All or Nothing

All or Nothing

Friday, May 14, 2010
1:29 AM

Game 7. Thats what it gets down to. Everything determined by the seeming flip of a coin. Its the thing that baseball, basketball and hockey have over football. Not much else, but they have that. The entire hopes of a season come down to being able to get it done one more time or its time to go home. The cumulative scores of the previous six games dont matter, a win is a win and a loss is a loss, but, often, the cumulative affect of those games does. Each game a chapter in a story that always becomes more compelling as it goes along. The pressure on the athletes is staggering. As one who only gets to watch these games being played, I often marvel at that. Do they know? You often hear players after such games say that the key was to treat it like any other game, to stay within themselves. That they must have the ability to block out all of the extraneous thoughts and play the game the way they have for their entire lives. WHATEVER! Game 7s drive me crazy! I often wonder if theyre worth watching. (Kidding of course!)

Something else Ive also heard athletes say is that it was harder on everyone else around them in their lives than on them. I can relate to that. It comes down to control: I have none! Im just along for the ride. Hey! Rooting for my teams is like being with my wife and kids! (Ill be here all week!) The thing about Game 7 is that the finality is staring you right in the face. The key phrase in any season is: Theres still time. Weve heard it a million times, and thats just from both of the baseball teams here this season! (Try the veal!) Patience is always preached, during the season and in the playoffs. One game does not a season make, until this one that is. My patience is gone!
What I have right now is a mix of trepidation and that dangerous thing known as hope. You follow your team for an entire season, watching games, checking box scores and getting any information on them from any source you can, its all part of the journey. Then as the playoffs start, if your team is good enough to get in, you realize there are only two ways for the journey to end. The elusive ultimate triumph, or having your heart ripped out, AGAIN! Sorry, Im conditioned to react that way. The key then, for a fan, is to have realistic expectations. No need setting myself up for heartbreak, I mean, what are the odds that one of my teams would win?

For me this year, in hockey, its a tale of two teams. In my adopted hometown of Chicago, Ive gotten caught up in the Blackhawk fever thats sweeping the city. Not that Im a newcomer to following this team, since Rocky took over Ive watched about every game, but my expectation finally mirrors what is going on around me. I realize how hard it is for a team to win the Cup, so to this point Ive tempered my enthusiasm, but this team is truly built to win THIS year. Developmentally and contractually, this might be their best shot. Im still concerned with the good Blackhawkbad Blackhawk thing that theyve been displaying pretty much since the Olympic break, but their good games lately have been the best hockey Ive seen them play. Definitely they have championship talent, but I think its going to be everything else that determines whether they can win eight more games.

Then comes the thing that I cant get off my mind. The beginning of the Flyers season was loaded with hype. No less than Mr. Hockey Hair himself picked them to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, against the Blackhawks no less. Then as the season progressed, the Flyers play was a source of constant grief for Melrose from his TV mates. Oh, well. When the Flyers lucked into the playoffs on the last day of the season, after a shoot-out, needless to say I was not expecting much. Knocking the Rangers out of the playoffs on that final day was going to have to be my source of enjoyment of a season gone wrong.

Well, its going to be more than that now. In spite of a rash of injuries, (Theyve lost their leading scorer, their hottest goalie and their top penalty killer: has that happened to anyone else? No! ) the Flyers find themselves one win from HOSTING Game 1 of the Eastern Finals. They have this chance after rallying from being down 3-0. Each of the three wins to get back in it have been excruciating, to WATCH! At any time the season could have been over. And even if they had a lead, which they did most of the time, it seemed like the clock was moving backwards! Now all of that will be for naught if they dont seal the deal. Close is never enough! Do I like and respect this team more than I thought I would? Absolutely! But to win this game, to come back, against Boston would be, short of winning the Cup and beating the Russians, one of my all-time hockey moments, not to mention a great way to stop the chowder-heads in their tracks when they start to babble at the bar.

It will only take one game, one game for them to be immortalized. I dont know if I can watch. And for Frankie O irony,(is there any other kind?) I wont get to watch it live. It seems game-time coincides with dinner and a movie with the Boss for her birthday. (Chick flick or Game 7? Now thats funny!) I think its a sign. Just in case, thank goodness for TiVo and an occasional restroom break with my Crackberry! Any way it will give me more time to dream: What if? That, and time to thank God Im not from Cleveland!

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

John Fox and the Bears have added another assistant coach.

Zack Azzanni is leaving the University of Tennessee to become the Bears' new receivers coach.

Azzanni has been with Tennessee since 2013 as a receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Prior to that, he spent time at Wisconsin, Western Kentucky, Florida, Central Michigan and six seasons at Bowling Green.

Azzanni was on Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Bowling Green in 2001-02 and also coached Pittsburgh Steelers superstar receiver Antonio Brown at Central Michigan. Under Azzanni's tutelage at CMU from 2007-09, Brown totaled 305 receptions for 3,199 yards and 22 TDs, earning a sixth-round draft selection in 2010.

Curtis Johnson spent 2016 as his first season in the role of Bears' wide receivers coach, but announced he was leaving after the Senior Bowl to take a job with the New Orleans Saints.

It's unknown if Azzanni will get a chance to coach Alshon Jeffery (who is currently a free agent) but the incoming coach will have an important job in molding young receivers like Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.