Short, medium and long-term issues facing Lovie

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Short, medium and long-term issues facing Lovie

In the aftermath of the Bears crushing NFC North division loss to the Minnesota Vikings, coach Lovie Smith needed to deal with very, very significant issues in the short, medium and long terms:

Short term: Jay Cutlers neck.

The Bears have proved shaky with winning with their franchise quarterback in place and virtually incapable of winning without him. Best indications that they will not have to try to break a stretch of losing four of five games without Cutler next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Cutler was forced to leave the Minnesota game in the fourth quarter with neck stiffness after a crunching hit. Cutler said Monday on his WMVP-AM radio show that he expects to play next Sunday and the biggest reason is that the soreness is indeed just that rather than a structural injury.

Without going into detail, which I dont really know, I think its normal soreness that you would have from a stiff neck, Smith said. But again, I try not to jump too far on that side, to try to play doctor too much. Im just basing it on what he has right now. He has a sore neck.

Medium term: The playoffs

Sitting at No. 6 in the playoff seedings at the 13th-game point, the Bears are in the postseason if they win the remaining three games on their schedule. With an offense that effectively gave away as many points to Minnesota as it scored (14), it is unlikely the Bears deep-down believe that can happen.

Smith typically talks of the season in terms of quarters. He is now faced with a more pressing and shorter time frame.

Were at 8-5 right now, got a three-game season right now. Its as simple as that, Smith said. As far as the big picture, we control what happens to us but we have to play better football.

The Bears have the Packers and then two teams in the throes of nine-game (Arizona) and five-game (Detroit) losing streaks. They have at least a one-game lead on every playoff hopeful except Seattle, which has to go cross-country to Buffalo next, followed by San Francisco and St. Louis, which has currently won three straight.

But the Bears can no longer waste even the effort to worry about someone elses schedule.

The pressure were feeling right now is on our performances. Improving, its on us, Smith said. We talked about someone else controlling the division, but what happens to us, it doesnt really matter about the teams ahead of us or the teams behind us right now. Its just what we do.

Long term: Job security

What the Bears do will likely affect more than just the 2012 playoffs. Smith has had a team from 7-3 to out of the playoffs last season and one that was 7-1 and now is a bad day from falling out of them again.

With one playoff appearance since 2006 and having lost five straight to Green Bay there is pressure on Smith.

I think every day Ive been here, each day I think, all of us come to work, were going to do the best job that we possibly can, Smith said. All of our futures are tied its all based on wins and loses really, and Im OK with that.

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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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