<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Sports]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/sports http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Mon, 30 Mar 2015 01:05:16 -0500 Mon, 30 Mar 2015 01:05:16 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Toews Scores Late to Lift Blackhawks Past Jets ]]> Sun, 29 Mar 2015 21:25:47 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/blackhawks+beat+jets+2.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks trailed heading into the third period of Sunday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, but a Patrick Sharp goal tied it and Jonathan Toews scored with 30 seconds left to give them a 4-3 victory in Manitoba.

Andrew Shaw and Brad Richards also added goals for the Blackhawks as they snapped a two-game losing streak, and the victory lifts the Hawks back into third place in the Central Division, leap-frogging the Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks had a lot of trouble getting into their rhythm on offense in the game, going without a shot on goal for the first 10 minutes of the contest. Meanwhile, the Jets seemed to have their sea legs underneath them early on, but Corey Crawford made some strong saves in the early going as he helped keep the game scoreless through the first half of the period.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks started generating some chances on offense, and they got a power play as a result. Fortunately for them, their offense seemed to do a lot better with the man-advantage, and when Brandon Saad’s shot was blocked down in front of the cage, Shaw was able to collect the rebound and shovel it past Ondrej Pavelec to make it a 1-0 game in favor of the Blackhawks.

The second period started out with the Hawks getting another power play, with Marian Hossa getting a quality chance, but Chicago was unable to score. They surrendered a power play to the Jets right after their chance expired, but they got the first good chance of the sequence as Saad and Jonathan Toews skated in on a 2-on-0 rush. Unfortunately, the puck rolled off of Saad’s stick and Toews knocked it off the heel of his blade, shooting it wide and keeping the Hawks’ lead at one goal.

Just about 30 seconds later, the Jets took advantage of the miscue and scored to tie things up. Byfuglien’s shot travelled through traffic and deflected off of Johnny Oduya’s stick, and while Crawford was able to get a piece of it with his blocker, he didn’t get enough of the shot as it bounced over him and rolled into the net to make it a 1-1 game.

The Blackhawks got another power play a few minutes later, but it was Winnipeg that scored to take the lead. A 3-on-2 shorthanded rush saw some tremendous passing by the Jets, with Andrew Ladd initiating it by passing to Tyler Myers, and then Myers found Blake Wheeler streaking toward the net, and Crawford had no chance as Winnipeg seized a 2-1 advantage.

After a couple of missed opportunities by Marian Hossa and Shaw, the Blackhawks were able to tie up the game with about four minutes to go in the second period. Sharp won a puck battle along the boards to set the sequence up, and when Johnny Oduya fired a shot toward the net, Richards was able to get a stick on the puck and deflect it up over Pavelec and just under the crossbar to make it 2-2.

Very late in the period, the Jets were able to regain the lead. After Crawford was unable to cover up a loose puck in front of the cage, it eventually made its way back to Byfuglien at the point, and the former Blackhawk scored his second goal of the game to give Winnipeg a 3-2 lead through two periods of play.

The third period started out pretty poorly for the Blackhawks, with two straight shots on goal by Wheeler necessitating Crawford stops, but the team eventually found its footing and tied things up. After Tobias Enstrom had his stick ripped from his hands by an official, Sharp got in on a breakaway and rifled a wrist shot past Pavelec to make it a 3-3 hockey game.

The Jets got a late power play thanks to a Michal Rozsival penalty, but after they were unable to capitalize, the Hawks generated a tremendous possession with their top line. With just 30 seconds remaining in the game, Hjalmarsson got the puck at the point, and he rifled a slap shot toward the net that Toews was able to get a piece of on the way in, and it evaded Pavelec to give Chicago a 4-3 lead.

The Hawks were able to finish off the game as Hossa, Kruger, and Toews all prevented Pavelec from escaping the net for the extra attacker, and Chicago picked up a massive win for their playoff chances.

They won’t have much time to treasure the victory however, as they head back to Chicago for a Monday night showdown with the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks Look to Stop Skid vs. Soaring Jets ]]> Sun, 29 Mar 2015 17:33:19 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/blackhawks+jets.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks have lost two games in a row to teams that are well out of playoff contention, but on Sunday night they’ll be in for a stern test as they take on the Winnipeg Jets in Manitoba.

The game comes at an opportune time for the Blackhawks, as they suddenly find themselves out of the division title race and firmly in the middle of the wild card hunt. They still have a sizable lead over the Calgary Flames, leading them by seven points, but they are now only four points ahead of the Jets, who are chasing them for the top wild card spot in the Western Conference.

That sudden fall down from near the top of the division (they now trail the Nashville Predators by eight points for the top spot in the Central) has come as a result of some porous defense and a complete lack of scoring punch. Over the Hawks’ last five games, they have scored a total of seven goals, and in their last two games alone they’ve allowed nine tallies in losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Even in their lone victory over the course of the last week, the Hawks’ defense still had its struggles. Corey Crawford was forced to stand on his head in the game as he stopped 43 shots against the Carolina Hurricanes, but he wasn’t able to replicate that feat against the Blue Jackets on Friday night as he was yanked after allowing four goals early on in the contest.

While the defense has struggled in those games, there is another potential thing that could be playing a factor in the team’s recent failures: a lack of effort. Andrew Shaw admitted to as much when talking to the media before Sunday’s game.

“I feel like we’ve taken some teams lightly as of late,” he said.

With only eight games remaining in the regular season, Shaw and the Blackhawks can’t afford to continue taking teams lightly. The next two games are going to be vitally important to their playoff seeding as they take on the Jets and the Los Angeles Kings, who are six points behind the Hawks but are trying to push their way back into the playoffs after a Saturday loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Sunday’s game will be a big-time test as the Hawks take on a Jets team that is slowly getting healthier as the playoffs near. They have won six of their last seven games, including wins over the St. Louis Blues and Montreal Canadiens. During that span their penalty killing unit has been tremendous, killing off 19 of the 20 power plays they’ve allowed in those contests, and they’ve been playing great defense overall, only allowing 12 goals over that time.

