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Anxious Maple Leafs await Auston Matthews' COVID test result – Toronto Sun

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The best teams in the NHL are hard-pressed to stop Auston Matthews, but COVID-19 certainly can.

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With the greatest anxiety come Tuesday morning, the Maple Leafs await results of Matthews’ PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to see if their top scorer and the league’s first star of the month in December will miss a few days. Matthews and assistant coach Dean Chynoweth both tested positive with a rapid test prior to Monday’s practice and were kept off the ice as a precaution.

“No symptoms for either guy,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the workout, in which Timothy Liljegren had just become the last of 10-plus Leafs players to be cleared from COVID protocol. “There have been instances where those rapid tests have been false. So, that’s why they were both (deemed) precautionary and removed from today. We’ll await confirmation in the morning.”

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The most important outcome is full health for both men and beyond that, the hope Matthews can play in two high-profile games this week. The Leafs host Connor McDavid and Matthews’ former Leafs’ linemate Zach Hyman on Wednesday. Coincidentally, McDavid was held out of Edmonton’s morning skate in Manhattan Monday morning, but it wasn’t COVID-related. The Leafs then launch a four-game U.S. trip Saturday in Denver against Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche.

Matthews, who had 10 goals and four assists in seven games last month as part of his 10-game points streak, also won’t want to miss next Wednesday in Arizona, his first regular-season appearance on his home state since Nov. 21, 2019. The COVID quarantine for NHLers was just lowered from five days, down from 10.

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Defenceman Jake Muzzin, out of protocol last week, but not in well enough game shape to play in Saturday’s 6-0 win over Ottawa, said Toronto’s dressing room, like the rest of the world, is learning to live with the daily uncertainty of whom might get it next.

“You never know what we’re in for here. Losing two guys today and almost the whole team has been through it. You’re trying to stay active while at home, but there’s not much to do on the ice.

“It’s ‘next-man-up’ mentality and keep pushing forward. I’m feeling good and should be ready to go shortly.”

When the Ontario government tightened sanctions on indoor events Monday morning, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment confirmed it would no longer allow the 1,000 or less friends and family it permitted at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday, restricting it to essential team and game operations personnel.

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“I think it’s the world we live in right now,” said forward Alex Kerfoot. “We want to move past this as quick as we can, but COVID is lingering a long time.”

Liljegren was ready to step in Saturday, but his recovery period meant taxi squader Alex Biega got the start and now it appears both he and Biega will sit Wednesday with Muzzin’s return.

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“It sucks,” said Liljegren of the timing and that he was asymptomatic. “I thought I was in the clear.”

Keefe was one of many team staffers to have been placed in protocol and has tried to run as normal an operation as possible with so many players and support people coming and going.

“In the course of last season and even the one previous when we were going in the bubble, this has just become part of the reality we have to deal with,” he said. “Today, we had a practice plan in place, then we were told about Auston and had to adjust quickly. We’ve wanted our guys to remain healthy and safe and been fortunate that everyone who has been positive has gone through it with relatively mild symptoms.”

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Up front, Matthews’ spot was taken Monday by John Tavares, between Michael Bunting and Mitch Marner, while Kerfoot shifted from second-line left wing to centring Ilya Mikheyev and William Nylander. Mikheyev’s promotion after a two-goal game Saturday saw further shuffling that brought Pierre Engvall to the left flank with centre David Kampf and Ondrej Kase and allowed Nick Ritchie a potential return on the fourth line with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds after his first time as a healthy scratch versus the Sens.

“There have been guys in and out all year and other teams have dealt with it a lot more than us,” Kerfoot said of the constant changes. “The (reduced) five-day quarantine helps, but guys are still going to miss games.”

lhornby@postmedia.com

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Bombers extend Most Outstanding Defensive Player Bighill – TSN

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Adam Bighill is staying in Winnipeg.

The Blue Bombers announced Thursday the reigning CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player has signed a one-year contract extension with the team. 

Bighill has spent the past three seasons with the Blue Bombers, helping the team back-to-back Grey Cups.

A veteran of nine CFL seasons, Bighill has played in 146 games in his CFL career and ranks eighth in league history all-time in total tackles.

The three-time CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player had 70 tackles and added two quarterback sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries last season. He was named a CFL All-Star for the sixth time in his career.

