Blackhawks

Soriano cant worry about perceptions

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Soriano cant worry about perceptions

MILWAUKEE Of course, Alfonso Soriano is rooting for the Heat: Im from Miami, babe.

Surrounded by teammates lounging on couches, Soriano sat on a table in the middle of the clubhouse on Tuesday night, closely watching the Boston Celtics win Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Soriano likes to yell at the TV, and sometimes its hard not to laugh when you hear his voice, calling everyone babe or papi. The Cubs were loud and in a good mood, wolfing down food after snapping an 11-game losing streak on the road.

Soriano had a big smile on his face when he returned to his locker: See how crazy it is in here when we win.

There arent many people who can begin to understand the heat LeBron James and Dwyane Wade must be feeling in the NBA playoffs.

Soriano knows what its like to play for the team that everyone loves or hates (the New York Yankees), carry the weight of the big contract (136 million) and hear the boos (from the bleachers).

Soriano dresses the part for charter flights, wearing big suits and big sunglasses. The 36-year-old outfielder has handled the spotlight well, even on a bad left knee thats heavily wrapped.

It makes just walking around the clubhouse look difficult. These days, there isnt much noise in the postgame clubhouse, and as the Cubs hang around last place, Soriano doesnt know what will happen next.

I dont want to try to think too much, Soriano said. I dont want to try to do too much. I just want to try to do my job and let the front office (do their job). They know what they have to do. My part is to play the game. I come here every day to play. I dont know what they want to do.

I dont control that situation. I control my situation just try to stay healthy and play hard every day.

Technically, Soriano has no-trade rights, but the roughly 48 million left on his contract through the end of the 2014 season seems to make that a formality.

At some point, the endgame figures to be designated hitter, and thats what Soriano will be this weekend at Target Field for three interleague games against the Minnesota Twins.

Its kind of coming at the right time, manager Dale Sveum said. Ive been playing him every day and hes that one threat in our lineup thats hit. Its just hard to give him days off at all. To his credit, he doesnt want any.

Soriano has gone off on one his hot streaks, hitting at least one home run in each of the teams last eight series. He didnt homer in his first 30 games this season, and then strung together nine in his last 21 games starting May 15. He doesnt want to sit on the bench.

When youre around him, Sveum said, youre talking about probably having as much admiration for somebody as Ive come across in my career, (just) to see how he works, on and off the field and tries to make himself a better outfielder every day.

Looking on the other side of the fence, I think a lot of people can really have the wrong perception of Soriano. Theres no doubt, but when youre here, you understand why. This year hes been running balls out as hard as he can and doing everything he possibly can to get that perception changed.

Its not always easy to watch, particularly when a balls hit into the corner and Soriano has to pump the brakes.

Everybody sees thats the biggest problem he has, Sveum said. Once he gets going, its coming to a stop, how painful that knee gets and worrying about possibly blowing out if he (does it) too quick. So thats something he just kind of manufactures and deals with himself, how to compensate.

The Cubs are looking to go younger, get more athletic and stress defense. Soriano can still provide power, and as long as he stays healthy, he appears headed toward his 11th straight season of 20 or more home runs. The front office will try to convince someone theres value in that.

Its awesome, reliever James Russell said. You look at that guy, hes been in the game for awhile and hes playing as hard as anybody. Its a big lift to see that guy just run around making plays, having fun just playing baseball.

If I were to be a guy getting 125 million, thats how you should act. It goes unnoticed by a lot of people and he gets the boos and all that from the crowd, but it doesnt even wear on him at all. Thats how you should handle yourself as a big-leaguer, and a lot of people look up to him.

LeBron, D-Wade and the Heat brought a lot of this onto themselves, trying to create an instant dynasty, and that has to wear on them.

When Tony Campana was hearing it from teammates after being knocked out of the bunting tournament in spring training, he was reminding of a saying: Sori always told me they dont boo nobodies.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."