With that in mind, the Blackhawks need to establish their puck possession game early, and they have to try to limit Winnipeg’s scoring chances. Both of those things are easier said than done, but the Hawks have shown an ability to play up to their opponents when facing tough obstacles this season. With forwards like Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad playing some solid hockey lately, the team should be able to get at least some offensive push going, and they’ll need guys like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook to continue their solid play on the back end of things.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[8K World Record Holder Stephen Sambu Wins Shamrock Shuffle]]> Sun, 29 Mar 2015 09:50:08 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/stephen+sambu.jpg

Stephen Sambu, the 8K world record holder from Kenya, finished the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle in first place.

Sambu finished the race with an unofficial time of 00:23:02 at an average pace of 4:39 minutes per mile. The Kenyan runner broke the 8K world recordin Boston in 2014.

This year's race was Sambu's first in Chicago. "I love Chicago. Chicago is the best," Sambu said.

The winner trained for the race for only two weeks, he said.

More than 37,000 runners participated in the race through downtown Chicago.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Alexi Pappas Takes First for Women in Shamrock Shuffle]]> Sun, 29 Mar 2015 10:33:34 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/alexi+pappas+shamrock+shuffle.jpg

Elite runner Alexi Pappas took first place for women in the 2015 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle Sunday.

Pappas finished with an unofficial time of 00:26:32 with an average pace of 5:21 minutes per mile. The Olympic hopeful and Nike Oregon Track Club elite runner held the No. 1 bib in the race.

Although she came in first place, the Windy City lived up to its reputation and made the run a little more difficult for Pappas.

"It was a little bit chilly out there and certainly windy, but you literally take it in stride," Pappas said. "Even if the wind is hitting you, you still put in that race effort."

This is Pappas' second visit to Chicago. She first visited in the fall for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon when she paced elite runners.

"I say it's the only way I know the city," Pappas said. "I may never be able to return to Chicago without running a race."

Read a pre-race Q-and-A with Pappas here.



Photo Credit: Alexi Pappas]]>
<![CDATA[Thousands Run in Shamrock Shuffle]]> Sun, 29 Mar 2015 18:30:02 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/2015+shamrock+shuffle+start+line.jpg

Thousands of runners hit the streets of Chicago in their running shoes for the 2015 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle.

The rain held off as the 23,000 runners completed the 8K race through downtown, but windy conditions made it a little more difficult for runners.

"It was a little bit chilly out there and certainly windy, but you literally take it in stride," said Alexi Pappas, who finished the race in first place for women. "Even if the wind is hitting you, you still put in that race effort."

Pappas finished the race with an unofficial time of 00:26:32 and an average pace of 5:21 minutes per mile. The Shuffle marked the second time the elite runner has visited Chicago. She first came to the Windy City to pace the elite runners in the Chicago Marathon in October.

Stephen Sambu, the 8K world record holder from Kenya, finished the race in first place for men. His unofficial time was 00:23:02, and he ran at an average pace of 4:39 minutes per mile. Sambu set the world record along with Geoffrey Mutai Kiprono in Boston in July 2014.

This year's race marked Sambu's first visit to Chicago. "I love Chicago," he said. "Chicago is the best."

Now in its 36th year, the Shamrock Shuffle has traditionally been the unofficial kick-off to running season in Chicago. The 8K race is also the largest of its kind in the world and the second largest race in Chicago after the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Check out the results page to find out where your family and friends finished.



Photo Credit: NBC Chicago]]>
<![CDATA[Crawford to Wear Special Mask Friday Night ]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:25:26 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/167*120/459635432.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night at the United Center, and if fans pay close enough attention, they will notice something different about goaltender Corey Crawford: his mask.

Instead of wearing his standard lid during the game, Crawford will be wearing a specially designed mask that honors the United States military and the USA Warriors, a hockey team made up of veterans who were wounded overseas. The mask has a ton of really cool designs on it, and we have a couple of pictures of it to share:

The mask was designed by artist David Arrigo, and after the game on Friday, it will be auctioned off to raise funds for the Clint Reif Memorial Fund. Reif was an equipment manager for the Blackhawks before he passed away earlier this season, leaving behind a wife and four children.

To learn more about the fund, you can visit this website, which has collected nearly $17,000 in donations for his family.

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<![CDATA[Bears Ink Ball to One-Year Deal ]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 12:16:48 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/alan-ball9.9.11.jpg

The Chicago Bears continued their trend of signing defensive players to one-year contracts this week, inking cornerback Alan Ball to a pact Friday morning.

Ball, who graduated from the University of Illinois and was drafted in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft, has played for three different teams in his career, including the last two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In those campaigns, Ball started 22 games, intercepting three passes and racking up 59 tackles. He missed the final nine games of last season with a biceps injury, but should be fully recovered to participate in Bears’ offseason workouts.

For the Bears, Ball represents another cornerback to potentially compete for a job with Kyle Fuller, Demontre Hurst, and Tim Jennings, among others. He also has some experience at the free safety position, but it’s unlikely he’ll play there after spending the last six seasons as a cornerback full-time.

He does have a bit of size, standing 6 feet, 2 inches and weighing in at 197 pounds, and the Bears have to hope that he can bring some physicality to the position that is lacking when guys like Jennings are on the field.

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<![CDATA[Autistic Boy Forced to Remove His Letter Jacket]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 12:40:25 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/LetterJacket.jpg A mother is outraged after her son's school forces him to remove a varsity letter jacket because special-needs athletes aren't allowed to wear the letters.]]> <![CDATA[Former UNC Coach, Dean Smith, Leaves $200 to Former Players]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:45:25 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/80261754.jpg

Every letter winner who played for former North Carolina basketball coach, Dean Smith, was granted with a heart-warming suprise a month after his death: $200 dollars from his estate.

