks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, where he was an offensive standout for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL.

It’s unclear at this point whether or not this move is one simply designed to create cap space (like the Stephen Johns recall before placing Trevor van Riemsdyk on LTIR, or if it's designed to actually get Danault some playing time. Andrew Shaw did sit out Thursday's game against the Calgary Flames, so it is possible that Danault was recalled to provide some temporary forward depth. 


 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kane Scores as Hawks Win 4-3]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 23:39:58 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/183*120/456992640.jpg

Patrick Kane scored for the third time in three games, and Corey Crawford made 24 saves as the Chicago Blackhawks got the circus trip off to a good start with a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday night.

Adam Clendening scored his first ever NHL goal in his first career game, and Daniel Carcillo and Brent Seabrook each added tallies as the Hawks finally were able to put away Calgary after blowing two different leads in the game.

Early in the game the Blackhawks were dominating possession, and when the Flames committed a quick penalty Chicago made them pay. After playing catch with Marian Hossa at the point, Clendening moved further inside on the blue line, found an open shooting lane, and fired a shot past Jonas Hiller for his first career NHL goal to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.

A little bit later in the period, the Hawks continued their stellar play as they extended their lead to two goals. On an aggressive forecheck, Carcillo came up with the puck near the blue line, and he quickly skated it into the zone and ripped a wrist shot past Hiller’s blocker and off the inside of the far post to make it a 2-0 game.

The Blackhawks’ lead was short-lived however, as the Flames finally found their offensive mojo with Marcus Kruger in the penalty box and cut into the lead with about six minutes remaining in the first period. With a good screen in front, Josh Jooris fired a shot in on net that Crawford kicked aside, but Paul Byron was right there to clean up the rebound and flip it into the empty cage for the power play tally to bring the Flames to within a goal at 2-1.

Less than a minute later, the Flames were on another power play thanks to Niklas Hjalmarsson, and they made Chicago pay again to tie things up. This time, it was Dennis Wideman doing the honors, taking advantage of a fly-by screen in front of Crawford and burying the shot to tie things up at 2-2 with a little over five minutes remaining in the first period.

Jonathan Toews found himself in the penalty box late in the first period, but even with the Flames’ power play carrying over into the second stanza, they weren’t able to seize the lead on home ice.

Both teams struggled for control of the tempo of the game as the period wore on, but just after the halfway mark it was the Hawks who got the goal to take the lead back. Kane feathered a pass across the zone to Kris Versteeg, but the winger’s shot was barely knocked away by Hiller’s skate. Undeterred, Kane got the puck back and whipped another pass across the ice to Seabrook, who buried a shot top shelf to make it a 3-2 game in favor of the Blackhawks.

The Hawks’ lead was short-lived, as the Flames tied things up just a minute and a half later. Curtis Glencross brought the puck into the zone, and drew the attention of both Duncan Keith and Brad Richards. That left Alex Monahan all alone in front, and when he received the pass he didn’t miss as he tied the game at 3-3.
Michal Rozsival committed an offensive zone penalty just 40 seconds after the Monahan goal, but this time the Hawks’ penalty kill was once again stout as they kept the Flames off the board.

They were tested again late in the period when Johnny Oduya shot a puck over the glass with less than two minutes remaining, but Calgary ended that power play abruptly with about 12 seconds to go in the period when Jiri Hudler was sent off for tripping.

The Blackhawks weren’t able to score on the power play, but neither team looked particularly potent with the puck. In fact, the first six minutes of the period saw the two teams combine for just three shots on goal, and the game remained deadlocked as a result.

Near the halfway mark however, all it took was one solid individual play by Kane to turn things around for the Hawks. Hiller tried to clear the puck out toward the boards, but Kane stole the pass, deked around three Flames skaters, and muscled a shot through the goaltender’s pads and into the cage to give Chicago a 4-3 lead with a little less than 11 minutes remaining in the game.

Over the final minutes, the Flames did get a power play as Hjalmarsson was sent off for the second time in the game, but they couldn’t get anything past Crawford. The Hawks’ goaltender made two more big saves in the closing moments, robbing a Jooris deflection from in close and gloving a Wideman shot from the point with 10 seconds remaining. The Hawks were able to contain the puck along the boards for the remainder of regulation, and Chicago came out with a hard-fought victory.

The Blackhawks will look to go two-for-two on the road trip when they head to Edmonton on Saturday night to take on the Oilers.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Shaw to Miss Circus Trip Opener with Upper Body Injury]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:46:42 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/174*120/456929204.jpg

Despite practicing with the team on Wednesday, Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw missed the team's Thursday morning skate ahead of their game against the Calgary Flames and will be out of the lineup for the game, according to head coach Joel Quenneville. 

