SAINT JOHN, N.B. — A championship season came to a crashing end for the Edmonton Oil Kings at the 2022 Memorial Cup.
Balmy weather, five-star restaurants, ocean views…
A group of five Toronto Maple Leafs — Mitch Marner, Petr Mrazek, Justin Holl, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren — and their significant others jetted down to South Florida to take hockey off their minds during the all-star break.
“Just a lot of laughing and a lot of fun—that’s what we did in Miami,” Marner said.
Yet when they flew back to Toronto for Monday’s showdown against the top-ranked Carolina Hurricanes, they knew it would be no day at the beach.
“Not the easiest team to play coming back from a break,” Morgan Rielly said.
In fact, save for a lack of fans, this clash of regular-season titans had plenty of playoff-like features: a fight, some spirited chirping between benches, tooth-and-nail puck battles, bumps and bruises, dialled-in goalies, and snappy forechecks.
“Two teams that were all-in on competing tonight,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “They close on you quickly. The pace is really high both ways.”
A 4-3 come-from-behind overtime thriller that delivered both a jolt of excitement and a shiver of concern for fans of the home team.
Marner is going streaking
Has Marner ever found himself gripping a hotter stick? Certainly not as a pro. But when he was pumping 44 for the London Knights maybe?
“I have no idea,” Marner said. “I’m sure my dad knows, but I have no idea, to be honest.”
Pigeonholed as a pass-first star, Marner scored both the game-tying goal and the OT winner to crank his goal streak to eight games — the longest run of his career and the longest in the league this season.
To find a longer goal streak by a Leaf, you’d need to flip back to World War II.
To find a longer streak in the NHL, you’re looking at late-‘90s, when Hall of Famers Jaromir Jagr (11 games) and Teemu Selanne (nine) achieved the feat.
“Obviously, it feels real good,” said Marner, who’s made a conscious effort to think less and drive the slot more.
“The difference really is, I’m not just focusing on clean shots. I’m not afraid to just whack one, get it toward the net and surprise them.”
Grip it and rip it.
“Not overthinking the shot is such a big thing for goal scorers,” Keefe said. “Of late, that’s a big thing for Mitch – he’s just letting it go.
“Velocity and overpowering goalies is not the only way to score goals. So, Mitch has found that groove nicely here.”
“He’s been flyin’ around,” Morgan Rielly said.
Since emerging from a video-game quarantine in mid-January, Marner has stacked 10 goals and 19 points in eight games.
“I’m sure the trip that we got helped him,” Petr Mrazek smiled.
Marner credits all the people in his corner for keeping his mind on the enjoyment of the game.
“When I did get back, I wanted to turn my mindset into being more of a shooter,” he said. “I’ve been saying here for a while that I know I can score goals; it’s just believing in it. It’s come true recently. I just gotta make sure I just keep going with it.”
Leafs Nation holds collective breath for Matthews
Scary moment in the dying seconds of regulation as Auston Matthews got tied up with Nino Niederreiter in a positional battle off the rush and accidentally got clipped in the head by Brett Pesce’s knee as he fell to the ice.
Following the blow, Matthews needed some time before getting to his feet and skating off to concussion protocol.
“Obviously that’s not anything you want to see,” Rielly said. “But he’s our guy, and hopefully he’s OK.”
Keefe had no immediate update on his No. 1 centre’s condition, saying he needed time to be assessed.
Matthews will not practice with the group Tuesday, but he had already been given the day off since rushing back from All-Star weekend.
Matthews had been a threat all night, scoring the Leafs’ first two goals, going 57 per cent in the face-off dot, and ripping a game-high seven shots.
Though the injury unsettled the bench just minutes before overtime, Keefe said, “Our guys kept their focus and just kept playing.”
Freddy’s revenge… denied
Not only was Monday’s matchup a measuring stick for two of the league’s top four teams (by points percentage), it was a rare double-revenge game for the goalies.
Unable to consummate a trade for Frederik Andersen and Mrazek, the Leafs and Canes simply signed the other guys’ free agent last summer.
