Bears

The Kings are not the Stanley Cup champions ... yet

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The Kings are not the Stanley Cup champions ... yet

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- After 45 years of waiting, the Los Angeles Kings' quest for their first Stanley Cup title will last at least a few more days. The Kings had a chance to sweep New Jersey out of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night, but they were done in by three third-period goals in a 3-1 loss to the Devils in Game 4. While the Kings are an amazing 15-3 in this remarkable postseason run, they have lost three Game 4s with a chance for a sweep. No worries, though, as Los Angeles bounced back in Game 5 to knock out Vancouver and Phoenix on the road. The Kings managed to sweep St. Louis in the second round. The Devils claimed their first lead of the series in the third period before Kings defenseman Drew Doughty tied it. Adam Henrique put New Jersey ahead to stay with 4:29 left, and Ilya Kovalchuk secured the Eastern Conference champions' first win of the series with an empty-net goal. Now it's back to New Jersey for Game 5 on Saturday night. "It was pretty even all the way, but they found a way to get a late goal," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We had some chances early in the third, but we didn't bury it, and we made a couple of mistakes that they capitalized on. We've just got to hit the reset button. "We've been in this situation now three times in the playoffs, and we've always come back with a big rebound game." The Kings might have to get some rebounds past 40-year-old Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who has been in top form all series, and stopped 21 shots in Game 4. The NHL's career winningest goalie doesn't appear to be satisfied with the three Stanley Cup titles he already has. "Marty played well for them and made some big saves," Brown said. "Tonight was a battle out there, and now it's just a matter of having the same approach in the next game." The Kings were trying to become the first team to sweep the Devils in a best-of-seven series, and the first to sweep the finals since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. New Jersey had managed a total of only two goals in the first three games -- dropping a pair of 2-1 overtime decisions at home before losing 4-0 in Los Angeles in Game 3. Los Angeles has won a record 10 straight road games in these playoffs, and 12 consecutive postseason games away from home, dating to last year. If the Kings win one more in New Jersey, they will also own the mark for most road wins in a playoff year with 11. "Whether you win or lose, we don't have time to get down or too excited. We just have to focus on the next one," goalie Jonathan Quick said. "We've played well on the road, but at the same time, we try to play the same way whether you're on the road or at home. We're just focused on the next one, and that's all it is. This one is in the past." Quick faced 72 shots in the first three games, and the only two that got past him were a bounce off the chest of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, and Ryan Carter's deflection of Marek Zidlicky's shot. On Wednesday, he was beaten by Henrique's perfectly placed wrist shot. "They were desperate in all of the games," Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. "Everybody is bringing their A' game in the finals, and we're going to have to do it again. We have to bury the chances we get. "They seem like they had chances off the rush, and they capitalized on those. They played with a little more desperation than we did, and we have to correct that in Game 5." Teams that had a chance to win the Cup on home ice are 6-8 since 2000. The last four champions closed the deal on the road. The Kings could be primed to repeat that feat. "We didn't have our best game, and they did," defenseman Matt Greene said. "They played well. We knew they were going to come out hard, and they did. We have to be tighter in the defensive zone and tighter in our game if we want to win. "I think we played OK, but that's not going to cut it right now. We've got to do a better job of moving the puck faster out of our zone, getting more sustained pressure in theirs and disrupting their game." The Kings can take comfort in the fact that teams who led 3-0 in the Stanley Cup finals have won the series 24 of 25 times since the NHL went to a best-of-seven format in 1939. The only exception is the 1942 Detroit Red Wings, who blew the big lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs. None of the Kings appeared worried Wednesday that the Stanley Cup was slipping out of their grasp. The games have been tight, and Los Angeles has effectively shut down the Devils' power play, which is 0 for 15 in the series. "I don't think we were expecting to win in four before the finals started," Kings forward Simon Gagne said. "We're in a great position, but it's going to be a big fight. We all know that fourth one is going to be the toughest one to win. "Sure, you're disappointed. You hope you could do it in front of your fans. But at the same time, it's the Stanley Cup finals, and it's going to take a lot of work to get it done. They played well, and we came up short. That's the bottom line. Now we have to focus on the next game. That's it."

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing. 

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

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USA TODAY

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

The goals came in bunches for the Blackhawks in their Oct. 5 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the Blackhawks, it was a nice memory, albeit one that seems far away given they went from scoring at will through their first two games to not being able to buy a goal for a sizeable stretch.

As for the Penguins, well, you figure their memoires of that game means they’ll be more than a little ticked off when the Blackhawks arrive on Saturday night.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of a few losses like that,” Patrick Sharp said. “You certainly remember them more than other losses.”

This is kind of/sort of about the Penguins, who in the first meeting were clearly tired not only from two Stanley Cup runs but also from their season opener/banner raising the prior night. But it’s more about the Blackhawks who, after a lengthy scoring drought, are starting to get their offense going again (15 goals in their last three games).

And while they’d like to shore up their defense – they blew a 4-1 lead vs. New Jersey and just about did it again vs. the New York Rangers – overall they’re trending in the right direction. And just as they face the team against whom they played their best game of the season.

“I’m sure [the Penguins] will be excited about playing us and making things better. They’re playing well, winning some games. For [us], we’re looking for more consistency in our game with the puck and we’re generating some offense,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think it has some ways to improve. That was one night, whether it was the quality of the plays we made or [what], we seemed like we had the puck a lot and did some good things with it. We haven’t seen much of that lately so I think that maybe we can recapture a little bit of that with the puck as well.”

In the past three games the Blackhawks haven’t just reignited their offense, they’ve regained their confidence. Their lines are finding some chemistry. As frustrating as their scoring drought was, they’re hoping it’s behind them.

“At some point in the season I feel like every team goes through it, either in the beginning, the middle or toward the end. You just don’t want to have it right at the end of the season,” Ryan Hartman said. “You can look at it in in a positive way. Hopefully we got that part over with and now we’re just coming in confident and hopefully we put the puck in the net.”

The Blackhawks got off to a hot goal-scoring start against the Penguins by doing the right things: shooting, pouncing on rebounds, getting traffic in front of the net and capitalizing. As they head into their 20th game of the season, the Blackhawks are finally getting back to what worked so well in Game 1.

“Things dried up for a bit but I think we have a good rotation going here with the lines; the chemistry’s starting to fill in a little bit. Some guys are stepping up. [Artem] Anisimov had a big night and Brinsky’s [Alex DeBrincat] playing great. It’s good to see those guys step up. It makes you want to be that next guy who’s called up to step up in the next game,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s good to see some goals go into the net. More important, it’s good to see some wins. But we’re playing the right way and hopefully this will trend in the right direction for us.”