Has violence in hockey finally gone too far?

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Has violence in hockey finally gone too far?

From Comcast SportsNetNHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's vision of a bigger footprint for hockey is finally coming into focus.But it's not just the skyrocketing TV ratings for these playoffs in markets both traditional, like Philly, Boston and Chicago, and those traditionally slow to come around, like Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix. It's the tire marks on the backs of the jerseys of some of the league's best players. The game has never been more popular, nor seemed so out of control.The latest to get run over was the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa, who was taken off the ice in Chicago on a stretcher and briefly hospitalized after absorbing a blow to the head from a shoulder hit launched by Phoenix's Raffi Torres. Everybody in the building saw it -- including apparently Bettman himself, who was in attendance -- except the four officials whose job it is to police that kind of mayhem. And because they didn't see it, according to a league statement issued after the game, they didn't call a penalty, despite the fact that Torres left his skates to deliver the blow."First off, I hope he's all right," Torres, a serial offender as cheap shots go, said after the game. "But as far as the hit goes, I felt like it was a hockey play. I was just trying to finish my hit out there, and, as I said, I hope he's all right."Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was so mad after the game that he was sputtering."It was a brutal hit. You can have a multiple-choice question, it's All of the above.' I saw exactly what happened, it was right in front of me, and all four guys missed it."The refereeing tonight," he added, "was a disgrace."It was. But even the best officiating crews are helpless against the tide of fights, cross-checks, hits to the head and sneak attacks that is overwhelming some otherwise very entertaining hockey. They aren't getting much help, either, from league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, whose decisions grow more bizarre with each incident that reaches his desk. Shanahan began by letting Nashville's Shea Weber off with a 2,500 fine -- roughly the cost of one shift -- after the All-Star purposely smashed the head of Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass at the end of Game 1 of their series. Then he suspended Chicago's Andrew Shaw and New York's Carl Hagelin for three games each after both hit opponents without obvious intent during the run of play.Cross-checking, hair-pulling, instigating fights -- Shanahan has handed out punishments for all those violations, too, with differing results. As a former player of some stature, he took the job determined to bring some predictability to the punishment his office doles out and even explained his decisions with accompanying video evidence. But lately those explanations have been all over the map. Players no longer know whether the line is being drawn at intent or result -- injuring another player -- or even the star power of the violator who winds up in the dock. So everybody, from Sidney Crosby to repeat offenders like Torres are getting in on the action.After winning 3-2 in overtime Tuesday night, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was asked about the different sentences being handed out and whether he trusted the NHL front office to get each one right. In Game 2, the Blackhawks' Shaw ran over Smith, who has a history of concussions, behind his net and got the three-game sentence, even though the goalkeeper hasn't missed a minute of playing time. Even more maddening -- as far as the Blackhawks were concerned -- was that the length of Shaw's suspension wasn't announced until Tuesday afternoon, once it was determined Smith would play in Game 3. Had he been unable to go, presumably Shaw's suspension would have been even longer."I don't know if it's a trust factor. It's a tough job. Whether it's blatant, on purpose, or not. It's tough to get that read up there," Smith said. "Obviously, the head hits have to be cut down. It's people's livelihoods, not hockey ... people have families and kids at home and wives, and when we're getting into head and concussion issues around the whole league, I think we need to put a stop to it."But the NHL's commitment to limit concussions is either full-time, as it has been for the past few seasons and most of this one, or it's not. The league knows the difference, but it also knows that pandemonium on the ice is a lot easier for plenty of viewers to follow than a puck. Sold-out arenas and through-the-roof TV ratings across the board, including towns like Phoenix -- whose Coyotes may well be playing in another city next season -- are a testament to that.Back in January, even as the league was touting the fact that fights-per-game had dropped to low levels not seen since the mid-70s, Toronto general manager Brian Burke groused out loud about having to send his enforcer, Colton Orr, down to the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate.Burke, who once held Shanahan's job, said his team was barely able to use Orr -- he appeared in just five of Toronto's 39 games -- because hardly anyone wanted to fight him. He predicted that abandoning the code that governed who fought and when would result in more players taking cheap shots and seeking revenge in even more dangerous ways."I wonder where we're going with it, that's the only lament I have on this," he said at the time. "The fear that if we don't have guys looking after each other, that the rats will take this game over."Too late. They already have.

Starters help White Sox bullpen maintain health for lengthy stretch

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Starters help White Sox bullpen maintain health for lengthy stretch

The White Sox are at another point in their schedule where every inning is precious.

So even though they only managed a split in Monday’s doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, the White Sox have to feel good not to have taxed their bullpen.

Mat Latos and Erik Johnson combined for 12.1 innings pitched and five relievers combined for another 5.1 on Monday for the White Sox, who are in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 16 days. Given they have Chris Sale and Jose Quintana scheduled the next two games, the White Sox feel pretty fortunate at the midway point of their lengthy run.

“We didn’t really abuse anybody,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “These doubleheaders can kind of get away from you and both sides probably had that. You get out of these things without having to use anybody in both games and extending anybody.”

With the way things had recently gone for Latos and Johnson’s command issues in his last start, Monday’s doubleheader could have been trouble for the White Sox bullpen.

Latos hadn’t completed six innings since April 24 and posted a 7.84 ERA in his last four starts. And in his only major league start this season, Johnson allowed four earned runs in five innings against the Boston Red Sox on May 5.

Not only do the White Sox have two more here against the Indians, they start a four-game series in Kansas City on Thursday and then head to Citi Field for three against the New York Mets. Only then do they have another day off.

Johnson made two early mistakes, but mostly followed in the footsteps of Latos, who delivered six innings in the opening game before he departed with a 6-3 lead courtesy of a three-run homer by Brett Lawrie.

While Johnson left a 3-0 fastball up to Rajai Davis and he ripped it for a two-run homer, which put Cleveland up 3-1 in the fifth, he faced only five over the minimum through six innings.

“EJ did a good job for us, we just weren’t really getting anything going,” Ventura said.

Johnson — who was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after the start — entered the seventh inning at 93 pitches. With his team trailing by two, Ventura hoped to steal another inning from his right-hander. The Indians took advantage as Juan Uribe homered and scored another run off the combination of Johnson and reliever Matt Purke, who allowed a hit in 2.1 scoreless innings.

“You want to help the team out and save the bullpen as best you can, especially on these nine and nines,” Johnson said. “That’s your job as a starter for a regular nine inning game, whether it’s a doubleheader or not.

“I’m thankful for the opportunities and if they keep coming I’m going to keep coming back here.”

For now, the opportunity belongs to reliever Tommy Kahnle, whom was added as the 26th man before the doubleheader. By optioning Johnson to Charlotte, the White Sox will employ an eight-man bullpen.

Preview: Cubs look to snap losing streak vs. Cardinals on CSN

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Preview: Cubs look to snap losing streak vs. Cardinals on CSN

The Cubs look to snap a three-game losing streak against the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (5-1, 2.31 ERA) vs. Michael Wacha (2-4, 4.03 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Preview: Chris Sale targets 10th win as White Sox battle Indians on CSN+

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Preview: Chris Sale targets 10th win as White Sox battle Indians on CSN+

The White Sox continue their series with the Cleveland Indians tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (9-0, 1.58 ERA) vs. Josh Tomlin (6-0, 3.56 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.