With Keefe opting to give his All-Star, Jack Campbell, rest until Thursday in Calgary, and All-Star Andersen keen to steal two points at Scotiabank Arena dressed in red, there was plenty of personal incentive in the pipes.
As was the case when Zach Hyman returned to Toronto last month, unfortunately only a limited crowd was on hand for Andersen’s thank-you ovation.
“Looking back, it feels like yesterday getting into Toronto,” said Andersen, a hardworking Leaf for five years. “It reminds you that you have to take it all in and enjoy the process.”
Andersen, who was razor-sharp early, gave up a scrambly power-play goal and a beautiful one-timer to close friend and pandemic roommate Matthews in the second frame. Then got beat twice late by good pal Marner.
At the other end, Mrazek was up to the task against his former club as well, stoning Sebastian Aho on a breakaway and battling through the tips and traffic Carolina threw his way.
“He’s competitive. That’s why we loved him. He’s a gamer,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You put him in there, he’s going to give you all he has.”
Leafs captain John Tavares agrees: “He just keeps fighting. He never says die to any puck, no matter how difficult it may be.”
After a delayed and disastrous start to his time in Toronto, Mrazek has now reeled off four consecutive wins, earning the confidence of his teammates and his coach.
“He’s in a great place now,” Keefe said.
Mrazek says he’s poured in some extra work with goalie coach Steve Briere and can feel himself improving with each start he’s given.
“I’m happy with the way things have progressed,” Mrazek said.
Tavares line struggling at even-strength
In a sidebar story not yet worthy of headline status, Toronto’s second line of Tavares, William Nylander and Alexander Kerfoot has hit a small skid 5-on-5.
Because that trio is still thriving on special teams and the top line is soaring, their production dip is not yet cause for alarm. But the coach has noticed.
“Offensively, they need to be a little bit more direct,” Keefe said.
On Monday, that group was outchanced 8-4 and outscored 2-0 at even-strength.
Over their past 11 games, Tavares is a minus-10 and Nylander is a minus-8.
Kerfoot agrees with Keefe’s assessment, saying they can be guilty of trying to do too much with the puck and not putting their opponent under enough pressure when they don’t have it.
“It’s about being on the puck every night,” Kerfoot said. “Competing.”
More caution with Muzzin
Jake Muzzin missed his seventh consecutive game and will extend his break from game action to at least three and a half weeks.
Despite practising in a regular sweater Sunday and saying he was feeling good, Muzzin and the club are smartly exercising caution.
Muzzin said he did suffer a concussion about 10 years ago, but that one only kept him out a week.
“Head injuries are a little finicky sometimes, so it’s been challenging,” Muzzin said. “But it’s part of the game, part of playing a physical sport, so hopefully it’s the last one and I’m clear from here on out.”
Prior to the injury, the Leafs’ best defender had some unusually rough stretches in his own end.
“Sometimes that’s the way she goes,” GM Kyle Dubas explained. “I’ve known him for a long time. I remember when he first started in the Soo, it wasn’t always pretty.
“The one thing about Jake Muzzin is that especially when I think people start to count him out, or people think that he looks like he’s starting to fade, he’s very competitive, and he has a lot of pride, and he’s able to find his way back.
“This injury, it’s unfortunate, and it’s a concussion. So, it’s very serious,” said Dubas, finding a silver lining. “This type of time off and getting himself healthy and then really resetting himself on the ice, I think you’ll see him come back and be back to what we all expect, in the form that he’s capable of.”
The Stanley Cup was in the building and just waiting to be paraded around the ice.
Pack it up. It’s heading back to Tampa Bay.
The resilient Lightning spoiled Colorado’s party to stay in the hunt for a third straight Stanley Cup title, beating the Avalanche 3-2 on Friday night in Game 5.
“That’s what good teams do — you find a way,” Lightning forward Corey Perry said. “Keep plugging along. This is fun. This is what hockey’s all about, different guys stepping up at different times.”
