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Saturday, July 20

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Bears in Five

Bears to Send Saints Marching Home
by BEARSCast.com staff

Apparently the "Good Rex" showed up to Soldier Field on this past Sunday. Not the "Bad Rex" that everyone has been talking about lately. We firmly believe that there is only "One Rex" and not this set of twins that we've been reading about in the papers. And it just so happens that Rex Grossman played a pretty good ballgame. He cut down on his mistakes from the last game, although down was the only way to go. He made better decisions in the pocket despite consistent pressure from the Seahawks defense. Oh that's right, the Bears beat the Seattle Seahawks 27 — 24 in overtime the other day. That's where we intended to go with this twin Grossman nonsense. But, if you think about it, more than one Rex would be pretty awesome.

One: The NFC Championship Game? Really?
It's hard to imagine that the Bears are playing this deep into January, but it's true. The foot of Robbie Gould propelled the Bears past the Seahawks in overtime with a 49-yard field goal. Thomas Jones had a productive day carrying the ball for two touchdowns in the first half. The defensive line got sacks from Tank, 'Wale Ogunleye and Alex Brown. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher were their usually sparkling selves. Is the picture becoming slightly more focused? The Bears played a good football game. The Bears have played much better games this season, though. And will need to play one of those against a Saints team that we feel very safe in saying is a pretty tough club offensively. Putting points on the board is usually no problem for New Orleans. The Bears are capable of keeping up with them, but hopefully won't have to. And shouldn't have to. Unless you listen to the rest of the experts who will try to have you believe that the Bears are the worst of the four teams left. Don't believe it.

Two: This Would Actually Be the Opposite of Awesome.
What could be the opposite of awesome? If Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister had twins in Saints uniforms with them on Sunday at Soldier field on Sunday. That's probably the only way to best the twin Grossman offense the Bears are planning to run against New Orleans. No, that's fake. But Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister are going to have a huge impact on the outcome of the game. The backfield combination of the Saints is better than the backfield combination of the Bears. That was painful to write but true. Bush has speed and is an exceptional pass catcher. He's not half bad running the ball either. McAllister is great inside runner and has a little bit of speed himself. These two could very well be the next best thing to having Ladanian Tomlinson in your backfield. But unfortunately for them they have to come to Chicago and play the Bears defense. If the two of them can be contained, this game will be much easier on the Bears — as well as the rest of us.

Three: That's Right, They Have That Guy Too.
Drew Brees also poses a pretty serious threat to the Bears defense. He had the best season of any quarterback in the league this year and was named to the All-Pro team. He also has an amazing assortment of weapons on the Saints offense. He took advantage of that fact all year, and undoubtedly will try to do it again on Sunday. Even if the running game is handled well, the Saints offense will be a handful. Joe Horn, the Saints' best receiver since the dawn of man practically, should be back in the lineup for the conference championship game. Rookie Marques Colston was on track to be Offensive Rookie of the Year this season until an injury knocked him out for a while. The tight end/wide receiver seems to playing at the same level again and could be just as dangerous as Reggie Bush.

Four: New Orleans Saints Defense? WHO DEY!?
No really, who are you guys? OK, we can name you. Some of you. You were just very pedestrian during the regular season. The offense is the real concern in this game. That's all were trying to say here.

Five: Bears > Saints
There, that mathematical style sentence should effectively convey our prediction for the outcome of this upcoming football match that has been set up to determine which team can call itself champion of the national conference. The Bears, you have to understand, Bring Entire Armies, Ream Saints. That's the truth of the Bears. No question.

Pucks in Five

The Steel Goes Cold
by Jeremy Piniak

While the rest of Chicago is engrossed in Rex Grossman and the Bears' playoff march, other Windy City teams continue their own battles in relative anonymity. In the Blackhawks' case, that is a good thing, as their recent slide leaves little to celebrate. Getting you up to speed on the latest goings-on at the United Center as well as an update on Chicago Wolves star Darren Haydar's record-setting streak is this week's Pucks in Five.

