Wakeup Call: Blackhawks stake their claim as best of the West

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Wakeup Call: Blackhawks stake their claim as best of the West

Here's your wakeup call -- a combination of newsworthy andor interesting tidbits -- for Wednesday, February 6.

AUTO RACING
-- After a tire test Tuesday at Darlngton Raceway, drivers give a thumbs-up to the new Gen-6 race car. (AP)

BASEBALL
-- The burgeoning drug scandal has implicated Ryan Braun -- again -- but the 2011 N.L. MVP is ready with an explanation. (AP)

-- And it'd better be good, because MLB has started its own investigation into the Miami New Times report. (AP)

-- That investigation may lead to suspensions, but the Rangers -- whose Nelson Cruz was named in the New Times story -- say they're planning on having Cruz in right field until they're told otherwise. (AP)

-- Um, Derek? Does the phrase "beggars can't be choosers" mean anything to you? (NBC's Hardball Talk)

-- Funny, I never heard the words "Jed Lowrie" and "veteran leadership" used together before. (CSN Houston)

-- Spring training hasn't even started and already the Cardinals have suffered a big loss. (AP)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL
-- If we can get a couple more games that match No. 3 Michigan's 76-74, overtime win over No. 10 Ohio State on the excitement meter, we'll consider this a successful season. (AP)

-- So stop worrying about college hoops, will ya? (NBC's College Basketball Talk)

-- So much for that No. 2 ranking, eh, Florida? (AP)

-- Wouldn't this be considered a hostile act against foreign entities? (AP)

-- Old Dominion raises a number of questions about coach Blaine Taylor as it fires him with eight games to go in the season . . . and then refuses to answer any of them. (AP)

-- A tip of the hat to Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw as she records her 700th career coaching victory in the Irish women's 59-52 win over Villanova. (AP)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
-- Starting soon, Northwestern will be calling Wrigley Field home, at least once a year. (AP)

HOCKEY
-- The Blackhawks stake their claim as best in the West with a 5-3 victory over the Sharks in San Jose. (CSN Chicago)

-- The Sharks might be blaming the refs for this one, but that wouldn't be completely accurate. (CSN Bay Area)

-- Blame them for what, you ask? Take a look. (NBC's Pro Hockey Talk)

-- The NHL did, and immediately rescinded the match penalty that was handed to Andrew Desjardins. (CSN Bay Area)

-- It probably won't be rescinding this one, though. (Pro Hockey Talk)

-- An acid flashback for the Rangers, as they suffer a 3-1 loss to the Devils . . . the team that beat them in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. (AP)

-- It's the dreaded lower-body injury, and it may cost the Flames the services of Miikka Kiprusoff for a while. (AP)

-- Can't quite decide on the proper phrase -- Grasping at straws? Whistling past the graveyard? -- for Adam Oates' declaration that the Capitals are "going in the right direction" after a 3-2 loss to Toronto that drops their record to 2-7-1. (Pro Hockey Talk)

PRO BASKETBALL
-- Bet when you heard that the Rockets nailed 23 3-pointers in their 140-109 blasting of the Warriors, you thought, "Hmm, bet that's a record." And you know what? You were right! (AP)

-- Bet you also thought, "Wow, bet the Warriors were pretty upset that they were launching 3s with such a big lead." And you what? You were right again! (CSN Bay Area)

-- But if you thought the Rockets were at all remorseful about the whole thing, you were wrong. (CSN Houston)

-- Even when the Lakers win these days, they lose. Players, that is. (AP)

-- The word's in on Thaddeus Young: He's out three weeks because of that Grade 1 hamstring strain. (CSN Philly)

PRO FOOTBALL
-- That intentional, last-second safety taken by the Ravens Sunday night may not have meant much to you, but it was a killer to the Nevada sports books, who had to pay off on the will-there-be-a-safety-in-the-game? and will-the-49ers-last-points-come-on-a-safety? prop bets. (NBC's Off The Bench)

-- They still don't know what caused the third-quarter power outage, so Superdome officials and the utility companies are bringing in "outside experts" to investigate. (AP)

-- No Super Bowl halftime show next year? There is a God! (NBC's Pro Football Talk)

-- Quite the day for the Ravens: They had their victory parade . . . (AP)

-- . . . and President Obama phoned in his congratulations to John Harbaugh. (CSN Baltimore)

-- But today is the first day of the rest of their lives, and it's starting with Joe Flacco's agent saying that his client should be the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. (Pro Football Talk)

-- And Bernard Pollard warning that the Ravens have to bring back Ed Reed. (Pro Football Talk)

-- And ex-Raven Trevor Pryce ripping Ray Lewis' performance in the Super Bowl. (CSN Baltimore)

-- Sorry, Jim Harbaugh: Despite your theatrical, over-the-top pleas for a holding call on the 49ers' final offensive play, Mike Pereira says the referees were right when they didn't flag Jimmy Smith for whatever it was he did, or didn't do, to Michael Crabtree. (CSN Bay Area)

-- As one season ends and a new one begins, teams begin to shed those onerous contracts or declining veterans. In Detroit, the Lions say goodbye to Kyle Vanden Bosch and Stephen Peterman. (AP)

-- In New York, the Giants bid farewell to Michael Boley. (AP)

-- And in Cleveland, the Browns say so long to Frostee Rucker. (AP)

-- But in Philadelphia -- surprise, surprise -- the Eagles aren't parting ways with Michael Vick. Not yet, anyway. (Pro Football Talk)

-- A new season means a new look for the Jaguars. Literally. (AP)

-- Only the fourth? (CSN Chicago)

SOCCER
-- The U.S. begins its final push for the 2014 World Cup today with a match in Honduras. (NBC's Pro Soccer Talk)

TENNIS
-- So far, so good on Rafael Nadal's comeback. (AP)

Czarnik 'playing bigger' while looking to secure job with Bruins

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Czarnik 'playing bigger' while looking to secure job with Bruins

It’s not difficult to see why Austin Czarnik might have been a little overlooked headed into this Bruins training camp when forecasting favorites among the forwards to win a roster spot on the big club. After all he’s only 5-foot-9 and 167-pounds coming off just one very solid season at the AHL level for the Providence Bruins, and there are bigger, stronger forwards candidates that maybe rank a bit higher on the prospect list than him.

