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About Last Night: Habs' offence finally explodes in Game 2 blowout victory – Montreal Gazette

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Thanks, Alain!

The Canadiens got a pair of goals from Tomas Tatar, a player whose goalscoring abilities had been sorely needed since the play-in round. He entered the playoffs with four career playoff goals. He nearly matched that tally Friday, scoring half of his career playoff output in one game.

It took him slightly over a minute to break his playoff scoring drought, and he later added his second on the power play in the next period.

“It was nice to find the net,” Tatar said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who some were prepared to write off (likely in jealousy of Brady Tkachuk two hours west), has been great for the Canadiens this postseason. The 20-year old has four playoff goals before the age of 21, tying him for fourth all-time among Habs players with the late, great Henri Richard.

“KK was outstanding tonight,” Canadiens forward Max Domi said.

Domi can pat himself on the back too after his three-assist performance. He played with Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin after fans pleaded for him to get time with better players and not languish on the team’s fourth line. He especially loved getting to play with Drouin.

“It’s no secret Jo and I are very close off the ice,” Domi said. “We spend a lot of time away from the rink together. We love playing together. So, it was a lot of fun to get out there with him tonight.”

The team as a whole dominated with possession, scoring chances, and their speed which proved to be too much for Philly. It took their opponents most of their first period for them to get a shot on net.

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What Maple Leafs, Oilers can learn from Cup champion Lightning – Sportsnet.ca

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are the 2020 Stanley Cup champions, and as soon as the clock ticked down to zero in Game 6, social media was aflame with hot takes about what this would mean for hockey’s future.

For those who value analytics, the Lightning winning is yet another check in the column of teams who follow the data being rewarded.

For those who don’t, the Lightning are a big team that has made some of the most impressive scouting choices in the NHL in recent years.

Any time a team wins the Stanley Cup the NHL as a whole tends to copy what they can from the last successful formula. However, I’m not sure how helpful trying to copy a team with two top-two draft picks that turned into superstars, or trying to copy snagging Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point in the second and third rounds, respectively, would be.

The fact is, the Lightning have an embarrassment of riches that has taken them over a decade to put together. Tampa has been a Cup contender since at least the 2013-14 season, when they were unceremoniously swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, similar to what happened against the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.

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It’s taken the team seven kicks at the can to get to this point, and while the way the Lightning play is enviable and entertaining, I don’t think playing style is the lesson to take from their victory in 2020.

The first thing I think of when I look back over the history of moves by the Lightning is that they had many opportunities to mess this up, and they continually avoided doing so, instead building on what they already had.

Not every move the Lightning made has been great, but they kept the core together when many other teams would have panicked. Looking back to the sweep the Lightning suffered at the hands of the Blue Jackets last season, when I was tasked with finding out how that happened, I found that many of the assumptions about how that series went were incorrect.

So, what lesson can other teams take from this season’s Stanley Cup champions?

If you have a young team that’s full of talent, played well in the regular season, and by the numbers played well in the playoffs: Do. Not. Panic.

It’s very easy to look at ages and contracts and find reasons why you can’t keep a group together, but the smartest people in the room find a way to keep the group together and add.

Based on these playoffs, which teams have that young talent to build around and, by the numbers, should have had better fates?

Surprisingly, two Canadian teams stand out above the crowd among teams that deserved better during these playoffs, though they do things very differently: Toronto and Edmonton.

Both teams are built around a bevy of players taken in the lottery section of the draft, but while the Leafs are high volume, the Oilers play everything tight to the chest.

Disappointment was palpable for both teams when they failed to get out of the qualification around against teams they absolutely should have beaten, which was an extra bitter pill since they were the chosen host cities for the Western and Eastern bubbles for this post-season, but the path forward for each is unlikely to be as far off as many believe.

Context matters, and because the Blackhawks were an absolutely terrible even strength team this season, I think the Oilers have a much further track to run to get into competitor territory than the Leafs do, but the West is also significantly weaker than the East overall these days, which should help them out.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

The Oilers have lots of work to do to fill out the depth of their roster, and their salary cap situation is tough, but acquiring undervalued and cheap wingers is exactly where a strong analytics department should be able to help you out. Learning from the Lightning in finding players like Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, or even Jonathan Marchessault (who they lost) is something the Oilers should be able to figure out.

The areas where they desperately need improvement are in controlling passing, which is tough to do when you don’t have depth.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have been branded chokers once again, but we need to look at the last four seasons of first round (or qualifying round) exits through the lens of expectations for a moment. Toronto wasn’t the favourite against the Washington Capitals in 2016-17, they weren’t the favourites against the Boston Bruins in 2017-18, or 2018-19. Just because they got close to winning, doesn’t mean those results are underwhelming. They may be disappointing for fans, but this series against Columbus was the first time this team truly failed to meet expectations in the post-season.

That isn’t making excuses for them, it’s just a fact, and it’s all the more difficult to label the Leafs as deeply flawed when you examine how the games flowed at even strength. Almost across the board, the Leafs carried the play, with the one issue against Columbus being that the Leafs got brutalized by the Blue Jackets’ forecheck.

Like the Oilers, the Maple Leafs are up against the cap, making maneuvering a little bit difficult, but their roster is much closer to being in a competitive mode than the Oilers are. They absolutely need to get better at defending opposing forechecks — it was an issue all season long — but how much less of an issue would that have been if Jake Muzzin weren’t injured in Game 2?

