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Pucks in Five

Chicago's Other Playoff Team
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Sweep!
Yes, probably not as impressive as the Bulls' dismantling of the defending champion Heat, but the Wolves brought out the brooms at the Bradley Center with their victories in Game 3 and 4 this week over the Milwaukee Admirals. For a team that often struggled to beat the Ads during the season, sweeping them is a great accomplishment.

Two: Wolves Strike First Again in Game 3
After Chicago defended their home ice to take a 2-0 series lead, the first round best-of-seven shifted to Milwaukee, where the Wolves continued the series trend of taking the early lead and holding off an Admirals rally with a 3-2 victory. The first period saw each team garner four powerplay opportunities and neither light the lamp, until the Wolves pulled out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Jordan LaVallee and a breakaway by AHL MVP Darren Haydar. Haydar also had an assist on LaVallee's goal giving him multiple points in every game of the series so far. Despite the win, the Wolves were again out-shot, only notching 21 to the Admirals' 28, and their powerplay struggles continued, going only 1-for-8. For the team's sake, that one ended up being the game winner by Rookie of the Year Brett Sterling.

Three: Game 4 a fight to the finish
The fourth game saw the Admirals throw all they could at the Wolves, earning their first lead at 2-1 and extending the game to overtime, before Brian Fahey ended the series at 11:55 of the extra session. The Wolves struck first again when the Admirals' netminder got caught outside the net trying to play the puck, leaving a wide open goal for Chicago forward Colin Stuart. The Admirals scored for the first time in a period other than the third to tie the game in the first and take the lead in the second before Haydar scored a powerplay goal on a scrum in front of the net for a 2-2 tie. Haydar's goal was his fourth in as many games.

Overtime saw the Wolves pile on, sensing the sweep, with 12 shots on goal, giving them a total of 37 for the entire game to the Ads' 30. Garnett's had 28 saves for the Wolves, and running his career postseason record to 6-0 with the sweep. It's a good sign that after three games of picking up an early lead and holding off a late rally, the Wolves had to battle from behind and play with a sense of urgency to earn the series win. With a new series coming up, that hunger needs to be present to keep the momentum of the impressive series victory.

Four: Staring at the Stars
The Wolves had to wait until Saturday to find out who their opponent would be in the West Division Finals, which, in a 4-2 series upset, will be the fourth seed Iowa Stars, who defeated the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights 5-2 to finish the surprising series victory. Games 1 and 2 take place at Rosemont's Allstate Arena tomorrow and Friday, before shifting to Des Moines for Games 3 and 4 Sunday and Tuesday. The Wolves have to be pleased to be facing Iowa rather than top-seeded Omaha, given their 6-2-1-1 regular season mark against the Stars. But of course, things can be drastically different in the playoffs, as evidenced by the Wolves' sweep of Milwaukee after struggling with them during the regular season. The Wolves played strong in the opening series against Milwaukee, converting on prime scoring opportunities. A concern entering the playoffs was Chicago's defensive support, but both the blueliners and Michael Garnett have been playing superbly. Overall, if the Wolves can continue to control the tempo and limit opponents' shots, they should be able to defeat Iowa.

Five: Team Canada wants Toews
In a small bit of Blackhawks news, highly touted prospect Jonathan Toews, the Hawks' third pick in last year's draft, is heading to Moscow as a member of Team Canada for the World Championships. Despite only being 18, Toews will get the chance to play against NHL caliber talent at the tournament, a major honor for the youngster. Toews spent last season as a student at the University of North Dakota, and while there is no announcement on his plans for the upcoming year, the Blackhawks will be hoping to see Toews in the Indianhead sweater, as he's a major puzzle piece for a team that's desperately lacking in scoring.

Bulls in Five

Brooms
by Jason Maslanka

One: SWEEP
Most of the experts picked the Heat. Most fans were scared of the Heat. Sports radio laughed at callers who suggested a sweep after two games. I wasn't sure the Bulls could win the road. Looks like pretty much everyone but those "silly" sports radio callers was wrong. The Bulls dispatched the Heat in fairly easy fashion, finishing them off in game four Sunday with a 92-79 win. In both road games, the Bulls came from behind to win, but did so without much resistance from the ever-aging Heat.