One: Powerplay Status Still the Same
Another week of games, another week of the Blackhawks continuing to struggle on the powerplay. Wednesday against Buffalo, the Hawks powerplay went 0-of-3, never managing to put pressure on the Sabres in a 2-1 loss. Saturday at Detroit the Hawks went 0-of-6, including a full two minute 5-on-3 powerplay at the end of the second period, while watching a clinic from the Red Wings, who went 3-7 with the man advantage. Sunday the Hawks went 1-of-5, with rookie defenseman Cam Barker notching a goal in a 5-on-3 powerplay in the second period, breaking the Hawks 0-for-11 slump at a crucial time in the game, but the Hawks were unable to convert on a 4-on-3 in overtime and lost a close game in a controversial shootout to Minnesota, the league's fifth-best penalty killing team.

Barker, who was playing in only his second NHL game Sunday, logged time on the powerplay and provided the unit some spark, as their passing and breakdown of the defensive box netted multiple scoring opportunities. For a team that has been struggling to even control the zone with the advantage, it was a welcome sight to see and an effort that the Hawks can hopefully build upon this week with home games against Columbus and a return visit from Minnesota, before a trip to division-leading Nashville closes out the week and takes the team into the All Star break.

Two: Hawks Got Hosed
Sunday evening the Blackhawks picked up a point in their 4-3 shootout loss to Minnesota, their first since a January 2 win over the St. Louis Blues. While it was a game the Hawks should have won in regulation after giving up a two-goal lead, the focus and talk after the game was solely on the shootout attempt by Denis Arkhipov. With the Hawks down 1-0, Arkhipov needed to score to prevent a Wild victory. While Minnesota goalie Manny Fernandez blocked the shot, the referee signaled a goal when the puck trickled past the goal line as Fernandez slid backward. However, after a nearly 5-minute review, league officials in Toronto overturned the goal based on video replay, leaving the Hawks furious and Minnesota with two points.

I was at the game, and while my vantage point from the opposite end of the stadium didn't offer me a clear view, the replay appeared to show the puck fully across the goal line, if only for a second. Video of the disputed goal can be seen here. Monday, the Blackhawks filed a formal complaint with the league, asking that video review and goal judging be added to the next board of governor's meeting during the All-Star break. The Blackhawks cost themselves the game well before the controversial call, but what's done is done, and the team needs to focus on breaking their six-game losing streak and climbing back into the playoff picture.

Three: Cam Can Play
With the groin injury of Adrian Aucoin, the Blackhawks recalled defenseman Cam Barker from Norfolk. The 20-year-old Barker is the third overall pick from the 2004 draft and the Hawks are counting on him to anchor the blue line for years to come. Barker delivered in only his second NHL game, scoring his first career goal on a 5-on-3 powerplay in the second period. He also played a solid defensive game and logged over 21 minutes, with coach Denis Savard not hesitating to have Barker playing at key moments. Barker had a solid chance to make the team coming out of training camp until a broken ankle sidelined him for three months. While his stay in Chicago may be short-lived once Aucoin and fellow defenseman Jassen Cullimore return from injury, Barker has shown that he has the tools to succeed at the NHL level and should be a full-time Hawk soon.

Four: All-Star Selections
Although having just returned from a groin injury and still not 100 percent, Hawks forward Martin Havlat had spoken last week of his hopes of making the All-Star team. Saturday afternoon, he got his wish, being named a reserve and the lone Blackhawk representative for the January 24 game in Dallas. Havlat's play in 23 games is definitely worthy, as his 14 goals and 28 points attest, but there was some doubt on his making the team due to the 22 games he's missed while on the DL. It's Havlat's first All-Star team, and hopefully the first of many for him in a Blackhawks uniform.

Also making the trip to Dallas is defenseman Brent Seabrook, who was chosen to play in the Youngstars game that takes place the night before. The Youngstars game allows the league to showcase some of their rookie and second-year players and future All-stars. While Seabrook's play has tailed off from his stellar rookie campaign, he still has been one of the Hawks more consistent defenseman throughout the year.

