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Blue Jays agree to deal with first-round pick Austin Martin –



The Toronto Blue Jays and 2020 first-round draft pick Austin Martin have agreed to a contract, Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae has learned. The deal is pending a physical.

Financial terms of the contract have not been disclosed, but the fifth-overall pick carries an assigned slot value of $6,180,700.

Martin was viewed as the best “pure hitter” in the draft and posted an eye-popping .377/.507/.660 batting line in 16 games with Vanderbilt before the 2020 NCAA season was shut down. He was expected to be drafted within the first three selections, but ended up falling to Toronto at No. 5.

The Blue Jays announced Martin as a shortstop on draft day, but it’s unclear where he’ll line up defensively. His versatility is another one of his strongest assets and he could end up at third base, second base or centre field if Toronto elects to move him off shortstop. It’s also possible he’ll be used as a super utiity-style player without a true, defined position.

Baseball America ranked the 21-year-old 16th on their latest Top 100 prospect list. First-overall pick Spencer Torkelson of the Detroit Tigers — coming in at No. 11 — was the only member of the 2020 class above Martin.

Fourth-round selection Nick Frasso is now the only Blue Jays draftee unsigned.

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Showtime hat trick from Dubois pushes Maple Leafs to brink of elimination –



TORONTO — Maybe it was a dose of reverse psychology.

In the hours leading up to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ intent to upset the hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in a sprint series of 100 per cent away games, coach John Tortorella said publicly that his roster was devoid of “game-breakers,” that the blue-collar, team-first shot-blockers simply weren’t build top-heavy that way. (You know, like the Maple Leafs are.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we present Pierre-Luc Dubois.

All the 22-year-old centreman did Thursday night was peer up at the scoreboard, notice his club was down 3-0 to one of hockey’s most talent-rich rosters, and then go out and score three pretty goals — including Game 3’s overtime winner at the 78:24 mark, pushing the Leafs to the brink of elimination.

P-L-D! A goal for each initial. And the first hat trick in Columbus Blue Jackets playoff history.

“If he wants to be a difference-maker, a game-changer, one of the best players in the league, he has all the capabilities, all the tools. Tonight, he showed it,” said winger Cam Atkinson, after tossing Dubois the club’s player-of-the-game chapeau.

“It’s not always going to go your way, but it’s those moments where you capitalize on your opportunities. Big-time players step up in big-time crucial situations. Sure enough, hat trick. Put us all on his back. It’s good to see.”

In this city, they’re ready to paint Dubois’ tour de force Game 3 performance as yet another chapter in a tragic novel chockful of disappointing collapses.

The more objective view frames the gutsy response of Dubois — and, by extension, the Blue Jackets — as part of the Stanley Cup tournament’s century-old lineage of stepping up when things get tough.

In one of his more thoughtful moments this summer, Tortorella — who memorably tore the accent off Dubois midway through Game 2’s loss — spoke about the strange and illuminating effects of the post-season spotlight.

“I have been surprised where guys shrink, and then other guys, you just say, ‘Man, I didn’t expect that he’d be standing this tall. He’s not afraid of this,’ ” Tortorella said during reset camp. “And that’s where it is. This is an added pressure. And some guys just want it, and they revel in it. Other guys shrink. So, I’ve been surprised both ways.

“That’s mental, to me. That’s not physical. That’s a mental toughness, to be able to handle these types of situations. That’s when you find out who’s who.”

Livestream the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, plus every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sportsnet NOW.

In his own way, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas stressed something similar heading into what’s shaping up to be the tightest and most compelling of the eight qualification-round series.

“The talent level of the group has never been in question,” Dubas said from the bubble. “It’s been the maturing and mindset of group that we know we have to take strides in.”

Dubois and Tortorella both downplayed the viral clip from Game 2 of the coach hollering at his young top-line centre to wake the f— up, and Dubois spitting some venom right back at his bench boss. But, as evidenced by Game 3, the veteran coach knows when to pull a goalie and push a skater.

