Cubs

Blackhawks shake up power play in time of need

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Blackhawks shake up power play in time of need

Ah, the Blackhawks power play: its been the source of angst for the teams fans and a source of few goals for the team itself. The advantage has been anemic for most of the season, and different combinations, schemes and coaches havent really found a solution for it.

But now its the postseason, when the spotlight on special teams becomes glaring. The Blackhawks couldve used power-play production in several games. Now, they need it.

The Blackhawks power play enters the postseason scoring just 15.1 percent of the time, 26th in the league. Thats the second-worst percentage of any team in the playoffs; Phoenix is worse at 13.6 percent (29th). So for the past two days the Blackhawks have gone with two new power-play units.

Jonathan Toews, who should be back Thursday after missing 22 games with a concussion, was on the top unit with Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. Duncan Keith, Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw and Andrew Brunette make up the second group.

You have high-end talent on one. And with the other unit we should have traffic around the net, coach Joel Quenneville said. If you look at the collection of the guys, we should be able to make plays and create some offense off it.

If they do, the Blackhawks will happily reverse a trend thats gone on all season. Even when Toews was healthy, the power play struggled. They were mired in that 0-for run with him, finally ending it in their second game without Toews in Anaheim, breaking an 0-for-39 drought.

So theyll try these combos in the hopes of finding an answer. Each unit has someone whos strong at, and able to win, faceoffs Toews on the first and Kruger on the second. The inability to win those on a consistent basis didnt help matters, either. Nor did the Blackhawks shots or lack thereof on goal. There was a stretch where the Blackhawks mustered no shots on several consecutive power plays. The Blackhawks are going to have to create, crash and shoot to dent the Phoenix penalty kill, which is No. 8 in the league.

The regular season is over. The Blackhawks hope their power play woes are, too.

Were going to need it, Quenneville said. Sometimes one goal can be the difference. We hope that our power play can be effective.

'Season-defining win'? Cubs are here for it

'Season-defining win'? Cubs are here for it

Smiling came easy for Anthony Rizzo as stood at his locker and fielded questions in a robin-egg blue T-shirt that read: "positive vibes."

This was roughly a half-hour after he went through the high-five line telling all his teammates the 12-11 victory was a "season-defining win" for the Cubs.

Who knows if it will really be that big of a "W" for this ballclub in the midst of what has been an up-and-down season to this point, but there has certainly been no shortage of positive vibes around the clubhouse lately.

One thing's for certain: The Cubs will wake up Thursday morning in sole possession of first place again as the Cardinals lost to the Brewers in a rain-shortened game in St. Louis.

Yu Darvish and the Cubs bullpen squandered a 6-2 lead and then a 10-9 lead. Yet the offense picked up the slack, smacking 14 hits, including Kris Bryant's game-winning two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth inning.

"We haven't won a game like that really all year, I don't think," Rizzo said. "They scored 9 runs in the fifth to seventh innings. Teams don't really win when that happens. Just a good, hard-fought, never-quit win."

Rizzo is right: The Cubs haven't won a game in which they allowed at least 11 runs since Sept. 2, 2017 when they beat the Braves 14-12.

The Cubs have claimed 14 of 17 games at home since the All-Star Break and are now 43-19 at Wrigley Field this season - a winning percentage approaching .700 to combat the .390 winning percentage on the road.

So is it a season-defining victory?

"That's what Rizz told me," Bryant said. "We were high-fiving there and Rizz told me this is a season-defining win. I mean, I can't disagree with him. It's one of those games where you don't feel like you're gonna win just because you take a lead and then you're giving it back, but we came out on top. 

"Definitely some good momentum. We're playing good at home here, obviously and just gotta roll with the records at home and on the road."

Early on, it looked to be a night where the Cubs would cruise to victory behind Darvish, who came into the game red-hot and had settled into a rhythm after serving up a two-run shot to the third hitter of the game.

But that wasn't the case, as Darvish served up four homers overall and Derek Holland and Tyler Chatwood combined to allow 4 runs while notching just two outs as the first arms out of the bullpen.

Before the game, Joe Maddon talked again about how he felt like the only way the Cubs would be able to pull away in a tight NL Central race would be if the offense got into a groove and for one day at least, they were certainly firing on all cylinders.

The only starter who didn't reach base safely at least twice was Kyle Schwarber, and he drove in 3 runs on a homer and a groundout in which he hustled down the line to avoid a double play. Darvish even chipped in with an RBI single in the second inning.

Yes, it was a good win. Yes, the Cubs can go to sleep feeling content and wake up feeling hopeful.

But the only way this becomes a "season-defining win" is if the next five weeks play out like they hope. There have been several wins before Wednesday that seemed like they could propel the Cubs - including the finale in Cincinnati on the last road trip where Bryant once again came through with a clutch late homer. And every time, the team failed to keep the good times rolling for an extended period.

This is all a moot point if the Cubs come out and look flat this weekend or fail to carry any momentum onto the road.

"We'll find out," said Maddon, who has been in this game for nearly four decades. "I mean, I've been involved in those seminal moments and all of a sudden, things switch. 

"I'll tell you one thing though - I liked the method at the plate. Nobody was grinding sawdust; everybody was up there nice and chill and were getting good hacks on good pitches. ... I liked that. That's what we need to get to that point."

Bulls Talk Podcast: Rookie survey surprise, Joakim will double-team anyone

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Rookie survey surprise, Joakim will double-team anyone

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Sean Highkin and Michael Walton join Kevin Anderson.

1:00 The great Chicken Sandwich Wars- believe the hype

5:15 Judging the Bulls missed free throw promotion with Chick-fil-A

9:25 The story of Michael Jordan betting with teammates on the Dunkin Donuts race

11:45 The myth of the special NBA Jams version with Michael Jordan

17:00 How Jordan would have used twitter in the 90’s

18:00 Which player in NBA history would have had the best twitter account

22:20 Are you with Devin Booker or Joakim Noah in the double-team debate?

25:37 On the NBA rookie survey and Cam Reddish winning ‘best career’ vote

Listen to the full podcast here

Bulls Talk Podcast

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