Two: Need a Superstar to Win
It's been the negative on the Bulls all year. It's said that you need a superstar or scoring big man to win the big games, especially in the playoffs. The team still doesn't have its scoring big man (although Ben Wallace averaged just under 10 points per game in the series), but it may have its superstar... or two. In the series, both Luol Deng and Ben Gordon averaged over 25 points per game. Through four games for most teams in this year's playoffs, only seven total players are averaging over 25, including Deng and Gordon. If that continues, fans shouldn't be afraid of any team in the NBA.

Threeeeee: History Made
Defending champions don't regularly bow out of the playoffs in the first round. Phoenix did so to San Antonio in 2000, but that wasn't a sweep. The last time a defending champion got swept in the first round was 1957 when the Philadelphia Warriors were beaten 2-0 by the Syracuse Nationals. Talk about ancient history. So, in the "modern era" of the NBA, the Bulls did something no team has done. This is something to get excited about.

Four: Who's Next?
The Detroit Pistons are. The number one seed Detroit Pistons. The season series stands at 3-1 Bulls, which generally means nothing come playoff time. A big difference this year is that the Bulls have Wallace and the Pistons don't. It'll be a very different series for Wallace as he won't have a dominant big man to stop. He should match up nicely with Chris Webber, who's not as much a post threat as a mid-range jump shooter. The entire series will be dominated more by defense as Kirk Hinrich will be charged with stopping Chauncey Billups. Luol Deng will find himself defended more closely by Teyshaun Prince, who might actually have longer arms than Deng. The series may hinge on whether the Bulls forwards can guard Rasheed Wallace well and whether the Bulls can continue their recent road success.

Five: Around the League
The Eastern Conference has been a story of haves and have-nots. The Central Division shined once again going 12-0 in their first round series. In the only home-court upset, New Jersey is up 3-1 on Toronto. Many experts picked New Jersey because of their star power compared to the very young Raptors. The playoff excitement is definitely in the West, so far. Phoenix and San Antonio are generally taking care of business, up 3-1 in their respective series. The 4-5 series, Houston-Utah, has been a back and forth affair with the lower seeded Rockets currently up 3-2. The only real shocker of the playoffs so far as been the 1-8 match-up of Dallas-Golden State. Not only did Dallas win 67 games, but the Warriors nearly missed the playoffs again. After 13 years of not making it, the Warriors are putting on a show, up 3-1 with 3 chances to move on to the second round. The 8-1 upset is very rare, happening only twice in the history of the NBA.

Cubs in Five

Statistically, We're Not That Bad... Really
by Jeff Webber

One: Z = $
Forget all the talk about how Carlos Zambrano is slipping. And forget all the talk about the Cubs maybe letting him leave as a free agent. April has long been a problem for Zambrano, but his May ERA from 2004-2006? A sparkling 2.00 with 133 strikeouts in 126 innings. His last two starts show he's already on the way. He'll get his numbers up, and he'll get a long term deal to keep pumping his fist in Cubbie blue for at least another five years.

Two: Cub Brass Quietly Pulls Rug Out from Under Prior
Something clever went down during all the Mark Prior mess. If you blinked, you may have missed it. The Cubs, who were never sold on Prior's health after his shaky spring, opted to send him to Triple A to start the year rather than bring him up to the big club or put him on the disabled list. Why does this matter? Since he began the year as a minor leaguer and then went down hurt, he won't accrue a single day of major league service time this year. That means Prior won't be eligible for free agency in 2008 as expected, but will have to wait until 2009. And so, should the Cubs choose to hang on to him and give him one more chance, his price tag just dropped enormously.

Three: Ryan Theriot, Your Stardom Is a House of Cards
Not Cardinals, cards, as in "fragile and doomed to fall." I like Theriot as much as the next overenthusiastic Cub fan, but before our hearts get set on having a shortstop who can go three for six with two doubles and a run scored (like Theriot did against St. Louis last Sunday), let's keep in mind a few things. First, his career slugging percentage in the minor leagues is a godawful .337. Even his season best of .391 would only be acceptable if he were a Gold Glove-level defender. Which brings us to the second thing: he's, um, not. Actually in 189 games in the minors at short, Theriot committed 40 errors, giving him a positively abysmal .951 fielding percentage (these stats via The Cub Reporter). And since that three for six day? He's just three for 18, with no extra base hits. Oh, and an error.

