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Blue Jays’ depth and resilience will be tested without Bichette – Sportsnet.ca

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Saturday, as his dugout slowly pooled with rainwater, and it became eminently clear his Toronto Blue Jays would have to resume that night’s suspended game the next day before playing another and catching a flight out of town, someone told Charlie Montoyo his best player had “felt something” in his right knee.

“We’re going through a series of tests right now,” Montoyo said Sunday. “And part of the tests is an MRI to see what he’s got. So, that’s the news this morning.”

The news did not get better. After dropping their first game of the day to the Rays, 3-2, the Blue Jays announced Bichette was being placed on the 10-day injured list with a right knee sprain. Not great, guys. Not great at all.

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Bichette — one of Toronto’s best young players, if not one of baseball’s — leaves a crater at the top of Montoyo’s lineup and at a premium defensive position on the diamond. The Blue Jays manager didn’t want to speculate as to the severity of Bichette’s injury Sunday morning, opting to await test results before commenting further. But you don’t typically go for an MRI when everything feels fine.

“He felt it right before he went to hit. He was stretching a little bit and that’s when he felt it,” Montoyo said. “I’m going to wait to see all the tests and see where we’ll go from there. I don’t really know any more than what I just told you. He’s going through all the tests. So, we’ll see what the MRI says and all that stuff.”

To say that Bichette has been Toronto’s most important player to this point in the season would not be an exaggeration. He leads the team in hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He has a hit in 13 of his 14 games, with homers in four of his past five.

And — incredibly — you can make a case he’s been unlucky, as his .433 wOBA falls more than 30 points below his .465 xwOBA, a metric that attempts to predict what a player’s offensive production ought to look like based on the quality of contact he’s been making.

Saturday, Randal Grichuk said he believes Bichette “has a very good chance to be the best Blue Jays hitter ever” and, considering how things have gone over his first 60 games in the uniform, it’s not an absurd thing to say.

Bichette’s hitting. 322/.365/.596 over his first 276 career plate appearances, with a 152 OPS+. His 83 hits are the most of any Blue Jay in their first 60 games and he’s one of only three players in the history of the game to put up 38 extra-base hits over their first 59 career contests.

It’s just a huge loss for a team that now has only four regulars in its batting order boasting an above-average OPS+. Teoscar Hernandez is having a dynamite year; Cavan Biggio has reached base steadily; and Rowdy Tellez and Travis Shaw have each had their moments when in the lineup. But Bichette was carrying a massive load for this offence and the run generation his 1.065 OPS brought will not be easy to replace.

Of course, this is happening right across the league. As of Sunday morning, 191 players were on the MLB injured list, including some of the sport’s biggest names, such as Justin Verlander, Aroldis Chapman and Josh Donaldson.

Aaron Judge, MLB’s home run leader through Friday, joined them this weekend with a calf issue. Same for Ronald Acuna Jr., one of the game’s brightest young stars, who’s out with a wrist problem. And Stephen Strasburg, who has carpal tunnel neuritis.

The list, quite literally, goes on. Baseball players are extremely routine-oriented athletes — ones that have been preparing for 162-game seasons in highly specified and meticulous fashions for their entire adult lives. But pandemic baseball has demanded that they prepare differently, and more quickly, than ever before ahead of an accelerated campaign that will stress them in ways they are unaccustomed to. And the toll it’s taking on their bodies is evident.

Livestream Toronto Blue Jays games all season with Sportsnet NOW. Plus, watch marquee MLB matchups, the post-season and World Series.

It was all so predictable. And, unfortunately, it’s unlikely the Blue Jays have seen the last of it. The club is scheduled to play eight games this week, and 25 over the next 24 days. And at no point during that stretch are they in the same city for more than six nights. This week, the club starts in Buffalo, heads to Baltimore for three days, returns to Buffalo for one, and then goes off to Florida for four.

It’s a grueling schedule, one that will stretch players both physically and mentally. More bumps and bruises are bound to develop. Toronto’s depth will be tested, as was already the case Sunday with Hatch taking over a game in the fourth inning, trying to get as many outs as possible, with Sam Gaviglio, Julian Merryweather and Sean Reid-Foley all waiting on the taxi squad, available to be activated if needed for the second game of the day later that afternoon.

But if baseball players, baseball fans and humans in general have grown accustomed to anything in 2020, it’s bad things happening. And the need for resilience. As much as its thanks to his innate talent, Bichette’s gangbusters season is a product of the tenacity and perseverance he’s displayed over his young life in the game. And for however long they’re without him, the Blue Jays will have to display a bit of their own.

“I’m more impressed with his work ethic and how hard he works than what he’s doing on the field,” Montoyo said of Bichette. “It’s not luck. People are good because they work hard. And he’s one of those guys.”

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Stamkos remains out of Lightning lineup for Game 5 vs. Stars – Sportsnet.ca

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The Tampa Bay Lightning could win the Stanley Cup on Saturday night with a Game 5 victory over the Dallas Stars, but they’ll have to do it without Steven Stamkos.

Tampa’s captain suited up in Game 3, but was declared unfit to play for Friday’s Game 4 victory. Before Game 5, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Stamkos will not play on Saturday. However, earlier Cooper did not rule him out for the remainder of the series, should Dallas stave off elimination Saturday.

Stamkos has missed the entirety of the Lightning’s post-season run due to an injury suffered before the club reconvened from the season’s pause to begin training. Managing only 2:47 minutes of ice-time during Game 3, Stamkos made an immediate impact upon returning to the lineup, scoring the second goal of the Bolts’ eventual 5-2 win just seven minutes into the tilt.