“People make a bigger deal out of than it should be. We’re coaching our players,” Tortorella said post-win. “I’m not so sure that had anything to do with tonight. I just think Luc played a really good hockey game and had some great concentration.”

Dubois shook off Game 2’s poor performance and said he didn’t need a Jack Adams winner in his ear to jump-start his batteries.

“If you’re lacking motivation, I don’t think you’re in the right spot or playing the right sport,” Dubois said. “Everybody was motivated tonight. We went down 3-0, just kept believing.”

The ice titled the Leafs’ way when Dubois’ top line hopped the boards, and the kid from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts used his speed and his out-sized frame (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) to drive the net and take advantage of a depleted Toronto defence, worse off without Jake Muzzin on its shutdown duo.

Dubois snaped five shots and beat Frederik Andersen on three of them.

“PL didn’t miss,” said Seth Jones, scorer of Columbus’ other goal. “He’s strong as an ox down in the corners. His puck protection is off the charts. He’s a handful for any defenceman, no matter how big you are or how quick you are. He always finds a way to muscle you off, hold you off with one arm and make a play.

“He can match up with any centreman in the league when he’s on his game, and we love having him on our side.”

And it’s only because of gutsy drafting that they do.

To think: The same week Dubois plays OT hero to swing the pendulum in a critical elimination series, Jesse Puljujarvi, the forward everyone expected Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen to draft third overall in 2016, re-signed with Karpat.

Less than 20 hours from Dubois freezing the clock at Scotiabank Arena, he and the Blue Jackets will be at it again, with a shot to end the Maple Leafs’ season on Friday night.

But that doesn’t mean Tortorella won’t let the kids whoop it up a little tonight.

“I want ’em to have a ball right now. That’s why we play,” Tortorella said.

“It was a really good games by both teams. It’s too bad fans weren’t in the building. I want ’em to enjoy themselves in the proper way. I trust them. They’ll be ready to play tomorrow.”

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Milan Lucic helps Flames fight through series win against Jets –



EDMONTON – If there was ever any question the Flames would be ready for the last-gasp battle sure to be thrown their way, it was answered two seconds in.

Milan Lucic flexed his extensive playoff muscles by dropping the mitts off the opening draw with Nathan Beaulieu, scoring a decisive victory over the Jets defenceman.

After speaking the day earlier about proving to themselves and others they wouldn’t back down from the obvious push from a desperate and depleted Winnipeg club, they backed it up in every way.

Game on.

Just 20 minutes later, it was essentially game over, thanks largely to the efforts of Lucic and his third line.

A Flames team that promised it had learned valuable lessons from last year’s playoff meltdown demonstrated exactly that with an early lead, followed by a clinical shutdown they weren’t capable of during the Colorado Collapse of 2019.

Continuing the momentum built from a second-period scoring binge in Game 3, the Flames scored two in the first and then rolled over an injury-ravaged Jets team, blanketing them defensively with a far more mature and measured approach to finishing games.

Their undoing a year earlier was their strength a year later.

The final two periods included textbook attention to defensive details, and new-found discipline, as all four lines smothered the Jets, forcing shots from the perimeter.

There would be no Maple Leafs meltdown here at Rogers Place, where the Flames’ 4-0 win capped the best-of-five series in four games.

And while linemates Dillon Dube (first NHL playoff goal) and Sam Bennett (goal with .3 seconds left in the first) led the scoring parade before two late empty-netters, it was Lucic who helped the set the tone.

“I was lining up for the draw and he asked me (to fight) and I said, ‘Effin’ rights,’ and that’s what happened,” chuckled Lucic, who also had two great scoring chances and an assist as part of an evening that saw him let up on Beaulieu after knocking him to his knees.

“He’s trying to show they’re ready to play and they’re not going down without a fight, but for me you just want to show you’re ready to play and not going to back down to their push.”

The NHL record book may suggest the Flames accomplished very little by merely advancing to the first round of the playoffs against a yet-to-be determined opponent starting as early as Tuesday.

But don’t tell them that, as the hurdles facing a club that has only advanced in the playoffs in two of the past 16 years have haunted them for years.

Showing a killer instinct to end a series for the first time in five years, the west’s eighth-ranked squad is the NHL’s first Canadian team to gain a playoff berth this year.

The defensive focus coach Geoff Ward has stressed going into the playoffs was so evident that even Johnny Gaudreau made a key stop, hustling back to strip Jack Roslovic who was on a breakaway.

It all served to silence some critics who kept pointing to last year’s first round loss to the Avalanche as proof this team couldn’t rise to the occasion.

“Colorado is a great team and they have a lot of star power and speed, but we felt last year the big bodies sort of pushed us out of that series,” said captain Mark Giordano, who called it a big relief to advance in the playoffs for the first time in his NHL career. (Yes, you read that right).

“If you look at our team now that’s not going to happen with the way we’re built. We proved that this round and we have to continue to prove that going forward because when you look at the teams we could potentially match up against they’re all big and physical.”

On Thursday, Lucic’s third line with Dube and Bennett not only did all the first period scoring, but demonstrated a tenacity, discipline and maturity this team has longed for.

All part of a team effort every bit as complete as Game 3.

Livestream the Flames in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, plus every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sportsnet NOW.

“Being able to lock it down in this game is a big step for this group,” said Dube, 22, whose first NHL playoff goal came on one of his seven shots on the night.

“To be able to withstand their big push with the season on the line is huge for us.”

Cam Talbot’s 31-save shutout made him the only Flames goalie in team lore to blank the opposition in a clincher other than Miikka Kiprusoff, who blanked Detroit in 2004.

In a series that was supposed to be all about Connor Hellebuyck, Talbot was, by far, the better netminder in a duel against the likely Vezina winner.

No small task.

“We talked about the importance of defending this time of year and we did that extremely well – and whenever we had a breakdown Cam was there for us,” said Ward, who deemed his netminder the series MVP.

“That’s a huge step for us and it starts with Looch. I can’t say enough about what he brings in terms of experience. He’s a calming influence. He sets the tone off the opening draw there. I’ve seen him do this before, where he’s able to become this emotional leader for you and put a team on his back. I thought the fight settled us in and the guys got a big lift from it.”

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Carey Price isn't the only Canadien at the top of his game – Montreal Gazette



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“It’s sure that it will help him with these two wingers, two good defensive players,” said Julien. “Lehky has been playing great hockey since the start of the playoffs and we know what Paul brings. The change gave him some great wingers who complement him well.”

Danault was the workhorse for the Canadiens as he logged 22:38 of ice time, including some power-play time. Defencemen Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry were the only Montreal skaters with more ice time.

“Phil is so important to our team,” said Chiarot. “He generates offence and plays well defensively. He takes the big faceoffs against the best players in the world.”

In this series, that means Sidney Crosby and he has owned the Penguins superstar in the faceoff circle.

As the Canadiens were clinging to their 4-3 lead Wednesday, Danault won all three faceoffs against Crosby in the final three minutes of the game. He won 15 of 19 faceoffs in Game 3 and has won 29 of 46 in the series for a success rate of 63 per cent in the series.

Canadiens’ Carey Price and Phillip Danault celebrate their 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round at Scotiabank Arena on Aug. 5, 2020 in Toronto. Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Those faceoffs are important because if Crosby doesn’t win his draws, the Penguins are unable to work their offensive magic.

There were other key players in those dying minutes. Price made a save on Crosby and Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber never left the ice after Paul Byron took a penalty and left the Canadiens shorthanded with 3:32 to play. Chiarot actually spent the final 4:30 on the ice.

“It’s something I take seriously,” said Chiarot. “Being relied on to shut a game down is a big responsibility. I try to take pride in what I’m doing. … Obviously, with the amount of dangerous players they have, you have to be super aware of what’s going on around you. Desperation is the best word to describe it. You’re doing everything you have to do, laying your body on the line, to make sure you win.”

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