Blackhawks

Bulls playoffs: A test all around

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Bulls playoffs: A test all around

There will be no grades handed out for this year's playoffs--it will only be passfail for the Bulls. Anything less than an Eastern Conference title will be considered a failure. But, the test doesn't extend just to the players and whether or not they have what it takes to win it all. This will be a test for coach Tom Thibodeau who, despite being in the running for his second straight Coach of the Year award, may be feeling the most pressure. His intensity has helped the Bulls to the top overall seed two years running, but the question remains if his approach translates into championships, and at this point, that's all that matters.

A story surfaced last month that the second year Bulls coach was unhappy the team hadn't offered him a contract extention yet. Thibodeau's current deal includes a team option for 2012-2013. While the report was downplayed, don't think Thibs is a lock to return, this year's playoffs could be his passfail test.

As for the players, Derrick Rose's increasing unhappiness may be amplified depending on how the Bulls perform in the playoffs. The effects of that are unknown, but changes could be in store if the Bulls make an early exit.

The test for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah is to redeem themselves from last year's poor performances. The two have to prove that they not only can be reliable, but they can be difference makers in the playoffs. If not, Bulls GM Gar Forman will be forced to consider his options.

Now that he's healthy, Richard Hamilton has an equal amount of pressure on him since he was brought in as the so-called missing link, the one who was going to make the difference between a series win over the Heat or another disappointing ending. If Rip can't shine the way the Bulls expected him to when they signed the former Piston over the winter, the passfail falls to Forman and his ability to upgrade the team from last year.

The fates of CJ Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver could all ride on the postseason. All three have team options for next year, and all three could be gone.

So, as college students across the country cram for final exams in the month of May, the Bulls will be taking their test every other night with the stakes arguably higher.

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

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USA Today

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Effort has not been a major concern for the Blackhawks this season. For the most part it's been there, and you could see it over the last two months when they started to string together a run.

But Wednesday, it was.

The Blackhawks didn't have a great first period. They had a decent second. Things went off the rails in the third. 

The Blackhawks lost focus, and the compete level wasn't nearly where it needed to be in their first home game in exactly two weeks after giving up five third-period goals, four of which came in a span of 7:08.

"Makes you angry," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers. "Because it's a game that you're looking for like, we needed this game. We didn't do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn't have enough guys ready to play."

The Blackhawks picked up two out of a possible 10 points on their five-game road trip in Western Canada, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of how they played. All five games were there for the taking but they squandered opportunities to do so. A power-play goal here or there could've been the difference, but instead their drought is now up to 0-for-17 in their past six games.

It was a tough road trip for the Blackhawks, not just because they didn't get the desired results, but because it was a demanding travel schedule that started and ended in Winnipeg. But they wouldn't use that as an excuse even though it's a valid one at this time of year.

"To me, the story of the game tonight is, you're going to have games throughout the year where you don't have energy, where it's hard to find," Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to find the motivation to go out there and play your best game. It's just a mental thing that you have to do and that's just the name of the game, playing NHL hockey. That's one of the challenging things that if you want to make the playoffs and you want to be a winning team you're not going to feel at your best every night.

"There's going to be tough travel, tough schedule, a lot of adversity, things that pile up in your way and you've got to find a way to overcome it. So we didn't do that tonight." 

With Wednesday's loss, the Blackhawks fell to 1-5-2 in their past eight games after going 12-5-0 in their previous 17. They remain eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference but have four teams to jump, two of which have a game in hand.

Playoffs seem like a pipedream at this point, and you have to wonder how this latest spiral could impact the Blackhawks' plans ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline. It's always a challenging time of year for players, especially on teams on the outside looking in, but that doesn't mean it's time to wave the white flag.

"We have to think really short-term," Colliton said. "And that's tomorrow, how are we going to prepare? Because we didn't prepare well enough. The coaches have to do a better job of preparing the team, the team needs to do a better job of preparing each other, and individually they've got to do a better job of preparing themselves to play."

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Are the Blackhawks buyers or sellers?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Are the Blackhawks buyers or sellers?

Charlie Roumeliotis, Scott King, and Ben Pope join Leila on the panel.

0:00- The Blackhawks return home after two weeks on the road. Did they return to Chicago as trade deadline sellers? And what are the chances both goalies could be dealt by Monday?

12:00- Pat Boyle joins the panel. He gives his thoughts on the Blackhawks trade deadline plans.

14:30- David Ross says the Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo could hit 1-2 in the Cubs lineup in 2020. Will that solve their leadoff woes?

19:00- The Astros controversy just won't go away. The panel discusses.

21:00- The NFL reportedly wants to expand the playoffs to 14 teams and go to a 17 game regular season. Is this a good idea?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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