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Super Bowl is set: It's Pats vs. Giants in a rematch

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Super Bowl is set: It's Pats vs. Giants in a rematch

From Comcast SportsNet
Hey, Indianapolis. A Manning will be playing in your Super Bowl, after all. No, not that one. It'll be Eli Manning leading the New York Giants to a Super Bowl rematch against the New England Patriots -- and this time on older brother Peyton's home field. "It doesn't matter to me where you're playing it or the fact that it's in Indianapolis," Eli Manning said. "I'm just excited about being in one." And if the Giants can pull this one off, Eli will have sibling bragging rights with one more Super Bowl ring than Peyton, who missed this season for the Colts after having neck surgery. It sure won't be easy for the Giants, though. Four years after New York stunned previously undefeated New England in the Arizona desert, they'll play a Super sequel. Eli vs. Brady. Coughlin vs. Belichick. The Giants vs. the Patriots. Sound familiar? Here we go again. "It's awesome and we look forward to the challenge," Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "They are a great football team. They have always been a great football team. We are looking forward to it, and it's going to be a great game." Well, judging from the last time these teams met in the Super Bowl -- David Tyree's jaw-dropping, helmet-pinning catch and all -- it just might be. "Being in this situation is a great moment," Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "You have to cherish this moment." New England (15-3) opened as a 3-point favorite for the Feb. 5 game against New York (12-7), but the Patriots know all about being in this position. They were favored by 12 points and pursuing perfection in 2008, but New York's defense battered Brady, and Manning connected with Plaxico Burress on a late touchdown to win the Giants' third Super Bowl. That TD came, of course, a few moments after one of the biggest plays in playoff history: Manning escaping the grasp of Patriots defenders and finding Tyree, who put New York in scoring position by trapping the football against his helmet. "Hopefully, we will have the same result," Umenyiora said. "We still have one more game to go, but this is truly unbelievable." Especially since the Giants appeared on the verge of collapsing with Tom Coughlin's job status in jeopardy just a month ago, when they fell to 7-7 with an embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 18. "We've been here before," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said at the time, "and we'll get back." Boy, was he right. The Giants were facing elimination against the rival Jets and Rex Ryan, who boldly declared that his team ruled New York. Well, Coughlin's crew silenced Ryan with a 29-14 victory. The Giants followed that with a 31-14 win over Dallas in the regular-season finale to clinch the NFC East and get to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. New York dominated Atlanta at home in the opening round. Then came a stunner: a 37-20 victory at Green Bay -- knocking out the defending Super Bowl champions. On Sunday, Manning extended the best season of his career with one more solid performance, and Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants past the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in overtime for the NFC title. "I'm just proud of the guys, what we've overcome this year, what we've been through," Manning said, "just never having any doubts, keep believing in our team that we could get hot and start playing our best football." The Patriots are rolling into the Super Bowl having won 10 straight, with their last loss being to -- you guessed it -- the Giants, 24-20 back in early November. "We know they're a great team," Manning said. "We played them already this year. They've been playing great football recently." They sure have. And now Brady and the Patriots are in familiar territory, playing in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in 11 years -- and first since the stunning upset in Arizona. New England hopes to avoid all that sort of drama this time around. Unless it goes in the Patriots' favor, as it did in the AFC title game. Brady was unusually subpar in the Patriots' 23-20 victory over Baltimore, throwing for 239 yards with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. But he got some help from the Patriots' much-maligned defense, which made some crucial stops down the stretch. A few mistakes by the Ravens helped greatly, too, as Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds left -- soon after Lee Evans had a potential winning touchdown catch ripped out of his hands in the end zone. "Childlike joy. It's all about childlike joy," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Last night felt like the day before Christmas for me and I haven't had that feeling in a long time." New England last won the Super Bowl in 2005, a long drought considering that the Patriots took home Lombardi trophies three times in four years. There are only a handful of players left from that team, with guys like Corey Dillon, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison replaced by young up-and-comers such as Mayo, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. "It doesn't even feel right, especially playing with the veterans here," Gronkowski said. "I watched them go to the Super Bowl as I was growing up, and now I'm part of it? It is an unreal moment." The constants, though, are Brady and Bill Belichick. And that's been a winning combination for New England, combining to become the first QB-coach combination to win five conference championships in the Super Bowl era. Belichick did perhaps his finest coaching job this season, piecing together a defense that ranked second-to-last in the league during the regular season. That led to plenty of shootouts, and Brady was more than up to the task, throwing for a career-high 5,235 yards while tossing 39 touchdown passes. "They're an amazing team," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "They're a great brotherhood; they're a family." And they're all looking to lift another Super Bowl trophy together. Patriots-Giants. One more time.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”