Stamkos posted 29 goals and 66 points through 57 regular-season games in 2019-20, dominating before being forced to the sidelines with a core muscle injury.

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Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final – NHL

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Boosted by the long-awaited and “inspirational” return of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from all three of their first-line forwards, their top defenseman and their captain in a threee-goal win to move within two wins of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. For the second straight game, Tampa jumped out to a multi-goal first-period lead before the Stars got on the board. The Dallas Stars cut the deficit to one entering the second period, but the middle frame was all Lightning, outscoring Dallas 3-0 in large part thanks to a 21-4 shot differential.

After Game 2, Kevin Shattenkirk said, “when we play our best game it’s hard for teams to win.” In Game 3, Tampa played one of its best games this postseason, getting major contributions from its usual suspects in the top line trio and Hedman and also a quantifiable (one goal from Stamkos) and unquantifiable lift from the return of its captain.

The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov carried the day once again, combining for three goals and six points in Game 3, their second straight game with four-plus points. Point leads all players this postseason with 11 goals and with Palat and Hedman also reaching double-digit goals in Game 3, the trio make Tampa the first team in a decade to have three players with 10-plus goals in the same postseason.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Tyler Seguin has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28-year-old has now gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span (which was six games ago). His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado

Along with Seguin, some of Dallas’ other forwards have been quiet recently as well:

Jamie Benn: Zero points this series after ending West Final on a three-game goal streak
Denis Gurianov: Zero points, three shots this series (OT goal and assist in series-clincher vs. Vegas)
Alex Radulov: Zero goals, three assists this series

Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967-present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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Stars have no choice but to believe after gut-wrenching OT loss in Game 4 – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — It was what so many Game 4s turn out to be. The fact was, the Tampa Bay Lightning could lose and still win the series. The Dallas Stars could not.

If the Stars couldn’t turn this Stanley Cup their way in Game 4 on Friday, in a game that meant everything to their Cup dreams, then they wouldn’t be able to turn it at all.

You can’t lose three of four against a team like Tampa, look yourself in the mirror the next day and say, “you’re going to beat the Lightning three games in a row,” and believe the guy talking to you.

Well, that’s where the Stars find themselves after a game in which everyone played as hard as they could play — they scored four times, yet lost 5-4 on a Kevin Shattenkirk power-play goal in overtime.

“I think we’ve got more,” said a defiant Tyler Seguin, who was simply fantastic for the full 66:34. “We would have won if we got everything out of everybody.

“I believe in the team, believe in the boys. We’ve got another level here.”

What choice does he have? What choice do any of them have?

“We’ll bounce back,” said head coach Rick Bowness, roughly 20 hours before puck drop in Game 5 on a rare set of back-to-back games in this COVID Cup. “I have full faith in our hockey club. We will fight back. We will bounce back and we’re going to play (Saturday) like we played tonight.”

This was, undoubtedly, a fine effort wasted by Dallas. Perhaps their finest in this Final.

On how many nights are they going to pin a minus-3 on stud defenceman Victor Hedman? Or pump three of their first nine shots past annual Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy?

How many more times can the Stars ask 36-year-old Joe Pavelski for two goals? Or get as stunning an effort by Seguin, who had two assists, three shots on goal and was an amazing 70 per cent in the circle?

“That’s his best game of the playoffs,” Bowness said of Seguin, whose lack of production has been rightly criticized up ’til now.

As playoff games go, this surely was not one of those nights when you walk out of the rink wondering who officiated the game, as the zebra tandem of Kelly Sutherland and Francis Charron had a bit of an adventure for three periods and overtime.

The pair missed some calls on Tampa early, including an inadvertent trip by Tyler Johnson that sent Roope Hintz into the boards so hard that he did not return. Then, with 29 seconds left in regulation, Corey Perry jabbed his stick into Brayden Point’s private parts, and somehow Sutherland called Perry for interference and Point for embellishment.

Seguin drew a legit penalty early in OT when he drove the net for a scoring chance, and the Lightning managed to kill a lengthy 4-on-3 and the remaining 5-on-4 disadvantage. Then Benn got a tad overzealous in a battle with Johnson 5:10 in overtime, and he gave Charron a chance to raise his arm.

Shattenkirk would score on the ensuing power play, and that might just be it for the Stars, who went down with their captain in the box.

“I see it. It’s in front of Kelly (Sutherland),” replayed Pavelski. “He’s got a great look at it, and the back ref (Charron) calls it.

“I don’t have a ton of time for a play where Tyler Johnson steps in front of Jamie Benn and has no real effect on the play,” the veteran continued. “There’s a battle going on there. It’s playoffs. It’s overtime. We expect 5-on-5, to battle it out.”

You hear it every year. All a hockey player asks for is a chance to decide it for themselves, but by taking the penalty, perhaps that’s exactly what Benn did.

“The players want to play 5-on-5 and let’s see what happens. The players are right,” said a disappointed Bowness. “I saw two guys going after a loose puck. Their guy hooking our guy and our guy trying to fight through the hook. That’s a hockey play. Two guys, in the playoffs, going for a loose puck.”

What Bowness also saw was his own power-play unit with a chance to end the game earlier in OT, and it failed.

“We had the 4-on-3. You have to put the puck in the net — simple as that,” he admitted. “Our power play had a chance to end the game and they didn’t get it done.”

They didn’t get it done.

Every year, whether in spring or fall, we say that about one of the teams fortunate enough to make it this far.

The guy in the Stars’ mirror Saturday morning is telling them they can still get it done. That being down 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t a death sentence.

It says here, fat chance.

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