Despite the sudden news that Shaw will be out with an upper body injury, Quenneville said that the issue isn't a serious one and it won't keep Shaw out for any length of time.

After being scratched on Sunday, Jeremy Morin will jump back into the lineup on Thursday night in Shaw's place, and he will skate on the third line with Ben Smith and Bryan Bickell. 

The Blackhawks will also have a player making his NHL debut on Thursday night, as defenseman Adam Clendening will make his way into the lineup.

He will be playing the point position on the second-unit power play as well, and his puck-moving skills and ability to gain zone entry across the blue line will come in handy as the Hawks' offense attempts to get some more consistency in their game. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks Look to Find Consistency as Circus Trip Begins]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:45:19 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/456992850.jpg

With the United Center hosting Barnum and Bailey’s Circus for the next 10 days, the Chicago Blackhawks are hitting the road Thursday to begin their annual circus road trip.

The Blackhawks will open the trip with a set of games in Alberta, taking on the Calgary Flames on Thursday and the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. The trip will make its way through Vancouver and Denver after that, with the team wrapping it up with back-to-back games against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings over Thanksgiving weekend.

Last year’s circus trip started out with a thud as the Hawks were walloped by a 5-1 margin by the Avalanche, but it ended with a bang as they reeled off six consecutive victories and generated a lot of momentum for the team.

This time around, the road will be far from easy. The Flames have struggled in recent seasons, but things are looking up for the team as GM Brad Treliving and Team President Brian Burke have begun to acquire talent for the organization. Led by one of the best defensive pairings in the league, the Flames have the second-best record in the Pacific Division and are arguably the biggest surprise of the young NHL season.

Mark Giordano, who is one of the most underrated blue liners in the league, and TJ Brodie have combined for 10 goals and 27 assists so far this season for the Flames, and both have been playing for over 24 minutes per contest. Add in the solid goaltending that Jonas Hiller has given the team, sporting a 2.33 GAA and a .920 save percentage, and you have a recipe for success through the first quarter of the season for Calgary.

On Saturday, things will get easier for Chicago as they head to Edmonton to take on the Oilers, but the team is gaining strength as Taylor Hall returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing several games. The number one overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Hall leads a young group of forwards with a ton of potential, but not much success, into action against the Hawks.

The Canucks await as the second game of a back-to-back set for Chicago on Sunday night, and they too are on the rebound after a subpar 2013-14 season. Despite losing Ryan Kesler in a trade to the Anaheim Ducks, the Canucks’ offense is firing on all cylinders, ranking seventh in the league in goals per game. Former Blackhawk Radim Vrbata has found a niche in Vancouver this season after a successful stint in Phoenix, scoring eight goals to lead the team in that category.

The Hawks will get a few days off after that game before heading to Denver to take on the Avalanche in a Central Division showdown. The Avalanche, who won the division last season amid an incredible turnaround under head coach Patrick Roy, are struggling mightily this season as injuries and poor play have derailed the team so far. They do still have plenty of weapons to work with against Chicago, with Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon both shining on offense so far this season.

After the game in Denver, the Blackhawks will get to warm up a bit as they head to Southern California for the Thanksgiving holiday. A Black Friday showdown with the Ducks will kick off the final leg of the trip, and a date with the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings will wrap up the six-game journey for Chicago next Saturday.

With a mix of teams on the rise (Calgary, Vancouver) and teams who are struggling to find their footing (Colorado, Los Angeles), this trip could be a critical one for the Hawks as they look to find some consistency of their own. If the playoffs began today, the Blackhawks would not be in, currently sitting one point behind the San Jose Sharks for the second wild card spot. Their scoring has been inconsistent to say the least this season, with Friday’s debacle in Detroit (one goal) standing in stark contrast to Sunday’s lambasting of the Dallas Stars (six goals, including four in the third period).

Road trips generally enable teams to simplify the game (at least that’s what Joel Quenneville always says), and that could be a good thing for the Blackhawks right now. They are a team that gets plenty of shots on goal, but if the netfront traffic isn’t there, goaltenders get clean lines of sight and rebound opportunities fall by the wayside.

As the Hawks make their way across the western part of North America, they will need to find more consistency in that area, and if they can emerge from the trip with at least eight out of the possible 12 points, then they can consider it a success. More important than just the number of points they get however is that they continue to move toward more consistent results on offense, and that’s what fans should keep an eye on as this trip goes on.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ronnie "Woo-Woo" Gets Own Bobblehead]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:23:23 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/183*120/77140787.jpg

While Chicago Cubs fans who attend games at Wrigley Field talk about the park’s atmosphere, the ivy, and the hand-operated scoreboard in center field, there is another fixture at games that is as ubiquitous in Wrigleyville as any other.

