Nicholas J. Cotsonika

  • Antoine Vermette goes from healthy scratch to playoff hero as Blackhawks beat Ducks in double-OT thrill ride

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 3 days ago

    CHICAGO — Thursday night, Antoine Vermette was a healthy scratch. He was 32 years old, a veteran of 68 NHL playoff games, a player the Chicago Blackhawks acquired for a prospect and a first-round pick at the trade deadline. But he hadn’t scored in eight straight games, and coming off a triple-overtime epic, coach Joel Quenneville wanted fresh legs in the lineup.

    So Vermette spent Game 3 of the Western Conference final in the dressing room, riding a bike, lifting weights. He watched on television as his teammates lost to the Anaheim Ducks without him.

    “The emotion, I mean, it’s not a pleasant one,” Vermette said. “Like anybody else on this team, you want to be part of the team. You think you can help the team.”

    Saturday night, Vermette helped the team all right. He returned to the lineup, and though he played only 17:56, second-least among Chicago forwards, he ended up making the difference 5:37 into double overtime.

    “That was a huge, huge goal. Huge.”

    The Blackhawks were on the brink of a 3-1 series deficit. Instead, this thing is tied, 2-2. It’s going six games. At least.

    It’s fun to watch, as long as you aren’t riding a bike and lifting weights in the dressing room.

  • Why Gary Bettman really should have kept his mouth shut on CTE

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 4 days ago

    CHICAGO – Gary Bettman is a lawyer. Too often he speaks like a lawyer when he should speak as a leader. Thursday was one of those times.

    The commissioner of the National Hockey League held an informal media scrum during the first intermission of Game 3 of the Western Conference final between the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks. He stood at the back of the press box, surrounded by reporters, and answered questions about subjects like the salary cap.

    Then he made a comment about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which Boston University researchers describe as a “progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.”

    “From a medical science standpoint, there is no evidence yet that one necessarily leads to the other,” Bettman said amid the noise of the United Center. “I know there are a lot of theories, but if you ask people who study it, they tell you there is no statistical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion.”


  • After triple-OT defeat, determined Ducks pass character test with Game 3 win over Blackhawks

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 5 days ago

    CHICAGO — It was Game 3. It felt like Game 4.

    The Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks played one hundred sixteen minutes and twelve seconds of playoff hockey in a triple-overtime thriller Tuesday night. They did what they could to recover – fluids, cold tubs, massages, pillows, blankets. Still, they flew four hours from California to Illinois and played again Thursday night.

    Man, it was a slog, a test of body and mind.

    “It was more of a mental battle for everyone tonight,” said Ducks center Andrew Cogliano, who compared it to playing after a hard weight workout. “You basically played two games, and it’s pretty tough. I think both teams were tired. You could tell. I think the pace wasn’t as high. But I think it was a character win.”

    The Ducks earned a 2-1 victory and 2-1 lead in the Western Conference final, and it was about resiliency and survival more than anything else. They were on the wrong end of that triple-OT thriller Tuesday night. For them, it was heartbreaking when Marcus Kruger finally put the puck in the net. Had a bounce gone their way, they would’ve had a 2-0 series lead. Instead, it was 1-1.


  • Big risk, big reward: Mike Babcock takes the money as Maple Leafs' boom-or-bust bench boss

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 7 days ago

    Now we find out how great Mike Babcock really is.

    Now Mike Babcock finds out how great he really is.

    He took the money: reportedly $50 million over eight years. He took on perhaps the biggest challenge in hockey: turning around the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even if he is the best coach in the NHL, is he worth more than twice as much as anyone else? Can he win with a roster full of holes? Can he remain patient through the rebuild? Can he put up with the BS in the Centre of the Hockey Universe? Can he get the job done?

    This is boom or bust. If he succeeds and the Leafs win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967, ending the longest drought in the NHL in one of the most passionate hockey markets on the planet, he will be a legend. We’ll rave about his ability and belief in himself. If he fails, he will be the latest in a long line of big-money, big-name disappointments. Maybe we’ll say even Mike Babcock couldn’t win in Toronto, or maybe we’ll talk about his ego and hubris.

    But this is what he’s all about.

    “The consulting job offered a lot more money, greater stability and a clearer career path,” Babcock wrote in his book. “Ultimately, I chose to take a risk.”

  • Derek Stepan's overtime winner advances Rangers' playoff run and Game 7 legend

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 13 days ago

    NEW YORK — Overtime. Game 7. Madison Square Garden. The New York Rangers gained control after a faceoff in the Washington Capitals’ zone, and Keith Yandle whipped a pass from the right wing to the point. Dan Girardi fired a shot through the slot.

    “I thought it was going in,” Girardi said, “because I didn’t hear anything, didn’t see anything. It went by everyone.”

    But the puck hit a stick, a shin pad, something, and bounced straight to Derek Stepan at the left hash marks. Stepan buried it before goaltender Braden Holtby could recover, and just like that, the Rangers won Wednesday night, 2-1, and earned their second straight trip to the Eastern Conference final.

    Stepan leapt for joy. His teammates mobbed him. The Capitals consoled each other. Before the teams shook hands, Holtby pushed his mask back atop his head, rested his hands atop the knob of his stick and looked up at the massive scoreboard screen, wondering what the hell happened.

    “You knew it was going to end like that somehow, either way,” Girardi said. “It was going to be a shot on net, quick play, and I’m glad we are on the good end of that one.”


