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‘Bubble Demko’ returns as Canucks earn one of their finest wins of the season –



“Bubble Demko” lasted only three games, and it has taken the Vancouver Canucks’ goalie much longer than that to rediscover the sublime form that briefly made him the story of the playoffs last summer in Edmonton.

On Monday, six months after he single-handedly extended the Canucks’ Stanley Cup tournament another three games against the Vegas Golden Knights, Thatcher Demko looked again like “Bubble Demko,” stopping all 27 shots for his first official NHL shutout in a 4-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

“I try to black out those memories,” Canucks defenceman Nate Schmidt, who played for Vegas against Demko in that seven-game series, said Monday when asked if his goalie’s form looked familiar. “Those are selectively deleted. But he looked fantastic tonight. He was really comfortable back there, made a lot of great plays. He looked good. . . and when we needed him to be good, we didn’t give up a whole lot of shots tonight.”

Filling in for injured starter Jacob Markstrom, Demko stopped 123 of 125 shots Vegas hammered him with over three games before the outmatched Canucks finally lost Game 7 last September.

That performance by the 24-year-old reinforced the organizational belief in him and was a factor in general manager Jim Benning’s decision in October to let Markstrom leave in free agency.

Demko lost his first three starts this season and in his first eight games had some of the poorest goaltending numbers in the NHL, allowing seven goals twice and at least four goals five times.

Like the team in front of him, Demko got a lot sharper in the second half of February. But like the team, he kept losing.

Each ended four-game losing streaks on Monday, when the Canucks scored three first-period deflection goals and, for a change, maintained the flow of oxygen to their brains after recent two- and three-goal collapses against the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Jets.

“You’re just trying to get the win and just take one shot at a time,” Demko said. “I thought the guys played really solid tonight. First two periods, I didn’t see much. Obviously, they were going to push. . . and try and claw their way back in the game there in the third. I thought we did a good job handling that and playing the right way for a full 60.”

Still possessing the third-worst defensive record in the league, allowing 3.4 goals per game, the Canucks limited the Jets to just 12 shots in the first two periods. Winnipeg had 15 shots in the third, when Demko’s confidence and positional efficiency were most evident.

It was his fourth start in five games, and seventh in nine. Clearly, coach Travis Green believes in the goalie who has seized the No. 1 spot from veteran Braden Holtby. In his last six starts, Demko’s save percentage is .931.

“I think it’s a lot of just learning,” he said. “There’s a tonne of things that I was picking up on, and you kind of just learn how to manage everything day to day. Obviously, playing is nice and getting into a rhythm, like you said. But I’ve just got to continue to work and continue to grow here, and continue trying to help the team win.”

The Jets and Canucks play again Tuesday night.

“His game is growing,” Green said. “Much like our team, I don’t think he had the best start to the season. But he has worked hard on his game. I think the team’s playing better in front of him, and he’s given us some real solid goaltending here and it’s good to see.

“I think he’s been working hard with Clarkie (goaltending coach Ian Clark) not just on his game but on the mental part. He’s been in a good place even though we haven’t won as many games as we would like to or he’d like to.”

Point shots by Schmidt 18 seconds apart early in the first period both ended up behind Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, giving the Canucks a 2-0 lead. The first one deflected off Winnipeg forward Andrew Copp at 8:28, and the second was deftly tipped in by Vancouver winger J.T. Miller.

Rookie Nils Hoglander, redeployed at even-strength to the third line with Brandon Sutter and Adam Gaudette, tipped in a Tyler Myers shot at 14:50 – just the second power-play goal this season for the Canucks’ second unit.

Elias Pettersson, used by Green to defend the lead after Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice lifted his goalie for an extra attacker with 5:22 remaining, skated the puck into an empty net with 3:34 to go.

“It’s always important, I think, when things aren’t going your way to find a way to win,” Green said. “When you get up like that early in the game, you know, the game’s not over. I liked how we just stuck with our game. We stayed focused, we didn’t take any penalties, and we played a solid 60 minutes of hockey.”

It was one of the Canucks’ finest hours in a season when they haven’t had enough of them.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel



AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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