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Blake Wheeler becomes franchise scoring leader, Jets beat Wild – Sportsnet.ca

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Blake Wheeler admits that returning home to play in Minnesota still feels special after a 12-year NHL career spent playing elsewhere, including the past nine seasons for the Wild’s rival Winnipeg Jets.

With his mom and dad in attendance on Saturday afternoon, it was fitting that Wheeler became his franchise’s all-time leading scorer with another big game in Minnesota.

Wheeler had a goal and assist, Connor Hellebuyck made 31 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Winnipeg beat Minnesota 6-0. Wheeler’s 616 points surpassed the previous mark set by Ilya Kovalchuk, who played for the franchise when it was the Atlanta Thrashers.

“For a guy that works that hard every day, you deserve to have good things happen,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “To become the all-time leader in a big game for us, but in his home state and to have his mom and dad here, that is fantastic for him and he’s earned it.”

Patrick Laine had two goals for Winnipeg, which had lost three of their past four games. Mark Scheifele scored for the eighth time in nine games, and Nikolaj Ehlers and Logan Shaw also had goals.

Alex Stalock allowed six goals on 28 shots in goal for the Wild before being removed midway through third period. Devan Dubnyk finished with two saves for Minnesota, which has lost three of four.

The Wild were shut out for the third time this season a game after scoring a franchise record-tying eight goals in a win at Arizona on Thursday night.

“The teams that score a lot of goals one game they usually say, `Geez, I wish we would have saved some for the next game,”’ Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But I’m more worried about defending. We gave up five and then we gave up six. You can’t win hockey games when your goals-against average is about 3.5. it’s not going to work.”

Wheeler, who’s played 10 seasons for the franchise after starting with the team in its final season in Atlanta, opened the scoring with a short-handed goal, his 10th of the season. He set the record with an assist in the third on Laine’s second goal.

“I really feel like the product of some good teams and I’ve played on some really good lines,” Wheeler said. “I play a lot of minutes, so I just feel fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had here and the guys I get to play with every night. It’s not going to be long before one of these guys on this team passes me and that will be a good moment too. But it’s a reflection of taking advantage of your opportunities and playing with a lot of really good guys.”

Winnipeg started the game with the league’s worst penalty-kill, but capitalized even when down a man. Along with the short-handed goal, the second of the season for the Jets, Winnipeg had another opportunity in the second when it had three players in alone on Stalock.

The Wild were 0 of 3 on the power-play. They’ve scored on two of their last 29 chances with the man advantage and entered the day 21st in the league on the power-play.

Scheifele’s goal was scored with six seconds left in the first to give Winnipeg a 2-0 lead.

“It’s a poor feeling going into intermission when they score late,” Stalock said. “Never could come back. They won the second period, we talked about just wanting to win the second, they won the second and obviously came out on the third and they kind of put their foot down.”

NOTES: Minnesota was without LW Jason Zucker, who had surgery on Friday to repair a broken right fibula. He’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks. … Wild C Joel Eriksson Ek is nearing a return from an upper-body injury but missed his fifth straight game. … Minnesota C Mikko Koivu missed his 10th straight game with a lower-body injury. … The Wild snapped a 12-game home point streak (9-0-3). Minnesota’s only other regulation loss at home this season was the season-opener against Pittsburgh. … LW Jansen Harkins made his NHL debut for Winnipeg after being recalled from Manitoba of the AHL. and earned an assist on Shaw’s goal. A second-round pick in 2015, he was third in the AHL with 31 points in 30 games when he was recalled on Dec. 18. … The Wild have played the fewest home games in the league this season, starting on the road for 23 of their first 36 games. They have 18 of their next 22 games at home.

UP NEXT

Oilers: Return home to host Montreal on Monday.

Wild: Host Calgary on Monday.

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Lightning cherishing every moment of opportunity for Cup Final redemption – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — What I’ll remember most was the pure guttural scream.

It echoed up through Rogers Place when the Tampa Bay Lightning gathered 48 of the 52 members of their travelling party on the ice with the Prince of Wales Trophy to take a photo here Thursday night.

You’d never know that a celebration could be so emotional in an empty building because, until three days ago with the Dallas Stars, this was completely unprecedented.

The Lightning left their hearts out there. This was a moment six years in the making, or more, for so many members of this organization. And it was clear that booking a trip to the Stanley Cup Final was no less rewarding under these circumstances than it would have been before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19.

“It is so hard to explain, because regardless if there’s fans in the building or not, the exuberance and relief, it’s unparalleled how you feel inside,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “When you look back at this — and it’s not over — but we’ve been in a hotel for 54 straight days. And when people said this might be one of the hardest Cups to win, it might be one of the hardest Cups ever to win. There’s two of us left standing, they’re going through the exact same thing we are.