A letter sent to 180 players was sent from Smith's trustee, stating: "Each player was important and special to Coach Smith and when he prepared his estate plan, Coach wanted to reach out to each of his letterman. Accordingly, Coach directed that following his passing each letterman be sent a two hundred dollar ($200.00) check with the message 'enjoy a dinner out, compliments of Coach Dean Smith.'

Smith, who died at age 83 last month, went 879-254 in his years at North Carolina, landing him in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. However, Smith was also known for the compassion he had for his players.

In 1965, Smith helped a black North Carolina graudation student, Howard Lee, purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood during segregations. A year later, Smith intergrated the Tar Heels, recruiting Charlie Scott, who became the first African-American scholarship player in the school's history.

Serge Zwikker, who played for Smith from 1993-1997, told ESPN: "My wife opened the letter and handed it to me. At first  I didn't know what it was, but when it hit me, it put a tear in my eye. Even after he passed, he was still all about this players."

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<![CDATA[Chicago Bulls Playoff Tickets on Sale Friday]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 17:57:45 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/839764441.jpg

Chicago Bulls tickets for the eight games in the 2015 NBA Playoffs Rounds 1 and 2 will go on sale on Friday at 11 a.m., the team announced Thursday.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting Bulls.com, NBATickets.com or by calling 1-800-4NBA-TIX.

All fans are encouraged to wear red when attending home playoff games.

Details on game times, dates and opponents will be released by the NBA after the regular season ends.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Top Sports Photos 2015]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 18:07:10 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/topSports-USA-DEN-467516564.jpg Click to see dramatic sports photos from the NFL, to basketball, baseball and more.

Photo Credit: FrontzoneSport via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Predators' Playoff Ticket Policy Looks to Keep Out Hawks Fans]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 17:44:16 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*130/480240741.jpg

It appears the Nashville Predators don't want Blackhawks fans at their arena during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Two years ago Bears fans invaded downtown Nashville, drank them dry and took over the Titans' stadium. Five years ago Blackhawks fans took over Bridgestone Arena en route to a Stanley Cup Playoff series win.

"I can't tell you how many games on the road felt like home games," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. 

Even this past December, Blackhawks fans counted in at more than 5,000 in Nashville, storming Bridgestone Arena as the Hawks defeated the Predators on their home ice.

"Fans on the road are unbelievable," said Hawks forward Kris Versteeg. 

It's no surprise then that the Predators are putting their sticks down on Blackhawk fans, searching for ways to keep them from buying any playoff tickets in Nashville.

As it stands, the Hawks could meet the Predators in the first round of the playoffs.

Predators playoff tickets go on sale this weekend. The tickets will be available Saturday at Kroger stores only in Tennessee and Sunday at Bridgestone Arena in Tennessee, according to the Tennessean.  Monday you can buy tickets online, but only if you have a Tennessee zip code.

"You'd like home ice but if not, that's okay," said Quenneville. 

The Blackhawks don't have an out-of-town ticket policy and they don't need one with 313 consecutive sellouts at the United Center.

Looks like Blackhawks fans will need to find friends in Nashville to buy Tennessee playoff tickets.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks Ink Kyle Baun to NHL Contract]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 17:07:26 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/185*120/cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptljmmu5zwq1nzhhnzzlmdvkzjlmndjiymqzy2uynmex.jpeg

With players like Drew LeBlanc and Matt Carey, the Chicago Blackhawks have made it a point in recent seasons to pluck talented collegiate free agents out of those ranks, and they continued that trend on Thursday as they inked Colgate forward Kyle Baun to a contract.

The deal, which was first reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, gives the Blackhawks a talented forward with scoring touch and solid passing ability. In three seasons at Colgate, Baun has scored 39 goals and dished out 40 assists, and he has been lauded for his power play skill at the collegiate level.

According to Baun’s agent, the forward will report directly to the Blackhawks, which means he could make his NHL debut at some point over the next few games. Like Carey and LeBlanc before him, Baun will probably get a game or two to give him some run at the NHL level (and give another forward a brief rest during the stretch run), and then he’ll be sent down to the Rockford IceHogs before being recalled after the season as a “black ace” reserve player.

Since Baun is signing this late in the season, he will not be eligible to be included on the Blackhawks’ postseason roster.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Wisconsin Basketball Player Accidentally Admits Crush]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 17:13:37 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Screen-Shot-2015-03-26-at-5.37.13-PM.jpg

Cattywampus. Onomatopoeia. Antidisestablishmentarianism. For Nigel Hayes, University of Wisconsin  basketball forward, these are the words of a modern love letter.

Hayes answered reporters covering the NCAA March Madness tournament with these arbitrary words in a press conference a couple days ago, stumping everyone in the room.  Hayes originally joked that he wanted to break up the monotony of the stenographer’s job with some unique words.

A reporter kicked off the latest news conference asking Hayes if he wanted to say anything to the stenographer, Debra Bollman, before they began, in which he responded: “syzygy”.

A hot mic then picked up Hayes whispering to his teammate, “God, she’s beautiful.” His eyes lit up when he heard laughter in the room. He asked Bollman, “Did you hear that?” She responded “yes” before Hayes covered his face with his hands in embarrassment.

While it's not yet known whether Hayes’ “soliloquy” will help him get a date with Bollman, he can at least say he's made her day more interesting.


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<![CDATA[Andrew "Hamburglar" Hammond Lifting Senators Toward Playoff Glory]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 15:15:04 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/467337528.jpg

The Ottawa Senators were well out of the playoff race and seemingly dead in the water this season, but once goaltender Andrew Hammond came into the picture, things turned around in a hurry.

