After tough loss, Bulls eager for Knicks rematch

729002.png

After tough loss, Bulls eager for Knicks rematch

What makes the loss so tough? Joakim Noah asked, repeating the question that was asked of him following Sundays overtime defeat in New York. We beat ourselves tonight, so its upsetting.

It was a lot of mental mistakes. A lot of mental mistakes and just, you play hard and you know you want to win. You do all the right things and if losing didnt hurt, then winning wouldnt be so rewarding, so its definitely a game thats a tough pill to swallow, but weve got to bounce back, he told CSNChicago.com. You definitely dont want to give them confidence, but it is what it is. Were playing this team again on Tuesday and were excited about that.

Indeed, the Bulls have a chance to avenge their Easter loss at Madison Square Garden on their own turf and while they could be without reigning league MVP Derrick Rosethe All-Star point guard suffered a right ankle sprain in the second quarter Sunday, his first game back in the lineup after missing 12 consecutive contests with a strained right grointhey relish the rematch.

You know what? We just want to play them again on Tuesday. Were still in good shape. We still control our own destiny. We dont need to get down about the loss. Theres some stuff weve got to fix and weve got to learn from. We make some free throws, which we normally make, its a totally different game, were getting different questions. Its a whole new world. They made a couple tough shots. We missed some free throws. Theres obviously a couple plays wed love to have back. Were not going to hang our heads, man. We play them again on Tuesday and were going to go get them, said sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

Its not hard. We get to play them again. Its great. We get to play them again at home on Tuesday. Im sure were going to watch a whole lot of film tomorrow, were going to talk about a lot of things. This is a great opportunity, being that its a team that we could play. We get them twice in a row, how itll be in the playoffs. Youre going to play teams in a row. It could be this team. This is a really great thing. You dont want to just blow the team out and come out flat. They have our attention obviously. Theyre a great team. They have a lot of firepower, but well be ready to go on Tuesday. Im not worried about it at all.

Still, Sundays losstheir third already in Aprilis the type of defeat that sticks with a team, especially as they try to work Rose and Hamilton into the lineup after the starting backcourt duo missed extensive time with injuries. Rotation aside, after climbing back out of a huge hole to start the game and watching Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony send the game into overtime, then win it in the extra session as part of his 43-point performance, the Bulls feel like they let one slip out of their grasp.

You just feel like we could have won that game in so many different ways. What if? You always ask yourself what if because you normally close games out the right way, making foul shots. The last couple plays really bother you, when you feel like you gave up a three and you know you could have fouled or you could have got a little closer and its tough. The way we fought back from 20-something points and they took the lead, and had good momentum. Its rough, Taj Gibson told CSNChicago.com.

Its tough because anything can happen. One thing about this league, nothing comes easy. Every game is different and we have to learn from this game, and build on it.

Added All-Star Luol Deng: We felt like we had the game. We felt like we had it.

The fact that the Bulls were so horrific in the early going Sunday, while an extreme case, isnt exactly a surprise. This is a squad that has specialized in the art of comebacks all season, but this deep into the campaign, its not something they want to hang their hat on.

The Bulls have to come out with a sense of urgency. This team is fighting for a playoff spot and even though were already in the playoffs, we just cant come out sluggish, said Rose. Theyve always been a team that plays hard, but now, Melos in a groove, where hes been hitting a lot of tough shots and they do a great job of finding him.

Echoed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, about his teams habit of slow starts specifically: Its a concern. Its a big concern.

Perhaps even more significantly than the loss alone is the fact that the Knicks, currently seventh in the Eastern Conferencefree-falling Philadelphia, which has the same record, entered Tuesday in eighth placestand a good chance of being the Bulls first-round opponent.

Theres a good chance that were going to play this team in the first round and you dont want to give them confidence. You dont want to give them any kind of an edge or any kind of anything, so with that being said, I wish we could have finished this game out better, but I think there was a lot to learn from it and we understand that weve had guys out, and were kind of getting back in the groove. But at the same time, we needed to win this, said Korver.

Theyre a team thats dangerous, man. Youre going to have to help and youre going to have to rotate, but at the same time, you cant give up those threes.

Chimed in Rose: on the potential opening-round matchup: Its just going to be fun. Theyre a good team, where they fight throughout the whole game and if we do play them, itll be a fun series.

Entertaining, sure. But being that Roses definition of fun is winning, that series would only meet his expectations if the Bulls can rectify what currently ails them.

Patience and perseverance: trying to make, and stay in, the NHL

Patience and perseverance: trying to make, and stay in, the NHL

Corey Crawford remembers his early days with the Blackhawks, the times where he was working his tail off in Rockford to get a call-up or hoping he would be the one they would choose to stay out of training camp. The thought would creep into his head: “maybe I never get there.”

“Yeah, I probably shouldn’t tell you that but there were a bunch of times,” Crawford said with a smile. 

Crawford had a lot of good times, a lot of valuable experiences with the IceHogs. But he always kept his eye on the main goal: making the NHL. Twice he’s been named an NHL All-Star. Twice he’s been a winner or shared the William Jennings Trophy. Twice he’s won Stanley Cups. He can look back and smile now at those days when he wasn’t sure if he’d latch onto a team.

Making the NHL is tough. Staying there can be even tougher. The pressures and expectations are enormous, especially the higher you go in the NHL draft. Be it patience, willing to change your game or the need to try over with another organization, players do whatever it takes to get that opportunity.