That fixture is Cubs superfan Ronnie Woo-Woo Wickers, who has attended over 3,000 Cubs games over the past half century (and survived several reports of his own demise). In honor of his constant presence as the team’s primary cheerleader, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has announced that they will produce a limited run of 5,000 Woo-Woo talking bobbleheads for the holiday season.

“This is a great honor to have a bobblehead of me made by two long-time fans,” Wickers said in a statement.

The bobblehead will feature Wickers wearing his signature “Woo-Woo” jersey, and will feature his famous chants for fans looking for a piece of Wrigley during the long, cold Chicago winter. The bobbleheads are available for presale now, and cost $20 each.

There is a charitable component to the deal as well, with $1 from each bobblehead sale going to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which is located in Kansas City. “Through the sales of my bobblehead, I am honoring my late friend and legend Buck O’Neil, who was the person who made the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum a reality,” Wickers said of the decision to donate money to the cause.

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum will open its doors in 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NHL All-Star Fan Voting Opens ]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:08:43 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/138029743.jpg

The 2015 NHL All-Star Game will take place in Columbus, Ohio this season, and Chicago Blackhawks fans will have an opportunity to help determine the first six players to be chosen for the game.

The NHL announced on Thursday that fan balloting for the game is now open, with fans able to choose three forwards, two defensemen, and one goaltender on each ballot they cast. Fans can vote up to 10 times per day, and they can participate in a variety of ways:

-Visiting NHL.com/vote, which will allow fans an opportunity to not only vote for their favorite players but also to potentially win a trip to the game in Columbus.

-Using the official NHL mobile app, available for both Android and Apple users.

-Facebook and Twitter users will have the opportunity to promote their favorite players’ candidacy as well, with the option to share their votes on Facebook and to promote players using the #NHLAllStar hashtag on Twitter.

The game will be the first All-Star game contested since 2012, when the team captained by Zdeno Chara beat Daniel Alfredsson’s team 12-9 in Ottawa. Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews were the three Blackhawks players invited to participate in the game, with Toews having to miss the contest because of a hand injury.

Fans have until January 1 to vote for starters, with the full rosters to be revealed later that month.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Trailer Debuts for "Road to the NHL Winter Classic"]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 07:46:18 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/475965333.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks are still over a month away from taking on the Washington Capitals in the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park, but that doesn’t mean that fans can’t start getting hyped for the event.

In that vein, EPIX and the NHL unveiled the trailer for the series "EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Winter Classic."

The show, which is the league’s replacement for the HBO series "24/7," will follow the Blackhawks and the Capitals during the month of December and provide fans with behind-the-scenes access into what it’s like to play in the NHL.

The show will premiere on Dec. 16, and can be seen on a variety of platforms, including EPIX, EPIX.com, and NHL.com. Even if Hawks fans don’t get the television network, they can still watch the show online for free.



Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Is Lovie Smith One of the Bears' Greatest Coaches? ]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 08:51:59 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/186*120/833099691.jpg

Over the two years that have passed since Lovie Smith was fired as the head coach of the Chicago Bears, there have been all sorts of changes within the team and with the perception of the team. Gone are the days when they were known as a "defense first, offense optional" club, and here are the days when they have a tremendously gifted offense that has gone through struggles, but still has the pieces to put plenty of points on the board.

One of the biggest complaints about the "new Bears" is that they lack a central leadership structure in the locker room. That point was brought up earlier this season after a locker room screaming fest that was reported on by all the Bears beat writers following a 27-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins, and it was emphasized again in a Chicago Sun-Times story about Bears players’ recollections of Smith’s tenure with the team.

"We knew exactly who our leaders were," Lance Briggs told the paper. "Everything was definitive."

The article also features anecdotes from Charles Tillman, whom Smith stayed the night with in a hospital in 2008 when his daughter was undergoing a heart transplant, and Brian Urlacher, whom Smith turned to as one of the guys on the team who would serve as a conduit to the other players in the locker room.

“He would come talk to me if he had a question about this team or what’s going on with so-and-so: ‘Have you heard this, have you heard that?’” Urlacher said. “I was proud to be one of the guys who he would ask questions and try to get a feel of the team from me.”

Obviously the players involved in this story remember Smith fondly, but one particular passage stood out, as Briggs discussed how Smith should be remembered by Bears fans.

“When you talk about it and say George Halas, Mike Ditka…..Lovie Smith comes next,” Briggs said. “Lovie should be remembered as one of the great Chicago Bear coaches.”

