Dempster trying to keep Cubs from the breaking point

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Dempster trying to keep Cubs from the breaking point

MINNEAPOLIS Ryan Dempsters time horizon is five days out, not looking beyond his next start. But this Cubs season is slowly coming into a historical focus: Worst. Team. Ever.

Thats not exactly fair, because the expectations are low, theres still 63 percent of the schedule left and Theo Epsteins front office is looking at a bigger picture of the next five or 10 years.

But manager Dale Sveum chuckled and didnt dismiss the idea when it was suggested on Sunday morning before Dempster went out and threw eight shutout innings in an 8-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

That still left the 20-40 Cubs on pace to lose 108 games, which would break the record for a franchise that began play in 1876. The magic number is 103, which was put up by Cubs teams in 1962 and 1966.

Hopefully, you have to change the pace, Sveum said. You laugh about it, but its definitely there. Its a reality. You dont want any kind of label like that. You better back it up pretty quick, anyway, if you get that label. But, hey, sometimes you bite the bullet on things. Thats just the way it is, unfortunately.

On an everyday basis, yeah, everybody wants you to snap and yell and scream. (But) Ive already done that once, so what are you going to do? Are you going to keep doing it? That doesnt make any sense when the guys are busting their (butts) and preparing every single day. Its not like were throwing balls all over the place.

Sveum wouldnt go into details about his breaking point, but this 10-game road trip wore everyone out. Within the past three weeks, the Cubs have played 16 of 19 games on the road and traveled 6,770 miles through the air.

We just have to be like more relaxed and do the job, Alfonso Soriano said, not try to put too much pressure on ourselves and just let it happen.

Im very surprised where we are, the way we play. Its not the talent. Its the confidence that we lost, and now we got to work to get (it) back.

Soriano got things started with a two-out RBI double in the first inning, and went 6-for-13 with three homers as the designated hitter during this three-game interleague series against the Twins (24-35).

Dempster, who has thrown 15 consecutive shutout innings, also showcased himself, winning both games on this 2-8 road trip.

Were doing good, Dempster said. I mean, as good as can be expected.

Dempster has a 2.31 ERA through 11 starts and would be a positive addition to any clubhouse. The Cubs anticipate this being a sellers market.

We all know what Dempster is, Sveum said. The professionalism and the hard work and obviously the stuff he has on the mound to be one of the top tier guys all the time. (Given) his makeup and his work ethic and his veteran leadership, theres not too many guys like him around that have that whole package.

What will this look like once the Cubs start selling off parts? Well, their hard luck figures to even out a little bit in close games. Anthony Rizzo should eventually give this lineup a jolt, though theyll have to deal with more growing pains once the promotions are made from Triple-A Iowa. The people in the dugout cant think that way.

We just got to get better in certain areas, Sveum said. Thats the way it is. We know that, but unfortunately, that mark is there after 60 games to (bleep) break a lot of records. (Bleep), we got to start winning some baseball games.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

The Blackhawks’ starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let’s just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain’s confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should’ve gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews’ goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He’s getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen.”

2. Great start. This hasn’t been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 25 of 27 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford “looked like he was in control.”

4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he’s been very good. When he’s been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks’ second goal. Kempny didn’t play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team’s road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. “Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it’s man coverage, sometimes it’s playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff,” Quenneville said. “Defenseman is a tough position as you’re growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he’s making progress.”

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik’s 11th goal of the season in the first period.

Jonathan Toews' four-point night paces Blackhawks past Canucks

Jonathan Toews' four-point night paces Blackhawks past Canucks

Jonathan Toews has been doing a lot of things right this season. The offensive production, however, has been hit and miss as the Blackhawks' captain looked for the same consistency on the score sheet he had in the rest of his game.

On Sunday, he hit pay dirt.

Toews recorded a four-point night, including the game-winning goal, and Corey Crawford won his 200th career game as the Blackhawks beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Sunday night. The Blackhawks remain in second place in the Western Conference. They and the Minnesota Wild each have 65 points, but the Wild still have three games in hand.

It was a milestone night for a few Blackhawks. Marian Hossa had an empty-net goal late to record his 400th point in a Blackhawks uniform. Toews' three assists put him 13th all-time among Blackhawks in that category with 331. Brian Campbell recorded his 500th career point.

Richard Panik had a goal and an assist.

The Blackhawks had arguably their best start of the season in this one, outscoring the Canucks 2-0 (Panik and Patrick Kane) and outshooting them 18-9. But in less than a minute in the third period, the Blackhawks lost the lead, thanks to Troy Stecher's power-play goal and Bo Horvat's rebound goal.

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But Toews, who played his part in the Blackhawks' start, was there for the finish. Panik's late third-period shot caromed off the backboard and went right to Toews, who scored for the 3-2 lead with 1:18 remaining in regulation.

"I guess the goals have scored lately are just getting those bounces and being in the right spot at the right time. Nice to get that one on my stick," Toews said. "I just keep telling Hartsy (Ryan Hartman) and Panner to keep shooting — they both have unbelievable shots — and we're going to generate stuff whether it hits the end wall, goes in or hits the guy's pads. We'll find something around the net. It's nice to get that bounce late in the game."

The Blackhawks had some bad luck — and Michal Kempny had a rough shift or two — during the Canucks' third-period comeback. It was a bit of frustration at the time, but coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks kept their cool.

"I still thought we didn't get away from our game at that point, which could have happened," he said. "Finding a way to get it to overtime or scoring a late goal tonight is something our guys have been good at. Just (the) play at the net, Johnny in the right spot with the finish. I still thought we kept our composure at that point."

Crawford, meanwhile, stopped 25 of 27 shots and looked better than he has in some recent outings.

"We gave him some looks where he could feel comfortable again, and he had some great plays in close from post to post on their power plays, especially in the second," Toews said. "He was finding them all night. Nice to see Crow play the way he did tonight and obviously he was a big part, as usual, in the win."

The Blackhawks had a bit of a gaffe early in the third period, but they were able to weather it. Toews has been steady in most facets of his game this season but was looking to build on his production. Sunday’s game was a step in the right direction.