Blackhawks

49ers: Smith out, Kaepernick in

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49ers: Smith out, Kaepernick in

The Bears' chances to win tonight seem to have improved with word that Alex Smith could not get the final thumbs-up from neurologists to start tonight's matchup at Candlestick Park as he recovers from a concussion he sustained eight days ago.

So as this becomes the Campbell-Kaepernick quarterback matchup as Jay Cutler also recuperates from the same injury suffered last Sunday, the Bears' defense faces a younger, less patient signal-caller on the other side of the ball. While Colin Kaepernick has yet to throw an interception in 26 attempts this season, he figures to get rattled a little more than Smith, who's thrown just 10 picks since the start of the 2011 season.

Matter of fact, Smith had a stretch of 249 attempts without a pick spanning from last Nov. 24, 2011-Sept. 23. Kaepernick, on the other hand, is the team's third-leading rusher (177 yards on 21 attempts). While the only quarterback close to Kaepernick's tuck-it-and-run style the defense has faced this season is Cam Newton (who really didn't in the Bears' one-point win), safe to say they'll take that over the gradual maturity Smith has shown over the past two seasons.

As a team, San Francisco's turned the ball over just nine times since Dec. 1, something the Bears and their NFL-leading 30 takeaways need to disrupt. If they accomplish that, the bigger question becomes if the struggling offense can make it pay off behind Jason Campbell. If it's successful in doing so, and consistently against the kind of defense that stacks up against the Bears, rushing Cutler's return becomes less important and blogs and talk shows will begin an entirely new debate.

But first things first: Campbell, Mike Tice, and the rest of the offense have to outsmart and outbattle an outstanding unit led by a scary linebacking corps (Aldon Smith's 9 12 sacks rank second in the NFC). The Niners' defense doesn't seem to let its offense's turnovers rattle it either, allowing just 16 points the nine times they have coughed the ball up. But the Vikings, Giants and Rams have figured out enough ways to beat (or tie) them. Let's see if these Bears can.

Since the win there in that glorious 1985 season, the Bears have made seven trips to San Francisco and been outscored 239-42. They'll be happy to get out of there one point better tonight, and keep their one game lead in the division over Green Bay.

Tune into Comcast SportsNet at 4:30 p.m. to preview the game live on "United Bears Recap". Then, flip over to us immediately after the Bears-49ers game goes final for "Chevy Dealers' Bears Postgame Live." I'll be joined by Dan Jiggetts, Jim Miller and Hunter Hillenmeyer to break down the game for 90 minutes, take you live to postgame press conferences and locker room interviews with Kip Lewis, more analysis from John Mullin and share your reaction via Twitter using hashtag BearsTalk

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.