Blackhawks

Poll watch: Irish move up to No. 3 in BCS

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Poll watch: Irish move up to No. 3 in BCS

BOSTON -- A 21-6 win over Boston College coupled with Alabama's loss to Texas A&M bumped Notre Dame up a spot to No. 3 in the latest BCS standings released Sunday night, as expected. K-State took the No. 1 spot in the BCS, while Oregon sits at No. 2.

Big picture, nothing has changed for Notre Dame. The Irish still need attrition to reach the national title -- although now, they need less. Alabama's loss knocked down the first wall. For Notre Dame to reach the title, they need either Kansas State or Oregon to lose -- and, of course, the Irish still need to win out.

No matter how impressive or unimpressive Notre Dame looks against Wake Forest and No. 18 USC, as long as the Irish win, they'll stay at No. 3. They won't move up unless the No. 1 Wildcats or No. 2 Ducks lose.

Notre Dame received a first-place vote in the coaches poll for the first time since 2006, with that vote courtesy of coach Brian Kelly. While all Notre Dame players can control is winning, Kelly can attempt to influence the system by putting the Irish atop the coaches poll, which is factored into the BCS. But Kelly was the only coach to vote the Irish No. 1, and it won't change Notre Dame's predicament in the long run.

"We've played a tough schedule," Kelly said Sunday. "Obviously wins on the road against Oklahoma and Michigan State and certainly showing how to beat a tough team in Stanford, those wins are big wins for us. I think we're tested, and I like the way our quarterback is developing, and he's getting better and better each and every week. Those are all positive things."

If K-State and Oregon run the table, though, Notre Dame is staring down either a trip to the Fiesta Bowl or Rose Bowl, the latter of which emerged as an option with Stanford's win over Oregon State on Saturday. If Stanford loses to Oregon and the Ducks go to the title (they'd still have to beat Oregon State and the Pac 12 South champion), there's a chance the Pac 12 won't have an eligible team to play in the Rose Bowl. And with the Rose Bowl first on the at-large pecking order, chances are they'd take Notre Dame.

If that's not the case, though, the Irish would almost certainly earn a Fiesta Bowl berth, where they could wind up facing No. 8 Texas A&M, which rocketed into the BCS discussion with its win over Alabama, which appears destined for the Sugar Bowl. No. 5 Georgia or No. 6 Florida would be viable options for Notre Dame to play in Glendale, too.

But the Fiesta and Rose Bowls are just backup options, and ones that Notre Dame may avoid falling back on with one more loss ahead of them. But no matter how well Notre Dame has played, or will play, that's the only route.

"If you look at National Championship caliber football, you've got to look at a defense, and so that's why we feel strongly that our football team has put themselves in the discussion," Kelly said. "We'll let others decide, but I think we've played our way into the discussion."

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.