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2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Preview: Avalanche vs. Stars

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Great offence or great defence — which are you taking in this second round matchup?

Colorado’s path to this point has been largely unchallenged since finishing second in the round robin. The Avs are coming off a five-game series win against an Arizona Coyotes team that was punching above its weight to get as far as it did before reality hit. Colorado outscored the Coyotes 22-8 and are living up to all expectations so far.

Game 6 of the Dallas Stars’ first-round series against the Calgary Flames saw something we don’t often see from the Stars: goals, and plenty of ‘em. Seven unanswered goals, to be exact, as the floodgates opened in the Edmonton bubble and Dallas ran off with the 7-3 win to close out the series.

However, Dallas’ calling card is its defence and great goaltending, which led them to another great regular season and strong start to these playoffs. Offence hasn’t always been easy to come by for the Stars, but they’ll need to keep that up if they’re to get past one of the top-scoring teams in the game in the Colorado Avalanche.

ADVANCED STATS
Playoff 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick

Colorado: 58.19 CF%, 75.00 GF%, 96.08 SV%, 7.79 SH%, 1.039 PDO

Dallas: 49.87 CF%, 51.61 GF%, 92.79 SV%, 7.51 SH%, 1.003 PDO

TEAM STATS

Colorado: 30.6 PP%, 88.0 PK%, 31 GF, 13 GA

Dallas: 20.0 PP%, 76.7 PK%, 25 GF, 27 GA

HEAD TO HEAD RECORD

Colorado: 0-2-2

Dallas: 4-0-0

Colorado’s primary strength: Overwhelming offence and an elite power play. Led by Nathan MacKinnon, who has points in all eight playoff games, the Avalanche have been averaging a league-high 3.88 goals per game in the playoffs and finished off the Coyotes with back-to-back 7-1 wins to become just the seventh team in the past decade to have multiple seven-goal games in a single post-season.

They’ve scored 11 goals with the man advantage thanks to the dominant top unit of Nazem Kadri between Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog with Mackinnon and Cale Makar manning the points.

Dallas’ primary strength: While Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are still very much the faces of this team and the top two names on the club’s regular-season score sheet, Dallas is built from the blue line up. Headlined by Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, and Esa Lindell, Dallas has one of the top d-cores in the league and has fully embraced its defence-first style.

That the Stars have survived dry spells from their forwards is largely due to the strength of their defenders’ elite offensive talent – and while Klingberg has been among their top playmakers, it’s Heiskanen who’s driving this blue-line forward.

Heiskanen’s nine assists and 12 points gives him the team lead in both categories. League-wide, only one player ranks ahead of him in points: Nathan MacKinnon, with 13.

Whew, this is going to be fun.

Colorado’s primary weakness: Level of competition. Yes, the Avalanche have looked outstanding but they really haven’t been tested or pushed much this post-season and that could come back to bite them in the second round if they’re not ready. They fared well in the round robin, yet those games didn’t have the standard playoff vigour. Then, the Coyotes were completely outclassed against them in the conference quarterfinals. Colorado’s lone loss to Arizona was a game in which the Avs outshot the Yotes 51-21, however Darcy Kuemper stood on his head and made 49 saves. Against the Stars, the stakes are higher and the intensity and physicality will be significantly amplified.

Dallas’ primary weakness: Special teams so often prove to be the difference between a good team and a great one, and if the Stars are to get past Colorado in Round 2, they’ll need to do something about their penalty kill.

Their middling PK unit in the regular season has been exposed as one of the worst among remaining teams, allowing seven power-play goals through nine games in the bubble for a 76.7 kill rate. While it didn’t ultimately cost them the series against the Flames, they’ll need to seriously tighten things up as they stare down Colorado in Round 2 — because you can bet for certain the Avalanche are licking their chops as they eye an opportunity to excel via their league-best PP unit.

Colorado Avalanche X-Factor: Colorado’s x-factor isn’t necessarily an individual but rather the overall mindset of the group. The Avalanche went 10 years without winning a playoff series before upsetting the first-place Flames in five games one year ago. While the Avs had a just-happy-to-be-here attitude last season, so to speak, MacKinnon said after eliminating the Coyotes his team feels differently in 2020.

“Our time has arrived,” MacKinnon told reporters after his four-point effort in Game 5. “We haven’t won anything, but it’s definitely a different feel after winning this series. We’re a hungry group. We’re a group that really cares about each other. We really feel we have great chemistry and there’s a good vibe to our team, so it’s great to get these playoffs off on the right foot.”

