Blackhawks

Cabrera wins American League MVP

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Cabrera wins American League MVP

NEW YORK -- Detroit's Miguel Cabrera won the American League's Most Valuable Player award on Thursday after becoming baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, and San Francisco's Buster Posey was voted the National League honor.

Cabrera received 22 of 28 first-place votes and 362 points from the AL panel of Baseball Writers' Association of America to easily beat out Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who had six firsts and 281 points. Trout was voted AL Rookie of the Year earlier in the week.

Posey recovered from a devastating leg injury that cut short his 2011 season, became the first catcher in 70 years to win the NL batting title and helped San Francisco win its second World Series title in three seasons. He got 27 of 32 firsts and 422 points from the NL panel, outdistancing 2011 winner Ryan Braun of Milwaukee, who was second with 285 points.

Cabrera hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs to become the first Triple Crown winner since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The last four Triple Crown winners have been voted MVP, including Mickey Mantle in 1956 and Frank Robinson in 1966.

Cabrera also led the league with a .606 slugging percentage for the AL champion Tigers. He became the second straight Detroit player voted MVP, following Justin Verlander in 2011, and was the first Venezuelan to earn the honor.

Before the season, he switched from first base to third to make way for Prince Fielder, signing as a free agent.

The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, Posey set career highs with a .336 average, 24 homers and 103 RBIs for the World Series champion Giants. His 2011 season was cut short by a collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins on May 25 that resulted in a fractured bone in Posey's lower left leg and three torn ankle ligaments.

Posey, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, won the NL batting title after teammate Melky Cabrera requested a rules change that disqualified him. Cabrera, who hit .346, missed the final 45 games of the regular-season while serving a suspension for a positive testosterone test and would have won the batting crown if the rule hadn't been changed.

Ernie Lombardi had been the previous catcher to capture the NL batting championship, in 1942.

Catchers have won the NL MVP just eight times, with Posey joining Gabby Hartnett (1935), Lombardi (1938), Roy Campanella (1951, 1953, 1955) and Johnny Bench (1970, 1972). The other winning catchers were Lombardi in 1938 and Gabby Hartnett in 1935.

Posey is the first Giants player to win since Barry Bonds was voted his record seventh MVP award in 2004.

Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen (245) was third, followed by St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina (241).

NOTES:

In his first season with the Angels, Albert Pujols didn't finish among the top 10 for the first time in his career. While with St. Louis, he won three times, was second four times and also finished third, fourth, fifth and ninth.

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

It’s an annual rite of passage if you cover or are a fan of the Blackhawks: you question the power play, because there always seems to be an issue with the power play. You wonder why every season, given the talent on this team. And again this fall the power play has sputtered.

But a funny thing happened at the end of the weekend. The Blackhawks’ power play started to look good, started to generate chances and started to score. In 10 games prior to the Blackhawks’ Nov. 12 game against New Jersey they had just three power-play goals in 40 opportunities. In their last three games (vs. the Devils, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins), they’ve tallied five goals on 13 opportunities.

So what’s been working?

“I’ll probably give you the same answer as when it wasn’t working: pucks to the net, guys in front,” Patrick Sharp said. “We have the shot mentality more so than just moving it around and getting it set up. You look at the goals we’ve scored, it’s nothing overly complicated. It’s just getting the puck to the net. Just stay with it.”

Sounds simple enough, but the stay-with-it part has probably been the toughest segment of the equation. When the Blackhawks slumped they really slumped, and their lack of confidence on the power play was as evident as their lack of scoring on it. Yes, stressing over it can have its affect; and when the Blackhawks got those two power-play goals against the Devils it seemed to be a release.

“You get one, that weight gets lifted off your chest a little bit, you can play a little loser and maybe not grip your stick as tight as when things weren’t going well,” Cody Franson said. “When you’re confident out there you’re moving the puck cleanly, things happen a little quicker for you and give you those better looks at good chances. When you’re not that confident sometimes you’re not executing as well and things were moving slower and you’re not generating too much. Confidence definitely plays a big part in it.”

So back to what’s working. The Blackhawks started becoming more active on the power play, cutting down on the passes and increasing the shots. They’ve been there for rebounds. They started feeding off the success, be it with the power play as a unit or with individual performances. Artem Anisimov has returned to being a force at the net again; of his five goals in his last three games, two are power-play goals.

“A couple of broken plays and sometimes you get some breaks. You win a faceoff and make a quick little play after a couple of great opportunities on the prior whistle there that didn’t go in. I just think shots at the net and traffic and off that, sometimes they go in,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our entries have always been alright this year, so we’re getting zone time and let’s get some simpler looks and sometimes they go in. I think gaining confidence there, it seems like we’re having the puck more and longer and sustaining some offense off it.”

The Blackhawks have struggled more than they’ve succeeded on the power play the last few seasons. But as their overall scoring has increased again, so has their power-play production. Good timing.

“People tend to say the power play can keep you in games and the penalty kill can win you games. Our penalty kill’s been great and has given us chances in a lot of games. [Corey Crawford’s] been playing pretty well,” Franson said. “And when our power play can give us success we find ourselves in better situations to try and win games.”

High School Lites Podcast: Rules, regulations ... and repeat champions?

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High School Lites Podcast: Rules, regulations ... and repeat champions?

Can Prairie Ridge repeat as state champions? Will Rochester and IC Catholic Prep do the same? It’s championship weekend at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb for IHSA football.

On the latest High School Lites Podcast, Joe Collins and “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran wrap up the 2017 prep season and discuss the games on NIU’s campus this weekend.

Could some contests go down to the last play? A lot of playoffs games have done just that in recent memory. And referees are the ones who keep a continuous rundown of checks of balances as plays and game flow escalate. The guys are joined by Steve Garbaciak, the President of the Joliet Football Officials and member of the IHSA’s official advisory committee and a 25-year veteran of the IHSA. Steve chronicles how the game has changed in the last quarter century, and he details how to maintain judicial balance in games of critical importance.

It's all on the latest High School Lites Podcast. Listen to the episode below: