Blackhawks

I'll Have Another is big favorite to win the Triple Crown

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I'll Have Another is big favorite to win the Triple Crown

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- I'll Have Another went into lockdown on Wednesday, moving into a secured barn shortly after the colt was made the early 4-5 favorite to win the Belmont Stakes in his quest to become the 12th Triple Crown champion and first in 34 years. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was the last of the 12 Belmont horses to arrive at the detention barn, showing up four minutes past the noon check-in deadline. The chestnut colt calmly walked a few hundred yards down a dirt path from where he had been stabled since arriving May 20 and stepped into the barn with a horde of media tracking his every move. "No complaints, no hurdles," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He's being good." Whether he's good enough to end the 34-year drought of Triple Crown winners will be decided Saturday, when I'll Have Another breaks from the No. 11 post under Mario Gutierrez. He'll have to contend with 11 rivals. "We're going to see how the pace sets up," O'Neill said. "If they're crawling, hopefully we'll be leading the crawl and if they're flying, hopefully we'll be sitting in behind the horses flying." Just two Belmont winners have come out of the No. 11 post since 1905. The last was Sarava, a 70-1 shot who ended War Emblem's Triple Crown bid in 2002. I'll Have Another bucked history in the Derby as the first horse to win from the 19th post. Dullahan was the 5-1 second choice and drew post No. 5. The colt finished third in the Kentucky Derby and sat out the Preakness. "Five is as good as any," trainer Dale Romans said. "It doesn't matter going a mile and a half with my horse. I didn't want to be down on the rail or way outside." Union Rags arrived from his training base in Maryland shortly after 11 a.m. and settled into the security barn, which will be monitored around the clock leading up to the Belmont. Anyone interacting with the horses, including trainers, veterinarians, exercise riders and owners, will have to be logged in and out. The barn was set up as part of last-minute changes to ensure a fair running of the race. Union Rags was the third betting choice at 6-1 and will break from post No. 3 under new jockey John Velazquez. The colt got bumped at the start by Dullahan in the Derby and rallied from 17th to finish seventh. He also skipped the Preakness to prepare for the 1 1-2-mile Belmont. "If I had my choice I would have picked a little further out," trainer Michael Matz said. "I think the horse has enough speed to be in a decent position." Paynter is the fourth betting choice at 8-1 and drew the No. 9 post for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. I'll Have Another chased down Bodemeister in the closing strides of both the Derby and Preakness. But Baffert sent him back to the West Coast and called in a fresh Paynter to challenge the favorite. "I always thought Bodemeister is a very nice colt," said Ahmed Zayat, who owns both Bodemeister and Paynter. "Bob, from day one, thought Paynter was the better horse." I'll Have Another went for his usual gallop earlier Wednesday morning, and O'Neill was pleased. "He's continued to gallop good, his energy's been good, his appetite's been strong, and he's handled this whole journey as good as you could possibly ask a horse," he said. "He hasn't lost a bit of his flesh at all, his coat continues to shine and look great, so we couldn't ask for him to be coming in to this any better." D. Wayne Lukas was back at the track a day after being kicked in the forehead by one of his horses. The 76-year-old Hall of Fame trainer sported an ugly gash that had been stitched up. He will saddle Optimizer in a race he's won four times, but not since 2000. "There's better horses in the race but the times that I have won it, there were better horses in the race then, too," he said. Trainer Ken McPeek has two 30-1 shots in Atigun and Unstoppable U. "These horses admittedly are not of the class level of I'll Have Another, Dullahan, Union Rags," he said. "They haven't proven it at that level. So I really kind of need to run both of them to have a real shot." In 2002, his horse Sarava spoiled War Emblem's Triple Crown, winning at 70-1 odds. "Nobody threw any stones at me on the way out," McPeek said. Nineteen horses have been tripped up in their Triple tries, including 11 since Affirmed was the last to win in 1978. ------ The field, from the rail out: Street Life (Jose Lezcano, 12-1); Unstoppable U (Junior Alvarado, 30-1); Union Rags (John Velazquez, 6-1); Atigun (Julien Leparoux, 30-1); Dullahan (Javier Castellano, 5-1); Ravelo's Boy (Alex Solis, 50-1); Five Sixteen (Rosie Napravnik, 50-1); Guyana Star Dweej (Kent Desormeaux, 50-1); Paynter (Mike Smith, 8-1); Optimizer (Corey Nakatani, 20-1); I'll Have Another (Mario Gutierrez, 4-5); My Adonis (Ramon Dominguez, 20-1).

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.