Four: No, Really... The Cubs Aren't That Bad
Sometimes Lady Luck is not your friend. The Cubs have outscored their opponents by 19 runs, a larger margin than any other team in their division. According to the so-called "Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball", a statistical formula that predicts with terrific accuracy a team's win-loss record based on the number of runs they score versus the number they allow, the Cubs' record really should be more like 13-11. Bottom line: as long as the Cubs keep scoring more than they give up, they are statistically bound to rebound. Playing against the Pirates and Nationals this week should help.

Five: 24th Anniversary of the Lee Elia Tirade
Think Lou Piniella's blowups are bad? Then, clearly, you've forgotten about The Mother of All Managerial Tantrums, thrown 24 years ago Sunday by then Cubs manager Lee Elia. This emphatically, unbelievably NSFW rant — so filthy that I will resist the urge to include it on this page, opting instead to give you this this YouTube link — trumps them all. What does it say about Cub fans that we continue to pass this along to each other decades after the fact? Either we're hopelessly self-loathing or we have a great sense of humor. Probably both.

Sox in Five

...has the week off.

Fire in Five

No Reason To Get Excited
by Steve Gillies

One: Best Start Ever?
I've been told that this is the best start to a season for the Fire since... since, like, ever. If you combine it with the unbeaten run toward the end of last season, you have to admit they've turned into a pretty functional soccer team. Certainly anyone still calling for Dave Sarachan's job is just doing it out of some malevolent prejudice against the short rather than for any kind of soccer reasons.

For some reason it's hard to get all that excited, though. Maybe because the way the playoffs work, how well you do at this point in the season matters only slightly more than how well you did in preseason. Maybe because, with all due respect to the team for grinding out the results, it's pretty hard to mistake these guys for the team that had Stoichkov, Nowak, Beasley, Bocanegra and Lubos Kubik all on the same field together. Of course that team never started a season 3-0-1, but they were pretty good.

Two: We Don't Play the Sexy Football
Fire players will be the first to tell you that they haven't been at their absolute best yet. Maybe that's a frightening thing for the rest of the league. There is a saying that the great teams are the ones that find a way to win even when they aren't playing well. Here's my cause for concern, though. With Jaqua gone and either Logan... Pause or Gonzalo Segares replacing him, we're basically playing with five defenders, two holding midfielders, one attacking midfielder and two strikers. And for some reason one of those strikers has had to do a lot of tracking back and defending. So if you're a neutral, the Fire isn't a lot of fun to watch. As a fan, I really don't care how the Fire gets their results as long as they keep coming. I worry, though, that in the big games we might not have the creativity or firepower to unlock a quality defense.

Three: Lucky Breaks
Defensively the Fire are up there with the best teams in the league, having given up only two goals — and one of those was a bad penalty decision. Considering the amount of pressure New England and Houston exerted, you have to say the back line has held up well. They have gotten their share of help. By my very unofficial count, the crossbar or post has saved us on four occasions. There was also a legit goal called back for Houston on Sunday. These are the kind of breaks you tend to get when you're winning, but that kind of luck can abandon you in a hurry.

Four: Quick Breaks
Don't get me wrong. The Fire have had their moments. For part of the second half of the Houston game the Fire looked as deadly on the counter-attack as I've ever seen them. Good running off the ball, quick passing that turned defense into attack in about three touches, it was kind of breathtaking. I'd like to see a little bit more of that to keep teams on their heels. It's much better for my blood pressure than the siege mentality they reverted to during the final 10 minutes, which "passed like a kidney stone: slowly and painfully," according to Fire play-by-play announcer Kenn Tomasch.

