Bears

Time for Hawks' stars to step up

740234.png

Time for Hawks' stars to step up

There are a few things you just automatically expect in the postseason. You expect tight, close games. You expect big hits. You expect good goaltending. And you expect your top players to perform as such.

The Blackhawks have had plenty of the first two, so-so of the third and not enough of the fourth.

And if theyre going to pull this series, in which theyre currently down 3-1, out of the fire, they need a heck of a lot more of the fourth.

The Blackhawks stars havent been dazzling enough in their first four games against the Phoenix Coyotes, who have a commanding lead and could eliminate the Hawks in Game 5 on Saturday night. And as several of them talked on Friday before heading out to Arizona, they knew they had to be better.

Even if the point production, goals and assists are where I want them to be, theres always a thing or two you feel you can do more, said captain Jonathan Toews. I dont think Im the only one in the room right now; we all need to feel that responsibility. If every guy takes that responsibility its going to pay off.

Toews had as strong a start to this series as anyone couldve asked including himself after missing 22 games with a concussion. He came out with a goal and an assist in Game 1, getting the Blackhawks on the board early. But hes been quieter since, recording just one assist in the past three games.

Patrick Kane leads the top guns with four assists, including two in Game 1. Patrick Sharp has just one goal in the four games, his deflection of Brent Seabrooks shot that sent Game 2 to overtime. The Blackhawks lost Marian Hossa early in Game 3 on Raffi Torres hit. Theres no doubt they miss his presence on the ice; hes someone opponents have to account for when hes out there. But Hossa was nevertheless sputtering down the stretch. He had no points in the first two games of this series, and has just three assists in his last 10 games.

The Blackhawks have gotten much of their production lately from their role players. Bryan Bickell had two goals in Game 2, including the winner. Michael Frolik has two in as many games. Brandon Bollig, Andrew Brunette and Brendan Morrison a late add in Game 4 over Jamal Mayers, a healthy scatch have also scored.

Sharp took responsibility for his part, too, although he didnt want to dwell on the slump.

I always try to score, try to help the team win whatever way I can. If fingers are pointed at me, Ill accept it, he said. But Im not wasting time on negative energy. Ill focus on playing the best Game 5 we can.

In some cases its not for lack of trying. Sharp had 11 combined shots in Games 1 and 2 against the Coyotes. Toews had six in Game 3. Regardless, the Blackhawks need their big guns. Secondary scoring is great, and the Blackhawks will take it. But the primary scorers have to be the difference makers in this series.

Or in this case, they have to be the series extenders.

Some nights its like that. Other nights (you shoot) one or two shots and they go in, Toews said. Ive said it many times before: as a captain credit when things go well but youre going to be the guy in the middle of it when things are going south. Were in a tough position as a team, in the series, thats the way it is. I want to bring a little extra effort to help us get over the hump.

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

chrisbosiochanges.jpg
USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, the team declining a club contract option for next year and making a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.