Dallas Stars X-Factor: The regular-season Stars weren’t exactly known for scoring goals – they had one of the lowest goal totals (178), above only the Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings – but it was okay because they made up for it with great goaltending. Their 2.52 goals-against average over the course of 69 regular season games was the second-best rate in the league, behind just the Boston Bruins.

So far this post-season, however, the Stars have turned those stats on their heads. Now ranking in the middle of the pack in goals for, there’s a troubling trend brewing in the blue paint as they’ve so far let in the third-most goals among return-to-play teams.

It’s been a bit complicated. Anton Khudobin wasn’t the man we expected to see starting the bulk of Dallas’ post-season games, but Ben Bishop’s ongoing stint on the “unfit to play” list has meant he’s been unavailable for the majority of the Stars’ time in the bubble with no indication of when he’ll once again be the starter – or even if he should be. Bishop’s two post-season games – versus the Vegas Golden Knights in round-robin play and in Game 2 against the Flames – yielded an uncharacteristic 4.04 goals-against average and .862 save percentage, indicating he’s not yet himself.

While goaltending hasn’t ultimately proven too costly so far, it’s certainly concerning for a team whose goal-scoring – though up right now – has been known to dry up.

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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NBA Playoffs 2020: The Boston Celtics need Gordon Hayward now more than ever – NBA CA

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8h ago


Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics could be up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals just as easily as they are down 2-0.

Blowing double-digit leads in each of the first two games of the series, the Miami Heat have out-hustled the Celtics for 48 (and some change) minutes in back-to-back games to give themselves a commanding lead.

With Boston on the brink of the infamous 3-0 deficit that no NBA team has ever come back from, Game 3 becomes a must-win if the Celtics are going to continue their push for their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.

There’s been a common thread in Games 1 and 2 (aside from the double-digit comebacks) that have placed Boston in this situation: Miami’s 2-3 zone defence. Our Scott Rafferty analyzed that issue in detail, and it’s been a glaring weakness for Boston’s offence all season.

But luckily for the Celtics, they still haven’t used all the cards up their sleeve. They still have a weapon stored away that could present itself at any moment now, as former All-Star forward Gordon Hayward‘s return is on the horizon.

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Hayward, who suffered an ankle injury in the Celtics’ first game of the postseason and has been out since, was upgraded to “doubtful” before Game 2. While that wasn’t much of an update, it showed he was getting closer to returning to the floor. The Athletic’s Jared Weiss confirmed that following Thursday’s loss, stating that Hayward is “progressing toward a return for Game 3,” adding that he felt good after Wednesday’s practice and will “get more on-court work Friday with the hope of playing Saturday.”

On Friday, he was officially listed by the team as “questionable” for Game 3.

It will surely take some time for Hayward to get back into the flow of things after missing one month of action, but he immediately helps Boston take steps toward breaking that impenetrable zone defence.

His 19.0 points per game in the bubble speaks for itself, giving the Celtics an extra scoring threat that the Heat will have to worry about. He can shoot from the perimeter (converting 38.3% of his 3s this season), he’s a solid slasher with the ball and cutter without the ball, and he’s a strong midrange shooter, pairing well with sharp playmaking skills that should help dissect that zone.

Most importantly, Hayward loves working in the soft spot of the 2-3 zone (right at the foul line), which should give Miami’s defence more trouble than its seen thus far.

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In Games 1 and 2, the Celtics elected to go with Marcus Smart or Daniel Theis to try and pierce the heart of that zone. Smart’s passing makes him an OK option for that middle spot, but he’s better off on the perimeter, where he’s converting 42.1% of his 3s this series. The Heat will live with him or Theis taking that midrange pull-up, whereas it becomes a much more efficient source of offence for Boston with Hayward taking that shot.

According to NBA Stats, Hayward shot 49.3% on midrange jumpers and 43.4% on shots in the paint (non-restricted area) this season. Having him in the middle will prevent the zone’s two defenders up top from expanding so far out, shrinking that long and athletic defence even just a tad bit more.

The Heat will be forced to collapse on Hayward, where he can showcase his playmaking ability to find open shooters on the perimeter. That makes Miami much more reliant on perfect and quick rotations to challenge Boston’s 3-point shooters.

If the Heat’s defenders don’t collapse on him or the centre (typically Bam Adebayo) doesn’t take a step up, Hayward will gladly take looks like the one below over and over again.

Even though he misses that particular jumper, it’s a shot Miami is much less likely to live with compared to Smart or Theis pulling up from there. Even when Hayward attacks from the perimeter, he has no problem stopping short of that centre defender for little pull-up jumpers like this one against the Heat earlier this season:

The Celtics have been dependent on quick passes for (often contested) 3-pointers, which has also developed into bad decisions for live ball turnovers or long rebounds going the other way to spark Miami runs off of offensive droughts. Having someone that can hit shots like the ones above makes that zone defence much more vulnerable than it has been so far.