Five: Where We Stack Up in the League
One of the most hopeful signs has been the quality of opposition the results have come from. Sure, the Fire haven't gone up against a New York or a Dallas yet, but they haven't exactly been playing Real Salt Lake either. It's really a pity that they don't play DC United until June, because there is no way that they'll be playing as badly by then as they are right now. In retrospect, the New England result looks a lot better than it did at the time since New England are much better than their disastrous off season indicated they would be. With the rematch in Boston next week, if the Fire can take some points off them (I'd settle for a draw), it might start making me think about possibly becoming cautiously optimistic.

WCR in Five

East Side Represent!
by Scorey Feldman

If you're just now getting your hearing back, you must have been at Cicero Stadium on Saturday night when your very own Windy City Rollers upset Seattle's Grave Danger with a stunning 93-64 win.

One: You Beat the B-Team: So What?
Let's get this out of the way: Seattle didn't send us the same team that's ranked No. 1 in the nation. That said, six of the 14 skaters on Grave Danger were part of the team that won the 2007 WFTDA Western Regional Championships in February, so we're not talking about some farm team, here. Beating the number two team in the number one league in the nation is still a Very Big Deal.

Two: When is 43% > 100%?
Malice With Chains might have been named Most Intimidating last year, but even after picking up lead jammer status five times out of five, Yvette YourMaker proved herself the story of the night, scoring a whopping 37 points despite a 43 percent conversion rate on lead jams. Malice's 22 points were nothing to scoff at, of course, but if I don't see a Maker Mob sitting next to the Chain Gang next month, I'm going to be disappointed.

Three: Breaking the Law 216 Times in Two Hours
Has anyone ever been to a sporting event without complaining at least once about the refs? Of course not. So pity the fan that walked out of Cicero Stadium: with over two hundred penalties recorded, he clearly couldn't complain that the refs missed anything. Even the old chestnut of "let them play" didn't apply, since the new WFTDA ruleset doesn't allow for play stoppages due to penalties. I suggest complaining about the beer prices instead.

Four: A Pro-Bowl that Players Actually Care About
WFTDA interleague is a strange beast: it's hard to imagine what was going through Hell's Belle Harmadillo's head as she pushed through half a dozen elbows and took a shot to the head to get her Windy City rival Fury jammer Yvette YourMaker through the pack in period three, then did it again 20 seconds later on another trip through the Seattle defense. Where's her $40,000 bonus and week-long vacation in the tropics? Heck, did anyone even buy her a drink with an umbrella in it at the after-party?

Five: What's Next?
It feels like the Eastern Regionals are a long way off, but with only one more interleague bout on the official schedule, the All-Stars will have to keep their eyes on the prize. Carolina is easily as fast as the Windy City, and Gotham's rock-solid blocking at the East Coast Extravaganza showed that there's no silver bullet that will guarantee victory in August. Add in three regular-season bouts and the injuries we'll most certainly see in the coming weeks, and it's anyone's guess as to what will happen in Ohio. You'll have to see for yourself. Oh, and bring earplugs.

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Comments

Jeff Webber / May 1, 2007 11:15 AM

Also of note: wondering about all of those myriad news stories, blog entries, stat reviews, etc. that I'm always citing? I'm now exhaustively blogging the Cubs-related baseball links I come across at http://cubsinfive.tumblr.com.

Steve in Five / May 1, 2007 11:19 AM

Greetings from rum-soaked Sanibel, FL. Do ya miss me, Chicago? Are all of your left front tires painted black in mourning?

Were there a Sox in Five this week -- and the dearth of cable and very patchy wi-fi here nailed that coffin shut some days ago -- it might have blurbs with headlines like these:
1. No Thome, Big Trouble!
2. Bye Bye Brian, Hello Ozzie of the Iron Fist!
3. You Wanted Grinder Ball? You've Got Your Grinder Ball!
4. How Vlad Will the West-Coast Swing Be?
5. How Sweeney It Is!

And with that, I'm headin' back to the bar.

 

About the Author(s)

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.

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to cubs@gapersblock.com.

Steve Gillies has been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to fire@gapersblock.com.

Scorey Feldman made the mistake of seeing the Windy City Rollers debut at the Congress Theatre in 2005 and has been neck-deep in derby madness ever since. He's currently serving as the league's Head of Rules & Regs despite his status as one of the worst rollerskaters the world has ever seen.

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