Boston Bruins players and coaches learned that Tuukka Rask was opting out of the Stanley Cup playoffs and returning home for family reasons only a few hours before Game 3 of their series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“We found out shortly before departure of the bus,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “Obviously, our first concern is the health and safety of his family, that’s the most important thing we’re all kind of thinking about and we support Tuukka’s decision. There’s nothing more important than your family.”
“It is a bit of a shocker at first,” admitted head coach Bruce Cassidy. “You know, it’s your starting goaltender that’s a terrific goaltender.”
The absence of Rask, who helped the team reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last year and was nominated for the Vezina Trophy this season, didn’t faze the veteran Bruins, who beat the Hurricanes 3-1 to seize a 2-1 lead in the series. Jaroslav Halak made 29 saves.
“The message, ‘We’re not going to change the way we play no matter who’s in net,'” said Cassidy. “We’ve proven that with Jaro here for the last two years. We know he’s a capable goaltender … It wasn’t going to be the end of the world to have Jaro in there. I mean, we wish Tuukka well with his family, but we’re here to take care of business.”
While the news was jarring, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Rask was candid in a media session following Game 2 on Thursday night when he called the atmosphere without fans “dull” and compared it to an exhibition game. And Bruins management knew Rask, a father of three girls including a newborn, had reservations about leaving home.
“He had been trying to battle through it,” said general manager Don Sweeney. “During the course of the time up here it’s been increasingly more and more difficult for Tuukka to mentally stay where he needs to be and ultimately he made the decision that he felt he had to be in a different place … I think we all understand that these are trying times for everybody.”
“I don’t judge anyone that’s making that decision,” said Patrice Bergeron, who also has three kids at home. “It’s not easy. Thank God for technology and FaceTime and having the support of your teammates, that goes a long way.”
Cassidy had a couple conversations with Rask during training camp about his situation and mindset.
“He made the decision to come so I assumed everything was good at home, but you know deep down that there may be a possibility [he leaves]. But you can’t dwell on that,” Cassidy said. “We have a team to get ready. I know it sounds cold, but the professional part of it is we have to get a team ready to play for the Stanley Cup and then still be there for Tuukka for whatever he needs.”
Sweeney said the team looks forward to having Rask back for next season.
Halak hasn’t been the starter for a playoff team since 2015 when he posted a .926 save percentage with the Islanders in a seven-game loss to the Washington Capitals.
“He’s a proven goalie,” observed Chara, a fellow Slovak who has played with Halak at international events. “He’s shown a number of times that he can handle these situations.”
“Jaro is a popular guy and they know his abilities,” said Cassidy. “Now, it could be his turn to have a nice run. Maybe this is Jaro’s year.”
Halak authored a magical run in the playoffs back in 2010 when he helped the underdog Montreal Canadiens reach the Eastern Conference final. Overall, he has a sparkling .923 save percentage in 32 NHL playoff appearances. Halak also posted a .941 save percentage in helping Team Europe reach the final at the 2016 World Cup, which was played in Toronto.
Halak said he had no idea the Rask decision was coming, but the 35-year-old was sharp early in the first period as the Hurricanes outshot the Bruins 15-7. It was his first game since Aug. 2.
“It’s really hot out there,” Halak observed, “having those shots in the beginning helped me get into the game, but at the same time it’s just really humid. We’re all in the same situation so no complaints. We found a way today, that’s the bottom line.”
“Proud of Jaro answering the call on short notice,” said Cassidy.
The only hiccup for Halak came in the third period when he gifted a goal to Nino Niederreiter with a brutal giveaway. The goal brought the Hurricanes, who had been scuffling, within one goal at 2-1.
“Right away on the bench Brad Marchand stands up, ‘Hey, that’s not going to hurt us. We’re fine. We’re playing well,'” said Cassidy. “And the whole bench was like that. There was no collective letdown. We knew we were playing our game from the second period on. The first period we bent, but didn’t break.”