With just 10 games to go in the regular season, the Senators have won seven games in a row and have won nine of their last 10 games, and they find themselves with a one point lead over the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. That recent surge has been keyed by the incredible play of Hammond, who has a sparkling 14-0-1 record with a 1.67 goals against average and a .946 save percentage.

Hammond's rise to prominence in the NHL was a surprising development for the Senators, who were relying on veteran goaltender (and former Chicago Blackhawks goalie) Craig Anderson. After he aggravated a hand injury recently, and Robin Lehner was also knocked out of action with an injury, Hammond was forced to play games as the starter, and he has since gone on a run that is nearly unrivalled in NHL history. 

Hammond is only the second goaltender in NHL history to allow two or fewer goals in each of his first 12 career starts, becoming the first since Frank Brimsek accomplished the feat in the 1938-39 season to achieve that milestone. 

What’s more remarkable about Hammond than his incredible rise to fame has been the way fans have responded to it. Nicknamed “The Hamburglar,” Hammond’s victories have been punctuated by fans throwing hamburgers onto the ice at Senators home games, and after one such game Hammond actually ate the burger in celebration.

Now though, the Senators and Hammond are looking to turn the phenomenon into something positive for society. The team is asking fans to donate money to local food banks in the Ottawa area, and Senators head coach Dave Cameron was enthusiastic about the idea.

“I thought that was a great idea and sometimes you appreciate the support and enthusiasm of your fans, but sometimes it can be channeled in a better way and I would certainly back that up,” he said.

Senators’ fans embracing Hammond got us to thinking: what food items would fans throw on the ice for their favorite Chicago Blackhawks players? Doughnuts for Duncan Keith? Candy canes for Patrick Kane? Swedish meatballs for Niklas Hjalmarsson?

We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fall Out Boy to Play at Cubs Home Opener Next Week ]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 15:40:02 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/183*120/494962577.jpg

Fans of Chicago sports have become intimately familiar with the band Fall Out Boy over the past few years, and they’ll have yet another chance to hear the band perform as they will play three songs before the Chicago Cubs’ home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 5.

The group has become a fixture on the Chicago sports scene in recent years, putting their own spin on the Chicago Bulls’ rally tune “Only the Bulls” and had their song “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” become the unofficial anthem of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup championship, as NBC played the song for NHL promos during that playoff run.

“Wrigley Field has always been a magical place for me,” Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz said. “In some ways I can chart milestones of my life and growing up there – from going to see Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg play, to going with my dad to one of the first night games they ever had there. It’s been a lifetime dream to get the chance to play at Wrigley Field.”

The band’s performance at Wrigley Field will feature three songs, including the tune “Centuries,” which will be aired to a national TV audience on ESPN before the game gets underway. Gates for the game will open slightly earlier than usual, with fans allowed to enter the park at 4:30 p.m. instead of the usual 5:05 p.m. entry time for night games.

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<![CDATA[Potential Bears Draft Targets: Amari Cooper]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 09:48:21 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000011610310_1200x675_417429571893.jpg

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be profiling 10 of the players that the Chicago Bears could be eye-balling to take with the number seven overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. We’ll be evaluating where they would fit in with the Bears, what teams could potentially pick them off ahead of Chicago, and ultimately whether or not the Bears should take them.

So as not to spoil our mock draft, we’ll go alphabetically through the list, and that decision brings us to the SEC today as we take a look at University of Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.

The Details:

If a fan were to bet on which offensive skill position player is going to have the best NFL career, a smart investment would be putting money down on Cooper. In the 2014 season with the Crimson Tide, Cooper racked up 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he continued to impress at the NFL Combine as he ran a 4.42 second 40-yard dash and had a 33 inch vertical leap.

He isn’t the fastest receiver, and he doesn’t jump the highest, but when it comes to pure skill and playmaking ability, Cooper has got it in spades.

What He’d Bring to the Bears:

The Bears’ offensive strategy over the past two seasons has been to throw the ball up in the air and let Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery come down with it. With Marshall now with the New York Jets, the team can add some versatility to their wide receiver ranks, and Cooper fits that bill. He isn’t blazing fast by any stretch, but he does add speed to the equation and will give the Bears a legitimate deep ball threat down the field, and Jay Cutler would potentially find a new favorite target.

Other Teams That Could Target Him:

Outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it seems as though just about every team picking ahead of the Bears could use a player like Cooper. The Oakland Raiders could be a good bet at the fourth position, and the New York Jets could use the sixth pick on him if they don’t get a chance to go after Marcus Mariota. Cooper could even go as high as number two depending on what the Tennessee Titans do.

Should the Bears Take Him?

We may hem and haw over some of the players on this list, but if the Bears get a chance to take Cooper, they would be silly not to. He is a potential game-breaking player for an offense that is going to be interesting to watch as they try to replace Marshall (and get the most out of Cutler), and Adam Gase will likely be lobbying hard for Ryan Pace to pull the trigger and draft Cooper if he’s available in the seven slot.

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<![CDATA[Bengals' Devon Still: My Daughter Kicked Cancer's Butt ]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 10:00:39 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Devon+and+Leah+New.jpg

After months of treatment, constant updates on social media and nationwide support, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still shared the news he hoped to hear for over a year. His daughter, Leah's cancer is officially in remission.

"Today we received news from Leah's oncologist that her cancer, stage four neuroblastoma, is officially in REMISSION! After 296 days of day dreaming about what it would feel like to hear the doctors say my daughter is in remission, I finally know the feeling," Still said in an announcement Wednesday on his Instagram page.

Still and his daughter have captured the hearts of millions of people nationwide since she began to receive treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in June. Leah, who had a tumor removed from her abdomen back in September, completed her latest course of chemotherapy last month.

"It was not easy but every day, and every treatment Leah fought like hell and kicked cancers butt!" he said in his post.

