L.A. Kings end 45-year Stanley Cup drought

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L.A. Kings end 45-year Stanley Cup drought

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dustin Brown practically snatched the Stanley Cup away from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, skating directly to center ice and thrusting it skyward. Forgive his haste. The Los Angeles Kings' captain had only been waiting his whole life for this moment. The Kings' long-suffering fans had been waiting nearly 45 years for somebody to lift that 36-pound silver trophy and remove the burden on a franchise that had never won an NHL title. Brown, MVP goalie Jonathan Quick and the late-blooming Kings never flinched under all that weight. After an unbelievable postseason run that ended in a triumphant flurry of blood, sweat and power-play goals in Game 6, they're all champions. Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis scored two goals apiece, Quick finished his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance with 17 saves, and the Kings beat the New Jersey Devils 6-1 Monday night, becoming the first eighth-seeded playoff team to win the Stanley Cup finals. When Lewis scored into Martin Brodeur's empty net with 3:45 to play, the Kings' decades of tension and frustration finally turned into raw anticipation. After 45 years of existence, one tumultuous regular season and two missed chances to clinch the Cup, the Kings knew they were about to be champions for the first time. Even the sober, serious Quick got happy. "You get that four-goal lead, you know, it's hard for it not to creep into your head a little bit," he said. "That's when you take a big, deep breath, relax a little bit, and know it's going to happen." The Kings can exhale. They're reigning over the NHL for the first time. Brown had a goal and two assists for Los Angeles, which ended its spectacular 16-4 postseason run in front of a crowd including several dozen Kings faithful who have been at rinkside since the team's birth in the Second Six expansion in 1967. "Every single guy worked so hard for us this season," said defenseman Drew Doughty, who began the year as a contract holdout and finished with six points in the finals, including two assists in the clincher. "Everyone deserves this. We got used to each other, we developed a chemistry, and we just went sailing from there." After taking a 3-0 series lead and then losing two potential clinching games last week, the Kings finished ferociously at Staples Center just when the sixth-seeded Devils appeared capable of matching the biggest comeback in finals history. One penalty abruptly changed the tone of the series. Brown, Carter and Lewis scored during a five-minute power play in the first period after Steve Bernier was ejected for boarding Rob Scuderi, leaving the veteran defenseman in a pool of blood. Quick took it from there, finishing a star-making two months by allowing just seven goals in six finals games. "You never know. You get to the dance, you never know what's going to happen," Brown said. "We calmed down after losing two. It was the first time we had done that all playoffs, and we finally got off to a good start." Rookie Adam Henrique ended Quick's shutout bid late in the second period after the Kings had built a 4-0 lead, but Lewis and Matt Greene added late goals. Brodeur stopped 19 shots for the Eastern Conference champion Devils, just the third team to force a Game 6 in the finals after falling into an 0-3 hole. "It's disappointing, but it's been a great season for the Devils," the 40-year-old Brodeur said. "We came a long way to challenge for the Stanley Cup from not making the playoffs last year. There's only one team that can win. It's not us this time, but we're proud of what we've done." The Kings steamrolled everyone in their path after barely making the playoffs, eliminating the top three seeds in the Western Conference in overwhelming fashion as they matched the second-fastest run to a title in modern NHL history. Although the Devils gave them a little trouble, the Kings boasted a talented, balanced roster that peaked at the absolute perfect time under midseason coaching hire Darryl Sutter. Quick is the third American-born Conn Smythe winner, adding one more dominant game to a run in which he set NHL records for save percentage (.946) and goals-against average (1.41) among goalies who played at least 15 postseason games. Brown, just the second American-born captain to raise the Cup after Dallas' Derian Hatcher, capped his own impressive playoff work by finishing with 20 points, tied for the postseason scoring lead with linemate Anze Kopitar. And don't forget: Brown accomplished what even Wayne Gretzky couldn't do in eight years in Los Angeles by lifting the Cup. Brown handed off the trophy to Willie Mitchell, the 35-year-old defenseman who had never won a title. Mitchell gave it to long-injured and recently returned forward Simon Gagne, who nearly tripped before raising the Cup for the first time. Sutter, the stone-faced Alberta farmer from a family of hockey-playing brothers, smiled like a kid at his first chance to lift the prize. Later, Brown and Justin Williams sat their crying children in the Cup, and Kopitar -- the first Slovenian NHL champion -- raised it while wearing a gold crown on his head. After going on a 12-2 tear to the Western Conference title, the Kings won the first two games of the finals in overtime by identical 2-1 scores in New Jersey. Los Angeles then flattened the Devils 4-0 in Game 3, but missed its first chance to clinch on home ice in New Jersey's 3-1 win in Game 4. The Devils then beat Los Angeles 2-1 in Game 5, earning another cross-country trip after becoming the first team since 1945 to win twice after falling behind 0-3 in the finals. The Kings were the West's bottom seed after failing to clinch a playoff berth until right before their 81st game, but only because they underachieved for much of the season, spending most of it as the NHL's lowest-scoring team. The talent coalesced under Sutter, who replaced the fired Terry Murray shortly before Christmas and turned Los Angeles into a competent offensive club by late February. Five years after the Anaheim Ducks won California's first Stanley Cup, the Golden State's oldest team raised the second. The Kings also are the first team to win the Cup at home since those Ducks, and their fans appreciated the Hollywood touch. Despite coming off their first back-to-back losses of the playoffs, the Kings started with impressive energy in Game 6, getting most of the good early scoring chances -- and then they got the break they needed when Bernier pushed Scuderi headfirst into the boards behind Quick's net. Scuderi stayed motionless for quite a while, eventually heading to the dressing room after leaving plenty of blood from his lacerated nose. Bernier, a 27-year-old journeyman and depth forward with two goals in 24 playoff games this season, went to the locker room. The Devils complained Jarret Stoll received no penalty for checking Stephen Gionta into the boards between the benches a moment earlier. "I wish I could take that play back," Bernier said. "I didn't want to hurt my team. I wanted to help them. This is extremely hard. It's been a long playoff run for us. To finish on that note, it's not fun for sure. But there's nothing I can do now." Brown scored 53 seconds into the power play, slickly redirecting Doughty's low pass in front for his first goal since the Western Conference finals opener. Carter then deflected home his seventh goal of the postseason after Brown walked the puck out of the corner and fired a shot at Brodeur's glove side while skating away from the net. With the Los Angeles crowd on its feet, the Kings added another as rookie Dwight King ferociously drove the net and left a rebound for Lewis, who tucked it home for his first goal in 18 games. Staples Center was deafening for the rest of the first period, and Los Angeles went up 4-0 just 90 seconds into the second when Brown found Carter unchecked in the slot for a one-timer. "It's pretty awesome," Sutter said. "It's the feeling of seeing them so happy, the work that you go through. The first thing you think about as a coach -- these guys are all young enough, they've got to try it again." NOTES: Linemates Brown and Kopitar finished tied for the NHL postseason scoring lead with 20 points in 20 games, and fellow first-liner Williams had 11 points in the final 14 games, finishing with 15 points. ... New Jersey LW Ilya Kovalchuk, who spurned the Kings' advances two years ago to sign with the Devils, managed just one empty-net goal in six finals games. Captain Zach Parise scored his only finals point on a Game 5 goal off a misplay by Quick. ... My Chemical Romance attended the game. Their song, "Welcome to the Black Parade," has become the black-jerseyed Kings' unofficial anthem after its incorporation into a clever pregame video featuring photos of several Kings as kids.