Boston was playing a second straight game without leading goal scorer David Pastrnak, who watched from the stands. The Bruins haven’t scored a five-on-five goal with the top-line winger out of the lineup and Anders Bjork, who was whistled for three penalties on Saturday, failed to make an impact while skating alongside Bergeron and Marchand.
But, as Halak noted, Boston continues to find a way.
“We had different guys stepping up today,” said Chara. “It’s up to all of us to raise our game and be there for each other. We have to go through different adversities throughout the playoffs, that’s just a part of it, and we faced [more] today.”
The Hurricanes are facing big-time adversity after Andrei Svechnikov left the game following an awkward collision with Chara in the third period. His right leg twisted underneath him and Svechnikov didn’t put any weight on it as he left the ice.
“Right now, it’s tough,” said coach Rod Brind’Amour, “because you see a kid go down and that injury looks really bad so that’s all that’s going through my head. I hate it for him. You know, that’s it, I can’t really comment on anything else, to be honest with you.”
The 20-year-old Russian had a goal and an assist in the Game 2 win over Boston and is second on the Hurricanes in playoff scoring with seven points in six games.
The injury made Saturday’s loss all the more painful.
“We let off the gas a little and that team’s too good,” said Brind’Amour. “If you give them an inch they’re taking a mile and then they got their game going and we never got to our game the rest of the game. I mean, it was a miracle we were still in it toward the end.”
Carolina’s power play was a big problem on Saturday going 1/5 and surrendering a shorthanded goal. The one goal came on the Halak giveaway. What’s wrong on the man advantage?
“Well, you wouldn’t have enough time,” Brind’Amour said. “We were just sluggish. We actually had a good one in the first period and hit the post. Our entries haven’t been crisp enough and, again, you’re facing one of the best teams for a reason and if you’re not sharp it’s going to look like that. The power play today kind of epitomized our game. We were just sluggish and not first to anything and not quite doing anything right so you add all those things up and it was lucky we were hanging around at the end of the game.”
Alex Ovechkin was asked what happened when he missed a wide open net during a third period power play on Friday night. The Capitals captain, who scored 48 goals to tie with Pastrnak for the league lead in the regular season, mustered a weak smile.
“It was bad pass by Kuzy,” Ovechkin said glancing at Evgeny Kuznetsov who stared ahead while seated at the post-game podium. “No, I just missed the net. S–t happens.”
Even the greatest goal scorers miss every so often, but that was a big miss. The Capitals trailed 3-2 at the time and the stingy Islanders know how to lock things down. Sure enough, Washington couldn’t apply much pressure the rest of the way falling into an 0-2 hole in the series.
“We know we all have to play better, it starts with me,” said Ovechkin, who scored both Capitals goals on Friday.
“He had a strong game,” coach Todd Reirden said. “We need more players like him who are playing to their top level.”
The Capitals finished second in goals per game in the regular season (3.42), but have managed to put only four pucks in the net through two games against the Islanders.
“We’ve been in this situation,” said Ovechkin referencing an 0-2 deficit the team faced in the first round of the 2018 playoffs against Columbus. “We know how to fight and how to play. I believe in this group and we all believe in each other. There’s no panicking. We know our strength and what we have to do to bounce back.”
The Capitals are very familiar with the tactics employed by Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who guided Washington to the Stanley Cup in 2018.
“We know the system,” said Ovechkin. “We watched the video and we all know how to play against those kind of teams. We have to play better. We have plenty of skill and character in the locker room. It’s not over yet.”
But adjustments must be made to generate more offence.
“It starts off [with] putting the puck behind the opposition defence for a full game,” Reirden said. “We’ve done it in both the first period of Game 1 and 2 and we’re just not able to do it for 60 minutes. We lose momentum through penalties and other things. It’s important we do that for 60 minutes and are able to impose our will on the opposition. If you don’t do that then you’ll spend a lot of time on the perimeter so, for us and how our team is built, that’s what we have to get to, putting pucks in places where our team can get in and have an effect on the forecheck and from there we can break them down, because they won’t be in structure and we’ll be able to get to the interior a little bit more.”
Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom (concussion protocol) was on the ice Saturday after missing Game 2.
“Everyone was on the ice today including Nick at the end there and we’ll see how everyone’s doing tomorrow morning,” Reirden said.
U.S. cyclist Chloe Dygert injured in horrific crash at road worlds – CANOE
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Her team car immediately came to her aid and she was treated by paramedics. It was unclear initially how badly she was hurt although USA Cycling tweeted that she was conscious and talking.
“We are in contact with our coaches and Chloe’s team on the ground in Italy. We will post a report on her condition as soon as we have absolute clear confirmation as to her condition,” USA Cycling said in a statement.
Images posted on social media showed Dygert being taken away from the scene on a stretcher with a drip attached.
Olympic road race champion Van der Breggen, who finished second behind Dygert last year in Harrogate when the American won by a record margin, claimed victory in 40:20.14, 15 seconds quicker than Swiss Marlen Reusser with Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) in third place.
“Getting second (in the TT) for many years, I would say that I really can’t believe it yet,” Van der Breggen said.
The championships were originally scheduled to be held in Aigle-Martigny in Switzerland but were moved to Imola because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Action continues on Friday with the men’s elite time trial.
MLB playoff push: Blue Jays can clinch with win over Yankees Thursday – Sportsnet.ca
One year after losing 95 games, the Toronto Blue Jays are on the brink of their first playoff appearance in four years. And this time, they don’t need help from anyone else to clinch.
With Hyun Jin Ryu slated to face the New York Yankees Thursday evening, the Blue Jays’ magic number is finally down to one. A win would eliminate the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners and assure the Blue Jays the last available American League playoff berth. On the mound, there’s no one Toronto would rather have pitching than Ryu, whose 3.00 ERA has been instrumental in the team’s success.
Watch live Thursday on Sportsnet, SN1 and SN NOW as the Blue Jays look to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Yankees. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT with Blue Jays Central.
Considering where the Blue Jays were a year ago, they weren’t considered a playoff favourite entering the season, but they’ve overcome injuries to get this far – all while playing at their triple-A park. And while the Blue Jays would undoubtedly be underdogs should they advance, anything can happen in a three-game series. First things first, though – they have to get there.
Here’s a closer look at where Toronto stands in the MLB playoff picture…
If the playoffs began today
The top two teams in each division make the playoffs along with the top remaining two teams from each league for a total of 16 playoff teams. Those 16 teams will then face off in eight best-of-three series that precede the League Division Series.
If the post-season began today, these eight American League teams would qualify:
No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays vs. No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays
No. 2 Oakland Athletics vs. No. 7 Cleveland Indians
No. 3 Minnesota Twins vs. No. 6 Houston Astros
No. 4 Chicago White Sox vs. No. 5 New York Yankees
And these eight National League teams would qualify:
No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. No. 8 Cincinnati Reds
No. 2 Atlanta Braves vs. No. 7 San Francisco Giants
No. 3 Chicago Cubs vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins
No. 4 San Diego Padres vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals
How seeding works in 2020: According to MLB, the top three seeds in each league go to the three division winners in order of record. The next three seeds go to the three teams that finish second in their division, in order of record. The final two seeds will go to the two teams with the next best records, regardless of division.
This season, Dan picks an issue, trend, news item or story from around MLB, and digs in on it with a guest. And he does it five times a week for about 15 minutes a day. Enough time to inform and entertain, but also get fans back to all the sports going on.
In striking distance
In the American League, only two teams outside the top eight have a chance of advancing to the playoffs and both will need everything to go right to qualify. The Angels (26-31) and Mariners (25-31) are both off Thursday, but a Blue Jays win would eliminate those AL West teams. Even if the Blue Jays lose Thursday, the Angels and Mariners will still be a single loss away from elimination as they enter their weekend series against the Dodgers and Athletics, respectively.