“The mental side of the game for a lot of these draft choices or these on-the-cusp, on-the-edge players is the hardest part,” Rockford coach Ted Dent said. “The physical aspect, keeping yourself in shape and being a good hockey player isn’t the battle. It’s usually the mental side of things, the expectations, the pressure they put on themselves, maybe their families, their agents or whatever comes with it. It’s a side that gets overlooked a little bit.”

“I did whatever it would take.”

Patrick Sharp spent a few years at the University of Vermont but for him, his career choice was clear: he was going to be a pro hockey player no matter what. Coming up through the Philadelphia Flyers’ system (Sharp was their 95th overall pick in the 2001 draft), finding an opportunity was tough the early 2000s. The Flyers had their goal scorers – John LeClair, Michal Handzus, Mark Recchi, Tony Amonte and Jeremy Roenick were among them. So to get a chance Sharp changed his game and came up as a fourth-line checker.

“I looked at the team I had in Philly – couple of Hall of Famers, a lot of all-stars. I realized that, although I was an AHL all-star and I was putting up points, I probably wasn’t going to do with the Flyers. I had to do what I could to make that team,” Sharp said. “Be more physical, fighting, I did whatever it would take.

“Every player has been a star at some level of their career. That’s why they’re in the situation they’re in,” Sharp said. “Each player has a different path, a different role. It’s important for that player to have communication and find out what they want from him. What’s going to help him get to that next level and apply it? It’s easy at a young age to think, ‘I’ve got a good game.’ It’s not always the case. It’s a 200-foot game, special teams. Communication’s the key.”

Jack Skille had a similar situation. Skille was highly touted coming out of the U.S. National Development Program and the Blackhawks selected him seventh overall in the 2005 draft. He left the University of Wisconsin-Madison early and would later sign an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks. For years, Skille said people tried to tell him he’d need a different game to stay in the NHL, but it took him time to realize that. Now a regular starter for the Vancouver Canucks in more of a checking role, Skille said he’s happy and having fun with the game.

“I think that was the biggest adjustment coming here and in the role I play: [realizing] less is more. It took me a long time, as a young kid, to realize that. It took a lot of mistakes over my career and a lot of growing pains to finally get to the point where I was like, what everyone’s telling me, less is more and they’re right. I finally bought into it and it’s been working,” Skille said. “It’s an adjustment because you’re used to sitting there, being one of the go-to guys and out there every single shift. But there’s something to be said for guys who don’t get frequent shifts out there and keep playing the same way with a lot of energy.”

The sounding board

Dent’s office is in a perfect spot at BMO Harris Center, located between the IceHogs’ locker room and the players’ lounge. From his office, Dent can gauge what mood his players are in, and which ones are down and could use a talk.

This is as much part of a minor-league coach’s job as the coaching itself. The Blackhawks’ organization has a mental skills coach who is sometimes in Rockford but, for the day-to-day, Dent is that guy.

“You try to form that bond and relationship with them. For them to get their feelings off their chest is a big thing because they hold so many feelings in, in a group setting,” Dent said. “You want to be that strong, tough guy like all hockey players. But inside a lot of them have a lot of emotion that needs to get out. You try to be that sounding board for them and let them get some things out one-on-one.”

Crawford had his ears to bend when he was in Rockford – at that time Bill Peters was head coach and Dent was assistant. Crawford said those talks helped but ultimately, it came down to him.

“They’re not going to be there when you go home. They’re not going to make choices for you. You really have to learn that on your own,” Crawford said. “Maybe [you get pep talks] a little bit from your teammates but a lot of those guys, too, were guys I was growing up with and going through all that stuff with. It’s just one of those things where you get a feel for how you’re supposed to think and to battle through things and try to stay positive.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“I expected to be in the NHL this year…”

Michael Latta was happy when he was traded to the IceHogs in January. He’s getting more minutes, more opportunity than he was in his short stay with the Ontario Reign, the Los Angeles Kings’ minor-league team. But there’s no doubt Latta, who spent a few seasons with the Washington Capitals, wants another chance at the NHL.

“I expected to be in the NHL this year with LA. I really did. And it didn’t work out,” said Latta, who was selected 72nd overall by the Nashville Predators in 2009. “But I believe I can play in the NHL; I can be a factor in the NHL. So I’m really hoping I can get a chance up there just to show [the Blackhawks] what I can do. They don’t know me very well so it’d be nice to go up there and get a shot. Just get a chance to show them and see what they think.”

At the same time, Latta wants to play as much as possible. For bubble guys like him, that doesn’t always happen in the NHL. In Rockford he’s playing a lot of minutes, getting a lot of opportunities, and he’s taking advantage of it.

“I’d played eight minutes a night, which is fine. You’re living the dream, playing in the NHL. But I was excited to come down and get my scoring touch back, get some ice time, some power play time,” Latta said. “To come here and get it and start playing, it’s been special. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m just really enjoying it again. Hockey’s fun again.”

It’s not easy to make the NHL but the opportunity is worth it for many. For those trying to latch on, or latch on again, the work continues. For those who made it, there’s the appreciation for what it took to get here.

“Every experience teaches you something, even if it’s negative. The negative ones seem to stick with people more and that’s where you get to learn things,” Crawford said. “It’s tough, especially when there are stretches when you don’t get a sniff at coming up and it seems like you’re going to be there for the rest of your career. Then there are other times you’re really confident and you feel you should be in the NHL. That’s all about learning, learning to stay level headed and not get too down or too high. Just work hard, have fun.”

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Here are some of Sunday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to win in Buffalo homecoming

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

Wojnarowski: Bulls-Celtics Jimmy Butler trade talks 'will loom over the entire week'

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

Fire score five goals for fourth preseason win

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

Former Northwestern football player Torri Stuckey now focuses on helping others