Blackhawks losing their spark; Now what?

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Blackhawks losing their spark; Now what?

There was a time when you could see a fire in the Chicago Blackhawks.

You would have certain players, especially captain Jonathan Toews, seething and putting their angst into words. Even as much restructuring and readjusting that last years team faced, there was a big response before losing streaks got out of hand.

But as the Blackhawks losses have mounted in February, youre seeing less of that. The anger has dissipated into bewilderment and, to some degree, a feeling of resignation. This skid has been a punch to the Blackhawks midsection, and theyre struggling to catch their breath.

The Blackhawks havent had a losing streak like this since the 2008-09 season. And for a still young group thats used to winning a lot, there seems to be a sense of, What do we do now?

So is this just a total collapse, or were there cracks in the faade even during the best of times this season?

Even when we were in first place and it was tight, I think there were a lot of games when we werent that good, Duncan Keith said prior to Saturdays game. Now its caught up with us.

Thats true in a few aspects. Even in some of their victories they were giving up a lot of goals, as team defense and goaltending have struggled. They have yet to record a shutout this season, have yet to prove they can win those 1-0, 2-1, tight, low-scoring games.

The Blackhawks core pushed them to the top of the NHL standings through the first three months. But individual slumps happen, and unfortunately for the Blackhawks their top guys are all slumping at the same time. And the supporting cast hasnt been enough to buoy the Blackhawks through their troubles.

Coach Joel Quenneville has juggled lines trying to get something, anything. Nothing is working. Occasional healthy scratches for Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik havent bolstered their games, and other leashes have been way too short -- Brendan Morrison was a healthy scratch Friday, after just four games with his new team.

You need every guy in the room, said Patrick Kane, whos been way too quiet this season. When we were successful, whether last year or the year before, we had a lot of depth, a lot of players stepping up beyond their game. That goes for me and for anyone in the room.

And, yes, Kane called himself out too.

Its something where Ive got to pick it up, got to score goals. The onus is on a lot of guys, but first and foremost you look at yourself and try to figure out what you have to do better.

The Blackhawks have to figure it out quick. The teams in front of them are pulling away. The ones behind them are gaining. They need to re-ignite that fire.

We need everybody on board, Quenneville said. Were not thinking about standings right now. Were thinking of trying to win a game.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.