Smith's shut out has 'Yotes one win from conference finals

754420.png

Smith's shut out has 'Yotes one win from conference finals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Phoenix Coyotes are on the brink of their first Western Conference finals thanks to their stingy goalie and the captain who traveled with the franchise from Winnipeg to the desert.Captain Shane Doan scored in the first period, Mike Smith made 25 saves and the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 1-0 on Friday night to grab a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series. It was the first win in the month of May in the franchise's NHL history, and Phoenix can advance with a victory in Game 5 on Monday night in Arizona."To win like this is exciting because our goaltender's so good, and we know that we go as far as he takes us," Doan said. "He's been unbelievable in this and really solidifies how important he is and how good he is."Now the Coyotes, owned by the NHL, are 3-1 for the second straight series heading back home with the chance to advance. Chicago won Game 5 to put off elimination for a game, but Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said his message will not change."It's going to be the same kind of game," Tippett said. "Very little space, very little advantages and you're going to have to compete hard and hopefully we can find a way to win a game."The Predators played without forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for the second straight game, this time the decision by coach Barry Trotz to stick with the lineup that won 2-0 on Wednesday night. Trotz said he refuses to second-guess his decision, though lineup changes are likely."Plain and simple, we've got to win a hockey game," Trotz said. "That focus can't go any farther than that. Winning a hockey game, and it's going to have to be in Phoenix. I know when you're down in a series 3-0, the numbers don't look good. At 3-1, a number of teams have come back."The Predators thought they tied it with 7:12 remaining. But officials waved off the power-play goal with the official explanation that a whistle blew before the puck crossed the line. Trotz said he didn't get an explanation with officials telling captain Shea Weber a different reason."They said that (Patric) Hornqvist pushed the goaltender into the net. If you look at it, I don't buy that," Trotz said.The Predators wound up outshooting Phoenix 25-24, but they had chances with the net open they simply missed with Radulov and Kostitsyn on the sideline.Smith, the low-budget replacement for Ilya Bryzgalov after the Russian left the desert for a big contract with Philadelphia, credited his teammates with pressuring the Predators into making some bad shots."We were so aggressive," Smith said. "We didn't give them much, kept them to the outside and when they did get opportunities we had stick on puck. We had guys lying down blocking shots. My D was tremendous tonight. They have been good all playoffs long, but this is one of the better games they've played in front of me."

Radulov leads Nashville with a team-high six points in the postseason, and Kostitsyn is tied for the team lead with three goals. Fans cheered the announcement that the two were scratched after they were suspended for Game 3 for an apparent curfew violation last weekend in Arizona.Nashville had plenty of chances, outshooting Phoenix 10-5 in the third. The Predators even got a power play at 11:34 when Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris cleared the puck over the glass and went to the box. The Predators had a scrum in front of the net after Mike Fisher threw the puck at the net, but the official behind the net immediately waved no goal.Phoenix improved to 4-1 on the road in the postseason, spoiling what had been a big party in Nashville with three blocks of Broadway shut down right in front of the arena. The Predators put two big TVs outside for fans to cheer but didn't give them much to yell about.The Coyotes outskated and outshot Nashville from the start, coming with much more energy. They even got a power play 90 seconds in only to see the Predators kill that. Then Ryan Suter had a turnover near the net, and Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker had a chance on Pekka Rinne right in front before the 6-foot-5 Finn blocked it with his right pad.Fans did their best to try and spark the Predators with their usual standing ovation through a timeout in the first period to a catfish tossed onto the ice early in the third. Nothing helped the Predators' aim getting past Smith into the net."Their goalie was phenomenal tonight," Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter said. "It was definitely the toughest game to get anything going."Nashville went 0 for 3 with the man advantage. The first came when Rostislav Klesla was penalized for boarding Predators forward Matt Halischuk right in front of the Coyotes' bench. Replay showed Klesla appeared to grab Halischuk's jersey before pushing him into the boards, and Halischuk went to the locker room briefly. But the Coyotes, perfect in killing penalties on the road this postseason, did it again.Doan scored on a backhander as he skated across the slot with the puck going off the stick of Predators defenseman Roman Josi and over Rinne's right pad at 14:25 of the first.The Predators came out with more energy in the second but struggled to get a shot on net. Hornqvist had Nashville's best chance around the 6-minute mark when Smith came just out of the crease to handle the puck, and Hornqvist missed the net. The Predators struggled so much they couldn't even go on a 2-on-1 chance before being called for offsides later in the second.With Smith in net, Doan's goal proved to be enough with the way the Coyotes played in front of him. They blocked 10 of Nashville's first 15 shots, and Smith either covered up or gloved the others.
You can watch the highlights below:

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

4-23_tim_anderson_white_sox.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

The White Sox quickly ended their 23-inning streak of offensive futility and didn't look back. 

A three-run first inning propelled the White Sox to avoid getting swept with a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in front of 24,444 at Guaranteed Rate Field Sunday afternoon. 

Tim Anderson led off the bottom of the first with a double, and after Tyler Saladino dribbled a ground ball through the left side, he came around to score on Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly. The White Sox last run before that came in the fourth inning of their 9-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday. 

After Cabrera's flyout, Indians right fielder Abraham Almonte made a mess of Jose Abreu's line drive single, allowing it to skip past him to the wall. That error brought Saladino home and allowed Abreu to reach third, and Abreu later scored on Leury Garcia's two-out single to tag a third run on Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. 

Salazar was shaky over his five innings, striking out nine but allowing seven hits and issuing three walks. The White Sox struck again in the fifth inning when Avisail Garcia launched an RBI double off the top of the center field wall. 

