Blackhawks

Durant, Thunder left to wonder what went wrong

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Durant, Thunder left to wonder what went wrong

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- A week ago, they were leading the NBA Finals. And now, the Oklahoma City Thunder are heading home for the summer to ruminate over lessons doled out by the Miami Heat. Favorites coming into the series, the Thunder fell in Game 5 of the finals Thursday night, as Miami finished off its run to a championship by beating the Thunder 121-106. Oklahoma City's 11-point win in Game 1 is long forgotten and irrelevant now, considering that for the first time in more than three years, the Thunder have lost four straight games. At the absolute worst time, on the absolute biggest stage, no less. "When you play against the best, you learn," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. Kevin Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook finished with 19 points for the Thunder, though Westbrook's night -- one game removed from a 20-for-32 performance from the field -- came on a night where he shot 4 for 20. They came out with 4:44 left, the outcome long decided, the Heat fans going delirious. "We made it to the finals, which was cool for us, but we didn't want to just make it there," Durant said. "Unfortunately we lost, so it's tough. It's tough, man. That's the only way I can explain it. But as a whole, I'm proud of the guys on how we fought all season." James Harden scored 19 points and Derek Fisher added 11 for the Thunder. Down 10 at the half, the Thunder cut the deficit in half by the time the third quarter was a minute old. It was the last gasp of the season -- Miami put the game, and the title, away with a 34-13 burst that pushed the lead to 93-67 on a three-point play by Dwyane Wade with 1:23 left in that pivotal quarter. Mike Miller connected on his sixth 3-pointer of the night, and Miami's 13th, on the first possession of the fourth quarter. Miller would soon add another, for good measure. From that point, the clock wasn't ticking down time left in the game. It was ticking down the time left in Oklahoma City's season. "We know what this feeling feels like," Westbrook said. "We'll remember this feeling, and that will push everybody in the summer, just try to keep everybody going and keep everybody's heads up." The Thunder came in saying they had to have that proverbial Game 7 -- win or else -- mentality. Apparently, they chose else. "You hate to go home and not win the whole thing. ... We lost to a team that played better than us in four of the five games," Brooks said. Even though it was a five-point game after one quarter, a 10-point game at the half and still a two-possession game early in the third quarter, the Thunder simply did not have enough answers for the barrage that came from Miami. Forget Miami's Big Three of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. It was more like a Big Six for the Heat on this night. Two years of work, and a year of frustration after falling to Dallas in the title round a year ago, came pouring out of the Heat. By the time the third quarter was over, Miami had six players in double figures. Oklahoma City? Just two. And that was largely the downfall of Oklahoma City in this series. Durant was consistently great. Westbrook had more good moments than bad, by far. But the third option simply wasn't there, or at least, wasn't there often enough. "The best two teams were in the finals," James said. This Thunder team is built to contend for this title for a long time to come. Durant and Westbrook are already exceptional, and likely nowhere near their prime. Harden was the best sixth man in the league all season, though he struggled big-time in this series. Serge Ibaka is one of the best defenders in the league. The general manager, Sam Presti, is extremely well thought of in just about every league circle. And Oklahoma City has proven itself to be a city that loves its team. More good things for the franchise are certain. But a title -- that wasn't happening, not yet anyway, not against a Heat team that spent a year preparing for this stage. Now, it's Oklahoma City's turn to take a finals loss and use it as motivation. "You get here because you're good. You get here because you're committed to each other," Brooks said. "We definitely have room to improve. That's what the summers are for." Durant spent part of this past summer working out with James in the finals MVP's hometown of Akron, Ohio. He vowed to work even harder this time around. "I'm going to find the positives and the negatives," Durant said. "It was tough losing the finals. We got to the finals, had a tough road to get here. But we've just got to move past it, I guess, man. It's going to hurt for a little bit. We've got to move past it."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."