The Toronto Maple Leafs fly home having swiped five of a potential six points against three of the West’s best five teams — Colorado, Vegas and St. Louis — on this road trip.
But after earning then losing 3-1 leads in every one of those heavyweight tests, the path to secure those points was anything but tidy.
To dish the Blues their first regulation home loss in 14 games Saturday, Toronto needed to come from behind twice. They needed to win the first third period of this rocky roadie. And they needed one more save than the other guys in an 11-goal thriller waged by two of the top three teams by save percentage in the NHL.
“I don’t know when’s the last time, if ever, Jack Campbell in a Leafs jersey given up five in 22 shots,” said a bewildered Sheldon Keefe, after a wild 60 minutes of swearing and emoting.
Both head coaches blew their timeout before the game was half over. Momentum shifted violently. And the stars came to play in Toronto’s edgy and entertaining 6-5 victory.
“It’s crazy. I mean, roller coaster ride,” Mitch Marner said post-game, still abuzz. “Third period, dug in. We knew it wasn’t gonna be easy, and it’s a hell of a road win.”
“Just back and forth, up and down, bit of roller coaster,” Auston Matthews agreed. “But we found a way to win, and we’re going home with two points — which is all that matters.”
Welcome back, Marner
So what if Marner hadn’t scored a goal since November? Hadn’t registered a point since suffering a fluke shoulder injury at practice? Or hadn’t played a game in a week due to COVID protocol?
When he rejoined the group for Friday’s practice in Arizona, his teammates commented on how refreshed and upbeat the video-game junkie looked after all that time stuck at home playing virtual-reality tennis and golf on the new Oculus system he treated himself to.
“A lot of pep, a lot of energy. I think he really missed the guys,” Matthews said. “If anybody can kind of bounce back and be as much of himself as possible, it’s definitely him.”
Marner made good on his linemate’s prediction, beating Jordan Binnington high-glove with a pretty unassisted effort and cueing up Matthews’ third-period tying goal on the power-play with a deceptive pass from behind the net.
“I thought he was great tonight. Don’t forget, he hasn’t played in a while,” Keefe praised. “Good legs. Whether it was his goal or the big-time pass he makes on Matthews’ power-play goal to tie the game, that’s what Mitch does. He’s a game-breaker like that.”
As ever, the pass-first Marner wants to be a dual-threat because he believes that if goalies respect his shot, that can only present Matthews with more quality looks, too.
“I know I can score. I’ve done it a lot of times, and I got to make sure I get that mindset that I can score,” Marner said.
“I can be that threat.”
Liljegren gets a souvenir
Promoted to the top four alongside Jake Muzzin with Justin Holl in COVID protocol, rookie Timothy Liljegren picked a fine time to register his first NHL goal — a one-timed blast from the point that sailed through so much traffic, he didn’t even see it bend twine.
“That’s a bullet. Good for him,” Marner exclaimed. “He’s always kind of stone-faced, but he comes with great energy. He’s a fun guy to be around. It’s a hell of a goal. It’s a rocket.”
The Leafs bench erupted. Jason Spezza made sure to go fetch the puck, which Liljegren says he’ll find a special place for in his condo back in Sweden. And buddy Rasmus Sandin rubbed Liljgren’s head while Sandin’s father, Patric, tweeted in celebration:
Meanwhile, Keefe was oblivious to the goal’s personal significance.
The coach has been on the bench for the vast majority of the defenceman’s North American games since being drafted in 2017 and had seen him score for the Marlies on multiple occasions.
“I wasn’t really even aware that it was his first one, but it certainly was a great one,” Keefe smiled. “And we’re thrilled for him.
“He played a great game today. Moved the puck really well. Helped us on the breakout. Got us out of trouble sometimes. At times got himself in trouble, but then bailed himself out. Yeah, it was great for him.”
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 16, 2022
Matthews outduels O’Reilly in elite matchup
Yes, Ryan O’Reilly may have outscored Auston Matthews heads-up 2-1 on this night, but there was no mistaking whose line felt better about the result.
