Cubs

Kings complete sweep of Blues, advance to conference finals

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Kings complete sweep of Blues, advance to conference finals

LOS ANGELES (AP) Dustin Brown scored two goals, Jonathan Quick made 23 saves, and the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings finished an improbable four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues with a 3-1 victory Sunday, advancing to the conference finals for just the second time in club history.Rookie Jordan Nolan scored an early goal for the Kings, the first No. 8 seed in NHL history to eliminate their conference's top two seeds in the same postseason.After steamrolling top-seeded Vancouver and second-seeded St. Louis with eight wins in nine games, the Kings will face the winner of Phoenix's series with Nashville in the Western Conference finals.Los Angeles won despite its weakest effort of the postseason, clinging to its 2-1 first-period lead through 40 minutes dominated by St. Louis. The Kings didn't adapt well to an unusually early start time, yet Quick made a handful of stellar saves before Brown scored his sixth goal of a stellar postseason into an empty net with 25.8 seconds left."It's a special group, and we knew that all along this season," said Anze Kopitar, who had assists on both of Brown's goals and tackled the Los Angeles captain after his empty-netter."Maybe we didn't break out when we would have liked to, but I think we've peaked at the right time, and that's the most important thing."The Kings made their only previous trip to the conference finals in 1993, when Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille propelled Los Angeles past Toronto and into their only Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to Montreal. The Kings won just one playoff series in the ensuing 17 seasons before routing the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks in five first-round games last month."I can only imagine how happy Kings fans are right now," said Brown, who has never played for another organization. "They've been through a rough stretch, and to win on home ice, that's huge for everyone in this room. It's nice to see the fans get jacked up as much as they could. They haven't an opportunity to celebrate like that at home."

Kevin Shattenkirk scored his first career playoff goal for the Blues, who were outscored 15-6 in the series to end their most successful season in more than a decade. Brian Elliott stopped 17 shots in an improved performance, but the Kings' momentum couldn't even be stopped by a bad game."L.A. plays the way you need to play to win the Cup," said St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, who won the title with Dallas in 1999. "Over the disappointments of the last three or four years, they've figured it out."Los Angeles' only previous playoff series sweep happened in 1976 in a best-of-three elimination of Calgary. The Kings failed to sweep Vancouver in the first round, but barely managed to avoid another long trip to St. Louis by winning at Staples Center for just the third time in their past nine home playoff games.The sellout crowd had barely settled in its seats when Blues defenseman Roman Polak turned over the puck near his own net. Nolan, the 22-year-old son of former Buffalo coach Ted Nolan, jumped on Dustin Penner's rebound to score his first career playoff goal just 4:36 in.St. Louis managed just one shot in the first 11 minutes, but evened the score with its second - a rocket from Shattenkirk, who beat Quick for a rare clean goal against the Kings' All-Star goalie. Shattenkirk hadn't scored in the Blues' past seven playoff games after getting an assist for his first career postseason point in the opener.Brown put the Kings back ahead late in the period when he used Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo as a screen for a sneaky shot to beat Elliott. The captain has been a dominant physical force throughout the postseason, but he hadn't scored a goal since Game 3 of the first round.Afterward, Hitchcock acknowledged Pietrangelo is playing with a serious injury, but wouldn't disclose the specifics. Pietrangelo missed Game 2 after a hard hit from Dwight King in the opener.While St. Louis dominated the second period with solid forechecking and desperate offense, the Kings fell into one of their biggest funks of the postseason, managing just one shot in the first 18 minutes of the period. The Blues couldn't beat Quick, who also wasn't his usual sharp self.The Blues again dominated early in the third, and Matt D'Agostini's deflected shot barely caught Quick's crossbar early on. During 4-on-4 play a few minutes later, David Perron nearly scored on a rebound before Kopitar slid into the crease and knocked the puck underneath Quick.
Watch the highlights from Game 4 below:

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Matt Nagy the offensive mind needs to match Matt Nagy the leader

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USA Today

Matt Nagy the offensive mind needs to match Matt Nagy the leader

The Bears’ decision to put Kyle Long on injured reserve was not arrived upon lightly. 

This was a former three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman who played for quite a few bad teams, only to have his body fail him once the Bears became playoff contenders. He’s now been on injured reserve in four consecutive seasons, and this time, it might end his career in Chicago. 

The conversation from management to player could not have been easy. But having Matt Nagy around to deliver it probably made things a little less difficult. 

“I feel like personally, that’s one of my strengths is dealing with these players and where they’re at and how they feel,” Nagy said. “There’s a connection there that you need to have. The part of it that makes it easier is when you run into these situations, you want to be able to have strong relationships with your players so when there are tough decision that have to be made, it’s natural and it doesn’t feel scripted — it doesn’t feel like this is the first time I’m talking to you in months.”

Nagy’s genuine ability to be the leader and tone-setter inside Halas Hall helps when such a tough decision has to be made. The same may go for the IR-or-no-IR decision awaiting the Bears with defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who suffered a significant elbow injury in London against the Oakland Raiders. 

But those leadership qualities extend well beyond dealing with injured players or setting next-man-up expectations. When the Bears re-convened in Lake Forest for practice on Monday, they did so with positive vibes — which aren’t necessarily a given for a team that’s encountered more issues than expected through the first five games of 2019. 

And those begin with Nagy. 

“We know this isn’t just some regular head coach that’s here just because he’s the head coach of an NFL football team,” outside linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “Like, he’s here, he’s got a purpose and he’s giving that message to us that we can buy into.

“… Because he’s genuine, we know everything he says comes from his heart. It’s so much easier to buy into something like that when you know what he’s saying, he means and he’s not just saying it because there’s cameras around.”

Nagy’s leadership abilities are unquestioned. But what about his ability to scheme and call an offense?

Those haven’t matched the success he’s had as a leader. Consider there to be two different versions of Nagy, the head coach: Nagy the leader, and Nagy the offensive mind. 

Nagy’s scheme hasn’t yielded the sort of fruits expected from a branch of Andy Reid’s Kansas City offense, with the sixth-lowest points per game average (17.7) in the NFL. His playcalling — be it a tepid commitment to the run, or being too predictable in certain situations — has come under scrutiny, and a larger observation has been he’s had fewer answers in Year 2, when the rest of the league has a full season of tape on his offense. 

Nagy needs the players within his offense to play better, but he also needs to coach better, as he admitted after the Bears’ Week 5 loss at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. So part of the time he spent during the Bears’ off week was on self-scouting himself, from play design to playcalling tendencies. 

“There’s some things that just aren’t going to change, but then there’s some that are pretty glaring,” Nagy said. “And I think those are the ones where you say, okay, how do I maybe break that just a little bit, so that the defenses can’t always just say every time they’re doing this or that, to help us.”

What’s clear is that the Bears will be competitive in every game they play because of Nagy’s leadership. But for this team to deliver on its sky-high preseason expectations, it needs Nagy the offensive mind to match Nagy the leader. 

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