Cubs

One NHL team is off to its best start ever

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One NHL team is off to its best start ever

From Comcast SportsNetCHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Blackhawks are off to the best start in their 85-year history, despite not being in charge for much of their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night.Thanks to Nick Leddy's goal at 2:45 of overtime and a zoned-in, 29-save effort from Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks defeated the Red Wings 2-1 and improved to 6-0.After taking a cross-ice pass from Viktor Stalberg, Leddy fired from the left circle and beat Detroit's Jimmy Howard with a shot that slipped just under his glove. Leddy, a defenseman, said it was his first overtime goal at any level."It's an unbelievable feeling, one I'll never forget," he said. "I heard that stat (best start) before the game. If we stick to doing the little things, we'll be great."The Blackhawks started 5-0 in 1971-72 -- Hall of Famer Bobby Hull's final season in Chicago -- and matched it on Saturday night with a 3-2 win in Columbus.On Sunday, however, they were anything but assertive for much of the second and third period. Part of that was penalty-related.Still, Chicago killed all six of Detroit's power plays, improving to 22 of 23 this season.Detroit's Johan Franzen finally connected at even-strength early in the third to tie the game at 1 and set up overtime. Duncan Keith scored a power-play goal in the first period for Chicago."We could have been on our heels a little bit," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Detroit was pressing (being) down a goal. You know everything's coming. They were pinching."We could have been better, but at the same time, six (games) in nine (days) could have been a factor."Quenneville couldn't really fault his club, one of two undefeated NHL teams along with San Jose."I think everybody deserves credit," Quenneville said. "Everybody's contributing. Everybody was where we wanted them to be. Everybody had good conditioning to start with. Special teams, Crow (Crawford) in net, the team game. I'm pleased."Crawford, who made his fifth start in six games, was sharp again. Last season, the Blackhawks' 28-year-old No. 1 goalie was criticized for allowing soft and untimely goals. That hasn't happened so far this season."Focus has been a huge part of it so far," Crawford said. "I thought I was focused last year, but I wasn't quite there."This year, I've paid a little bit more attention to that, especially throughout the game. Every play around the net, I'm ready and getting low for little things around the net so I don't give up those little goals."Crawford needed to be sharp when his teammates sagged on Sunday."I thought we really carried the play in the last 30 minutes of the game," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They were better than us early. They outskated us, and then we really dug in and got playing a while. We had every opportunity to win the game."Injury-depleted Detroit has gone just 2 for 26 with the man advantage so far."We've got to shoot the puck a little more and maybe things will be a little different," Franzen said. "It think it's just a matter of getting the shots and getting the traffic."Howard, who has started all five of Detroit's games, made 25 saves.Chicago has won four straight against Detroit, dating to Feb. 21, 2012. The Blackhawks and Red Wings met for the 722th time, the most of any two NHL opponents.Sunday's game was only the Blackhawks' second at home, and they begin a six-game road trip Wednesday in Minnesota. The Blackhawks don't skate at home again until Feb. 12 as they play 10 of their first 12 games away from the United Center.Keith scored the only goal of the first period, during a power play 2:24 in.Crawford had to be sharp to preserve the lead in second. Early in the period, he made close-in saves on Todd Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg. And the Blackhawks needed Crawford as they ran into penalty trouble in the second. Detroit was unable to convert any of four straight power plays beginning midway through the second, including a 43-second 5-on-3 advantage."The D were blocking the shots," Quenneville said. "Key saves by Crow (Crawford). It was a group effort, with spectacular kills."We dodged a bullet. It was the key to the game."The Blackhawks started the third sluggishly, and Franzen finally tied it at 1 with an even-strength goal at 4:30 of the period. After Zetterberg's shot was blocked, Franzen picked up the loose puck and closed in from the right circle. He got by Keith and beat Crawford with a shot between the legs.Crawford made a point-blank stop on Cory Emmerton midway through the third to preserve the tie.Howard then made sprawling saves on Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews during a Chicago power play with just under 5 minutes left in the third. Keith's shot a minute-and-a-half later hit the post.Crawford stopped Franzen's prime chance 1:30 into overtime.Notes: Red Wings D Jonathan Ericsson returned after missing three games with an injured hip. ... Detroit C Darren Helm (back) and D Jakub Kindl (healthy scratch) sat out after playing on Friday against Minnesota. Both have missed four of five games so far. ... Red Wings D Ian White (leg), D Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) and LW Jan Mursak (shoulder) and G Jonas Gustavsson (groin) remain sidelined. ... Out for Chicago were LW Daniel Carcillo (knee) and D Steve Montador (concussion, from last season) ... The 1971-72 Blackhawks won nine of its first 11 games en route to a 46-17-15 record and first place in the NHL's old Western Division.