The Bunting-Matthews-Marner unit out-chanced the opposition 14-6 at even-strength; Matthews himself whipped a game-high eight pucks on net; and all three members of Toronto’s top line scored.
Matthews now has a ridiculous road streak of goals in 10 straight (12 total), and his 25th of the season vaults him into a tie with Alex Ovechkin for second overall in the Rocket race.
“It starts with myself. I was horrendous defensively tonight. Wasn’t hard enough to play against,” O’Reilly said. “We got what we deserved.”
Matthews’ most noteworthy play was by design.
On an offensive draw, the Leafs centre knew the onetime Selke winner would try to pull hard and inside on the backhand, so he instructed Bunting to charge to the net and whacked the faceoff forward toward Binnington’s crease.
The quick surprise caught the Blues off-guard and worked like a charm.
“It was a great play by him. It was really smart,” O’Reilly said. “It was a tough one to eat.”
TIE GAME! FIRST IN 10! pic.twitter.com/fzWjtwseCN
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) January 16, 2022
Mikheyev’s run of good fortune continues
On a seesaw night that packed plenty of high-end skill and creativity into the first 10 goals, the 11th was a weak one by a player enjoying a strong season.
Hard on the puck all night, Ilya Mikheyev threw a puck toward Binnington with under four minutes in regulation that seemingly went right through the goaltender.
Mikheyev himself didn’t realize it was a good goal until he saw John Tavares celebrate. Keefe didn’t either, until he saw the referee point and caught Binnington’s dejected body language.
“Funny how that one ends up being the difference-maker. We’ll certainly take it,” Keefe said. “Those are the types of goals that go in when you have a season [2020-21] full of basically no luck.”
Is luck the difference this year, Mikheyev?
Feels better, doesn’t it?
“I think so, yes.”
Back-to-back road trips
Even though the Maple Leafs don’t have a home game on the docket until Jan. 26, the club flew home after this western swing for some family time and practice days prior to jetting to New York City for Wednesday’s game against the Rangers.
After switching time zones four times in eight days, Keefe says it was “a no-brainer” to squeeze in some quiet time in Toronto before heading back to the States.
“It’s a nice little reset. Get to see your family and the cats,” Jack Campbell said.
Sandin has something else fluffy in mind.
“I can’t wait to get home to my own bed — my own pillow especially,” the Sandman said. “I’ll tell you, they can be very different. I need to learn from this and bring my own for next road trip. I can’t wait to get home to my own. It’s just perfect.”
Ho-Sang is automatic
Meanwhile, down in the AHL, Josh Ho-Sang executed a celebration even more entertaining than his go-ahead goal…
Rocket advance with win in 3OT thriller | TheAHL.com – American Hockey League
The Laval Rocket are off to the Eastern Conference Finals after a wild 6-5 triple-overtime victory over the Rochester Americans on Wednesday night.
The Rocket completed a three-game sweep of the Amerks and will face either Charlotte or Springfield in the next round.
Working on a power play following a delay of game penalty against Rochester, former Amerk Jean-Sébastien Dea wristed a shot that beat Aaron Dell at 1:51 of the third OT period to give the Rocket the victory. It was the second goal of the night for Dea, and came on Laval’s 60th shot of the evening.
Rochester nearly escaped with a Game 3 victory, scoring three times in the third period to take a 5-4 lead before Jesse Ylönen netted the equalizer for the Rocket with 1:07 remaining in regulation.
Back home in front of an energetic crowd of 10,662 fans at Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks struck quickly when Mark Jankowski pounced on a loose puck and scored his sixth goal of the playoffs just 1:04 into the contest.
JJ Peterka made it 2-0 in favor of Rochester with a power-play goal at 8:05, and that lead held until late in the second period, when Laval scored four goals in a span of 3:56 to swing the game in their favor.
Brandon Gignac started the comeback with 6:08 to go in the second period with a nifty deflection of a Corey Schueneman shot from the point. Danick Martel tied things up 55 seconds later, taking Gabriel Bourque’s pass from behind the net and snapping home his fifth goal of the series.
