Blackhawks

Konroyd: Blackhawks up 'passion play' in Game 2

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Konroyd: Blackhawks up 'passion play' in Game 2

Two games in and this series has taken more twists and turns than a Bavarian pretzel. You'd think the Hawks were playing the Canucks! You couldn't write a script and have it turn out any more unpredictable. The funny part is how similar both games have unfolded with some common themes:

Act 1: Get out to a fast start and build an early lead.
Act 2: Hurt one of the other teams important players and get him out of the game early.
Act 3: Give up the lead and trail for a good portion of the game.
Act 4: Wait until the dying seconds of the game before tying it.
Act 5: Lay it all on the line in overtime.

This is why I love sports. Unscripted drama played out by athletes playing with passion. And that's what the playoffs are all about.

It's "will" over "skill" at this time of year, and that's exactly what is happening on the ice. The Blackhawks upped their "passion play" in Game 2, almost hit as many Coyotes as they had shots on net (which is always a good idea in the playoffs) and put Phoenix on the ropes just prior to Bryan Bickell scoring the biggest goal of his young NHL career. As with any great drama this story has plenty of great subplots, many of which will be reported on in the next couple of days.

The good news for us sports lovers, this thriller isn't even halfway over.

Four takeaways: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews put on show as Blackhawks snap losing streak

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews put on show as Blackhawks snap losing streak

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 8-5 win over the Washington Capitals at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Dueling five-point games by 19 and 88

When you play the defending Stanley Cup champions, your top guys need to play like it. And the Blackhawks' did just that.

Reunited on the top line as the nuclear option, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each registsered five-point outings, with Kane having two goals and three assists and Toews netting a hat trick and two assists. 

Toews also became the third active player to score at least 20 goals in his first 12 NHL seasons, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin.

"We can play together for a long time and might not always get games like that, obviously," Toews said. "I think today the chances that we did get we converted and he was doing a good job in his own end chipping pucks out and their D men really pressuring, so we got some odd-man rushes. Drake [Caggiula] did a great job of going to the net and creating space. The two of us, Drake and I, know that it's kind of our game to go play puck possession and try to give it to Kaner when he has time and space. It was nice to see a bunch go in for us."

2. A whacky first period

We hope you didn't oversleep because there was a whole lot of action from the moment the puck dropped during NBC's Game of the Week.

The Blackhawks and Capitals combined for four goals in the first period, three of which were credited to Chicago but one that received a major assist from Washington after Dmitri Orlov swatted the puck into his own net. There was even a disallowed goal in there with Chris Kunitz scoring from underneath the net when the moorings were off, but it was reviewed and waved off.

The Blackhawks had three goals on five shots at one point for a shooting percentage of 60, and took a 3-1 lead into first intermission. The Capitals finished with one goal on 15 shots in the opening frame.

"It was a fun game," Kane said. "Kind of like a playoff-type atmosphere, playoff-type game. It was back and forth, it seemed like no matter how big our lead, we couldn't make it big enough to feel comfortable. Overall I think it was a good win for us."

3. A crazier second period

The first period was highly entertaining. But that was just a warm-up to what the second period offered. Because things got chippy.

Kane and Ovechkin were seen jawing at each other near center ice, which led to an exchange shortly after. Kane whacked Ovechkin, who responded by shoving Kane's helmet off. It eventually led to a larger scrum at the end of the shift, with Connor Murphy and Ovechkin getting penalized for roughing.

Less than one minute later, Tom Wilson laid a hit on Duncan Keith, which prompted longtime partner Brent Seabrook to come to his defense. That's when things went off the rails. Four penalties were assessed on the play, and each of them fell under a different category: roughing, unsportsmanlike conduct, hooking and slashing. At one point the Blackhawks had four skaters in the box before it was determined that Seabrook was not part of it.

In total, seven penalties were assessed in the second period and six of them came within a 39-second span. It had an old-time hockey feel to it.

"Yeah, there was a lot happening," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But I think there was a lot happening the whole game, it just wasn't wasn't the second period. That third period pucks were going in the net like crazy also. Entertaining game. Hopefully the fans got their money's worth, but they still get to get home at a decent time."

4. Save of the Year?

Collin Delia was solid for the Blackhawks. He gave up a few goals from low-danger areas that he certainly would've loved to have back, but he made up for that by making the big stops from high-danger areas and at key times.

Most notably, Delia provided hockey fans with the potential Save of the Year candidate when he made an acrobatic stop on Wilson, which drew a standing ovation from the United Center crowd:

"Just trying to get something in front of the net, keep the puck out of the net at whatever cost," Delia said. "Just trying to fill space, quite honestly. I think it was a shot, guy wrapped it and I thought he was going to try to tuck it, so I just made a desperation [save] and then I had to somehow get to my feet or get to my knees again to seal the bottom of the ice."

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Yu Darvish is ready for takeoff

Yu Darvish is ready for takeoff

Yu know the Cubs season is right around the corner when we catch word of a Darvish bullpen.

Darvish still hasn't even been a member of the Cubs organization for a full calendar year, but almost that entire time has been spent with the focus firmly on his health.

That hasn't changed for the 32-year-old pitcher enjoying his first Cubs Convention amid Winter Storm Harper at the Sheraton Grand Chicago this weekend.

Darvish said he is fully healthy now and his offseason program is progressing along slowly after he underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow in September.

Darvish was slated to throw from 120 feet for the first time Saturday, planning 20 pitches from that distance. From there, he will have a bullpen on Friday.

"His health is everything, clearly," Theo Epstein said. "I know it's not worth anything at this point of the calendar, but the reports are terrific. He's added a lot of good muscle, he's added a lot of flexibility.

"Most importantly, his arm feels terrific. He's experiencing no discomfort whatsoever when throwing and when testing his arm. He's walking around with a little bit of confidence. I think that reflects how he's feeling about himself physically."

Cubs fans might be sick of hearing this narrative, but a healthy Darvish really can do a quite a bit in changing the team's overall fortunes for 2019. This is a guy who strikes out batters at a higher rate than any other starting pitcher in baseball history and even when he was able to pitch in 2018, he sported an ERA more than a run-and-a-half higher than his previous career mark.

The Cubs know their road to success goes through the starting rotation (even nowadays in the world of extreme bullpenning) and Darvish has emerged as the ultimate X-factor.

An offseason of rest and rehab has Darvish and the Cubs feeling confident with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

"Now, the important part starts," Epstein said. "Just taking that into spring training and into the season and being ready for the battle and getting some really good hitters out and being someone we can lean on in that rotation."

The Cubs had enough concerns about their overall state of the rotation (including Darvish) that they picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option despite a serious budget crunch this winter.

But Hamels — Darvish's former teammate with the Rangers — has something most Cubs fans don't: A firsthand look at how dominating Darvish can be when he's healthy.

"I know he wants to do really well," Hamels said. "And he's capable of so much. You've seen bits and pieces when he was with Texas and the Dodgers for a few games — he's really good. He can carry a game; he can carry a month of starts for a team.

"So to be able to put him in between all of us and all of us working together, it's going to be a lights-out rotation. That's what it takes. I know he's ready to do it. When he's healthy, he's one of the best in the game."