Blackhawks

Gargan hopes to play vs. Rapids

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Gargan hopes to play vs. Rapids

Its not a sure thing that Dan Gargan will be at his usual right back spot for the Fire when the club visits the Colorado Rapids on Sunday. The veteran defender was slowed during the training sessions leading into the match by a sore left toe.

But, perhaps more than any other regular season match in Major League Soccer, Gargan wants to play in this one. The fact that Gargan spent the first four seasons of his MLS career with the Rapids is one thing. But this goes deeper than a player wanting to show off against a team that released him in April of the 2008 season.

In this case theres bragging rights on the line with Jeff Larentowicz, a defensive midfielder for the Rapids. Plenty of former teammates have squared off in MLS over the years, but the Gargan-Larentowicz connection goes back much further than most. They started playing together as students at Clark grade school in Philadelphia, then continued on as teammates at Chestnut Hill Academy, where they helped that school rule the Inter-academic League -- the oldest private school league in the U.S. -- as both juniors and seniors.

"Not just sports but, looking back, we had English class and math class together. We spent countless hours together, said Gargan. "And this wont be the first time weve played against each other. But its still special every time. Itll be a fun game for me.

Actually, they were rivals even in their high school days when they werent playing for Chestnut Hill.

"We werent on the same club team, said Gargan, who played for the Coppa youth team while Larentowicz captained Delco Arsenal, which won U.S. Youth Soccer Assn. national titles in 2002 and 2003.

Youth soccer was strong in the Philadelphia area at that time. Two other MLS veterans, Bobby Convey and Chris Albright played for arch-rival Penn Charter in high school matches, and Convey was Gargans teammate with Coppa in club play. Last week Gargan squared off with Albright when the Fire defeated the Philadelphia Union 1-0 for its first victory of the season.

After high school graduation in 2001 Gargan played at Georgetown while Larentowicz performed for Brown. Though Chestnut Hills strong program produced lots of Division I soccer players, only Gargan and Larentowicz are still playing. Gargan is 29, Larentowicz 28.

Gargan was drafted 43rd overall by the Rapids in 2005, and he played in 49 matches for them from 2005-2007. They released him early in the 2008 season, and he signed with Chivas USA two weeks later but personal problems led to him retiring three weeks later without playing a game.

He restarted his career in 2009, playing for the Puerto Rico Islanders of the United Soccer League. Toronto FC brought him back into MLS in 2010, and he started 37 times for that club before being traded to the Fire for defender Dasan Robinson on July 28 of last year. Gargan was a key late-season acquisition, starting nine times in a strong stretch run that saw the Fire barely miss the playoffs.

Larentowiczs career is similar. He was the 45th pick in the 2005 MLS supplemental draft by the New England Revolution and stayed with the Revs through the 2009 season. They sent him to the Rapids in a five-player trade prior to the 2010 season. Hell return to the Rapids lineup Sunday after serving a one-game suspension for drawing two yellow cards in the previous match.

Gargan and Larentowicz trained together briefly after Larentowicz was traded to the Rapids, and Larentowicz stood up in Gargans wedding in January. Both their families still live in the Philadelphia area.

Both also know about the altitude in Denver that has been known to bother visiting teams.

"In the time I was there I was in the best shape of my life, said Gargan. "When Id come out for practices I felt I could run for days. Once you hit altitude you feel it. Its crazy how quickly you get dehydrated. Playing in it (on a daily basis) is definitely a benefit, and the teams in Colorado havent taken as much advantage of it as they should.

The Fire hopes the Rapids wont take advantage of it in this the third game of the season. Its a key one, based on what transpired last season. As was the case in 2011, the Fire is off to 1-0-1 start. Last years Game 3 started a tailspin in which the Fire didnt win again for three months. The club doesnt want that to happen again.

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.