Just 76 seconds after that, the Rocket took their first lead of the night as Xavier Ouellet floated a shot from the left point through traffic that found the top corner over the glove of Aaron Dell.
And with 2:12 to go before intermission, Dea put Laval in front by two, hitting an open cage with Dell out of position following a collision with a teammate in front.
Rochester regrouped during the break and needed just 1:32 to tie things back up. Brett Murray scored 13 seconds into the third period to pull the Amerks to within 4-3, and Peterka got his second of the night 1:19 later off a slick feed from Peyton Krebs.
Murray then scored his second of the period at 8:35, getting a piece of Ethan Prow’s shot from the point and deflecting it home to put Rochester back in front.
Laval outshot Rochester 24-12 during sudden death and killed off two Amerks power plays before converting on their own for the winner.
Cayden Primeau (6-1) made 34 saves and earned his fourth consecutive victory in net for the Rocket. Dell (5-5) stopped a career-high 54 shots for Rochester.
North Division Finals (best-of-5)
N3-Laval Rocket vs. N5-Rochester Americans
Game 1 – Sun., May 22 – LAVAL 6, Rochester 1
Game 2 – Mon., May 23 – LAVAL 3, Rochester 1
Game 3 – Wed., May 25 – Laval 6, ROCHESTER 5 (3OT)
Bozak scores OT winner, Blues rally vs. Avs to stave off elimination – Sportsnet.ca
DENVER (AP) — Tyler Bozak and the St. Louis Blues experienced just about every emotion imaginable over the course of a win-or-season-ends game in which they fell behind by three goals.
Ultimately, they landed on this improbable one — elation.
Bozak scored 3:38 into overtime and the Blues fended off elimination in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, overcoming a pair of deficits in a 5-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.
Bozak, a fourth-line center, unleashed a shot from near the blueline that got past Darcy Kuemper, capping a remarkable comeback for St. Louis.
“It was an amazing hockey game,” Bozak said. “I’m sure everyone that was watching thought the same thing.”
Robert Thomas had two goals, including the tying tally with 56 seconds left in regulation, for a resilient Blues team. It’s the latest game-tying goal for the Blues when facing elimination, according to NHL Stats. Vladimir Tarasenko and Justin Faulk also scored, Nick Leddy had four assists and Pavel Buchnevich had two.
They never doubted — even down 3-0 late in the second period and 4-3 late in the third.
“You’ve got nothing to lose, you might as well throw it all out there,” Thomas said. “That was our mentality.”
The comeback offset a hat trick from Nathan MacKinnon, who looked like he might have just turned in a signature moment with goal No. 3. He went end-to-end, working his way around Blues defenseman Leddy with nifty stick work and lifting a shot over goaltender Ville Husso for a 4-3 lead. It was his second career postseason hat trick.
Hats hit the ice.
“Doesn’t matter,” MacKinnon said of his feat. “Looking to get a win.”
Thomas tied it up with Husso on the bench for an extra skater, setting the stage for Bozak, who played college hockey down the road at the University of Denver.
To think, he didn’t play much down the stretch of the third period, with the Blues rolling out just three lines. When he got his chance in OT, he made the most of it.
“There’s definitely no such thing as a bad shot,” Bozak said. “So just tried to get it through the traffic and it went in. So that’s awesome.”
Game 6 is Friday in St. Louis.
The Blues have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take a playoff series twice in their history _ 1999 against Phoenix and 1991 versus Detroit.
They’re looking to write another chapter.
“This team’s come from behind quite a bit this year in games so they don’t give up,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.
Captain Gabriel Landeskog also scored and Bowen Byram had two assists for the Avalanche, who were on the verge of advancing to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2002.
Instead, they have to wait — and wonder. The second-round has proven to be a big hurdle for the Avalanche. They’ve been eliminated at this stage in each of the last three postseasons.
