Bears

Kings vs. Devils: A Cinderella story

773302.png

Kings vs. Devils: A Cinderella story

If someone told me back in March that the Kings and Devils would be going to the Stanley Cup finals, I would have thought that person is crazy. Heck, if you told me a week ago that Los Angeles and New Jersey would be the two advancing, I still wouldn't have believed it.

But after last night's 3-2 overtime win against the Rangers, the Devils will be returing to the finals since they won it all back in 2003. Both teams have different advantages that could make this upcoming series more exciting than some may think.

Goaltending:

Jonathan Quick is the the number one reason the Kings qualified for the playoffs to begin with. He's recorded a .946 save percentage, two shutouts, earning himself a 1.54 goals against average during Los Angeles' 12-2 postseason run.

In the East, Martin Brodeur has earned a .923 save percentage and one shutout, recording a 2.04 GAA throughout the playoffs. He has led his team to a 12-5 record as they head into the finals.

Advantage: Kings

History:

The Kings haven't been to the finals since 1993, and they were eliminated in five games against the Montreal Canadiens. They have yet to win a Stanley Cup. That wouldn't seem like too much of a setback after seeing how well they've played throughout the postseason, but the Devils' statistics would make any Los Angeles fan a little nervous.

Back in 1995 and 2003, the Devils competed in the finals against the Red Wings and then the Ducks; two teams that entered the series with a 12-2 record. New Jersey defeated both. Given the fact that the Devils have won three Stanley Cups since 1974 also gives them an advantage--the Kings' franchise hasn't been there before.

In addition, if you take a look at the regular season, the Devils defeated the Kings in both their matchups back in October. But I don't think those statistics should be applied when analyzing the postseason since Los Angeles has played at an entirely different level since the beginning of the year.

Advantage: Devils

Momentum:

This is a tough one. The Kings have clearly defied all odds by going from the worst offensive team in the league to a top-contender for the Cup, but their last two games against Phoenix were shaky. Los Angeles was dominated in Game 4, and their Game 5 series win could have gone either way during overtime.

The Devils' record isn't as impressive as the Kings, but their last two games were more impressive overall. Although Game 6 against the Rangers was also a pretty even match, their aggressive play in overtime led to their win rather quickly. Plus, they were definitely the more dominant team in their Game 5 victory.

Although New Jersey played better in their last two games leading up to the finals, their overall playoff run hasn't been as consistent as the Kings' has, and Los Angeles' team chemistry has been more difficult to defeat. As long as the Kings remain focused and don't allow another slip-up like they did against Phoenix, they will be the stronger team.
Advantage: Kings

My overall prediction: Kings in 6.
Who would you like to see take home the Stanley Cup this year, and what are your final series predictions?

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

trusivby.png
USA TODAY

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

Oh, it all started so promising.

The Bears looked like a well-oiled machine early Sunday, looking like the kind of team bouncing back from a gut-wrenching loss to the Green Bay Packers a week prior. But with another NFC North rival in town, this time the Detroit Lions, things turned ugly in a hurry — and the result ended up the same.

The Bears lost for the seventh time in 10 games this season, falling to the Lions by a 27-24 score on the shores of Lake Michigan.

An offense that has struggled to put points on the board much of the year — and couldn’t match a Packers offense led by backup quarterback Brett Hundley last weekend — started strong, with three scoring drives in its first four possessions. Mitch Trubisky led scoring drives of 70, 55 and 73 yards, producing 17 points and had the Bears ahead by 10 midway through the second quarter.

The lone Lions points came after a rare miscue by the offense in the opening 20-plus minutes when Trubisky fumbled a snap, only for D.J. Hayden to run it back 27 yards for a touchdown. But still, the Bears looked the superior team on both sides of the ball.

It was then, though, that Matt Stafford flipped a switch and started picking apart the Bears’ defense. Backed up at his own nine-yard line after an offensive pass-interference penalty, Stafford marched the Lions down the field, rattling off completions of 17, 40 and 28 yards, the last a touchdown pass that took advantage of a badly burned Marcus Cooper.

Stafford then led a 73-yard touchdown drive, once again picking apart the Bears’ secondary and giving his Lions a lead right before the half, a sudden turn of events considering the Bears had a double-digit lead not long before.

After an uneventful third quarter, the Bears tied the game with five minutes remaining on a stellar touchdown run by Tarik Cohen. But Stafford marched the Lions right down the field immediately afterward, and the Lions cashed in with a 52-yard go-ahead field goal.

Trubisky led the Bears downfield and put them in position for a game-tying field goal, but Connor Barth’s attempt was way off the mark, sending the Bears to another upsetting defeat.

Tarik Cohen gets back in the game

After earning much social-media scorn the last few weeks, the Bears’ coaching staff brought Tarik Cohen back with a vengeance.

The rookie running back proved himself a dangerous offensive weapon early in the season, but he had been largely absent for weeks, combining for just five rushing attempts and three receptions in the previous three games against the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and aforementioned Packers.

Well, the Bears’ coaches must have heard all that criticism and heavily involved Cohen, who finished with nine rushes for 44 yards and four catches for 15 yards. He was targeted a total of six times.

And Cohen came up with a huge play late in the game, taking a shovel pitch from Trubisky, running to the pylon and flipping his way into the end zone, extending the ball in midair to make sure it was a touchdown. That score tied the game at 24 with five minutes left.

Banged-up Bears

The Bears’ defense — already well bothered with injuries — added a couple more to the list Sunday.

None seemed more significant than the one to Leonard Floyd, who was taken off the field on a cart in the fourth quarter after Kyle Fuller crashed into Floyd’s right knee. Floyd spent a good deal of time on the ground before the cart came out.

Fuller suffered a wrist injury on the same play, with TV cameras catching the sight of an awful lot of blood.

At various points, defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman left the field with members of the training staff. And on the offensive side, wide receiver Josh Bellamy was announced as being in the concussion protocol after a play in the third quarter.

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

forsliong.png
USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.