  • Young, talented Lightning team advances to East final and grows up fast: 'We have that belief'

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 14 days ago

    TAMPA — Steven Stamkos was 21 the last time the Tampa Bay Lightning made the Eastern Conference final. He took a puck in the nose in Game 7. He missed less than six minutes, coming back with a bloody mess behind a metal cage, but the Bolts were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in a 1-0 loss. “Heartbreaking,” he called it then.

    He’s 25 now.

    In some ways, it feels like it’s been forever. The Bolts missed the playoffs in 2012 and 2013, sinking as low as 14th in the conference. They made the playoffs last year but were swept in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens.

    In other ways, though, it’s amazing how fast time has flown. So much has changed. Stamkos and Victor Hedman are the only two players left from that 2011 team, and now the Bolts are in the conference final again.

    They avenged last year’s sweep with a 4-1 victory Tuesday night, beating the Canadiens in six games, and will face the New York Rangers or the Washington Capitals. Stamkos thinks they have what it takes to make the Stanley Cup Final this time.

    Well, take a look now:

    Yzerman inherited Stamkos, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, and Hedman, the second overall pick in 2009. He inherited some prospects, too.

  • For the Blackhawks, sweeping the Wild satisfying but only means they're halfway there

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 19 days ago

    ST. PAUL, Minn. – The horn sounded Thursday night, and the Chicago Blackhawks held on for a 4-3 win and a second-round sweep of the Minnesota Wild. They celebrated. They shook hands. They ducked into the dressing room, where they whooped and hollered to music.

    For a few minutes.

    “Congratulations,” a team official told Jonathan Toews.

    “Thanks,” Captain Serious said – and walked away.

    Seven years ago, it was different. As coach Joel Quenneville said: “Nothing was proven at that time. Nobody had won, and nobody had gotten there. So it was a trial-and-error thing.”

    Now the Blackhawks have been there, done that. They have made the Western Conference final three years in a row and five out of the past seven years, and they won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013.

    Not every one has been with the team the whole time like Toews, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp. But many have been around a while now, and those who haven’t follow the example the others set.

    “It was the worst ending you could ever get,” Quenneville said.

    Not good.

    Crawford spoke so softly in the corner, one pad on, one off, you could hardly hear him recall the loss to L.A.

  • Patrick Kane's playoff production soars for Blackhawks despite seven-week injury layoff

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 21 days ago

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Patrick Kane suffered a broken left collarbone Feb. 24. He had surgery the next day, and the Chicago Blackhawks released a statement quoting a team doctor. “We anticipate a full recovery in approximately 12 weeks,” the doctor said.

    Kane was supposed to be out until about May 20 – after the start of the Western Conference final, if the Blackhawks made it that far without him.

    Well, Tuesday was May 5.

    Still more than two weeks before he was supposed to have made a full recovery, Kane scored the lone goal as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild, 1-0, and took a 3-0 lead in their second-round series. He has five goals and six points in his past four games. He has six goals and 11 points in nine playoff games.

    The ’Hawks are one win from their third consecutive conference final – and fifth in seven years – not without him but largely because of him.

    “Obviously it’s nice to be playing hockey with your teammates instead of sitting out watching,” Kane said. “That was tough. But I’m just happy to be here, happy to be part of the team right now and playing games.”

    “You could see in the first game he was working his way through it,” Quenneville said.

  • Crawford back in winning form as Blackhawks blank Wild in Game 3: 'He's a star against us'

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 21 days ago

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — He is not Martin Brodeur. He is not Patrick Roy. Corey Crawford will not set NHL records or go down as one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time.

    But he has won the Stanley Cup. He could have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player. And Tuesday night – not long after he was benched despite all he had accomplished – he delivered a 30-save shutout to give the Chicago Blackhawks a 1-0 win and 3-0 lead in their second-round series with the Minnesota Wild.

    “He’s a star against us,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo. “He’s Brodeur. He’s Roy. He’s everybody against us.”

    Credit Crawford for mental toughness. For years, he has been considered a weak link on a team with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and company. It has been easy to play the goat, hard to play the hero. He even faced questions two years ago, when he posted a .932 save percentage in the playoffs and the ’Hawks won the Cup. Kane won the Conn Smythe, but Crawford could have – and maybe should have.

    Easier said than done.

    Bottom line: If Crawford were the type to crumble, he would have crumbled long ago.

  • Lightning beat Canadiens in double overtime on Nikita Kucherov's controversial winner

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 25 days ago

    MONTREAL — Only in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov put the puck in the net twice in overtime Friday night. One goal counted, giving the Tampa Bay Lightning a 2-1 victory and 1-0 lead over the Montreal Canadiens in their second-round playoff series. But maybe the wrong goal counted, and maybe neither should have counted.

    The one that counted came 2:06 into the second overtime, when Tampa Bay entered the Montreal zone offside – barely, but clearly – and the linesmen missed it. The play continued, and Valtteri Filppula ended up flipping a backhand pass into the slot for Kucherov, who wired a shot past the outstretched stick of a defender, past the goaltender and into the net.

    “We were joking he might be the first guy to score two OT goals in one game,” said Tyler Johnson.

    The one that didn’t count came 2:56 into the first OT. Kucherov crashed the net and tried to jam the puck past Carey Price’s right pad. As he stopped, his momentum carried him into Price. His stick pushed Price’s right pad into the net, and Price’s blocker and stick shaft came backward and swept the puck into the net. Referee Eric Furlatt waved off the goal.

    Now this.

    The Bell Centre jeered.