Cleveland's inability to catch the ball helped the White Sox push across another run in the sixth inning. After Omar Narvaez drew a leadoff walk, Jacob May put down a sacrifice bunt and hustled to first, where second baseman Michael Martinez — covering for charging first baseman Carlos Santana — had to awkwardly stretch for Santana's underhand toss. Martinez dropped the ball, allowing May to reach.

[TICKETS: Get your White Sox seats right here]

Following strikeouts by Anderson and Saladino, Cabrera lined a single to left, and Narvaez was aggressively waved home (a common practice with two outs in an inning). Brandon Guyer's throw easily beat Narvaez to the plate, but Indians catcher Roberto Perez dropped it, allowing Narvaez to score the fifth run of the game.

Another Indians defensive miscue led to the White Sox sixth run in the eighth, when an Abreu ground ball kicked off Santana's spikes and into center field, allowing May to score.  

White Sox starter Derek Holland was solid in his six innings, allowing only a solo home run to Francisco Lindor with three walks and six strikeouts. His toughest test came in the top of the fifth, when he issues a two-out walk to Santana to load the bases but struck out Lindor to end the frame. Holland lowered his ERA to 1.99 with his six innings of one-run ball Sunday. 

The Indians tacked on a late run when David Robertson threw a wild pitch that allowed Lonnie Chisenhall to score with two out in the ninth.

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

NFL teams typically wants as many draft picks as possible. The theory: The needier the team, the more picks required for those needs.

Not sure that this is the true situation confronting the Bears in 2017, however. In fact, something nearly the opposite, a variation on a less-is-more theme, is truer.

For the Bears approaching the 2017 NFL Draft, quality is more important than quantity. “Best available” player is fine, but for a team in major need of true impact difference-makers, a “best-possible” player is paramount. How GM Ryan Pace and his personnel posse accomplish that will be one of the most closely watched and far-reaching dramas of this draft. Because it may require some creativity on the clock, with a dizzying array of scenarios popping up in front of them by virtue of possible picks by the Cleveland Browns at 1 and San Francisco 49ers at 2.

Pace already has been about the business of giving himself the option of going after best-possible rather than simply waiting, staying with the draft board and selecting best-available.

The Bears were among the NFL’s most active teams in free agency. That has taken care of some “quantity” issues (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end), with an eye toward freeing the draft for the pursuit of true excellence, something too few Bears drafts have managed to secure (which is how teams miss playoffs nine times in 10 years and find themselves on third different GMs and coaches in the span of six years).

As he has always had within the context of the overall direction of the football franchise, Pace has a draft plan. More specifically, he also has a structure within which to execute that plan.

Draft “bands”

Besides an overall top-to-bottom ranking of players, the Bears establish various “bands” of players they identify as being worth a pick at a certain spot. Not all players in the band are graded equally, and the Bears may move to trade up if a significantly higher-graded players in the band is within reach, or if they fear other teams leap-frogging them to grab a targeted player.

But the bands allow the Bears to weigh trading back and still being able to select one of the talents in that band. With the Bears sitting at No. 3 this year, the first band in this draft will be a small one.

“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there [at No. 3],” Pace said at the recent owners meetings. “Three names, yeah. But beyond that, [we say,] ‘OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios’ — and it’s easier said than done — ‘where we can trade back.’ Those things’ll be discussed.”

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]

They’re being discussed right now. The phone in Pace’s Halas Hall office has been increasingly active the past couple weeks — calls ingoing and outgoing — and will become more so this week as the Bears and most of the NFL take the temperatures of trade ideas going into the start of the draft Thursday night. It happens every year about this time: general managers looking to satisfy sometimes-conflicting objectives, one of adding draft picks via trades down where possible, and the other of adding best-possible players, sometimes necessitating trades of picks or players to move up.

For the Bears, this year is a bit out of the ordinary, if only because they hold the No. 3-overall pick in a draft considered extremely talent-rich at certain positions and extremely less so at others. Loosely put, a position such as cornerback is rated deep enough that quality starters can be had even down into the fourth round, so teams likely need not trade up to land a blue-chipper. Conversely, the quarterback position, the one most often targeted for round-one trades up, is short of consensus elites, so again, teams are less likely to trade up to secure one.

The Bears are in position to select a franchise quarterback but opinions vary widely on whether there are clear ones to be had as high as where the Bears draft, as the order now stands. Pace, who established last year his willingness to trade up for what he considers “elite,” is like any other personnel executive in wanting more selections.

The Bears do not want to slip out of a band entirely. When they sat with No. 7 in the 2015 draft, the Bears identified a quiver of eight players deemed worth the seventh-overall pick. Those ranged from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Amari Cooper to defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and included Kevin White, one of two from the eight not already selected by that point.

Because the goal was a player judged to be elite, trading down was not a realistic option because of the risk of getting none of their targets and instead settling for the next, lower tier of prospects.

Dealing with market forces

But what will the market allow this time? 

“Yeah, and based on the talent of the guys in those bands, what it would require for us to go back?” Pace said. “Those things are all being talked about and studied now, and we’ll keep on fine-tuning it.

“But you’ve got to have a partner willing to do that, too.”

Pace has been a willing partner for trades either up or down, sometimes in the same draft.

Last year, holding the 11th pick, the decision was made to trade up to No. 9 because of their grade on Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, and the concern that either the New York Giants would take Floyd at No. 10 or another team would leap-frog the Bears and grab him. The Bears wanted a pass rusher and the falloff from Floyd was viewed as significant. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson was the next edge rusher taken (No. 19), he was less the speed player that Floyd was, and concerns about Lawson’s shoulder issues proved valid, requiring offseason surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
 
On day two, Pace traded down twice with an eye toward landing one of his top second-round-band talents: Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.