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Backes focused on Bruins, not history with Blues

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David Backes says he’s back in St. Louis to play a road game in the Stanley Cup Final.

Of course, the Boston Bruins forward knows Game 3 of the Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) is a lot more than that.

Backes played for the Blues for 10 seasons, including the last five as captain, before signing with the Bruins as a free agent July 1, 2016. But that won’t be on his mind Saturday with the best-of-7 series tied and the Bruins needing to rebound from a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“I think I’m past the point of the soft and fuzzies,” Backes said Friday. “I think we had those moments in my returns prior, regular-season moments where you can really soak that in. But it’s all business now.”

Actually, the soft and fuzzies didn’t last long for Backes when he returned to St. Louis for the first time with the Bruins on Jan. 10, 2017. If there were any doubts about his allegiance, Backes quickly erased them when he fought Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson in the second period after Bruins center David Krejci was shaken up by a hit from St. Louis’ Jori Lehtera.

Video: Backes on returning to St. Louis for Cup Final

Edmundson, who was teammates with Backes for one season before he left for Boston, laughed Friday when recalling the incident.

“I guess [Lehtera] pushed [Krejci] into me, so he kind of fell forward,” Edmundson said. “It looked bad. I don’t know if [Backes] actually saw what happened. He just kind of saw his guy on the ice and, obviously, if you see your guy on the ice bleeding, you’ve got to go do something.

“That’s just the type of guy he is. He stands up for his teammates.”

Edmundson wasn’t surprised then and didn’t expect anything different from Backes in this series. That included a scuffle in Game 1 after Edmundson caught Backes with a high stick.

“I doesn’t matter what team he’s on, he’s going to play everyone hard,” Edmundson said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s against his best friend, that’s just the type of game he plays. That’s why he’s so valuable to their team. It’s obviously exciting for him to come back to St. Louis, but we’re just trying to make it as hard as we can on him.”

Backes, who has five points (two goals, three assists) in 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games, is playing a different role with Boston than he did with St. Louis, where he had 460 points (206 goals, 254 assists) 727 regular-season games and 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 49 playoff games. The 35-year-old was a healthy scratch for six of Boston’s first 10 playoff games, including five straight before returning to the lineup for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

After returning, the Bruins won eight straight before losing Game 2 to the Blues.

Skating on Boston’s second line with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, Backes is averaging 9:43 of ice time in the playoffs, which is last on the Bruins. But he’s found ways to make an impact during his limited ice time. Using his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame to his advantage, he had five hits in Game 2, tying defenseman Connor Clifton for most on the Bruins, including one that stunned Blues rookie forward Sammy Blais in the second period.

“I’ve asked him to play different for this hockey club,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It started the second half of the year. He’s bought into that. Doesn’t always agree with it, but I think he’s a consummate pro for putting the team first.”

Selected by the Blues in the second round (No. 62) in the 2003 NHL Draft, Backes acknowledged before the Cup Final began that his first regular-season game back in St. Louis was difficult for him emotionally. But after returning again earlier this season (he missed Boston’s game here in 2017-18 because of an injury), he believes he’s better equipped to handle those emotions in the Cup Final.

“They’re the opponent now,” he said. “I have to think of them as such.”

But Backes can appreciate as well as anyone the importance of this series to the people of St. Louis. This is the Blues’ first Cup Final appearance since 1970, when they were swept by the Bruins.

Backes once dreamed he’d be the one to lead them here. Now, he’s trying to defeat them.

“You know what this means to a place that it’s been 49 years since the last Final occurred here and you see how much it means,” he said. “But at the same time, we’re focused on what our group needs to do in a pivotal Game 3, that we need to respond and react and adjust the way that they did after losing Game 1. We need that similar reaction after losing Game 2.”

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Specialness of Raptors veterans will help replace Kawhi, Green

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The Toronto Raptors didn’t just lose the NBA’s best two-way player, Kawhi Leonard, in the off-season, though that’s all everyone seems to talk about. The defending champions also saw one of the premier two-way role players, Danny Green, head to Los Angeles

Green had a tremendous season for Toronto, shooting a scorching 45.5% on three-pointers (third in the NBA) while also garnering plenty of All-Defensive team votes.

Though he struggled in the playoffs, Green was still a huge contributor toward the success of the team, both on and off of the court.

“He’s very consistent with the things that he’s going to do on the floor,” Marc Gasol told the Toronto Sun.

“He’s very vocal. Very positive. He doesn’t take things personal. He’s a veteran guy who has been around but has come up also through hard times and has been coached hard in his previous years (by Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) and knows what it takes to play at the highest level. And he was very good for us,” Gasol said.

“The general public doesn’t really notice what the other guys (besides Leonard) do (and) Danny’s one of those guys,” said Fred VanVleet.

He’s not flashy, his game isn’t very sexy, but I don’t know what he shot, 45% from three? Something crazy like that, at a high clip, played 80 games, played every night, guarded the best players on the other teams and he’s just solid every night,” VanVleet said. “You know what you’re going to get … (and) just having that experience here – He didn’t do a lot of preaching and teaching, he just was here and (led) by example and we’ll miss that.”

But life must go on. Nobody is singing a woe is me tune in Toronto.

“We don’t have that luxury (to bring back the full championship roster) so we have to find a new approach and a new path to get back there,” VanVleet told a few reporters in the lead-up to opening night.

“Just from a mental approach, there’s no chance for a championship hangover. If we don’t get it done it won’t be because we relaxed … We still have a lot to prove and we want to do it again,” he said.

With Leonard and Green gone there will be opportunities for everyone else to expand their games and their roles. From Pascal Siakam, to Gasol, VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby, to Kyle Lowry likely looking more like the guy who averaged over 21 points a game from 2015-17 than the one who dropped to 14.2 a year ago, things are going to change.

“I always say it’s addition by subtraction and it’s great because those guys are going to bring something different than what (was lost),” Gasol said, not meaning it to be insulting in any way to Leonard or Green.

“I think the biggest thing is seeing how we key in offensively without those two guys,” VanVleet said. “Defensively I feel very comfortable … but offensively it can be a little tricky,” he said.

“It’ll take some time to figure it out, but I think having those two guys out is going to be a little bit more opportunity and also a chance to spread it around a little bit.”

Head coach Nick Nurse seems extremely confident with the group that he’s got for a number of reasons.

“I think there’s a specialness to some of these guys. And maybe it’s because they won or whatever, or maybe it’s just who they are,” Nurse said.

“To me, Marc Gasol is a really special player. Like, really special. Kyle Lowry, really special. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam. I mean, there’s a lot of guys. There’s IQ, toughness, competitiveness, skill, fight, that are at levels that, well as a coach you kind of dream about having guys like that,” he said.

“And it shows when the group of them goes out together you see a level of smart basketball. A level of competitiveness and a toughness and those are important things.”

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Bianca Andreescu makes Canadian history by reaching No. 4 in rankings

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Bianca Andreescu has become the highest-ranked Canadian tennis player in WTA Tour history.

The 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., jumped one spot to No. 4 in the rankings on Monday following a week off.

That pushes her one spot ahead of her career-best No. 5 ranking, which tied a Canadian record set by Eugenie Bouchard in 2014.

Ranked outside the top 150 entering the season, Andreescu rocketed up the rankings with tournament wins at Indian Wells, Calif., and Toronto followed by her first Grand Slam win at the U.S. Open in New York last month.

Andreescu had a 17-match win streak snapped when she lost a quarterfinal match to Naomi Osaka at the China Open earlier this month.

The Canadian is scheduled to return to action at the WTA Finals, which begin on Sunday in Shenzhen, China.

Milos Raonic reached No. 3 in the men’s rankings in 2016, the best ranking achieved by a Canadian man.

On the men’s side, Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., jumped seven spots to No. 27 after capturing the Stockholm Open on Sunday for his first career ATP Tour title.

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime is the top Canadian at No. 18.

Raonic has dropped to No. 32.

Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime and Raonic all are entered in the Erste Bank Open this week in Vienna, Austria.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019.

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Mike Babcock out coached the Bruins

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At the beginning of the Maple Leafs 4-3 OT win over the Boston Bruins, I thought it was odd that Mike Babcock had switched Mitch Marner and William Nylander. I worried about how the Leafs were going to keep up with Boston’s depth and not lose out because of it. If only one line was able to produce, and it went up against the Bergeron line, the team wasn’t going to succeed.

Babcock’s solution was much more complicated than rolling four lines and it was brilliant.

Babcock and his coaching staff get an A+ for their effort and creativity last night because they were able to have their best matchup line (Matthews and Marner), while also maximizing Nylander’s time with the top line. Alex Kerfoot was a man on a mission and showed us that he’s much better at driving play than we thought he was. That goal he scored was fully deserved.

Jason Spezza wasn’t used much, but Frederik Gauthier and his mates killed it last night, they were super impressive. They beat the Bergeron line when they needed to, gave the Leafs positive and energetic minutes against the depth, and allowed Babcock to be super creative with his top-eight forwards.

That careful management and line matching honestly gave the Leafs the win. Without John Tavares — and for half the game Andreas Johnsson — they would not have beaten the Bruins in a normal game.

I’m less worried about the playoffs on Sunday than I was on Saturday.

Oh, and Mike Babcock (and all of you yelling at me) were right about Dmytro Timashov. I was wrong. He’s a fun little bugger.

The Branches

Here is the recap from the game I just talked about. It’s from Seldo so proceed with caution.

During the intermission, Nic Petan was brought up by Elliotte Friedman. The Leafs might be looking for a trade partner here. Gosh, I hope no one has any opinions about this in the comments.

From our friend-enemies at MLHS, the difference between reasonable and ridiculous takes and why you’re at fault for it.

For those who like to “hate watch” things, have fun with O-Dog’s ridiculous takes on… John Tavares?

Update on Andreas Johnsson: nothing broken, but he won’t practice tomorrow. Leafs play the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Bruins again on Monday and Tuesday this week.

From the Marlies, Kasimir Kaskisuo recorded his first shutout of the season in a 2-0 win over the Cleveland Monsters. Darren Archibald got his first as a Marlie and Egor Korshkov scored his fifth goal in five games. The Marlies are 5-0-0 to start the season and remain *perfect* on the penalty kill to start the season.

Captain Morgan?

Just kidding. Freddy Gauthier for Captain.

Branches Around the League

The Tampa Bay Lightning got trampled by three minutes of the Colorado Avalanche, in case you still want to say the Leafs are doomed.

Billie-Jean King is a QUEEN!

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