This Cubs losing streak goes to 11

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This Cubs losing streak goes to 11

PITTSBURGH Rafael Dolis lifted his head to the sky and all his body language seemed to say: What else could go wrong?

Fireworks went off at PNC Park, lighting up the Pittsburgh skyline on Saturday night. With the bases loaded, Dolis had hit Matt Hagues left side with a pitch, forcing in the game-winning run.

A sellout crowd of 38,132 watched the Pirates hang around for a 3-2 victory. That ninth inning was another snapshot of frustration for the Cubs, whove now lost 11 games in a row.

This is the 11th losing streak of 11 or more games in franchise history, and this group is feeling that weight.

Paul Maholm who went five innings and walked five batters couldnt stop it against his old team. Giving up two runs is too much with this lineup. This probably isnt what he envisioned when he signed with the Cubs last winter.

Were going through a skid, Maholm said. Theres nobody in here pointing fingers at each other. We got to go win the game. We cant expect it to be given to us. We got to go out there and play hard like we have been and come up with hits, come up with big pitches and get it done. Thats our focus.

These are strange days for the Cubs (15-31). In the ninth, they watched Dolis walk Josh Harrison while he was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. And Dolis struck out emerging star Andrew McCutchen before it all unraveled.

The frustration level is building. You saw it when Starlin Castro screamed and threw his bat and helmet to the ground. With runners on the corners, Castro had whiffed on an 85 mph curveball to end the threat.

Moments earlier in the seventh inning, Blake Lalli had been thrown out by several steps at home plate. The night before, Castro had struck out in a similar situation against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan to end the game.

Think Castro has been pressing, trying to do too much?

You could say that about everybody right now, manager Dale Sveum said.

The Cubs hadnt scored a run in 20 innings until the fourth, when Alfonso Soriano deposited Kevin Correias 90 mph fastball into the center-field seats.

In the fifth, Castro snapped the teams 0-for-26 streak with runners in scoring position, lifting a ball into the right-field corner and racing for a game-tying, two-out triple.

Thats the problem we try too hard because we want the big hit, Soriano said. We forget that we have to be more relaxed and let it happen. This game is not too easy, but sometimes we make it harder.

Sometimes, you have to let it go and play one at-bat, every pitch, not try to do too much. And I think now everybodys trying to do too much because were struggling offensively.

Even if Theo Epstein is essentially writing this off as a year for trial and error, and the manager and his coaching staff were hired to rebuild everything, this is still a results-oriented business.

Its only Memorial Day weekend, not the heat of September, and this is a last-place team, not a playoff contender. But the clubhouse knows that everyone is watching. There are veterans who could be moved by the trade deadline, and younger players who may never get a better opportunity to show they belong in the big leagues.

The Cubs havent experienced a losing streak like this since 1997, when they lost their first 14 games of the season. Theyll have to somehow keep it together.

The atmosphere in the clubhouse is great, Sveum said. Nobodys really hanging their head or pouting or anything like that. I think theyre doing a great job of keeping their head up and going about their business.

The preparation and the work ethic are outstanding. Theres nothing you can gripe about there. Were just not getting it done in the nine innings. We have to go out there and perform.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Rangers: Duels and denied goals

Five Things from Blackhawks-Rangers: Duels and denied goals

There are a lot of similarities between the Blackhawks and the New York Rangers. Both have a nice record to start this season and both are getting through recent injuries as best they can.

And thanks to their goaltending, they had a pretty fun little battle on Friday night.

Antti Raanta edged Scott Darling as the Rangers took a 1-0 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Friday. It was surprising that Raanta got the start, only because he had started for the Rangers on Thursday against Winnipeg. But he’s been hot, he’s good at the United Center in his career and obviously it was the right decision.

The Blackhawks are back at it on Sunday against another team going through its injury issues, the Dallas Stars. Before then, however, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ overtime loss to the Rangers.