Devon Still, a Delaware native and former Penn State Nittany Lion, was cut from the Cincinnati Bengals in August of last year. But the Bengals re-signed Still to their practice squad in order to help him pay for his daughter’s medical treatment after she was diagnosed with cancer.

The Bengals have said Still is considering a one-year deal to play next year. 

Still’s No. 75 jersey quickly became the team’s top seller after the Bengals decided to donate proceeds from his jersey sales to the Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati and pediatric cancer care and research. More than $1 million have been raised from sales of the $100 jersey, according to the AP. 

Still has kept his followers updated on his daughter’s progress through social media.

 

 


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<![CDATA[Jonathan Toews' Top Five Blackhawks Moments ]]> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 16:18:18 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/456992850.jpg

Ever since he broke into the NHL in 2007, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has been leading the organization to new heights, and he was rewarded for his tireless work on Monday when an assist on Andrew Shaw’s empty net goal against the Carolina Hurricanes gave the captain 500 career points.

Monday was the 556th game in Toews’ career, and even though it took him 33 more games to reach 500 than it took teammate Patrick Kane (who hit the milestone in October), it’s still a nice excuse to pause and reflect on the impact that Toews has had on the Blackhawks, and the NHL as a whole.

To celebrate the achievement, we’ve compiled our five favorite moments of Toews’ Blackhawks career, and if we don’t include one that stood out to you, we’d love to hear from you about it in the comments below.

5. Toews Ties it Up Against the Canucks

The Blackhawks had gone down three games to none in their 2011 opening round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, but improbably the team had won three straight to force a Game 7 in Vancouver. Unfortunately, they found themselves down 1-0 in the game with less than two minutes to go, and to make matters worse, they were short-handed.

That didn’t matter, apparently:

 

4. Toews Leaves Coyotes Howling

Down 3-1 in their best of seven series against the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012, the Blackhawks found themselves heading to overtime to try to extend their season, and after winning a face-off and grabbing a loose puck around the boards, Toews made sure the series made it back to Chicago:

 

 

3. Toews Demoralizes the Blues

The Blackhawks went down 2-0 in their first round series against the St. Louis Blues in the 2014 playoffs, but they came back and won two straight games in Chicago to tie things up, and Toews gave them the series lead with this spectacular breakaway goal in a pivotal Game 5 triumph:

 

 

2. Toews Gets a Hat Trick the Hard Way

In a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toews thought he had scored his first career hat trick, but the goal was disallowed, leaving fans who had thrown their promotional giveaway hard hats onto the ice feeling blue. Fortunately for them, Toews eventually did finish off the hat trick, and even more plastic headwear hit the United Center ice:

 

 

1. Toews Makes Bold Statement vs. Avalanche

As the third overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Toews was always figured to be a potentially stand-out player, but in this game against the Colorado Avalanche in 2007, he served notice to the NHL that they were about to see something special:



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[VIDEO: Patrick Kane Shows Off Puck-Handling Skills]]> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 10:57:40 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*121/464523260.jpg

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is still on the shelf as he nurses a collarbone injury, but before he went down, he filmed a series of videos that showed off his prodigious puck-handling and scoring skills.

On Wednesday morning, a new video was released from that series, giving fans an up close and personal look at Kane as he weaves magic with the puck. With lightning quick hands and a talent for improvisation that is rare to see in today’s NHL, Kane shows off his skills, and it will leave you breathless after watching it.

Take a gander:



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[New York Yankees Pay Homage to "The Sandlot" in New Ad]]> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 07:10:37 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Brett-Gardner-Yankees-Rangers-0729.jpg

The New York Yankees are paying homage to classic baseball movie “The Sandlot” with a recreation of its famous Babe Ruth scene.

The ad, which stars Brett Gardner as the innocent Smalls who unknowingly plays with a ball signed by the legendary Ruth, was posted to MLB.com Tuesday.

C.C. Sabathia, Dellin Betances, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Didi Gregorius also make appearances in the spot.

Watch the video below:



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Trio of Signings Bolster Bears' Defense]]> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 20:38:48 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/183*120/2758730.jpg

The Chicago Bears were a busy team on Tuesday, agreeing to 1-year contracts with defensive end Ray McDonald and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, and reportedly agreeing to a 1-year pact with linebacker Mason Foster.

Although none of the three players are what would be considered game-breakers, they all bring their own unique skillsets to the table. McDonald will be looking to move forward with his career after accusations of domestic abuse caused the San Francisco 49’ers to cut him loose, and under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (who coached him in the Bay Area), McDonald has an opportunity to grab a starting job on the Bears’ defensive line and be an integral part of their new 3-4 defense.

That defense, which will see guys like Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston likely shifting back to the outside linebacker position in some packages, will need linemen like McDonald, and Jenkins will also be relied upon to solidify the position. He won’t ever be the type of guy who’s going to hit the quarterback at every opportunity, but he is a very solid run defender and should help the Bears out immensely if they end up giving Ego Ferguson some playing time at nose tackle this season.

As for Foster, the Bears were in desperate need of an interior linebacker to help lock down the middle of the field, and it appears as though they got their man. They do have players like Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene who could potentially fit into the role of inside linebacker, but Foster gives them a more reliable option in that area, and he will be a critical piece as they try to sort out who will play where in Fangio’s system.

The one thing that all of these deals have in common is that they’re short-term fixes and that won’t hamstring the team if they don’t work out. Ryan Pace has been very careful with doling out money this year, with big contracts to Jay Cutler and Jared Allen currently saddling the team with salary cap restrictions. While that may have limited his ability to go out and get guys that would make a massive impact, he has made the most of the situation as he brings in guys that could help in the transition to a 3-4 defense (and hopefully help avoid a repeat of the last two seasons of woefully horrible defensive performance).