“You sulk for three minutes and you move on. Simple as that,” Landeskog said. “It’s playoff hockey. It’s not supposed to be easy.”
Husso made 30 saves for St. Louis. He took over in Game 3 when Jordan Binnington was injured following a collision between Nazem Kadri and Blues defenseman Calle Rosen that caused Kadri to crash into Binnington.
Afterward, Kadri received racist death threats on social media, which led to increased security to protect him. He responded in Game 4 with a hat trick. On Wednesday, fans along the boards held up signs that read “Stand with Naz.”
Kuemper stopped 25 shots.
MacKinnon came out flying in the first period, taking five shots and scoring twice to give the Colorado an early 2-0 lead. Those were the first two goals of the series for MacKinnon, who has seven in the postseason.
The speedy MacKinnon also had an assist to give him 82 career playoff points. He became the fourth player in franchise history with 80 or more postseason points, joining the company of Sakic (188), Peter Forsberg (159) and Peter Stastny (81).
After Landeskog made it 3-0 just over 4 minutes into the second period, Tarasenko knocked in his first goal of the series 10 1/2 minutes later to jumpstart the Blues.
“We got on our heels a little bit,” said MacKinnon, whose team is 4-0 on the road in these playoffs. “We wanted it so bad, I guess. … Win the third, go to the conference finals, whatever. It’s one period. Got to keep our game going, stay aggressive. That’s what we’ll do.”
Canada Soccer cancels men’s national team friendly vs. Iran in Vancouver – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — Canada Soccer has cancelled a planned friendly with Iran in the face of growing criticism.
In a one-paragraph statement, the governing body gave no reason for the cancellation of the scheduled June 5 game at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.
But the idea of hosting the Iranian team, ranked 21st in the world, has drawn fire since it was first announced.
At issue is whether Canada should be hosting Iran given the Canadians who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, minutes after taking off from Tehran, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. The Canadian government says 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people killed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week the game “wasn’t a very good idea,” pointing the finger at Canada Soccer. The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims called for Canada Soccer “to cancel the game immediately.”
Association spokesman Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and young daughter Reera were among those who died on Flight 752, said in an interview last week. “What kind of friendship do we have with the Islamic Republic of Iran?
“We want the (Canadian) government to take them to international court. And instead of that, we get humiliated by them … I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back — (as well as) the other family members. After 28 months we don’t see any sign of seeking justice here. We don’t see sign of taking Iran to any international forum. And instead of that they invite the (Iran) soccer team here.”
Conservative MPs added their voice to the protest on Wednesday. And the PM said this week that it will be up to the Canada Border Services Agency whether the Iran team is allowed into the country.
The Iran game was to be the first of a two-game Vancouver homestand. The Canadian men open CONCACAF Nations League A play there against Curacao on June 9 before closing out the FIFA international window with another CONCACAF Nations League game against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on June 13.
Canada, ranked 38th in the world, and Iran are both preparing for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this November.
For Canada Soccer, the Iran contest was a rare chance to test the Canadian men against a team outside of their CONCACAF confederation, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The Canadians have played just two teams from outside their region since John Herdman took over as coach in January 2018: a 1-0 loss to Iceland in January 2020 and a 1-0 win over New Zealand in March 2018.
The FIFA International window opens Monday, with players arriving from their clubs from around the world. Now they will get extended training time rather than a match ahead of the CONCACAF Nations League fixtures.
Canada has not played on home soil since qualifying for the World Cup in a 4-0 win over Jamaica at Toronto’s BMO Field on March 27. The Canadian men last played at B.C. Place in March 2019 when they beat French Guiana 4-1 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.
The Canadians topped the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with an 8-2-4 record. Their last game was a 1-0 loss in Panama on March 30.
Canada has a 1-2-0 all-time record against Iran, winning the most recent encounter 1-0 in April 2001 in Cairo. Iran posted 1-0 wins in 1997 and 1999 games in Toronto and Edmonton, respectively.
Canada opens World Cup play Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before facing No. 16 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.
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