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Denis Shapovalov Australian Open third round Reilly Opelka – TSN

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Denis Shapovalov needed three hours and 23 minutes to take down Serbia’s Laslo Djere in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday, working through a handful of unforced errors and a fourth-set tiebreak.

It was a cakewalk compared to his second-round matchup.

The Richmond Hill, Ont., native went the distance with Kwon Soon-woo, needing five sets and nearly four and a half hours to dispatch of the 54th-ranked South Korean. Shapovalov lost back-to-back tiebreaks in the second and third sets but battled back to take the final two and avoid an early exit.

Watch his third-round matchup LIVE on TSN4, TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct at approximately 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT Thursday night.

“It was tough to bounce back every time. In the second set I had a set point on his serve and then the third set I had a couple of set points. I felt I was doing everything the right way, it just wasn’t going my way,” Shapovalov told TSN’s Mark Roe after the win.

“It’s definitely not easy but it’s the case sometimes. I’m just happy to be alive and have an opportunity to play in the third round. I’m pretty young so I’m sure I’ll be alright; I’ve had this before.”

Now it’s on to the third round for Shapovalov where he gets his toughest test of the tournament yet in No. 23 seed American Reilly Opelka.

Opelka has had a much easier road to Round 3, scoring straight-sets victories over Kevin Anderson in the first round and Dominik Koepfer in the second. Standing at 6-foot-11, the big-serving American isn’t much for rallies, combining for 41 aces in his first two matches in Melbourne.

“I think it’s more about recovery to be honest. I mean, Reilly’s game is pretty straightforward. He goes for his serves, he’s going for his ground strokes off the back as well so it’s going to be kind of like a guessing game a little bit on the returns and hopefully, I can take care of business on my serve and hopefully I’m getting good looks, but I’ve just got to stay patient against him,” Shapovalov said.

The 22-year-old comes into the year’s first Grand Slam with some momentum having won the men’s ATP Cup earlier this month in Sydney alongside Canadian teammates Felix Auger-Aliassime, Brayden Schnur and Steven Diez.

Fatigue from a recent bout of COVID-19 forced Shapovalov to sit out the start of the tournament but he said earlier this week he was back to feeling 100 per cent.

“Towards the end of the [ATP Cup] I got really comfortable, and the body felt good again, so that was a good sign. And, of course, leading up to this tournament I had little aches and pains, so I wasn’t practising too much but I’m really happy after the two matches that the body is feeling good and it’s definitely a good sign.”

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Sheldon Keefe calls Leafs 'soft and purposeless' after Rangers collapse – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe finally blew a gasket after his team squandered a 3-1 lead for the fourth time in its last five games. (Getty)

Tell me if you’ve heard this before: The Toronto Maple Leafs have a multi-goal lead but their opponents come back to win the game.

Wednesday’s tilt against the New York Rangers played out exactly like that, with the Leafs having a 3-1 lead at the first intermission, and the hometown Rags storming back to earn a 6-3 victory with five consecutive goals.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe called out his team’s effort during his post-game availability, specifically citing the defensive side of their performance.

“Today, I just thought we played soft, and we made poor decisions defensively,” Keefe said

“We couldn’t sort anything out. It was just far different. Each game has been different, so it’s hard to talk about patterns other than the obvious that we’ve been giving up leads. I just thought we got exposed today for being a team that was just soft, soft and purposeless, and just kind of playing the game and hoping it was going to work out.

“I didn’t think we had anybody that played well tonight. Coaches didn’t coach well tonight. So, today is a much different game than we’ve played in the others where we’ve given up leads and such. I just didn’t think we had nearly enough urgency or purpose.”

The Leafs were without two of their top four defenseman in Jake Muzzin (concussion) and Justin Holl (COVID protocol) in New York, but missing personnel is something that can be overcome. Keefe pondered if it was a larger-scale issue that keeps putting the Leafs in this position.

“We’ve had a lot of really good starts,” Keefe said. “Obviously it’s been the finish or the second half of games that haven’t gone well. …Maybe a fast start was working against us. We thought it would be easy the rest of the way. We paid for it.”

Toronto let three third-period leads get washed away by their opponents in the previous four games before Wednesday, making it more of a concerning trend than coincidental bad luck.

The Leafs will take another stab at trying to hold a multi-goal lead when they visit Islanders on Saturday.

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