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Wrigley Field Renovation Will Take An Additional Year ]]> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 23:36:36 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/wrigley+field+bleachers.jpg

Beset with difficulties with weather and construction from the word go, it now appears that renovations at Wrigley Field will take an extra year, according to Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.

“There will be four more years,” he told reporters after a luncheon at the City Club of Chicago. “The way we project it now is four more years of construction.”

The project began this offseason with a complete overhaul of the bleachers to help pave the way for two video boards and new advertising signage in the outfield. An unusually early start to winter put the Cubs behind the eight-ball on the project, and even with some mild weather in March, the team has already announced that the bleachers will not be ready for Opening Day, with their opening now slated for May for the left field seats and June for the right field seats.

That the project will take an extra offseason wasn’t the only news surrounding the facility. According to a report from CBS Chicago’s Dave Wischnowsky, Major League Baseball is getting involved in the renovation process, and that the Cubs and White Sox are working on an emergency Plan B scenario that would see the Cubs open up their season at U.S. Cellular Field.

A short time later, a team spokesman shot down the rumor in no uncertain terms.

“Even a goat would tell you this reaches an absolute new low for Wrigley rumors,” spokesman Julian Green told Cubs.com reporter Carrie Muskat. “All is proceeding well and we look forward to Opening Night at Wrigley Field.”

That game, which wil take place on April 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals, will be nationally televised even with the unfinished bleachers as a backdrop. Meanwhile, questions of whether the team should have just moved their entire 2015 slate to either Miller Park or US Cellular Field continue to rage, and stories like these will only continue to amplify that discussion.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bears to Sign Defensive End Ray McDonald]]> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 16:01:20 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ray+mcdonald+getty.jpg

The Chicago Bears will sign defensive end Ray McDonald, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, to a one-year contract, the team announced Tuesday.

The move, first reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen, was officially announced Tuesday.

McDonald will be reunited with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was also fired from the 49ers in the off-season.

McDonald was released from the team in December after law enforcement officials in San Jose, Calif., began an investigation into an alleged sexual assault.

McDonald has since sued the woman who accused him of assault, and he has not been charged in the case as the investigation remains open.

The defensive end was also tangled up in a domestic abuse case involving his fiancee last August, but he was not charged in the case.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bears Reach Deal with DE Jarvis Jenkins]]> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 11:16:25 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/453498772.jpg

The Chicago Bears added another piece to their revamped 3-4 defense Tuesday. 

The team reportedly agreed to terms with free agent defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who most recently played on the Washington Redskins, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune

Terms of the deal weren't immediately available, but reports said the contract was for league minimum. His addition depends on the results of a physical. 

Jenkins, 26,  is a big-bodied end who measures 6' 4" and 315 pounds.  Drafted in the second round in 2011 out of Clemson he's not considered a pass rushing threat -- only two career sacks to his name -- but is a strong anchor on the outside of the 3-4. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Potential Bears Draft Targets: Vic Beasley ]]> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 00:33:34 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/176*120/10+Vic+Beasley.jpg

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be profiling 10 of the players that the Chicago Bears could be eye-balling to take with the number seven overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. We’ll be evaluating where they would fit in with the Bears, what teams could potentially pick them off ahead of Chicago, and ultimately whether or not we feel the Bears should take them.

So as not to spoil our mock draft, we’ll go alphabetically through the list, and that brings us today to linebacker Vic Beasley from Clemson University.

The Details:

Our No. 10 prospect going into the draft, Beasley could very well end up going way higher than that when the selection process actually takes place. He racked up 33 sacks in his four-year college career with the Tigers, and he utilized a unique blend of speed, strength, and athleticism to propel himself into the discussion as one of the top defensive players available in this year’s draft class.

What He’d Bring to the Bears:

The Bears have a glut of outside linebackers now that guys like Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston are going to be likely shifted out to the spot, but adding a piece like Beasley to the equation would solidify the position for the long-term. His speed would be a welcome addition to the mix as well, with the Bears’ troubles in getting pressure on the quarterback last season necessitating adding an athlete of Beasley’s caliber.

Other Teams That Could Target Him:

With some great results at the NFL Combine and some impressive game film cultivated over four seasons in college, Beasley could be on a lot of radars. A few mock drafts have had him going to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the third overall pick, and they could definitely use a linebacker of his skillset. Oakland could also be a landing place as they look to bolster their pass rush, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the New York Jets potentially go in Beasley’s direction if quarterback Marcus Mariota is off the board at number six.

Should the Bears Take Him?

There are some who would say that taking a pass rusher like Randy Gregory or Shane Ray would be a smarter move for the Bears at number seven, especially with the situation at outside linebacker, but Beasley is enough of a game-breaker and potential future star that the team would be well-advised to take him. He has the talent to be an elite player in the NFL, and if he can bulk up a bit and become more reliable against the run, he would be an excellent addition by Ryan Pace and John Fox.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Potential Bears Draft Targets: Arik Armstead ]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:28:19 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP572477083105ArikArmstead.jpg

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be profiling 10 of the players that the Chicago Bears could be eye-balling to take with the number seven overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. We’ll be evaluating where they would fit in with the Bears, what teams could potentially pick them off ahead of Chicago, and ultimately whether or not we feel the Bears should take them.

So as not to spoil our mock draft, we’ll go alphabetically through the list, and that means we’ll be starting with University of Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead.

The Details:

Standing 6 feet, 7 inches, weighing 292 pounds, and possessing a huge burst of speed off the snap, Armstead is a big guy with an aggressive approach to the game, and he is looking to bring that to an NFL that is rewarding ferocious players like JJ Watt with lucrative contract extensions and high draft picks. He only had two and a half sacks in his final season with the Ducks, but he did have 16 pressures and a total of 47 tackles on the year.