Meanwhile, in the National League, there are still eight teams in the mix for the final four spots. The Phillies (28-29) and Brewers (27-28) are just one game behind the Giants (28-27) and Reds (29-28), putting lots of pressure on San Francisco and Cincinnati. Even the Mets (25-31) and Rockies (24-31) are still technically in the mix, though they’d need some help to advance.
Blue Jays’ FanGraphs odds: 99.8% | Blue Jays’ FiveThirtyEight odds: more than 99%
Angels’ FanGraphs odds: 1.5% | Angels’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 1%
Mariners’ FanGraphs odds: 0.1% | Mariners’ FiveThirtyEight odds: less than 1%
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
The Blue Jays will send Ryu to the mound Thursday evening while the Yankees will counter with Jordan Montgomery. Once the Yankees leave town, the Baltimore Orioles will arrive in Buffalo for three games to wrap up the regular season. Of course if all goes well for the Blue Jays Thursday, that series against the Orioles will merely be a tune-up for the playoffs.
Esposito, Gainey celebrate legacies with Stars, Lightning in Cup Final – NHL.com
The 2020 championship series being played at Rogers Place in Edmonton is the first Stanley Cup Final between two Sun Belt teams, each aiming for its second title.
Watching on TV from his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, Gainey is pulling for the Stars, having arrived in Dallas in 1993 as GM of a relocated team that had been founded as the Minnesota North Stars as part of the NHL’s 1967 six-team expansion.
Bob Gainey behind the Dallas Stars bench.
It was Gainey who from the mid-to-late 1990s built Dallas into a Stanley Cup contender, then hit the pot of gold with the 1999 team going all the way.
“I’m happy to see the Stars where they are now,” said Gainey, who won five championships while playing his entire 1,160-game NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens. “I know that their fans in the Dallas area and those who follow them from afar are happy to see them there and they deserve to be there. They’re a really good team.
“I have the lucky situation where I could have a team in each conference and that would give me two horses in the race. I wouldn’t be in a danger zone unless the Canadiens and Stars ended up in the Final against each other.”
From a makeshift broadcast studio in Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena, where he’s doing radio color commentary, Esposito loudly proclaims himself to be a fierce fan of the Lightning, having been a driving force in bringing the expansion team to Florida in 1992.
In Tampa Bay’s fledgling days, Esposito was team president, general manager and chief marketer, selling sponsorships, tickets and pretty much everything except arena beer.
The native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, played 1,282 games between 1963-81 for the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, winning the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972 with the Bruins. He was a Lightning radio broadcaster when the team won its Cup in 2004.
Bob Gainey (left) and Phil Esposito early in their NHL careers.
As they now pull for their respective sides, Gainey, 66, and Esposito, 78, take great pride in the roles they played in building the Stars and Lightning, cherishing memories of importing the NHL into non-traditional hockey markets.
Gainey was coach and GM of the North Stars when the team moved south to begin the 1993-94 season, having coached and managed the team in Minnesota after cutting his coaching teeth in France in 1989-90, diving in immediately upon his NHL retirement as a player.
If Texas had a rich minor pro hockey history dating to the 1940s, the NHL would be a different product, one that hoped to share a crowded stage dominated by the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, baseball’s Texas Rangers and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
“It was an unknown for me and for many of us who were involved,” Gainey said of the move. “We learned quickly more than 25 years ago that Dallas is a very avid sports-minded community. And people came to our games. The business community gave us a chance. They said, ‘This is a new entity, why not? This could be good.’ It took a lot of work by the parts of the organization that were trying to establish ticket and sponsorship sales. But eventually we got there, and we had a very, very good relationship with the community.”
Esposito, who was GM of the Rangers from 1986-89, had been feeling out the expansion process in the early 1990s when then-NHL President John Ziegler told him to stay away from Texas. Esposito had his eye on Florida anyway, and believed that the North Stars might be headed to Houston, his goaltending brother Tony’s final minor-pro stop on his way to the NHL.