But the 23-year-old Czarnik put together an excellent training camp last fall before finishing with 20 goals and 61 points for the P-Bruins last season, and now he’s doing the exact same thing again this time around.

“Yeah, I feel more comfortable. I think we could have been a lot better in a lot of areas. Overall I think everyone is just happy to be back on the ice,” said Czarnik, who along with Frank Vatrano was one of the real starts of camp last season. “You know that type of mentality and you know mistakes are going to happen, and you’ve just got to move forward from it so everyone’s happy to be back.”

The former Miami University star is clearly happy to be back, and it’s showing on the ice with each chance he gets to show his tenacity, withering fore-check and his willingness to crash the net despite his smallish stature.

Czarnik was one of the most dangerous forwards on the ice for the Black and Gold in their preseason opener, and collected a key assist on Boston’s first goal of the game when he pushed a puck through the neutral zone before setting up on odd man rush for Jimmy Hayes and Jake DeBrusk.

This time around Czarnik scored the game’s only goal on a nifty rush during four-on-four play through the offensive zone by Ryan Spooner, who drew in the defense and dished to Czarnik for a wide open tap-in chance.

So it’s a couple of big plays in each of the first two preseason games that led to goals, and a genuinely excellent level of play throughout both contests. It’s something the Bruins coaching staff has taken note of along with his skating speed and hardnosed mentality, and now they have to figure if it fits in with their other NHL pieces.

“We were just talking about it. Everybody has that same feeling. He’s playing well. He moves well. He’s on the puck. He competes, and that’s the thing you’re looking for really,” said Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco. “Like right now, we know there’s going to be mistakes made by a lot of our players, especially the younger ones.

“We’re looking to see who’s got that competitive, you know, that competitive fire. [We’re looking for] who’s going to go out there and who can compete at a high level. I know he’s not big in stature, but he plays bigger than he is. He’s had two pretty good games so far.”

Czarnik had a couple of good games early in B’s camp last year before flat-lining a bit at the end when the NHL jobs were seriously on the line, and the 23-year-old wants that story to change endings this time around. It remains to be seen where he’s going to fit as yet another center among Boston’s group of training camp players this month, but Czarnik might just force the Bruins to make a tough decision if he keeps playing at his current high level.   

Talking Points: Veteran Red Wings torch Bruins

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Talking Points: Veteran Red Wings torch Bruins

GOLD STAR: Take your pick: Steve Ott, Drew Miller and Luke Glendening torched the Bruins with veteran savvy and toughness against a very young defensemen unit trying to survive in the second preseason game. Ott and Glendening each scored a goal and finished with three points, and Miller finished with a goal and two points while all three forwards had a plus-3 rating for the night. All of their goals came off winning battles, crashing the net and taking advantage of defensive miscues. The goals provided a good lesson to the young kids that have a ways to go before they’re NHL ready at this point in their careers. It certainly must have been a kick to the stones to many Bruins fans when “Brave” Steve Ott was named the No. 1 Star of the game after it was all over, but that was certainly appropriate.

BLACK EYE: Adam McQuaid was the most experienced defensemen out on the ice for the Bruins on Wednesday night, and it was a rough night for him with so many young guys around him on the back end. McQuaid finished a minus-2 in 17:41 with a couple of hits and got a little better as the game was going on, but was on ice for two of the first three goals allowed to Detroit in a really lackluster middle section of the game. In general, it was about more than just one player, though. There were blown assignments in the D-zone and some really noticeable lost battles leading to scoring chances for a Red Wings group that aggressively took it to the Bruins. This is a game that will leave the Bruins coaches with plenty of video material moving forward.

TURNING POINT: The real slippage came early in the game when the Bruins failed to score on some good power play chances for Peter Mueller and Matt Beleskey, and then allowed two goals within 19 seconds of each other in the first period. The first goal was a PP one for the Red Wings with Ryan Spooner whistled for a face-off infraction, and the second was simply the Bruins falling asleep at the wheel just seconds after the first goal was scored. Lost battles led to a bang-bang play in front with Steve Ott scoring as Malcolm Subban was turned around looking for the puck, and the B’s were reeling headed into the first intermission. Only a Subban shoulder save kept it from being 3-0 at the end of the first, and that was something the B’s never seemed to rebound from.

HONORABLE MENTION: Austin Czarnik scored the B’s only goal off a nice play from Ryan Spooner driving toward the net, and continues to put together another strong training camp after doing the same thing last season. Czarnik finished with the goal, three shots on net and six shot attempts in 17:38 of ice time, and battled back from a rough start to go 6-for-12 in the face-off circle while centering an extremely young line with Sean Kuraly and Zach Senyshyn. While Czarnik might not have been a big name when talking about an open roster spot with the Bruins a couple of weeks ago, he’s pushed toward making himself a part the conversation with his heart-filled, high effort energetic performances for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4-for-16 was the final tally for Ryan Spooner in the face-off circle as he continues to be a work-in-progress on the draw.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Maybe I was a little bit shocked first going out there. The speed of the game is noticeably faster, but I think as time went on I got more comfortable out there. Hopefully I can build off that moving forward.” – Bruins rookie D-man Matt Grzelcyk on his first NHL preseason game being a bit of a big wakeup call.