What He’d Bring to the Bears:

The Bears have several players who could potentially play defensive end in their new 3-4 scheme, including new free agent signing Pernell McPhee, but Armstead would certainly fit the bill as they look to rebuild the line. Guys like Willie Young may not be a schematic fit even when he comes back from his Achillies injury, and players like Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen will likely start out the year as outside linebackers, so there is a definite void at the position.

Armstead can win physical battles against big NFL offensive linemen, and he certainly won’t be tossed aside with ease off the snap.

Other Teams That Could Target Him:

It’s possible that a team like Oakland or Washington could take a shot at him in the fourth or fifth slot in the draft order, but a lot of it depends on how highly Leonard Williams and Dante Fowler, Jr. are drafted. If one of those guys is still on the board when those teams pick, it would make more sense to go with a more polished product than Armstead is.

Should the Bears Take Him?

Defensive end is one of the Bears’ biggest needs, but taking Armstead would likely be a bit too much of a reach at seven. He is a gifted athlete, but he has flaws in his game, and taking a player as a project in the top-10 of the draft is never a smart idea. If the Bears end up trading back in the first round (a real possibility if Marcus Mariota is still on the board at number seven), then Armstead comes back into the picture in a big way.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Bulls' Mirotic is Suddenly NBA's Best Fourth-Quarter Player]]> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 10:33:16 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*136/467379938.jpg

NOTE: This article originally ran on CSN Chicago.

Who needs Derrick Rose when you have a closer like Nikola Mirotic?

Mirotic is suddenly making a very solid case in the NBA Rookie of the Year discussion, emerging as one of the league's top up-and-coming scorers. He's given the Bulls a huge boost with key players - Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah - missing time recently.

Just look at what he's done this month alone after 14 more fourth-quarter points in Monday's win:

Mirotic is not only scoring more than LeBron and Westbrook in the fourth quarter, but the Bulls rookie is absolutely blowing them away.

Mirotic has scored at least 25 points in four of the Bulls' last five games and is averaging 21 points and 8.2 rebounds per game this month.

What a stud.


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<![CDATA[Top 50 NFL Draft Prospects]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 16:49:59 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/Draft+Logo.jpg The NFL Draft is coming up at the end of April, but which players will be selected? We rank our Top 50 draft prospects here.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Officials Reveal Plans for NFL Draft Chicago Tickets]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:06:14 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/football+generic.jpg

The NFL announced Monday that registration for a chance to win two free tickets to the draft in Chicago begins Tuesday and will continue through April 5.

A limited number of tickets are available for both the Auditorium Theatre and “Selection Square” areas.

The draft will be held in the city April 30-May 2 at Roosevelt University. Last week, officials announced plans to turn the city’s Grant Park into a “Draft Town,” a free interactive area for fans.

Fans can register for the chance to win two tickets to the draft at NFL.com/DraftTown, with registration beginning at 11 a.m. Tuesday and ending at 10:59 p.m. on April 5. Winners will be picked April 6 and have until April 8 to confirm their attendance.

Round one of festivities for the draft begins at 5 p.m. on April 30 and will include prospects walking a red carpet on Michigan Avenue before heading into the theater for the start of the draft, slated for 7 p.m.

Rounds two and three begin at 6 p.m. May 1 with 32 NFL players on hand to announce to selections.

Rounds four through seven are set to begin at 11 a.m. May 2 and will take place outside at Selection Square and in locations across the country as teams announce their draft selections at their facilities and other locations in their city.

The NFL Draft was last held in Chicago in 1964.



Photo Credit: Rob Marmion]]>
<![CDATA[Western Conference Playoff Update]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:05:41 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/167*120/461652760.jpg

With the end of the NHL season just three weeks away, we thought it was time to take a look at where everyone stands as races heat up and teams make their final pushes for postseason berths.

If the Playoffs Started Today:

Wlid Card #2 Winnipeg vs. Pacific Division Champion Anaheim

Wild Card #1 Minnesota vs. Central Division Champion St. Louis

Central Division #3 Chicago vs. Central Division #2 Nashville

Pacific Division #3 Calgary vs. Pacific Division #2 Vancouver

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not:

-While the two teams at the top of the Central Division have scuffled a bit as of late, three teams have been on a roll. The Chicago Blackhawks have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, and even though their offense has struggled without Patrick Kane in the lineup, their defense has more than picked up the slack.

The Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets have also played well lately, putting some distance between themselves and the fading Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. The Jets are still well within the Kings’ striking distance, only holding a four-point lead and having played one more game than the defending Stanley Cup champions.

-On the cold side of the spectrum, the Kings have lost two games in a row and have gone 5-3-2 in their last 10 as they have slipped a bit in the race. With Winnipeg facing injury concerns, the Kings were expected to make a big push, and so far they haven’t been able to do that.

Speaking of making a push, the Nashville Predators seem to be going in the other direction. They have lost seven of their last 10 games overall, and despite having Pekka Rinne in goal and a solid offense, they could very well slip into third place in the Central Division as the Blues continue to lead the way and the Blackhawks give chase behind them.

The Road Ahead:

-The Central Division race could tighten up even more this week as the Blues play a light two-game schedule, and the Predators have to play against four playoff teams in six days. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks get a run of easy games as they tangle with the Hurricanes, Flyers, and Blue Jackets, all of whom are currently out of playoff contention. Their lone tough matchup this week will be against the surging Jets as they head to Manitoba for a Sunday showdown.

-In the Pacific Division, the Ducks are all but assured of a division title at this point, but the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are still battling tooth and nail for second place. The Flames have a tough slate this week, with home games against the Avalanche and Stars (both of whom are playing much better hockey lately) and then two road games against the Wild and the Predators.

Making matters more complicated for the Flames is the fact that they only have a two-point lead over the Kings for third place in the Pacific. With the wild card increasingly looking like it will come out of the Central, that third spot in the Pacific is crucial, and Calgary is going to have to fight hard to hold onto it.

