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Jones: Blackhawks NHL's best story

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Best story

The point streak by the Blackhawks is becoming one of the more fascinating daily stories in recent history. It reminds me of the home run chase in 1998 when you checked SportsCenter every night and the newspapers every morning to see if Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had hit another one.

The Blackhawks (19-0-3) have earned at least one point in 22 consecutive games to start the season, an NHL record, and they have collected at least a point in 28 straight games dating to last season. The record is 35 consecutive games, set by the 1979-80 Flyers. Sunday, the Blackhawks got their two points in dramatic fashion at Detroit in a nationally televised game on NBC, called superbly, as usual, by Mike Emrick. They scored a power-play goal with 2:02 left in the third period to tie the score at 1 and then won in a shootout.

Hockey is a funny business. Anyone can beat anyone on any given night. But Sunday looked like the best chance any team had had of beating the Blackhawks for a while. The Blackhawks host the Wild on Tuesday in a tricky game, and then they hit a spell of winnable games. They play the Avs in a home-and-home series and then play the Oilers, Blue Jackets, Stars and Avs again.

NBC Sports Network is slated to show Flyers-Rangers on Tuesday night, but it should switch to 'Hawks-Wild. The 'Hawks are the coolest story in the NHL in years, and NBC would be smart to ride that story until the 'Hawks lose in regulation — if they lose in regulation.

Best return

Just last month I mentioned how longtime HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant was retiring. HBO even gave him a big on-air sendoff, complete with a highlights package commemorating his long career.

Well, Merchant is coming back already. Well, for one night. He will call a big Top Rank card April 6.

Merchant won't be the only one making a comeback. Tim Ryan, who called fights for years on CBS, will handle the play-by-play duties, and George Foreman, who used to be seen on HBO fights, will be alongside Merchant as an analyst. Merchant and Foreman worked together for years, and very well, I might add.

Best guy

Nice win for Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday afternoon as the Rams blew out No. 20 Butler by 32 points at home. Maybe VCU had good karma.

The night before the game, some VCU students camped outside the Siegel Center hoping to get tickets to the game. VCU coach Shaka Smart made sure they didn't go hungry. He ordered pizzas and even delivered them himself to thank the students for their support.

Worst criticism

Man, golfer Rory McIlroy is getting beaten up for pulling out of the Honda Classic on Friday. McIlroy claims he was out of it mentally, in part because of pain from a wisdom tooth.

ESPN Sports Reporters host John Saunders, who is loathe to rip into anyone, criticized McIlroy, as did several columnists around the country. Many wondered if it was a toothache or that 7-over-par score he had at the time that caused him to withdraw.

Even fellow golfer Ernie Els said, "I'm a great fan of Rory's, but I don't think that was the right thing to do."

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus called McIlroy a good kid but added that McIlroy shouldn't have walked off.

McIlroy, who is apparently struggling with swing issues and new equipment, is expected to address the issue Tuesday at Doral.

If I were McIlroy, here's what I would say: "I've never caused any problems before. I didn't feel well. I was distracted. I didn't want to be out there anymore. Deal with it. Now get off my back."

Worst seat

Team play-by-play announcers occasionally end up on YouTube for one of two reasons. One is they had a great call. The other is they made a mistake.

Wizards play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz, left, went viral on the Internet last week, and not for the good reason.

Buckhantz has a signature call when a Wizards player hits a big shot: "Dagger!" (Based on Washington's 19-39 record, he doesn't get to break it out often.) Last week, at the end of the Wizards-Pistons game, Washington's Trevor Ariza took a 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer for the win. Buckhantz watched the shot and gave his call: "Dagger!"

One problem: Ariza tossed an air ball. The ball barely clipped the net, making it look as if he had swished the shot.

I felt bad that Buckhantz's call went wild on the Internet. I watched the clip a few times, and it did look like Ariza swished the shot.

Here's the bigger problem: Buckhantz's seat isn't on the floor. It's in a section back in the stands because, like many owners, the Wizards' Ted Leonsis decided he could make a few extra bucks selling the courtside seats where broadcasters used to sit.

As Bob Ryan said on ESPN's Around the Horn last week: "This is what happens when some little rich kid eating ice cream sits in the front row and the announcer has to sit 25 rows up and he can't even see the game."

Biggest criers

This was something pointed out by New York Post sports media critic Phil Mushnick.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck apparently complained last week to the Big 12 about WVU's travel schedule for league basketball games. Luck wants the Big 12 to help by giving the Mountaineers two-game stay-overs so they aren't getting back to campus at 4 in the morning after every road game, seeing as how West Virginia is so far from places such as Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Hmm, maybe the travel for West Virginia wouldn't be so rough if it hadn't left the Big East.

Most interesting comment

Danica Patrick crashed hard in NASCAR's second Sprint Cup race of the season Sunday in Arizona. Midway through the race, her right-front tire blew, and she slammed hard into the wall. Her car was damaged enough to knock her out of the race.

Could wrecking her car, through no fault of her own, mess with her psyche moving forward?

"It's a new car, and she crashed, and she is okay," Fox analyst Michael Waltrip said. "If anything, I think it gives her added confidence. She now knows she can push her car to the limits."

Waltrip's point: She can push her car to the limits and perhaps not worry as much about what will happen to her if she crashes.

Three things that popped into my head

1. I'm always seeing commercials for that stationary exercise bike you can program to recreate what it's like to race in the Tour de France. That comes with its own blood-doping kit, right?

2. Flyers knucklehead Harry Zolnierczyk launches himself into Senators defenseman Mike Lundin in a dirty hit Saturday and gives Lundin a concussion. Then Flyers coach Peter Laviolette comes out and defends Zolnierczyk. No wonder the NHL continues to have issues with this sort of thing. If I were running the NHL, I'd call Laviolette and tell him to shut up because these rules protect everyone, including his players. I'd also tell him some things are bigger than his team, like the health of all NHL players. Then I'd call him a jerk and slam the phone down.

3. Hey, fired up about this World Baseball Classic? Me, neither.

tom jones' two cents

Jones: Blackhawks NHL's best story 03/03/13 [Last modified: Sunday, March 3, 2013 11:58pm]
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