Cubs

Blackhawks make most of every second

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Blackhawks make most of every second

Once is a fluke. Twice is a coincidence. And if it happens three times, you have to call it a trend.

The Blackhawks last three postseason games have been truly down to the wire, with the team forcing overtime in each one with just a few seconds left in regulation. Its been frenzied, scrambling, desperate last-minute work for the Blackhawks, who keep finding ways to play longer postseason games.

Its Blackhawks playoff hockey, sponsored by Bayer, for the near cardiac event it causes.

Its kind of comparable; weve had three straight playoff games in the same fashion on the road, coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday nights 4-3 overtime victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, which tied their Western Conference quarterfinal series at 1-1. We had momentum going into overtime and we loved to cash in.

Brent Seabrook joked that the Blackhawks were just trying to beat our time from the last game by a bit.

Indeed, they have slowly inched their way toward zero in each of their last three postseason road games. Jonathan Toews scored a shorthanded goal with 1:56 left in regulation an eternity compared to the Blackhawks last two games -- in Game 7 vs. Vancouver last spring. Seabrooks tying goal in Game 1 came with 14.2 seconds remaining and Patrick Sharps deflection in Game 2 was with 5.5 seconds left.

In both games the Blackhawks had an empty net at the other end. And as overtime began on Saturday, some fans on Twitter joked that the team should start the extra time with the same setup.

The Blackhawks were feeling the last-second excitement.

It was kind of fun there in the last minute, six guys moving the puck pretty well, said Sharp. We had a few chances to score and I knew Seabs was going to pound it. I dont know if Ive ever seen that before, back to back games forcing overtime (that late). Were thankful we seized the opportunity.

Yes, the Blackhawks worked hard to get those late chances and those late tying goals. But as exhilarating as those endings are, the Blackhawks need to make things a little easier on themselves in future games. That push, that drive to the net needs to be as evident with 20 minutes left in the third as it is with 20 seconds.

Playoff hockey is always tight. The Blackhawks dont have to make it any tighter.

Its always scary when its that extra attacker. You never know with the empty net, Dave Bolland said. But the guys we have out there are capable of doing some damage. We didnt want to wait for that 5.5 left to tie the game.

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Cubs manager Joe Maddon usually isn’t one for conspiracy theories, but even he’s wondering what’s going on. MLB teams are hitting home runs at an absurd rate, including the Cubs, who are hitting them at a historic rate for the franchise’s standards.

Entering Saturday, here’s where MLB teams stand in average home run rate and total home runs in 2019 compared to recent seasons:

2017: 1.26/game, 6,105 total
2018: 1.15/game, 5,585 total
2019: 1.33/game, 2,009 total

While the MLB season is just over 30 percent finished, teams are on pace to hit a combined 6,483 long balls in 2019. This would absolutely obliterate the 2017 total, which, like the 1.33 home runs per game figure, would be an MLB record.

The Cubs are no exception to this home run wave. Including Saturday (game No. 50 of the season), the team has hit 80 home runs (and counting) in 2019. Only the 2000 Cubs (83) hit more home runs in their first 50 games in franchise history.

“We’re having home runs hit here into some firm breezes, which has not happened before,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters before Saturday’s game against the Reds. “That’s the thing that stands out to me. It’s been crazy.

“Even [Kyle] Schwarber’s home run, I know that was hit well, but dang, that wind was blowing pretty firmly across at that point.”

Schwarber absolutely crushed his home run yesterday, a 449-foot blast that needed little help getting into the bleachers. However, Maddon has a valid point regarding home runs being hit despite the wind. Entering Saturday, 54 total home runs have been hit at Wrigley Field this season, 29 of which have come with the wind blowing in.

By the sixth inning of Saturday’s game, the Cubs and Reds had already hit a combined five home runs, one of which appeared to be a routine fly ball hit by Jason Heyward that wound up in the left field basket thanks to the wind. At the same time, Yasiel Puig hit one 416 feet onto Waveland Ave. that had a 109 mph exit velocity. The wind blowing out at Wrigley Field helps, but it isn’t everything.

MLB players have questioned time and time again if baseballs are “juiced,” including Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester. And while Maddon didn’t flat out say that he thinks the baseballs are juiced, he notices a difference in how they're flying off the bat.

“I don’t know, I’m normally not into the subplot component of all of this and the conspiracy theorists, but I’m telling you right now, it’s jumping,” he said. “It’s absolutely jumping.

“Nobody is ever going to admit to it. The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird.”

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97 Days to Kickoff: Elmwood Park

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

97 Days to Kickoff: Elmwood Park

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Elmwood Park

Head coach: Dylan Mack

Assistant coaches: Gabe Ostrander, Mario Fiorito, Chad Nardi, Tony Sylvester, Eric Lewis and Dwayne French

How they fared in 2018: 8-3 (4-1 Metro Suburban Red). Elmwood Park made the Class 4A state playoff field and beat Back of the Yards. In the second round, they lost to Evergreen Park.

2019 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 30 vs St. Joseph

Sept. 6 vs Lisle

Sept. 13 @ Ridgewood

Sept. 20 vs St. Edward

Sept. 27 vs Westmont

Oct. 4 @ Christ the King

Oct. 11 vs Guerin Prep

Oct. 18 @ Chicago Christian

Oct. 25 @ Bishop McNamara

Biggest storyline: Last year, the Tigers had their best season on the gridiron since 1985’s 12-1 state semifinal team. What will this team do for an encore? Can they go deeper into the state playoffs?

Names to watch this season: Senior quarterback Mike Stranski and wide receiver Keon Grimes

Biggest holes to fill: The Tigers will need to find some new faces to bolster the defensive line and at the linebacker positions.

EDGY's Early Take: It was a banner year in 2018, as Elmwood Park advanced to the their playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in school history. Coach Dylan Mack’s program has some momentum will have a very good chance to make it three state playoff appearances in a row later this fall.