Theo Epstein: Joe Maddon has taken enough heat, don’t blame NLCS on Cubs manager

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USA TODAY

Theo Epstein: Joe Maddon has taken enough heat, don’t blame NLCS on Cubs manager

The second-guessing of Joe Maddon jumped the shark when someone questioned why the manager didn’t pinch-hit for Kyle Hendricks – with two outs in the fourth inning of a 2-1 game the Cubs would lose by five runs to a Los Angeles Dodgers team at 110 wins and counting this year.

Maddon makes himself a target when he shows up to a Dodger Stadium press conference in a hipster jean jacket, gets ejected from two of the first four National League Championship Series games, likens the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, lectures the media about the dangers of dry-humping and threatens to “come running out of the clubhouse in my jockstrap” if Curtis Granderson hits a disputed home run instead of swinging at strike four.

You won’t have Maddon to kick around anymore, because Thursday night’s ugly 11-1 Game 5 loss ended the 2017 season and turned out the lights at Wrigley Field, the Dodgers advancing to their first World Series since 1988 and looking a lot like the 2016 Cubs.

“It’s not Joe Maddon against Dave Roberts,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “It’s the Cubs against the Dodgers. And the Dodgers have played extraordinarily well this postseason. We’ve played with a ton of heart and character, but we haven’t played our best baseball.”

Why would a manager even need a jockstrap, anyway? “That was just hyperbole on my part,” Maddon said. “Everybody’s so literal. It’s baseball prose.”

The game is now dissected 140 characters at a time on Twitter, where there isn’t enough room and attention bandwidth to explain how: the Dodgers have merged their great tradition of scouting and player development with cutting-edge analytics and $200 million payrolls; beating the Washington Nationals in an epic elimination game drained the defending champs physically and emotionally; this lineup isn’t nearly as good as the one that won last year’s World Series; and trade-deadline nonfactor Justin Wilson created a huge hole in a Cubs bullpen without many good options right now.

“It’s not manager against manager,” Epstein said. “That stuff just gets under the microscope so much this time of year. It’s players performing. And when you get a lead in the series – and when you’ve got a bunch of relievers throwing well – you can make tactically aggressive decisions. Your strategies tend to work.

“When you’re in a tough spot late in the game – and you’re searching for consistency in the ‘pen – it just puts all managers in tough spots.”

Even Epstein has admitted that Maddon opened himself up to second-guessing for how he handled Aroldis Chapman and managed last year’s World Series Game 7.

We’ll never know what would have happened if Maddon summoned Wade Davis for the ninth inning in Game 2 instead of letting John Lackey face Justin Turner and then watching that three-run, walk-off homer at Dodger Stadium. We’re not quite sure if the All-Star closer really was close to full strength or just getting by with guts and intelligence. But it’s pretty obvious the better team won this NLCS.

Epstein definitely felt frustrated with the way Maddon’s team sleepwalked through a 43-45 first half. That could be a much bigger issue than any lineup choice or bullpen decision moving forward: Making sure Maddon’s positive message doesn’t get tuned out in the clubhouse and having the safeguards in place so that hands-off approach doesn’t waste a season for this extremely talented young core.

