Time for Hawks' stars to step up

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Time for Hawks' stars to step up

There are a few things you just automatically expect in the postseason. You expect tight, close games. You expect big hits. You expect good goaltending. And you expect your top players to perform as such.

The Blackhawks have had plenty of the first two, so-so of the third and not enough of the fourth.

And if theyre going to pull this series, in which theyre currently down 3-1, out of the fire, they need a heck of a lot more of the fourth.

The Blackhawks stars havent been dazzling enough in their first four games against the Phoenix Coyotes, who have a commanding lead and could eliminate the Hawks in Game 5 on Saturday night. And as several of them talked on Friday before heading out to Arizona, they knew they had to be better.

Even if the point production, goals and assists are where I want them to be, theres always a thing or two you feel you can do more, said captain Jonathan Toews. I dont think Im the only one in the room right now; we all need to feel that responsibility. If every guy takes that responsibility its going to pay off.

Toews had as strong a start to this series as anyone couldve asked including himself after missing 22 games with a concussion. He came out with a goal and an assist in Game 1, getting the Blackhawks on the board early. But hes been quieter since, recording just one assist in the past three games.

Patrick Kane leads the top guns with four assists, including two in Game 1. Patrick Sharp has just one goal in the four games, his deflection of Brent Seabrooks shot that sent Game 2 to overtime. The Blackhawks lost Marian Hossa early in Game 3 on Raffi Torres hit. Theres no doubt they miss his presence on the ice; hes someone opponents have to account for when hes out there. But Hossa was nevertheless sputtering down the stretch. He had no points in the first two games of this series, and has just three assists in his last 10 games.

The Blackhawks have gotten much of their production lately from their role players. Bryan Bickell had two goals in Game 2, including the winner. Michael Frolik has two in as many games. Brandon Bollig, Andrew Brunette and Brendan Morrison a late add in Game 4 over Jamal Mayers, a healthy scatch have also scored.

Sharp took responsibility for his part, too, although he didnt want to dwell on the slump.

I always try to score, try to help the team win whatever way I can. If fingers are pointed at me, Ill accept it, he said. But Im not wasting time on negative energy. Ill focus on playing the best Game 5 we can.

In some cases its not for lack of trying. Sharp had 11 combined shots in Games 1 and 2 against the Coyotes. Toews had six in Game 3. Regardless, the Blackhawks need their big guns. Secondary scoring is great, and the Blackhawks will take it. But the primary scorers have to be the difference makers in this series.

Or in this case, they have to be the series extenders.

Some nights its like that. Other nights (you shoot) one or two shots and they go in, Toews said. Ive said it many times before: as a captain credit when things go well but youre going to be the guy in the middle of it when things are going south. Were in a tough position as a team, in the series, thats the way it is. I want to bring a little extra effort to help us get over the hump.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 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. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

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Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."