“You want your fans there, but it’s not about the fans, it’s about the players and the effort and dedication and perseverance they’ve put into this. And they’re the ones that deserve this, because they’ve done all the work.”

For the Lightning, it was also about Steven Stamkos, even though the captain hasn’t played a game since late February. He’s been rehabbing an undisclosed injury inside the NHL bubble without playing a game and was called out to join Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn for the trophy presentation with deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

The pride on Stamkos’s face was unmistakable. He let Hedman and the others who played in the six-game series victory over the New York Islanders touch the trophy — at least until Hedman skated it over to him with instructions to carry it into the team’s dressing room.

“It was obviously a great feeling,” said Hedman. “Even though Stammer’s not playing, he’s still the leader of this team and he’s such a good influence on the room. During practices and morning skates. He’s still a big reason that he’s here where we are.

“I’m just so happy for the whole group obviously to once again — you know, a few of us went there in 2015. To go back in the Final with the Lightning again is an unreal experience.”

They had good reason to believe this would have happened sooner. It was a young team that lost the 2015 Stanley Cup Final to Chicago in six games.

Tampa has been the NHL’s top team in basically every measurable category since that happened but they’ve experienced nothing but heartbreak. A Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018, and then a record-breaking 62-win season last year followed by a sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Losing this would have been the ultimate gut punch.

The Lightning were the better team against New York, but there’s a price to be paid against the Islanders. Brayden Point was in and out of the series, Ondrej Palat took a shot off the foot during Thursday’s series-clinching 2-1 victory and Anthony Cirelli left for a time after an accidental knee-on-knee collision with Anders Lee.

It was Cirelli who finally froze the clock in overtime with his first goal and first point of the season.

The celebration was incredible. These guys understood on a fundamental level what this meant.

“You have to cherish these moments and try your best to take advantage of them,” said Cooper. “We’ve been knocking at the door and it can get frustrating. It can make the summers, time-wise they’re so short, but mentality-wise they’re long. You just have to believe in your process and you have to believe in what you’re doing and you have to have players that jump on board.

“In the end, it’s a player’s game.”

The players celebrated this one together. The Lightning brought every extra skater they have here on the ice for this Eastern Conference Championships photo. There was Mathieu Joseph and his wonderful hair, Braydon Coburn and his thick playoff beard, Stamkos and his ever-present smile.

“Definitely a special moment for that group and then to get the whole team involved,” said veteran defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “Great moment.”

Hedman is always the last player on the ice after a Tampa victory and had to wait out a four-question Killorn interview with NBC after they eliminated the Islanders. You could hear him banging his stick while Killorn spoke with Pierre McGuire inside this empty building.

He knew his teammates were celebrating without them but still wouldn’t skate off.

What a cool scene, all of it.

The Lightning will be back out here against the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night and they didn’t shy away from the fact they may have emptied a couple veins just to get the opportunity.

“As for gas in the tank, I guess we’ll see,” said Cooper. “This is unlike any other Stanley Cup Final where we’d get days rest. If you don’t go seven, you usually get days rest. We’re not here, but if you were going to tell me, ‘Hey Coop, you get to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

“You’re only going to get 45 hours to rest before the game but you’re going to get to play in it,’ I’m taking that all day.”

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Toronto Maple Leafs add Manny Malhotra to coaching staff – TSN

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It’s been a whirlwind few days for Manny Malhotra, who on Thursday officially left the Vancouver Canucks organization to become the Maple Leafs’ newest assistant coach.

“I had a lot of conversations with [Canucks’ head coach Travis Green] here and then after talking with [Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe], I was left with about two days to make the decision,” Malhotra told TSN on Thursday.

“For me, it came down to [the fact] this is an opportunity to advance my coaching career and be a part of a really good organization with a lot of good talent to work with. So I’m very happy at the conclusion of this whole process, but it was a very hectic four or five days.”

Malhotra comes to the Leafs after a three-year stint as an assistant coach in Vancouver, joining Dave Hakstol in rounding out Keefe’s staff. A native of Mississauga, Ont., Malhotra’s French-Canadian and South Asian background make him one of the few visible minority coaches in the NHL.

He replaces the recently departed Paul McFarland, who became general manager and head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs in August.

TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reported that the Leafs also spoke with Rocky Thompson and Bruce Boudreau about the job before landing on Malhotra. Thompson had been the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves and is now joining the San Jose Sharks’ staff for next season, while Boudreau has been a free agent since the Minnesota Wild relieved him of head coaching duties in February.