But Maddon has guided this franchise into the playoffs for three straight years – something no one else had done since Frank Chance in 1906-08 – and at a certain point all he can do is watch along with the rest of us.

“It’s not about front offices or managers,” Epstein said. “It’s about the players.”

Ayo Dosunmu commitment changes the outlook of Illinois basketball

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SB NATION

Ayo Dosunmu commitment changes the outlook of Illinois basketball

Morgan Park senior Ayo Dosunmu helped change the outlook of Illinois basketball on Thursday as the 6-foot-4 guard committed to the Illini and new head coach Brad Underwood.

Deciding between his two finalists of Illinois and Wake Forest on the darkened second floor of the Jordan Brand Store on State Street, Dosunmu kept fans of both teams in suspense throughout the entire week. With his inner circle changing all of their Twitter avatars to black and Dosunmu wearing all black clothing to school on Thursday, there were no leaks from Dosunmu's camp on where he might end up.

But after a brief introduction video played, displaying Dosunmu's #whynotme catchphrase at the end, the lanky senior emerged from a back hallway. Ditching the blackout theme from earlier in the day, Dosunmu slowly walked into the light of his press conference, in front of teammates, family and friends, revealing a crisp white polo with a bright orange Block I.

Without saying a word, Dosunmu's presence in the white Illinois polo changed everything for the future of Illinois basketball. 

"I just want to bring good days back for basketball at Illinois and I want to be one of the cornerstones to start it off," Dosunmu said.

The frontrunner to win Mr. Basketball in the state this season, Dosunmu is a colossal catch for Underwood as it means the Illini could have back-to-back Mr. Basketball winners as their future backcourt. After landing Edwardsville guard and Mr. Basketball winner Mark Smith last spring, considering that Underwood has yet to even coach a game at Illinois, he is already doing a superb job of keeping in-state talent at home.

Although Underwood had to play catch up on Dosunmu once he took the job coming from Oklahoma State this spring, he made an intelligent hire in assistant coach and Chicago native Ronald "Chin" Coleman to help bridge the gap. A former coach at Whitney Young and with the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, Coleman has recruited Chicago kids at multiple Division I stops before landing with Illinois this spring.

Coleman had an advantage when it came to recruiting Dosunmu. Not only was Coleman a former coach with Dosunmu's AAU program, but he also gave Dosunmu his first scholarship offer while he was an assistant coach at UIC. Even though national programs like Kansas and USC came calling, Dosunmu opted to stay close to home as loyalty is important to him.

"Me and Coach Coleman have a great relationship. He offered me my first scholarship. So, as a teenager, you never forget that," Dosunmu said.

With Coleman opening the door, Underwood and the rest of Illinois recruited Dosunmu as hard as possible. Underwood sold his fast-paced offense, promising to put the ball in Dosunmu's hands right away in a young backcourt that would also feature Smith, freshman Trent Frazier and sophomore Te'Jon Lucas as a solid perimeter core to build around.

""They like to play fast, I like to play fast," Dosunmu said.

"[Underwood] told me I could have the ball right away. He told me that I can be one of the freshmen playing the most minutes coming out so we sat there and talked about a lot of things."

Once Dosunmu took an official visit to Champaign to see campus last weekend he was sold after spending time with his future teammates. During one particular conversation, Dosunmu was playing NBA 2K18 with Smith as the two discussed what it might be like playing together.

"He said we can be the best backcourt and that if I have his back he has my back," Dosunmu said. 

"I think it can be scary."

Illinois hasn't had the kind of talent to produce a "scary" backcourt in the last few years but now with Smith, Frazier, Lucas and Dosunmu the Illini should have more than enough firepower to help run Underwood's high-octane offense.

It might take some time for such a young backcourt to gel, but all four of those pieces have a chance to be a major part of Illinois rebuilding into a perennial NCAA tournament contender.

Underwood still has to finish out the Class of 2018 and find more interior players to compete in the rugged Big Ten, but for the first time in years, there is reason to be very optimistic about the outlook of Illinois basketball.