Blackhawks

Injury regrets? Wilson says 'absolutely not'

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Injury regrets? Wilson says 'absolutely not'

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Brian Wilson has no regrets about how many times he pitched during the San Francisco Giants' improbable 2010 World Series title run. Nor about how he handled his rehabilitation program this winter, and certainly not how he stayed on the mound at Colorado last week despite ligament damage in his arm. "Absolutely not," Wilson said. "That's how I play baseball. Push it to the limits." Wilson has now reached his limit. San Francisco's bearded and boisterous closer said before Sunday's series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates that he will probably have elbow-reconstruction surgery, ending his season after only 56 pitches, two appearances and one save. He was officially placed on the 15-day disabled list, clearing space for Ryan Vogelsong to come off the DL against Pittsburgh. An MRI showed the structural damage. Wilson plans to seek at least one other opinion and probably two, including from the renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who performs Tommy John elbow-reconstruction surgeries. Rehab time is typically a year to 18 months. The news hands a big blow to a Giants team that has lost a major clubhouse fixture for the second straight season and has hopes of recapturing the magic from the city's historic championship two years ago. "My spirits aren't down," Wilson said. "I know a lot of people are sad. I know Giants fans are probably going to look at this as like a huge loss. But we have the best bullpen in the league. I've been honored to play with those guys, teach them some things, and they've taught me some things, and they're going to fill in my role as best they can. "I don't think they're going to falter. I think we're going to take the West no matter what." The Bearded One's absence leaves a gaping hole in the bullpen. The 30-year-old Wilson, a three-time All-Star, led the majors with 48 saves in 2010. He finished 6-4 with a 3.11 ERA and 36 saves in 57 appearances last season, held out down the stretch as a precaution. Wilson said during spring training all seemed right with his elbow. And all did seem fine until he threw 32 pitches at Colorado on Thursday, preserving a 4-2 victory over the Rockies despite the apparent injury while working the second of back-to-back days. He stayed in the game with two outs and the bases loaded after turning his right ankle on a 1-0 pitch to Tyler Colvin. Turns out, Wilson really hurt his arm -- whether the injury happened on that pitch is still somewhat of a mystery -- but he refused to be pulled out. "My mindset was, OK, if it's inflammation, get out of your mess. If this is season ending, your last pitch is going to be preserving (Madison) Bumgarner's win and not walking off the mound a failure," Wilson said. "That's just how I pitch. I don't care how painful it is." At least for now, Wilson's replacement will likely come by committee. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said it would be nice to find a regular closer. In the meantime, he plans to give the ninth-inning opportunities to Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo or even lefty Javier Lopez -- all of whom helped fill in when Wilson missed time late last season with elbow issues. Bochy and athletic trainer Dave Groeschner were adamant the team followed every step of Wilson's rehab properly -- and the closer agreed -- last year and this offseason. Wilson felt something in the elbow at Colorado, Groeschner said, but didn't tell the team until Friday about the discomfort. Wilson, who already had one Tommy John surgery during college, was then sent for tests. The results seemed to surprise even Bochy considering Wilson was still hitting 95 mph on the radar and 89 with his cutting fastball against the Rockies. "It's pretty amazing where he was at given with what happened," Bochy said. "He was still pretty good." That's Wilson. The eccentric right-hander with the bushy, black beard means as much to the clubhouse -- regularly playing dominoes and pulling pranks with teammates -- as he does when he runs out of the bullpen with House of Pain's "Jump Around" blaring over the ballpark's speakers. Still, with a deep bullpen, the loss doesn't figure to cost San Francisco the way star catcher Buster Posey's season-ending leg and ankle injury did after a home-plate collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins last May 25. In fact, Wilson believes he'll have more time for his off-the-field antics in the clubhouse while rehabbing than before. He joked that he might hop in the broadcast booth and "maybe win an Emmy." He still has another arbitration year under contract with the Giants, telling fans and media, "You're welcome." And he's not worried about coming back, saying it's an "opportunity for me to get a better arm. How's that disappointing?" "If I plan on playing forever," Wilson said, smiling, "then this is a small percentage of my career."

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.