Bears

Hawks - Coyotes first-round expectations

605142.png

Hawks - Coyotes first-round expectations

The Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes first-round matchup doesnt elicit the storylines of some of the Hawks recent postseason series. Its missing the animosity that comes with the Vancouver draw. Theres no goalie then-and-now comparison that you get with San Jose. And theres no deep history, as there would be if the Hawks wouldve played Detroit.

But hey, the playoffs are all about creating those stories, those subplots Blackhawks-Canucks was a big bag of who cares four seasons ago. So while we wait to see what this series brings, lets look at what each team brings:
Follow the leader

The Coyotes have been looking up to their reliable captain since 2003. The Blackhawks, in the wake of their captains injury, have looked to another for leadership.

Shane Doan is the prototype captain, a dependable player who has been with the WinnipegPhoenix franchise his entire professional career. Doan has long put up the points he has 318 goals and 470 points for a career 788 points. And this season, Doan finally got his first career hat trick.

Patrick Kane doesnt have the 'C' on his sweater, but in Jonathan Toews absence Kane has taken part of that role. Kane has been impressive as the Blackhawks No. 1 center, and his play and leadership down the stretch is a big reason the Blackhawks have surged again this spring

Thorn in opponents side

Which of the Blackhawks has been the Coyotes biggest headache? And vice-versa? The answers to each are wily veterans who are a combined 77 years old: left wings Andrew Brunette and Ray Whitney. Brunette has 42 career points against the Coyotes (14 goals and 28 assists). The 38-year-old was hampered by a foot injury as the regular season ended. But coach Joel Quenneville said Brunette, who was part of a successful top line with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, should be ready for the playoffs.

For Phoenix, the 39-year-old Whitney has been stellar against Chicago, with 39 career points (12 goals, 27 assists). Whitney played all 82 games this season and put up some of his best career numbers during it. His 24 goals, 53 assists (77 points) are exactly the same as his 2008-09 numbers with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Goaltenders

Corey Crawford has gone through his ups and downs this season, and once again there was talk of a goaltending controversy. Would the backup become the No. 1 guy for the third consecutive season? But as the Blackhawks got closer to the playoffs, Crawford got closer to the form he had last spring. Since coming in relief and pulling out a shootout victory against the St. Louis Blues on March 13, Crawford has gone 8-1-2.

Mike Smith has gone through a renaissance with the Coyotes. Seemingly finished when he languished in the Tampa Bay minor-league system last season, Smith is now among the leagues best goaltenders and should be a Vezina Trophy candidate. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Smith has turned it on entering the postseason, allowing just two goals in his last five games (190 saves on 192 shots).
Knowing coaches

Joel Quenneville and Phoenix coach Dave Tippett are both familiar with each other. The two are longtime friends, and in their playing days were teammates in both Hartford and Washington. Theyve also carved their successful coaching niches. Quenneville has the most victories among NHL coaches (624) and two Stanley Cups, including one as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche.

Tippett, who has 406 victories, has led the Coyotes to three consecutive playoff appearances and, on Saturday night, their first division title in franchise history. He also won the Jack Adams award in 2010.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

pod.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.