Hits won't stop as long as Hawks have control

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Hits won't stop as long as Hawks have control

GLENDALE, Ariz. For the Chicago Blackhawks, the hits just kept on coming from the Phoenix Coyotes last night. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, all of the Blackhawks top skill guys were in the Coyotes crosshairs.

The Blackhawks including Toews came out of it just fine health-wise. But facing a team thats more scrap than skill, the Blackhawks can probably expect more of the same from the Coyotes the rest of this series.

The Coyotes doled out 48 hits, according to the score sheet, in their 3-2 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday night. Yes, that number is high, and one that is a little skewed; the Blackhawks had good puck possession in the first and third periods, which meant the Coyotes were chasing more than dictating. And while the Coyotes would like to have the puck more than they did last night, theyre intent on keeping that physical edge.

Were going to be physical with everyone. We have to be, Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. We cant just let them skate. They have too much skill.

The Blackhawks have a lot of firepower and a lot of speed that the Coyotes will try to curtail. They took their lumps on Thursday night, including Toews, who was back after missing 22 games with a concussion. And although he was sore immediately after the game, Toews is feeling good today and considered that outing a successful test of his recovery.

He figured hed be taking some knocks.

I expected worse, he said about the hits on him. Obviously Im going to be at the net, in front of the goalie. Every chance they get theyre going to take shots. I expected that. Its no big deal; Im just happy with the way I dealt with it. Im going to keep playing and not shy away from that sort of thing.

Thats good, because theyll probably keep coming. While that physical game played a role in Game 1, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett is looking more at the big picture.

Were hoping it plays a role in the series as it progresses, he said. Theyve got some top-end skill that you have to try and make the game hard on. With that being said, you have too many hits when you dont do good things with the puck. But we have a purpose. We want to be physical in this series, that goes without saying.

Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal, who had a team-high eight hits last night, concurred.

Weve got to be physical against these guys because their first two lines they have such good skill, he said. And if you take the puck and time from them, its going to be to our advantage.

The Blackhawks, indeed, often become a target because of their strong puck possession game. And the more hits the other team has, the more they must be dictating things. Still, the Coyotes are good at knocking players off the puck and causing turnovers, something that hurt the Blackhawks last night. So the Blackhawks will weather the black-and-blue storm and keep playing their game.

We have a pretty skilled team. We try to keep the puck in our hands and try to spend as much time in their zone, Marian Hossa said. They like to play physical but we can play smart and get to their net as much as we can.

The Blackhawks being outhit isnt a stunning revelation; its happened quite a bit this season. The Coyotes will keep trying to hit them. The Blackhawks will just keep trying to dodge them and keep the puck with them.

The first few games of the series, we know what its going to be like. We were prepared. We knew they were going to come out crashing and banging, Dave Bolland said. We had the puck a lot and I think were working well pretty down low there, doing things to keep it in their zone. But we can do more to get back in this series.

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

If you haven't heard, the Bears are in the market for a quarterback.

It's no surprise that finding a long-term solution at the position will be at the top of GM Ryan Pace's to-do list as it's likely Jay Cutler has played his last game in a Bears uniform.

The Bears have a bevy options this offseason as they're saddled with the No. 3 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and have over $54 million of salary cap space — before roster cuts and an added $8 million in roll over money.

Having the 3rd overall pick, the opportunity is going to present itself for the Bears to nab one of the draft's top quarterbacks or add to their young defensive core with a player like Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen (who ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears selecting in his latest mock draft) or LSU's Jamal Adams (Kiper Jr. also has him as a possibility for the Bears).

If quarterback is the choice, that's where the real debate begins.

The 2017 draft marks one of the rare years where there isn't a consensus No. 1 quarterback. The four signal-callers likely to hear there name called within the first two rounds are UNC's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

Who comes off the board first? That may change 100 times between now and Thursday, April 27.

Despite only starting one year at Chapel Hill, Trubisky has the strongest case to be the first quarterback taken. Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 308 yards on the ground and five rushing scores in his first full year as a starter in 2016.

If the Bears have their eyes set on Trubisky, they may have to pull off a trade as Kiper Jr. doesn't see the former Tar Heel lasting to the third pick. In his conference call on Thursday, Kiper Jr. said it's Trubisky's dream to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns, and sees him in play for both the Browns at No. 1 and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.

Would the Bears pull the trigger on Watson if Trubisky is off the board? Kiper Jr. believes Watson would be a stretch for the Bears at No. 3 and right now he sees Watson as a fit with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10. Kiper Jr. had a second-round grade on Watson before he shined on the big stage in the College Football Playoff. Watson's stock catapulted back into the first-round mix after he torched Alabama for 463 yards and four touchdowns en route to leading Clemson to a National Championship.

By selecting a defensive player at No. 3, the Bears could still have the opportunity to draft their quarterback of the future in the second round. Kiper Jr. believes both Mahomes and Kizer will be available on Day 2 where the Bears hold the 34th overall selection in the draft.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What happens if the Bears don't come away with one of the draft's top quarterbacks? They could look toward free agency or the trade market.

The downfall of the free agent market is that the best available option is former Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon — he hasn't started a game in almost three years. You can cross Kirk Cousins off the wish list because there's a better chance of Brett Favre coming out of retirement and leading the Browns to a Super Bowl in 2017 than the Washington Redskins letting Cousins walk in free agency. The Bears also could elect to bring back two of their own unrestricted free agents in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but neither would provide an ample long-term fixture at the position.

One of the most intriguing players available on the trade market is New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The connection between him and the Bears runs deep as Garoppolo starred at Rolling Meadows High School in the Chicagoland area and played his college football at Eastern Illinois — the same alma mater as Pace — before he was selected by the Patriots in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In limited snaps backing up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Garoppolo has shown potential to be an above-average NFL quarterback, but unless the Patriots step down from their rumored asking price of a 2017 first-round pick and more, trading away the No. 3 pick would be too high of a price for the Bears to pay.

The Bears could explore the possibility of trading for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to serve as a stopgap and help groom a young quarterback, but bringing in the veteran Romo — just four starts since 2014 due to various injuries — would be a lateral move, and the Bears would likely be better off keeping Cutler for another season.

With less than two months until the start of free agency on March 9, we'll finally get our first clue then as to which direction the Bears will go at quarterback this offseason. 

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Grab a pocket pack of tissues for this one.

Bears icon Charles Tillman released an emotional tell-all article on The Players' Tribune Thursday.

He starts off discussing how often he moved around as a kid with his dad in the Army and little things like learning cursive before delving into growing up in Germany and learning to communicate through sports.

It then moves on to the NFL Draft and coming up through the Bears with Lance Briggs, then jumping to the Super Bowl and what it was like to cover Calvin Johnson and Marvin Harrison.

Tillman even provides a fascinating take on how being a new dad affected his play on the field because he was so tired and stressed.

It was refreshing to hear a player talk like that. In everyday life, you hear all the time about first-time parents being exhausted and stressed, but now one of the most elite athletes in the world — whose job is exclusively in the public eye and his performance is dissected weekly by millions — is saying the same thing.

He discusses how he got past that stress and at this point, you're nearly halfway through the article and it's easy to think this is just like any other athlete's story.

But then Tillman gets serious and the story turns heart-wrenching.

The man affectionately known as "Peanut" takes us into the hospital room as he and his wife are told their young daughter, Tiana, may not make it through the night.

Tillman recounts the gripping tale behind how his family very nearly fell apart and how they climbed back to where they are today.

Give it a read. It's a fantastic snapshot into the career of one of the best Bears players ever, but also into the life of one of the truly great people to ever put on the orange and navy.