The way the Leafs are talked about, it almost sounds like people think their window of competitiveness is about to close, but they have the time to make additions and try slightly different configurations. Overreacting to a disappointing result when it looks like a pattern, despite the fact that it’s the first time the team has actually disappointed, would be the mark of foolish management.

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Blue Jays announce lineup for Game 1 of AL wild-card series vs. Rays – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Blue Jays have chosen who they’ll go to war with as they kick off Game 1 of their American League wild-card series vs. the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

Pint-sized slugger Alejandro Kirk draws into the club’s lineup and will get the start at designated hitter, while trade-deadline acquisition Jonathan Villar will play second base. The Blue Jays are trotting out eight right-handed hitters after lead-off man Cavan Biggio against Rays ace Blake Snell.

The full starting lineup is as follows:

Third base: Cavan Biggio

Shortstop: Bo Bichette

Centre field: Randal Grichuk

First base: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Left field: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Right field: Teoscar Hernandez

Second base: Jonathan Villar

Designated hitter: Alejandro Kirk

Catcher: Danny Jansen

Pitcher: Matt Shoemaker

Catch Game 1 of the Blue Jays’ series vs. the Rays on Tuesday night at 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN Now.

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Examining the strategic decisions Blue Jays will likely face in Game 1 – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Already, the strategic gears are moving for the Toronto Blue Jays and their first-round playoff opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays.

On Monday, the Blue Jays announced it’ll be Matt Shoemaker, not Hyun Jin Ryu, who starts Game 1 of the wild-card round at Tropicana Field. Ryu emerged from his final regular season start “a little sore,” according to manager Charlie Montoyo, but the left-hander was still available to pitch if needed. Instead, the Blue Jays opted to give him an extra day of rest in a decision that will have consequences all series long.

So begins the tactical back-and-forth between Montoyo and his longtime colleague, Kevin Cash of the Rays.

“They want to kick your butt every time you play them,” Montoyo said. “But I have the same feeling.”

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Starting with the Blue Jays’ lineup, here’s a closer look at some of the strategic decisions Montoyo and his staff will face in Game 1.

Does Alejandro Kirk play?

It’s only been 25 plate appearances, but Alejandro Kirk has impressed at the plate with a home run and a .983 OPS. Now, the Blue Jays must decide whether they believe that small sample portends further success at the plate for the 21-year-old. Considering how well Kirk has handled velocity so far, his chances of starting against left-hander Blake Snell seem good.

With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. slated to start at first base, the Blue Jays will have the DH spot open should they want Danny Jansen’s experience at catcher. But Kirk did work well with Shoemaker last week, so a start behind the plate can’t be ruled out entirely.

How soon does Robbie Ray start warming up?

Technically speaking, Shoemaker is the starting pitcher Tuesday. It’s a big job, and one Shoemaker’s definitely excited to accept, but this is far from an ordinary outing.

The only way Shoemaker’s pitching deep into this game is if he stays incredibly efficient and the Blue Jays take a lopsided lead early. Otherwise, it may well be a relatively short appearance for a couple of reasons. First, Shoemaker has made only one start since returning from the injured list, and he’s only been stretched out to 54 pitches.

Second, the Blue Jays can’t afford to let Rays hitters get comfortable, so they’re better off asking multiple pitchers go max effort for relatively short stints. In his start against the New York Yankees last week, Shoemaker touched 96 m.p.h., so the stuff is there even if he’s not fully stretched out yet.

But at – or ideally before – the soonest sign of trouble, the Blue Jays will need to think about who’s next out of the bullpen. At this point, the odds seem good that the first pitcher up could be Robbie Ray, whose electric but erratic arm the Rays haven’t seen this year.

With Shoemaker starting, there’s a good chance Cash loads up his lineup with left-handed hitters. By bringing in Ray, the Blue Jays would gain the platoon advantage – or force the Rays to empty their bench.

“That’s one thing when you play the Rays: they’re tough to match up against because they’re loaded,” Montoyo said. “They really are. Whoever comes off the bench to hit is a pretty good hitter, too.”

When and how does Pearson become a factor?

The Blue Jays are relying on Shoemaker in a big way after just one appearance back from the injured list. Why not do the same with Nate Pearson? The right-hander impressed in his first outing in five-plus weeks, touching 101 m.p.h. while flashing a plus slider.

When he’s on, that combination is extremely tough to hit, so it’s easy to see why the Blue Jays may be tempted to use Pearson. But they’ll want to be careful with him considering he missed extended time with a forearm strain, so there’s seemingly a good chance he can only pitch once in the wild-card round. With that in mind, the Blue Jays will need to be selective.

Plus, Pearson’s been a starter for his entire pro career, so the Blue Jays will want to give him ample time to warm up instead of rushing him into a game mid-inning.

How do the Blue Jays manage the bullpen?

Because the Blue Jays locked up a playoff spot Thursday, they were able to use the weekend to ensure their heavily used bullpen got a breather.

“That was one of the good things about clinching,” Montoyo said. “They’re all rested going into the series, so that makes me feel really good about it. Anybody can come in at any time.”

Still, that doesn’t tell us who will get the call in high-leverage spots. As the season has progressed, the answer to that question has changed constantly for Montoyo depending on who’s healthy and pitching well. There’s no reason to believe the playoffs will be any different ­– only now the stakes are higher than ever before.

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