Game 6 is Sunday night in Tampa. The Lightning trail the best-of-seven series 3-2.
“Listen, this is a huge challenge for us,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. “An exciting challenge, too. You’ve got to be excited for this challenge and embrace it.”
The Cup was all shined up and ready for the moment — almost beckoning to the Avalanche from the side. It’s back on the road for the Avalanche, where they’re 8-1 so far in their playoff run.
WATCH l Palat’s winner keeps Lightning’s Stanley Cup three-peat bid alive:
“We have belief in our room that we can win every game we go out and play,” defenceman Devon Toews said. “We feel like we had a decent game tonight, pretty good game. Obviously it wasn’t enough tonight.”
Nikita Kucherov and defenceman Jan Rutta also scored for the Lightning. Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar had goals for Colorado. Makar’s third-period tally bounced off the skate of Erik Cernak and through the pads of Vasilevskiy to tie it at 2.
That set the stage for Palat, whose shot slipped through the pads of Darcy Kuemper. It was Palat’s 16th career go-ahead playoff goal, which trails only Brayden Point (18) in franchise history.
“I thought I played it well, slid over,” Kuemper said. “It just found a little hole.”
WATCH | Should Kadri’s goal have counted?:
Tampa Bay regrouped after an emotional Game 4 loss at home on a overtime goal from Colorado forward Nazem Kadri. The Lightning felt the Avalanche might have had too many players on the ice on the winner.
A similar too-many-players-on-the-ice scenario unfolded Friday — and this time it was called. With 2:43 remaining, the Lightning went on the power play and made it so that Colorado couldn’t pull Kuemper until the final moments. They weathered the Avalanche’s late barrage.
Just the Lightning showing their championship mettle. They’ve already rallied back from a 3-2 deficit to Toronto in the first round, and climbed out of a 2-0 hole against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.
This is a gritty Lightning squad that’s showing no signs of slowing down against a speedy Avalanche team and even after all the contests they’ve logged. Tampa Bay has played in 67 postseason games since the start of the first round in 2020, nearly an entire extra season.
Their resolve has impressed Lightning coach Jon Cooper. His team improved to 3-0 this season when facing potential elimination games.
“The mental fortitude you have to have to play in the environment they just played in, there’s a reason these guys have a couple rings on their fingers,” Cooper said.
“It’s not supposed to be easy and it’s not going to be easy,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We knew that coming into this. We knew that coming into tonight. … Short memory in the playoffs and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Avalanche are 2 for 2 in their visits to the Stanley Cup Final. They also won in 1996, which was their inaugural season in Denver after relocating from Quebec.
Soon after Nichushkin tied it at 1-apiece in the second, Kucherov knocked in a goal off the post. The power-play goal was with Alex Killorn in the box for holding, along with J.T. Compher (holding the stick) and Makar (tripping), making for a 4-on-3 situation.
“There was no intent there. I don’t even think he was checking that guy,” Bednar said. “Look to me like he kind of tripped over a stick. It’s a tough one.”
Kuemper finished with 26 saves.
“He was OK,” Bednar said. “I’d like to see him get the first one, obviously.”
That first one would be Rutta’s score less than five minutes into the game that zapped some of the energy from the crowd. It was his first goal of the playoffs.
“We’ve been here. Have we been down 3-1? No,” Cooper said. “But we’ve been in these situations where we know the feeling of being in an elimination game.”
SAINT JOHN, N.B. — A championship season came to a crashing end for the Edmonton Oil Kings at the 2022 Memorial Cup.
The Oil Kings lost 4-2 to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the final round-robin game for each team at Harbour Station arena Friday, eliminating them from the tournament.
The Bulldogs move on to the semifinal Monday against either the host Saint John Sea Dogs or QMJHL champion Shawinigan Cataractes, who play Saturday to determine top spot.
Mason McTavish scored a pair of goals, while Avery Hayes and Ryan Winterton had the others for the Bulldogs, who had lost their first two games of the tournament, but advanced with the win. Marco Costantini made 40 saves.