As White Sox bats heat up, Todd Frazier feeling like himself after bumpy start to 2017

As White Sox bats heat up, Todd Frazier feeling like himself after bumpy start to 2017

Three games do not a comeback make, but Todd Frazier is feeling like his normal self again.

Frazier’s been battling a host of health-related issues since the start of 2017, including injuries to his finger and oblique that hampered him in the spring and most recently a bout with the flu that cost him six of eight games and saw him lose 10 pounds.

But the last three games have been more like it for Frazier, as the White Sox third baseman has gone 4-for-12 with five RBIs, four runs scored, three doubles and a pair of walks. In Tuesday’s win over the visiting Kansas City Royals, Frazier had a pair of doubles, matching his total from his previous 12 games.

“It was weird to start off with the finger on something weird that happened last year and that turned into a cast. And then the oblique. It has been a crazy ride,” Frazier said after Tuesday’s game. “That’s why this game you’ve got to work your butt off in the offseason and be ready now, and I feel like I’m getting back to where I need to be.

“I feel fine. I’m good. I’m trying to lift as much as I can. Maybe a little soreness from lifting trying to gain some muscle and some weight back. Trying to eat as much as I can too as well.”

The time off would be enough to knock someone off their game, but Frazier — who posted career lows with a .225 batting average and .302 on-base percentage last season — was still looking to heat up after struggling to produce through the season’s first few weeks. In his first 10 games, the veteran third baseman slashed just .091/.189/.212 with just three hits and one RBI.

So Frazier has been studying up. The entire White Sox lineup has feasted in the first two games of the current series against the Royals, combining for 22 runs on 29 hits. But Frazier credited his personal success to some of the work he’s been doing.

“Just doing my homework,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just trying to go back and understand what I did in the other years  that made me hit the ball better. Talk to the coaches. At the end of the day, it’s mental, that’s all it is. You’ve been hitting for all these years now, just got to understand to focus.

“We see these pitchers a lot. People always told me, ‘You’ve got the upper hand, you see these guys all the time.’ So let’s start figuring out what they’re throwing.”

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Tuesday night, Frazier served as the White Sox designated hitter, the second time he’s been in the lineup but not in the field this season, matching the number of times he played DH in 2016, his first year with an American League team.

While it presented a change of pace, Frazier had a positive review of something he hasn’t done very often.

“I liked it. Every once and a while I think you need a day like that,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lot of guys that can do it. It was good to get Matt (Davidson) in there at third base, get his body going a little bit out in the field a little bit more. It’s like, ‘You got a day off, you’re DH’ing.’ Not really. You’ve got to keep the body moving, keep staying loose. It worked out well for everybody.