That last sentence will probably send Bears fans into a tizzy, but it bears examining: is Smith one of the best coaches in team history?

Without a doubt, the greatest coach to ever roam the sidelines for the Bears is Halas. Winner of six NFL championships and 378 regular season games, Halas built the Bears into the legendary franchise that they are today, and he did so as a player, coach, and owner as the fledgling NFL got off the ground.

After that though, the discussion opens up considerably. Ditka would probably be the second-best by virtue of the dominant 1985 team that he led to the Super Bowl championship, but it’s hard to argue that he’s the top of the heap considering he only won one title with that kind of nucleus.

Outside of those two, it can definitely be argued that Smith is the third-best coach in team history. He is one of only two coaches who have had a career record over .500 since the NFL/AFL merger, with Ditka being the other, and he did lead the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance in 2007. He also presided over an era that saw some of the best Bears defensive players to ever suit up hit their prime, as Briggs, Tillman, and Urlacher all could potentially join the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.

Yes, Smith was fired after missing the playoffs in 2012, and it was time to make a change at the position. The team had missed the playoffs in five out of six years, and they had stumbled to the finish line in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Starting 7-3 and 7-1 in back-to-back years and missing the playoffs both times was definitely a cause to fire a coach, but even with that being the case, his legacy in Chicago should still be a positive one.

So is Briggs right? Is Lovie Smith the third-best coach the Bears have ever had? The answer, after plenty of thought and debate, is a reluctant yes. The team has only had 17 head coaches in its history, but considering the success he had (his 81 wins trail only Halas and Ditka in Bears history), it’s tough to argue any other conclusion. He may not be on the level of Halas and Ditka in NFL history, but falling just short of that isn’t something to be upset about.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Grizzly Details: Special Teams' Struggles Continue in Bears' Win]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 14:00:13 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/459079700.jpg

We’re putting a bow on the Chicago Bears’ win over the Minnesota Vikings, and in order to do that we’re dusting off a column that’s been shelved over the past few weeks of inept performances and blowout losses: our Grizzly Details column.

Special Teams’ Issues Continue to Percolate

The Bears have had a really difficult time on special teams this year, with poor punting, penalties, and awful kick returning all taking turns as the most pressing issue facing Joe Decamillis’ group. On Sunday, all three of those issues were present, and they were all part of the reason why the Vikings were able to stay in the game for as long as they were.

Robbie Gould’s missed field goal in the first quarter didn’t help things, but when you consider he hadn’t attempted a field goal since October 12 in Atlanta, it isn’t much of a surprise that he missed it. A bad holding job done by Pat O’Donnell didn’t help things either, but the whole play was so screwed up that it felt right at home amongst the team’s other struggles.

O’Donnell himself has got to be on the list of biggest disappointments for the Bears so far this season. Drafted in the sixth round by the Bears in May’s NFL Draft, O’Donnell wowed fans with his booming kicks in Bourbonnais, but has struggled in game action. He is averaging 44.3 yards per punt, good for 25th in the NFL, and on Sunday he averaged an anemic 29.5 yards per punt against the Vikings. His shanked fourth quarter punt gave the Vikings solid field position for their final drive, and it nearly cost the Bears as Teddy Bridgewater and company got within shouting distance of the end zone at the end of the game.

In case you’re curious, Tress Way, whom O’Donnell beat out for the starting punter job, is leading the league with an average of 48.9 yards per punt with the Washington Redskins.

Why Did Trestman Stop Gambling in Second Quarter?

The Bears are a team that hasn’t been doing much offensively as of late, but on Sunday they actually were moving the ball effectively, and doing so with both the pass and the run. As a result, their third down conversion rate was a really solid 10-for-17 on the day, and they also converted two fourth downs in the game (and came within one poor angle by Jay Cutler of converting on all three).

That kind of success stands in stark contrast to how the Bears finished the second quarter of the game. After a successful defensive series that saw Jared Allen get a sack, the Bears had all of the momentum and really had a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Vikings. Instead, Marc Trestman opted for a convoluted series that saw Matt Forte run the ball a couple of times and then Cutler threw an interception to end the drive.

While it’s not easy to score with a little over a minute left in a half, one timeout in hand and 74 yards to go, the fact remains that the Bears’ offense was churning out first downs and positive gains in their previous series before that drive. Cutler was picking on Minnesota’s corners with his tall wide receivers, and he could have easily continued to do so had Trestman hit the gas. If the ball got intercepted, so be it, but in a situation like that where you have a team coming off three straight losses and finally starting to show some life, you have to go for the kill, and Trestman showed a surprising lack of guts on the play.