1. A familiar goalie duel. Two seasons ago Scott Darling and Antti Raanta were fighting for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending spot. So it seemed fitting that they face each other on Friday night. They didn’t disappoint. Each goaltender had his share of stellar stops, many coming in the second period as each team looked for an edge. Raanta got the victory, running his record at the United Center to 15-0-3. The two had a quick, good-natured talk at the end of the game. “It was all friendly,” Darling said. “We were just saying, ‘good job’ and we’re happy for one another.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

2. Kane alright. Patrick Kane got the concussion protocol call in the second period a few moments after he was hit into the glass by Nick Holden. After Kane was called for high-sticking he was sent to the locker room, returning as the Blackhawks went on their first power play of the night at 17:28 of the second period.

3. The Rangers’ successful challenge. Just when you thought the Blackhawks were taking a 1-0 lead the third period (Marian Hossa), the Rangers challenged for offside. They won, nullifying Hossa’s attempt at his 15th goal of the season. Hossa was disappointed, and is frustrated at how some of the rule changes are taking away goals when the league is trying to increase scoring. Coach Joel Quenneville, when asked if he’d like the rule changed if he could, laughed. “Right now? Sure.”

4. A better all-around game. We may be harping on the Blackhawks’ injury situation but when you’re missing three key guys (Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford) it’s going to alter your game. But the Blackhawks played a strong all-around game against the Rangers and had some good scoring chances. All things considered, and against a very good Rangers team, Quenneville liked what he saw. “We know they’re a dangerous team off the rush, a lot of guys can make plays, a ton of speed. You have to respect that in ways and they check well in their own end,” Quenneville said. “I thought we did some good things. I think on the rush game we did a good job of taking away that danger.”

5. When will the Blackhawks return to health? Yeah, we’re looking ahead a little bit on this one, and we may have a clearer picture by Saturday morning. If Toews and Seabrook are skating and come out of the session well, there’s a chance they could play on Sunday. The Blackhawks have done alright despite the injuries. But you have to wonder when they start feeling a bit depleted.

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

When Scott Darling and Antti Raanta vied for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending job two seasons ago, there was definitely a strong competition. But it was still one built on respect.

“We had no bad blood in that situation,” Darling said on Friday. “We’ve remained friends. He’s having a great season and I’m happy for him.”

On this night, Raanta may have been just a bit happier.

Raanta stopped all 26 shots he saw against his former team, notching his first shutout of this season, and Nick Holden gave the New York Rangers a 1-0 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Friday night. The Blackhawks are 1-2-1 in their last four games but remain atop the Western Conference with 38 points.

The Blackhawks were missing Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford in this one. Nevertheless, it was a tight game, one in which both goaltenders were stellar. Darling stopped 36 of 37 shots – Holden’s overtime winner was the first goaltender allowed to New York in two games against them.

Considering the players missing, the Blackhawks will take the point.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“With or without Toews, you’re always thinking when it’s in the third period and it’s close and getting inside 10 minutes, let’s get it to overtime,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve seen a ton of overtimes in the league. You gotta get the one point. We’ve had some success trying to get the extra one. Tonight, not, but that’s got to be the mindset.”

The Blackhawks were close to taking the 1-0 lead six minutes into the third period, when Marian Hossa thought he scored his 15th goal of the season. But the Rangers challenged for offside. Upon further review, the goal was nullified.

“Well, obviously that’s a tough one,” Hossa said. “I mean, I didn’t notice it was close to offside but obviously with today’s technology, with this new rule, it’s a game of inches. It’s slowing the game down, I think. You’re getting confused, what exactly the coaches are looking for. They created this new rule and we just have to deal with it. But sometimes it’s more frustrating because the league wants to increase the scoring and right now, I think more goals are disallowed because of this.”

Hartman, who had the pass to Hossa, was also disappointed but agreed with the review’s ruling.

“You get your excitement up a little bit and you try not to get too ahead of yourself when you know they are reviewing it. You just try to see it as both ways, if they do call it a goal, if they call it back,” Hartman said. “Obviously it was the right call. It was just a tough one.”

The Blackhawks will take the point out of this one. Despite the players they were without they played a solid game. They had good, quality scoring chances. Their current backup was just slightly bested by their previous one.

“Both [goalies] were great, both [teams] had excellent looks at the net,” Quenneville said. “We missed some good opportunities on 2-on-1s and they had some good looks around Darling as well. Both guys got their teams to overtime, got a point. It’s a good point if you want to look at it like that. I didn’t mind the way we played but Darls was excellent.”