“It was a gritty effort,” said Bulldogs head coach Jay McKee. “We obviously got fantastic goaltending, it was one of the best games I’ve seen Cosy play, and I’ve seen him play a lot of games. We’ve got some guys that are banged up that are playing through things, like a lot of teams here, and I was just impressed with the effort; the guys left it all out there.”
Jalen Luypen and Carter Souch scored for the Oil Kings, who only needed a tie in regulation to advance with the new points system announced by the CHL on the even of the tournament. Sebastian Cossa made 32 saves.
“I thought this was actually our best game of the tournament,” said Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer. “I thought we were a lot more engaged and had more purpose to our game. We generated a lot of opportunities and unfortunately, we didn’t finish a lot of them.”
The Bulldogs needed to win the game in regulation to earn all three points for the win and move into third spot in the standings ahead of the Oil Kings. Teams are only awarded two points for an overtime loss, while the loser gets one.
Hamilton opened the scoring on the power play nine minutes into the first period. Hayes took a pass from Logan Morrison at the side of the net and was able stuff the puck in through Cossa to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
Hamilton increased their lead to 2-0 with less than four minutes in the period with another power-play goal.
Defenceman Nathan Staios was able to leap up and keep a puck in the zone. He slid it over to McTavish, who fired it across the ice to Morrison and he in turn, sent it back across the ice to Winterton for a tap in.
“Playing with those guys on the power play, it’s so easy to get points,” Winterton said. “It’s easy to produce because they find you so easily. It was a great goal and I’m thankful for Logan for finding me.”
In the second period, the Oil Kings took the play to the Bulldogs but were unable to cut into the deficit.
The Bulldogs sustained a big blow when Staios was injured after being hit into the corner from behind by Oil Kings defenceman Simon Kubicek, who had lofted the puck into the zone and then gave chase after it. Kubicek was not assessed a penalty and Staios watched then rest of the game from the stands.
“Nathan is already playing – like a number of guys – a little sore in some areas,” McKee said. “I mean if that’s not a hit from behind, I need to understand what is. Looking at the tape, it was directly from behind and he’s hurting, he sore.
“He clearly didn’t come back in the game and I certainly would have liked to have seen a different call there.”
Edmonton out-shot Hamilton 15-9 in the period and the best chance they had to score fell to Josh Williams, who fanned on a shot in front off a centring pass from Carter Souch.
“I thought it was the best game of the tournament for us,” said Neighbours. “That was the closest to I’ve seen all tournament since we’ve been here. We just couldn’t finish early, but I’m proud of the guys, they never quit.”
Luypen scored shorthanded two minutes into the third period to cut the deficit to 2-1. He took a drop pass from Jaxsen Wiebe just inside the Bulldogs zone and snapped a shot short side on Costantini.
The one-goal deficit made for a tense final 15 minutes as the Oil Kings poured on the pressure looking for the tying goal.
Costantini made an outstanding save on Brendan Kuny, who had been set up on cross-crease pass. The Bulldogs goaltender then somehow managed to stop Jake Neighbours at the side of the net on a tip-in attempt.
McTavish extended the lead to 3-1 with six and-a-half minutes remaining, one-timing a shot from the left face-off circle over the shoulder of Cossa.
“It was nice to get that one, we were kind of getting outplayed in the third,” McTavish said. “We expected them to have a big push there and it was their season on the line. We expected it, but it was nice to get that one.”
Souch cut the lead to 3-2 with 2:46 left in the game on a shot that found its way through traffic past Costantini with Cossa on the bench for the extra attacker.
It was as close as the Oil Kings would get, however. McTavish scored into an empty net as time expired in the contest.
“I think we were able to get through that with the experience we have in close games,” McTavish said. “Obviously it’s a lot different here, they’re championship teams and they have a lot of skill over there and they pushed really hard, but I think our experience helped us.”
(3A) Lightning at (1C) Avalanche
8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS
Colorado leads best-of-7 series 3-1
The Colorado Avalanche can win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001 with a victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Ball Arena in Denver on Friday.