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Phil Esposito with defenseman Roman Hamrlik, the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NHL Draft.
He recalls playing golf in Orlando when he took a call inviting him to Tampa to meet with high-profile lawyer Henry Paul, who ultimately would be a Lightning co-founder.
“As I’m driving into the city, there are no buildings. No buildings!” Esposito said. “I’m saying to myself, ‘Where are the buildings? How can this be the 12th largest television market in the country?’ I didn’t know anything about St. Pete, Clearwater, Bradenton or Brandon, where we’d have fans. I didn’t know anything about Tampa then. All I knew was that they had the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they weren’t very good. I thought we could steal a lot of their business.
“I went to Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville before deciding to come to Tampa. The decision was clear as a bell to me. I asked Henry Paul in our very first meeting, ‘Do you think hockey can survive in this area?’ Henry said, ‘Well, Phil, we love football, (NASCAR) car crashes, boxing and wrestling. Seems to me you’ve got all of that in hockey.’ I said, ‘I’m going for it, are you with me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ That’s how it started — myself, Henry and our partner Mel Lowell.”
Gainey looks back fondly at the Stars 1999 Stanley Cup championship team, one that he helped assemble.
From left, Bob Gainey, Marcel Dionne and Lanny McDonald with the Hall of Fame rings as members of the Class of 1992.
“We were able to pick up a player like Joe Nieuwendyk, for instance,” he said, the future Hall of Fame center acquired by trade from the Calgary Flames in 1995 for forwards Jarome Iginla and Corey Millen. “Free-agency arrived, and we found Pat Verbeek (in 1996) and Ed Belfour (1997). We learned how to win over two or three years of playoffs where we were eliminated — by Edmonton early (seven-game 1997 Western Conference Quarter-Finals), then a disappointing loss deeper in the playoffs to Detroit (six-game 1998 conference final). But those are the things that ultimately take you up to the next level of competition and allow you to really compete for the Cup.
“In 1999, we won our first game of the year, started the season in first place and didn’t leave it to win the Stanley Cup,” Gainey said. “It was an end-to-end commitment by the team and players to accomplish what had just been out of our reach the previous couple of years.”
It was the Stars’ championship parade, modest by most standards, that Gainey says was one of his most enjoyable and rewarding moments in Dallas.
“I realized that we had a cross-section of the whole city that was really enjoying the team’s success,” he said. “For me, that was the message that we weren’t just a flash like a sports team that enters a market and stays for a little while then leaves. We’d penetrated deeper and broader and the franchise, handled properly, could be there for a long time.”
Brothers Phil and Tony Esposito play a 1970s table hockey game bearing their names.
More than 1,000 miles to the east, Esposito remembers delegating many of the Lightning roster decisions to his brother, Tony, whom he brought in as director of player personnel.
“I was busy selling tickets,” he said. “Tony would come to me and ask for my opinion and I’d just say, ‘Brother, do what you think is right, that’s fine with me.’
“I remember the first couple years, people up in Canada and the Boston and New York area saying that I was a raving (expletive) lunatic for trying to put hockey in Florida. I just didn’t understand it. I think it was the ego of the Canadian media that couldn’t deal with it. The fact is, you play indoors. You keep the building at 69 or 70 degrees and the ice is fine.”
It’s with fatherly pride that Esposito supports the Lightning, and he gets a kick out of fans asking him whether he cheers for the Bruins, with whom he enjoyed his greatest playing success as a fearsome, record-setting sniper, or Tampa Bay.
“I tell them, ‘Are you kidding me? I gave birth to the Lightning. There’s no question. None,’ ” he said. “If the Lightning were out of the playoffs and Boston was still in, yeah, I’d probably cheer for Boston a little bit.
“Of course, I’m pulling for the Lightning. I’d love to see them win the Cup for (owner) Jeff Vinik and for the fans. It’ll make it even better around here. What’s going on downtown is amazing. And you know what? There are buildings in Tampa now. Lots of them.”
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