Five: Haydar's Streak Halted
Chicago Wolves winger Darren Haydar's record-setting points streak ended at 39 Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to Peoria. The overall record remains yours, Mr. Gretzky, along with half the NHL record book. Haydar's 39 straight games with a point set AHL and Wolves records, and was the fourth-longest points streak in any professional league. Haydar did get some good news Tuesday when he was named to the AHL All-Star squad, along with teammates Brent Sterling and Jason Krog, who is currently with the parent club Atlanta Thrashers but expected to participate in the game. Unfortunately for the Wolves, their losing streak has hit a season-high four games after losses to Peoria, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hamilton last week, but the team looks to turn things around as they close out a four game homestand hosting the Toronto Marlies Wednesday. Despite the current losing streak, the Wolves are still the top team in the Western conference with 53 points, and doing their part to make sure at least one hockey team in Chicago makes some noise in the postseason.

Bulls in Five

Stop Panicking
by Jason Maslanka

One: Media Maniacs
The media are a bunch of maniacs. The media, as a whole, get wildly excited for every up and depressed for every down. What I'm saying, basically, is that to let the media dictate your feelings about your favorite team is a poor, poor idea. In the past week, the Bulls have gone from an early success, to a disappointment, to an up and comer once again. I know what you're saying... that Gapers Block is a media outlet. And you're right. It is, and that makes me the media, but I'll give you a pass on me. Go ahead and listen to me. I'll tell you exactly who the Bulls are. They're a good team with some flaws, playing in the best division in the NBA. That means a few things: they'll lose some frustrating games this year, they'll make the playoffs, they'll win a round. Anyone who tells you otherwise at any point this year is a fool. Anyone who pretends to know more than that is a liar. You draw your own conclusions.

Two: Uh, Third Place?
So, it was two weeks ago when the Bulls were in first place and looking to hang on. Now, they're a third place team. What gives? As stated above, the Central is the best division in basketball, and the only one with four teams above .500. The Bulls sit at 22-17, half a game behind Detroit and 2.5 behind Cleveland, who've won eight of their last 10 games played. The Bulls, Pistons and Cavaliers will probably flip-flop their spots a few more times this year. If the Bulls can avoid extended losing streaks, they'll stay in it and have a chance to win the division at the end of the season. The record only matters after all 82 games are played.

Threeeeee: Trounce
The day was last Saturday and the Bulls had lost five of their last six. Everyone knew the Bulls needed a win, and the Memphis Grizzlies were the opponent. The Grizzlies had been playing about as poorly as any team in the NBA. No brainer? Andres Nocioni was suspended for one game. Ben Wallace's back was ailing. Despite that, and three new starters, the Bulls won 111-66, dominating the Grizzlies in every possible way. The new starting backcourt, Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, hit seven threes to help lead the way. It turned out to be exactly what the Bulls needed.

Four: From Connecticut...
After 31 games coming off the bench, Ben Gordon finally earned his starting spot back. After a relatively slow start starting the first six games, Gordon really took to his reserve role. At some point, though, a team's leading scorer needs to start. Gordon is just that. He leads the team with 21.1 points per game, 20th in the NBA. He's also the best freethrow shooter on the team and plays the fourth most minutes. It's in the Bulls' best interests for Gordon to start, and so far, he's delivered. He's scored 20 or more in his first two starts, against Memphis and San Antonio.

Five: Success Against the West
The Bulls are a miserable 5-10 against the Western Conference. Much of that record comes from the early season road trip, but leaves something to be desired still. The annual Martin Luther King Day matinee featured the powerhouse San Antonio Spurs visiting the United Center. The new starting backcourt scored 43, and the Bulls put away Tim Duncan and the Spurs 99-87. This was made especially impressive because of the lack of Ben Wallace for a second straight game. PJ Brown, starting at center, did a great job on Duncan. Tony Parker scored only six and the Bull snapped the Spurs' four-game winning streak. Maybe the wins over the Grizzlies and Spurs can be considered a new trend. Maybe.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon, Craig Aichele and Fitz are the hosts of Bearscast.com, the best and brightest Bears podcasts, part of the Chicago Sportscast Network. Now with 60 percent more non-football talk, bringing the football talk to 10 percent. Go listen. Send comments to hosts@bearscast.com.

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he executes a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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