Blackhawks

Is Eli Manning 'elite' - you better believe it!

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Is Eli Manning 'elite' - you better believe it!

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Back in August, back before the season began, Eli Manning was asked whether he considered himself an "elite" quarterback a la Tom Brady. Manning replied simply that he belonged "in that class." He was questioned and criticized for that, and -- shocking, right? -- it all became quite a big deal in New York. Hard to imagine anyone arguing about his status now. Perfect at the beginning, cool and calm on a closing drive to the go-ahead touchdown, Manning won his second NFL championship in a four-year span -- and second Super Bowl MVP award, too -- for steering the New York Giants to a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night. Right now, no one, not even his older sibling Peyton, is as good in the clutch right now. Right now, no one, not even New England's Tom Brady, is as adept at erasing deficits. "We've had a bunch of them this year. We've had some fourth-quarter comebacks," said Manning, 30 for 40 for 296 yards, with one touchdown pass and zero interceptions. "We'd been in those situations, and we knew that we had no more time left. We had to go down and score, and guys stepped up and made great plays." Led, as usual, by Manning himself. He opened the game by becoming the first quarterback to complete his first nine attempts in a Super Bowl. And he finished the job by directing the nine-play, 88-yard TD drive that put New York ahead with 57 seconds left. "That was quite a drive that he was able to put together," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He deserves all the credit in the world, because he really has put his team on his shoulders all year." This late drive, so reminiscent of the way New York beat New England in the 2008 Super Bowl with Manning as MVP, started on the Giants' 12, with a little more than 3 minutes left and the Patriots ahead 17-15. It closed with running back Ahmad Bradshaw easing into the end zone from 6 yards out. The Patriots decided not to contest the run, trying to save some time on the clock for a final drive -- a risky and desperate decision by Patriots coach Bill Belichick. But New England couldn't get the ball back in the end zone, with Brady's final heave from his 49 falling barely beyond the grasp of tight end Rob Gronkowski. "We had this goal to finish, finish, finish," Coughlin said, "and win the fourth quarter." That's precisely when Manning takes over. In the regular season, he threw an NFL-record 15 TD passes in the final period. He also led six game-winning drives to bring New York back from fourth-quarter deficits. "He's become confident over time; kind of grew into it," Manning's father, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie, told The Associated Press after Sunday's game. "I always felt like you have to experience those situations before you become confident. He's certainly had his share." That's true. Manning's even done it before in the Super Bowl. Four years ago, he took home his first MVP award after a scoring pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left allowed New York to upset Brady and New England, ruining the Patriots' bid for a perfect season. Back then, Manning got a boost from David Tyree's Velcro-helmet grab on the go-ahead drive. This time, the key play was Mario Manningham's 38-yard, over-the-shoulder catch between two defenders along the sideline, which held up after the Patriots challenged it. The Giants had trouble putting up points Sunday despite getting into New England's territory on every drive except a kneeldown at the end of the first half. But Manning kept at it, using eight receivers, led by Hakeem Nicks' 10 catches for 109 yards. "We just tried to be patient," said Manningham, who finished with five receptions for 73 yards. "Got to be patient with this game. We knew big plays (were) going to come. We just had to take advantage of them." Manning now is one of only five players in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl MVP awards. He joined the guy he got the better of in the big game yet again, Brady, along with Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr and Joe Montana (the only player with three). And Manning did it in the House that Peyton Built, the stadium where his Big Bro -- a four-time regular-season MVP but owner of only one Super Bowl title -- has starred for the Indianapolis Colts. "It just feels good to win a Super Bowl. Doesn't matter where you are," said Manning, 10 for 14 for 118 yards in Sunday's fourth quarter. As he spoke, he clutched the silver Vince Lombardi Trophy. Once again, he'd outdone Brady, who was 27 of 41 for 276 yards, with two TDs and one interception. In one stretch, Brady completed 16 consecutive passes, breaking Joe Montana's Super Bowl record of 13. All Brady could do after the game was praise Manning. "He made some great throws there in the fourth quarter," Brady said. The biggest turnaround of all this season for Manning was the way he brought the Giants back from a 1-5 slump that left them 7-7 and in serious danger of missing the playoffs. But from there, he took them on a season-closing, six-game winning streak. He finished the postseason with nine TDs and only one interception, solid as could be the whole way. "I never doubt Eli," Giants safety Kenny Phillips said. "I don't think anyone on this team doubts Eli." No one -- anywhere -- possibly could doubt him now.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”