-In the wild card race, the Wild and the Jets are padding their lead as the season wears on. Minnesota has a rough schedule this week, with a cupcake game against the Toronto Maple Leafs setting up for a main course against the Islanders, Flames, and Kings. That Saturday game against Los Angeles will e a big one, as the team is looking to put some distance between themselves and their wild card rival.

The Jets have a similarly constructed schedule, with an easy game against the Oilers being followed up by three tough matchups. A road trip will end for them when they take on the Canucks on Tuesday, but their homecoming will be far from friendly as they have to welcome the Montreal Canadiens and the Blackhawks to MTS Centre.

As for the Kings, they will need to get the ship righted in a hurry if they are going to make a late push toward the playoffs. They’ll be on the road all week, starting out on the East Coast with three games against the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders, and then they’ll start heading back toward the West with games against the Wild and then the Blackhawks early next week.

The Game to Watch:

Saturday’s game between the Kings and the Wild in the Twin Cities has implications for both the wild card race and the Pacific Division race. Minnesota has a serious opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Kings, who are lurking at just five points back with a game in hand, and the Kings could put some serious pressure on Winnipeg and Calgary with a win in the contest.

One other game to keep an eye on is Sunday’s game between the Blackhawks and the Jets. The Jets are trying to hold onto a wild card spot, and the Blackhawks are trying to make up some ground in the Central Division race. Both teams would benefit big time from a win in this one, and it will have an impact on both the Central and wild card races.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Central Division Power Rankings: Week 25]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 11:19:01 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/031815rangers.jpg

With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Central Division is headed down the home stretch and we have Madhouse Enforcer's latest edition of our Power Rankings to set the scene.

1. St. Louis Blues (Last Week’s Rank: 1)

The Blues shut out the playoff-bound Calgary Flames to start out last week, but then proceeded to lose three games in a row, falling to the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, and Detroit Red Wings. That last loss to the Red Wings is one worth remembering if the Central Division race comes down to a single standings point, because the game-winning goal was scored by Justin Abdelkader, who was using a broken stick and whose goal should not have counted.

Whoops.

At any rate, the Blues have one game remaining on their six-game road trip as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, and then they get a nice break before opening a homestand against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night in what will be their final non-conference game of the season.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week’s Rank: 2)

The Blackhawks were flying high going into their Saturday showdown with the Dallas Stars, winning six of seven games and playing some of their best defensive hockey of the season. All of that came crashing down in the contest however as they dropped a 4-0 decision, surrendering two power play goals and failing to get a single shot past Kari Lehtonen in the process.

A win in that game would have put the Blackhawks just three points behind the Blues with two games in hand and two games remaining against the division leaders, but the loss doesn’t really change the fact that Chicago still controls its own destiny when it comes to a division title. A couple of winnable games dot the schedule this week to help, with a road trip through Raleigh and Philadelphia being followed up by a home skate against the Blue Jackets.

3. Minnesota Wild (Last Week’s Rank: 4)

There seems to always be a team that everyone wants to avoid when the playoffs begin, and the Wild may well be that team this season. They are red hot right now behind the excellent goaltending of Devan Dubnyk, and even though they did drop a 3-2 decision to the Washington Capitals on Thursday, they also picked up some key wins against the Nashville Predators and the Blues to further solidify their playoff standing.

This week provides a couple of good opportunities for Minnesota to make a statement, starting with a quick two game road trip through Toronto and Long Island to play the Maple Leafs and Islanders. A Friday game against the Calgary Flames will pose a tough test, and a Saturday evening showdown with the Los Angeles Kings could give Minnesota a chance to put a huge dagger in the Kings’ hopes of a playoff berth.

4. Nashville Predators (Last Week’s Rank: 3)

The Predators finished off a calm week schedule-wise with an easy 3-0 victory over the lowly Buffalo Sabres (who seem to be more interested in winning the services of Connor McDavid in the NHL Entry Draft than actually fielding a competitive hockey team), but a loss midweek to the Wild put a damper on the proceedings.

The Predators are still in second place in the Central, but they’ll be sorely tested this week as they take on four teams in the playoff hunt. Home games against the Montreal Canadiens (currently the top seed in the Atlantic Division) and the Calgary Flames will sandwich road tilts against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals.

5. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week’s Rank: 6)

One of the coolest things about the NHL season is that there are always going to be assumptions being challenged and destroyed. One such assumption was that the Kings were going to cruise into the playoffs and that the Jets were going to fall on hard times as they dealt with a slew of defensive injuries. That narrative has not taken place, and in fact the Jets seem to be getting better and better, winning four straight games and taking out two playoffs teams last week in wins over the Blues and the Capitals.

The Jets’ schedule doesn’t get much easier this week, with a Monday game against the Edmonton Oilers serving as an appetizer for a tough three game stretch where they have to visit the Vancouver Canucks and then host the Canadiens and Blackhawks to finish out the slate.

6. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week’s Rank: 5)

The Avalanche still have some winnable games on the docket, but they’re simply running out of time as they try to make a late push toward the postseason. They’re still being outshot regularly, which is worrying, but they’ve been getting some stellar goaltending out of Semyon Varlamov, who hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a start since February 27 against the Stars.

Down eight points to the Jets for the second wild card spot with only 11 games left to play, Colorado will pretty much have to run the table to have a chance, and they do have some favorable matchups this week. They do have to travel to Calgary and Vancouver on Monday and Thursday, but a Wednesday game against the Oilers and a Saturday game against the Sabres provide two extremely winnable contests.

7. Dallas Stars (Last Week’s Rank: 7)

The Stars are 7-3-0 in the month of March, but like the Avalanche they are running out of time as they try to make a late push toward the playoffs. Lehtonen has been on fire for the team in recent weeks, but even with his improved play and an offense that is still one of the league’s best, the Stars are going to need a miracle in order to reach the postseason.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>