Forte’s Big Day Punctuated by Late Rushing Success

Last week, we wrote on this blog about how the Bears should consider giving Ka’Deem Carey more carries in order to take some of the pressure off Matt Forte, but on Sunday Trestman didn’t listen to our advice and pounded the rock with his workhorse anyway. Forte rewarded him with 117 yards on the ground and six more catches for 58 yards, but it was the way he got some of those final yards that really stood out.

As the third quarter ended, Forte rushed for 32 yards as he found a seam between Jermon Bushrod and Brian de la Puente. He then broke three tackles downfield and bulldozed his way to the Minnesota 36-yard line.

The Bears ended up going for two straight fourth downs on the drive, and Forte picked up both of them. The first was a simple dive play by Forte, but the second one was much harder to achieve. As he hit the line of scrimmage, Forte was blasted by Xavier Rhodes with a high hit, but he was somehow able to absorb it and get across the line.

The Bears ultimately scored a touchdown on Brandon Marshall’s jump ball catch in the end zone, but that shot Forte took hammered home our point about giving him fewer carries. He’s a strong guy and is able to withstand hits like that, but in blowouts in the future, the Bears have to remember games like this as they try to get the most they can out of one of the greatest running backs to ever don their uniform.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jerry Rice in China to Promote NFL]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:33:27 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/rice-horz.jpg

San Francisco 49ers legendary wide receiver and NFL Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice is in China trying to entice the world's most-populous country to tune into NFL football on every given Sunday, according to reports.

An NBC News crew captured Rice in the moment in Beijing, where NFL officials are "demystifying the game" by "putting footballs in [Chinese peoples'] hands."

On Sunday, Rice put on a clinic, which one young fan described as "the greatest football experience of my life."

There is also already a flag football league in Beijing, but NBC noted the country is "with little history of contact sports like American football."



Photo Credit: Mathew Luschek]]>
<![CDATA[Canseco May Sell His Shot Finger, Gun on eBay]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 11:57:12 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Jose-Canseco-1.jpg

Jose Canseco says he's parting with his finger forever — for a price.

The former major leaguer tweeted Monday that he'll sell his detached digit, along with the gun with which he accidentally shot it off. He tweeted last week that the operation to reattach the finger had failed, and it had fallen off during a poker game.

Canseco said he is also selling the chrome-plated .45-caliber handgun he was cleaning when he accidentally shot off the middle finger on his left hand.

In a series of tweets posted Friday afternoon, Canseco said his finger fell off during a poker game Thursday night, even after he had it surgically reattached. (Warning: The below tweets might seem disturbing to some.)

Canseco was apparently unaware that a bullet was in the chamber when he was cleaning the gun, Las Vegas Metro Lt. Mark Reddon told NBC News.

"It was a serious hand injury," but not a serious medical injury, Reddon said. "There was nothing suspicious. There was no alcohol involved, just a misstep with a handgun."

Canseco began his long major-league career in the 1980s with the Oakland Athletics before going on to play for the Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox and other teams.

He has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his MLB career. After retiring, he also competed in mixed martial arts and boxing.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks Place van Riemsdyk on LTIR]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 17:15:30 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/171*120/456609836.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks are preparing to embark on their annual circus trip this week, but before they leave the Windy City they were forced to make several roster moves.

The first among those was that they had to place defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk on long-term injured reserve Monday. The move means that the rookie will miss at least ten games for the Blackhawks, but judging by how concerned the team was with his health after he was hurt in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Stars, it could be a longer-term absence than that.

To replace van Riemsdyk, the Blackhawks called up defenseman Stephen Johns from the Rockford IceHogs. Johns, who was a second-round pick of the Blackhawks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, has five assists so far this season for Rockford, and he will look to make his NHL debut at some point during the coming road trip. Michal Rozsival and David Rundblad will likely make plenty of starts in the interim, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Johns hit the ice at some point with two sets of back-to-back games on the itinerary.

The Blackhawks also recalled goaltender Antti Raanta from the IceHogs. The team sent him down in order to get him some game action before their road trip, and he picked up a 3-2 victory on Sunday afternoon for the IceHogs. Raanta will take Scott Darling’s place on the roster, as the goaltender was sent back down to Rockford after backing up Corey Crawford on Sunday against the Stars.

Finally, the Hawks sent down Joakim Nordstrom after Sunday’s game. With Raanta’s return and Johns’ call-up, the team has $414,000 in salary cap space, and so they can’t afford to carry a 23rd skater at the moment.

The Hawks will next take the ice on Thursday night when they battle the Calgary Flames to start the circus trip.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>