Cutler and Smith: The head cases

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Cutler and Smith: The head cases

Players just know, often better than coaches. So I went privately, no pen or recorder operating, to several offensive players to get some sense of what they might have seen in Jay Cutler that would have hinted at a concussion.

Nothing. And these are people I trust, some of the same ones who told me after the NFC Championship game, with the furor over whether Cutler really had a knee injury, that Cutlers knee was wobbling visibly while he was just standing in the huddle calling plays. They were bewildered and irate at questions, particularly ones from players, over Cutlers toughness,

So it was telling that three different members of the offense told CSNChicago.com that they were genuinely surprised when word came the Jason Campbell would take over for Cutler after halftime in the wake of the Tim Dobbins hit.

All of which lent unintended credibility to coach Lovie Smiths account that Cutler exhibited no symptoms of head injury before the team was in the locker room at halftime. The same was not the case with Shea McClellin when the rookie defensive end jogged groggily off the field one play into the Houston game with a concussion of his own.

The Bears and even the NFL could be called on failure to properly handle a concussion situation. Right now that doesnt appear to have been the case, based on eyewitness accounts from up close.

Should Cutler have been pulled after the Dobbins blow and Cutlers staying down for some moments after the hit? Based on what? That he was hit hard? That could mean pulling any player slow to get up after a play. A gray area for sure but it always is where gray matter is concerned.

Different town, same tune

Jim Harbaugh was entertaining some of the same questions posed to Smith when the San Francisco coach and former Bears quarterback talked Monday about the condition of quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith was pulled after suffering a concussion, signs of which included blurred vision. Smith was still showing positive concussion symptoms on Monday, making him an early longshot to play against the Bears next Monday.

Smith said that he had the blurred vision after he got up from a quarterback sneak, which was maybe two possessions after the hit to the back of the head believed to be the blow responsible, and that was a good-sized hit, Harbaugh said. Our doctors were good. They were very proactive on that hit. They watched it on the monitors and Alex had no symptoms after that hit. He was cleared to play. So I think our doctors handled it very well.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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