The Avalanche took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Colorado is 15-3 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 7-2 at Ball Arena, but know this home game will be different with the Stanley Cup in the building.
“You try to treat it like another day, but you’re going to have thoughts of different things that haven’t been there all year,” Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram said. “But you’ve just got to stick to your routine, do what you’ve done every other day you’ve come to the rink and just make sure that you’re prepared to play your best tonight.”
The Lightning will seek to become the second team in NHL history to rally from down 3-1 in a best-of-7 Cup Final. Tampa Bay came back from trailing 3-2 in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs and a 2-0 hole against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.
Now the Lightning need three straight wins against the Avalanche to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders won four straight championships from 1980-83.
“You just don’t know how many opportunities, how many kicks you’re going to get at it,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “I think for us it’s easier to think that you’ll be back every year just because of how things have been going. That’s just not the reality. There’s a lot of guys in the room that haven’t won Cups, guys that have been in a lot of situations like this in the past, so there’s a lot on the line and you just want to make sure you make the most of these situations.”
Here are 3 keys to Game 5:
Colorado started fast in winning each of the first two games of the series at home, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the opening 9:23 of Game 1 and a 3-0 lead by 13:52 of the first period in Game 2. With the chance to win the Stanley Cup in front of their fans, the Avalanche will try to jump on the Lightning early again, but they will also need to control their emotions and keep their focus regardless of how the start goes.
“Any time — a playoff game, a regular season game — you want to start well,” Avalanche forward J.T. Compher said. “We’ve done that at home, but it’s going to be 60 minutes. We’ve talked about it. The hardest one to win is the one to close out a team, especially a team like this. So we know whether the start goes our way or not the first five, 10 minutes, it’s going to be a 60-minute effort, maybe even more. We’ll be ready to play our way for as long as it takes.”
Conversely, the Lightning will need to do a better job of weathering the early Avalanche storm than they did in the first two games.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said forward Andre Burakovsky, who hasn’t played since being hit in the hand with the puck in the second period of Game 2, is “a possibility for tonight.” Things are less clear for the banged-up Lightning with forwards Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Erik Cernak.
Point returned to play the first two games of the Cup Final after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury, but was unable to play the past two games. Cernak left Game 4 in the second period after blocking a shot from Nathan MacKinnon off his leg. Cirelli returned to finish Game 4 after appearing to injure his arm in the second period, but his status is unclear for Game 5.
“This is definitely a game-time decision with a few of our guys,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “‘Cernie’ is feeling better, though. I’m pretty confident he’s going to play tonight.”
The Avalanche have been dominant on special teams in the Cup Final. Colorado is 6-for-13 (46.2 percent) on its power play and has killed 13 of 14 (92.9 percent) Tampa Bay power plays.
Failing to stop the Avalanche power play while not converting on their own has been a difficult combination for the Lightning to overcome in the series.
“We’d like to score on the power play. We’d like to be more productive,” Killorn said. “But more importantly, I think we’ve got to just keep them off the power play. They obviously have had a great power play and it seems like the way they’re going, pucks are kind of bouncing off skates and that’s what a good power play does. It puts themselves in a good chance and a good opportunity to score. So I think keep them off the power play and even if we do, we have tighten up and do a little better job getting pucks out of the zone.”
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel — Anthony Cirelli — Alex Killorn
Ross Colton — Brayden Point — Nicholas Paul
Pat Maroon — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Corey Perry
Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — Zach Bogosian
Scratched: Cal Foote, Frederik Claesson, Riley Nash
Avalanche projected lineup
Artturi Lehkonen — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog — Nazem Kadri — Valeri Nichushkin
Alex Newhook — J.T. Compher — Logan O’Connor
Darren Helm — Andrew Cogliano — Nico Sturm
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Jack Johnson — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson
Injured: Samuel Girard (sternum), Andre Burakovsky (hand)
The Lighting held an optional morning skate. … If Burakovsky is able to play, Sturm or O’Connor likely would be scratched.
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