“I did a little heavy lifting in the legs the day before, and Rick (Renteria) didn’t even know about that. I was a little sore, and I was like, ‘Good, I got a little DH spot today,’ which was great for me, and now I can focus on defense, as well.”

In baseball, fortunes can change on a daily basis, so who knows if this will be the start of a surge for Frazier or just a brief spike in a long season. But if the White Sox can get Frazier and the rest of the lineup to keep hitting like they have the past few games, it could mean big things.

“Everybody focused and prepared,” Frazier explained when asked about the big run totals in the last few games. “I think the little things, guys getting here earlier, guys wanting to get out there and take extra work, and the focus and determination that we’ve got going right now is pretty nice. Nobody’s trying to do too much.

“You see our plate approach, you see guys hustling out balls. You watch guys like Avi Garcia, he’s got two big infield singles for him. At the end of the year, you look back at some things like that, a guy hits a one-hopper to second base and beats out a ball. That takes your average from .250 to .260 if you get three or four of those. Examples: Leury Garcia beating out a ground ball, getting a play overturned because of hustle. We don’t lack that this year, and I think that’s something big that we’re working on.

“Win, lose or draw, we’re going to give 100 percent. We know we’ve got Rick Renteria coming in here telling us ‘Nobody’s feeling sorry for you. So pick yourself up. We’re professionals. We’re White Sox.’ I think that’s what we’re going by right now.”

Ryan Pace focusing on 'best player available,' at No. 3: Could that be Deshaun Watson?

Ryan Pace focusing on 'best player available,' at No. 3: Could that be Deshaun Watson?

Last month, Ryan Pace described his day-before-the-draft press conference as being one of the “hardest” he does all year.

With only a little over 24 hours until the Bears go on the clock with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft, the third-year Bears general manager wasn’t tipping his hand while answering the media’s questions on Wednesday.

One of Pace’s overarching points, though, was that the Bears have to focus on taking the best player available at No. 3 Thursday night. Pace said the Bears have three players targeted for that spot, and what the Cleveland Browns or San Francisco 49ers do ahead of them won’t impact their decision.

What also won’t impact the Bears’ decision is the need to draft a quarterback.

“I think you get yourself into trouble if you’re not sticking with our philosophy of best player available,” Pace said. “When you start trying to manufacture things or create things, that’s when teams get into dangerous water. I think if we just stay with guys we have a consensus on and best player available we’ll be in good shape.”

Plenty of draft observers — ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, NFL Network’s Mike Manock, CBS Sports’ Rob Rang — don’t have a quarterback in the top three of their respective “big boards,” which are headlined by the likes of Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas and/or Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, among a few others.

But what if the Bears’ consensus is that a quarterback is a top-three player?

Over the last few months, Pace has consistently touted intangibles as being of prominent importance when evaluating a quarterback. At the combine in Indianapolis, he pointed to Drew Brees taking Purdue — a perennial Big Ten bottom-feeder — to a Rose Bowl. Pace, of course, knows Brees’ NFL success well having watched him in New Orleans before becoming the Bears’ general manager. 

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There’s one quarterback in this year’s draft class that could have those intangibles to be considered at No. 3: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. 

Before Watson took over as a full-time starter in 2015, Clemson established itself as a perennial Orange Bowl contender that’d win 10 or 11 games a year. But Watson took Clemson to a different level, going 28-2 and reaching the College Football Playoff title game in 2015 (a loss to Alabama) and 2016 (a win over Alabama). 

“It's big with every position, the intangibles,” Pace said. ‘That's what I continue to stress to our guys right now, because you can get enamored with these physical qualities or these traits. There's enough good players where we don't need to change our standards.

“I really like our locker room right now. I really like the vibe right now in that locker room with the guys that we have here, it feels good, and I want to continue to add to that vibe and add to that excitement. It's up to me to impress that to our scouts and to our coaches that, hey, we've got to make sure we're adding the right kinds of guys, the right kinds of intangibles to our room.”

If Watson isn’t among the team’s consensus top three, he could fit into one of the “clouds” Pace talked about if the Bears trade down into the middle or later part of the first round. But trading down (or back into the first round) carries risk if the Bears believe Watson could be a franchise-changing quarterback. The No. 3 pick is the highest the Bears have had since the early 1970s, and it’s a position the team hardly wants to be in again.

Pace, of course, wasn’t going to reveal much the day before he and the Bears make a critically-important selection. The Bears know who they want, and Thursday night, so will everyone else.

“There’s been so much that’s come into this since August, so you’ve just trust what your eyes see and don’t over-think it,” Pace said. “Trust your conviction and trust your instincts and trust your gut.

“You can get into trouble right now if you’re up there watching additional tape and doing all that; I think you can over-scout players. By now we’ve got enough opinions. We’ve met with enough players. We’ve been through the Combine and been through the Pro Days and seen players play live. At this point we feel good. I don’t think we’re in a situation where we’re overthinking anything.”