Hayward’s return wouldn’t just be a luxury for the Celtics, it’s essential for them to keep their season alive in trying to even the series.

The Celtics need Gordon Hayward now more than ever if their title pursuit is going to continue.

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History will be made in latest Belichick-Carroll matchup – NFL.com

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There’s no shortage of history that’s been made by Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll in their sterling coaching careers.

When their teams stand on opposing sidelines Sunday night, they’ll make a little history together.

Carroll and Belichick, 69 and 68-years-young, respectively, are the two oldest coaches in the NFL and their combined age of 137 years and 162 days on game day will set a record for the oldest head coaching matchup in the history of the league, per NFL Research.

Like fine wine, Bill and Pete will age past Marv Levy and Don Shula, who were a combined 136 years and 117 days old when they battled one last time back in Week 16 of 1995, according to NFL Research.

In previous head-to-head matchups, Carroll owns a 2-1 advantage.

Between the two, their NFL success is historic, as well, obviously. The two have combined for 455 wins in the regular season and seven Super Bowl trophies — although Belichick clearly has a huge advantage there.

And who knows how long they’ll keep building on to their Hall of Fame resumes.

“I don’t know,” Carroll said when asked who would retire first. “Ask him. I’m feeling great. I’m kind of on a five-year plan. Five years from now I’ll figure it out and reassess. I actually owe that to David Brooks. And he taught me that a while back. Something he wrote, ‘Why are you looking year-to-year? Why don’t you just plan it out over a five-year period?’ So, each year is five more years. So it was five years last and it’s five years this year and we’ll figure it out when the time comes.”

Though their ages are adding up to history, their past and present success offers no reason that their futures will be up anytime soon.

For now, it’s all about this Sunday and another historic marker in two historical coaching careers.

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Novak Djokovic loses cool but reaches Rome semis – TSN

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ROME — Less than two weeks after getting defaulted from the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic lost his cool again midway through a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the Italian Open quarterfinals Saturday.

When Djokovic was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the red clay in anger.

With the frame broken and the strings all mangled, Djokovic was forced to get a new racket and received a warning from the chair umpire.

“It’s not the first nor the last racket that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.

“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that — definitely.”

The top-ranked Djokovic was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger.

At the Foro Italico, Djokovic had already appeared frustrated during the game before he broke his racket, glaring toward the umpire following a couple of overrules and a point that was ordered to be replayed.

“That’s just me,” Djokovic said. “Of course I’m not perfect and I’m doing my best.”

The 97th-ranked Koepfer, who screamed at himself in frustration throughout the match, was also warned for misbehaviour early in the third set.

Aiming for his fifth title in Rome, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who eliminated local favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a match that lasted 2 hours, 57 minutes.

Nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal was playing Diego Schwartzman later in the other half of the draw.

Ruud is the first Norwegian to reach the semifinals of a Masters 1000 tournament. His father, Christian Ruud, got as far as the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters in 1997.

While fans have not been admitted to the tournament yet — Italy’s sports minister said Friday that 1,000 spectators will be allowed in for the semifinals and finals — workers, family members and other onlookers inside the picturesque Pietrangeli stadium provided some support for Berrettini, who is from Rome.

Nicola Pietrangeli, the 1957 and 1961 Rome champion and the man the stadium is named after — was also among those sitting on the white marble stands.

“There would have been a lot more adrenaline with fans,” Berrettini said.

In the women’s tournament, top-seeded Simona Halep reached the last four when Kazakh opponent Yulia Putintseva retired midway through their match due to a lower back injury.

Halep, who lost two straight finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018, will need to beat two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza to return to the championship match. Muguruza required more than two hours to eliminate U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“(Muguruza) feels really well on (the) clay court and here,” Halep said. “It’s a big challenge.

“I really want to win this tournament,” added Halep, who will be playing her fifth semifinal in Rome. “I love playing here. … It’s one of the biggest goals now.”

Halep was ahead 6-2, 2-0 when Putintseva decided she was in too much pain to continue — having already taken an off-court medical timeout between sets.

The 30th-ranked Putintseva was coming off two long three-set matches, having upset eighth-seeded Petra Martic and 10th-seeded Elena Rybakina. Entering the match, she had been on court for 7 hours, 22 minutes — far more than Halep, who had a bye in the opening round and won her next two matches in straight sets.

Putintseva also reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in her previous tournament, while Halep decided to skip the event in New York due to coronavirus travel concerns.

Halep improved to 8-0 since the tennis restart and 12-0 overall stretching back to February.

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More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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