Malhotra, 40, will bring plenty of experience with him to the Leafs’ post, having segued into roles behind the bench after his 16-year playing career ended in 2016.

Originally selected seventh overall by the New York Rangers in the 1998 draft, Malhotra developed into a strong two-way centre over his 991-game tenure with seven different teams. He retired with 295 points (116 goals, 179 assists) and an impressive winning percentage in the faceoff circle (56.4), making a quick transition from there to a one-season development coach role with the Canucks. Malhotra became a full-fledged assistant in 2017.

“The work ethic, character, intelligence and attention to detail that made Manny the ultimate teammate when he played are all assets that have translated to his coaching. That, combined with his charisma and communication skills, make us really excited to have him join the organization,” said Keefe in a press release.

Malhotra hopes to help Toronto’s top offensive players, like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, become stronger two-way players.

“First and foremost I’m really looking to just get to know those guys and try to understand their make-up and what makes them tick, what motivates them,” Malhotra said. “I think it’s most important to find out who they are as a player, and then find out their mindset and where they are in their career, and then just try to relay some of those messages on the details of your game and sharpening up the small, finer points that everybody always harps on from a young age. It’s a matter of putting those into play on a regular basis that separates guys and allows guys to grow in your career.”

Malhotra learned the benefits of focusing on those little things from Green – not just with individual players, but in coaching as a whole.

“He really likes to analyze things, overanalyze, overcook,” Malhotra said. “And initially you think it’s probably a little bit of overkill, but you realize when you put that type of thought into decisions, into systems, into lineups, that it shows you care. It shows that you’re putting the proper time in to make those key decisions.”

Malhotra can apply all that while taking over the duties vacated by McFarland, who spent one season in Toronto primarily running the Leafs’ power play.

McFarland and Hakstol were hired under former head coach Mike Babcock in May 2019, but remained on with Keefe after Babcock’s firing in mid-November and Keefe’s subsequent promotion into the role.

Malhotra is now the second coaching appointment Toronto has made under Keefe’s direction. The club had parted ways with another of Babcock’s hires – video coach Andrew Brewer – in August, and brought in Samuel Kim as his replacement on Sept. 1.

Malhotra said the opportunity to work with Keefe was a driving force behind his choice to change coasts.

“His credentials and his accomplishments as a coach speak for themselves,” he said of Keefe. “There’s nothing but complimentary things said about him and his character and his personality and his knowledge of the game, so I’m excited to work with [Keefe and Hakstol].”

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Mickelson struggles Thursday at Winged Foot – pgatour.com

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For a few brief moments Phil Mickelson’s dream of conquering Winged Foot to complete a career grand slam was on track at the U.S. Open, but inaccuracy off the tee once again gave him nightmares.

A week after hitting just 12 of 56 fairways at the Safeway Open, Mickelson managed to find the short grass off the tee just twice in Thursday’s opening round on the way to a dismal 9-over 79.

The 50-year-old’s chance at redemption from 2006 looked a chance after he rolled in back-to-back birdies out of the gate. Perhaps he truly had let go of the infamous 72nd hole double bogey that helped Geoff Ogilvy claim the trophy over 14 years ago.  

Mickelson’s early birdies came despite missing both fairways left into deep rough and the fairytale writers lifted their eyebrows and dared to think something special might be on its way.

However, the inaccuracy quickly caught up. From the moment a four-foot par putt on the third hole lipped out, Mickelson found himself in a deep spiral not even his 44-time PGA TOUR winning experience could fight.

Bogeys on the fourth, fifth and eighth followed with Mickelson not chalking up his first fairway until the par-5 ninth hole. It didn’t help as he would go on to make par after another missed putt.

Bogey at 10 and another at 13 came soon after the turn with the latter the start of a six-hole finishing stretch that the six-time U.S. Open runner-up played in six over. Ultimately, he would finish 14 shots off the pace and all but officially be eliminated from contention. Only U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Lukas Michel (80) was behind him on the leaderboard.

The words he said as he left Napa must have been ringing in his ears throughout the round.

“The last couple of months I’ve been missing it more to the right and not worried about the left and the left crept in again,” Mickelson had said after the Safeway Open. “For years I missed it left. I haven’t been fearing that at all lately, but this week I missed it left, which is not good. I can deal with missing it right now, but not left.”

He went on to say he was confident of being able to turn it around before the opening round in New York but sadly that was not the case. Prior to the Safeway Open he had won his debut start at PGA TOUR Champions.

“I actually have had some nice breakthroughs in the last year and I feel like I’m on the precipice of playing really well, but I’ve got to get it to click,” he said.

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