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Canadiens @ Canucks recap: Habs right the ship thanks to special teams – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Having several days, and a long flight, to stew over a game in which they were nearly shut out by the NHL’s worst team, the Montreal Canadiens took to the ice needing a better performance versus the Vancouver Canucks.

Claude Julien talked about the things Nick Suzuki could do better after the loss to the Detroit Red Wings, specifically mentioning his need to get more to the inside areas of the offensive zone. The forward seemed to take that criticism to heart, as he was the player to get the first chance of the game by trying to dance around Quinn Hughes, but the Canucks defender got the better of his fellow rookie.

The comments from the coach seemed to have an effect on Suzuki’s linemate, Jordan Weal, as well. The two were working very well together on their first handful of shifts, clearly the best unit for either side in the opening period.

Just after they went to the bench following another strong shift in the offensive zone, Nate Thompson came on and immediately took a penalty. The Canadiens killed it off quite handily, helped by the puck-moving skills of Carey Price, but they weren’t so lucky on a second disadvantage.

With the puck once again in Montreal’s zone, Tomas Tatar made a great play to knock the puck off Jake Virtanen’s stick and into an open patch of ice. As the Canadiens winger raced on to the puck with plenty of ice to skate into, he was shocked to hear the whistle blow, getting a two-minute sentence after Virtanen fell on the initial takeaway.

Artturi Lehkonen had a chance to open the scoring on a short-handed rush, but his miss allowed play to return to his end. Montreal’s penalty-killers all went to one side of the ice to attempt to win the puck in a board battle, but when it was lost they were in no position to defend against shots from the opposite flank. The puck made its way to Adam Gaudette, who had space to walk into from near the top of the circle, and he picked a spot right in the top corner, over Price’s shoulder despite the goaltender staying on his feet, and the Canucks had the 1-0 lead.

Normally, Julien’s tactic to kickstart his team after a rough first period is to put the top line out and let them play a hard forechecking shift in the offensive zone. The coach went with that trio to start the middle frame, but the result wasn’t nearly what he expected, as the Canucks spent the shift in the Canadiens’ end. Once again, it was Suzuki’s line that did that job, getting the puck around the Canucks’ net, with Suzuki pulling off a delayed shot as the most dangerous look.

One of Suzuki’s linemates eventually put Montreal on the board. On the ice with Joel Armia and Max Domi, Nick Cousins found the game’s tying goal, and all three forwards played a part. Armia initially won the puck in the neutral zone, Domi gained the blue line and sent a nifty saucer pass straight ahead to Cousins, and the final touch sent the puck into the net.

Cousins’ next shift didn’t end in celebration. He was called for slashing in an attempt to prevent a clear break in on Price. The Canucks scored after a rebound had popped up high in the air, with Price unable to track it and therefore unable to get in position to block it.

Julien quickly challenged for offside, and a review that took very little time at all discovered one attacker had been a couple of feet over the blue line before the puck was, negating the goal. The infraction had still been committed by Cousins, however, so he had to spend his time in the box. Unlike the second power play the Canucks had in the first period, the Habs killed this one off so they could go back on the attack.

In the offensive zone, the Canadiens found a go-ahead goal of their own, scored off the stick of Joel Armia with Jacob Markstrom occupied with Lehkonen and one of his own defenders in his crease. After looking at the replay, Canucks coach Travis Green decided to launch a challenge of his own.

Replays seemed to show quite clearly that Lehkonen had been pushed into the goalie by defenceman Oscar Fantenberg, but the review dragged on, an ill omen for the Canadiens. Sure enough, despite seeing the video of the goal from several angles, with Lehkonen using nearly every muscle in his body to avoid toppling onto the goaltender, the decision was made to overturn the referee’s original call and wave off the goal.

The Canadiens responded decently well, with a shift in the Canucks’ zone when play eventually resumed, but for much of the remainder of the second period they were trapped in their own end as the Canucks had several chances. Price held his ground under the sudden onslaught, allowing Montreal to get re-engaged. The period came to an end with a bit of sustained pressure for the visitors, though they couldn’t find a go-ahead goal that passed the officials’ scrutiny, either.

To start the third period, the Canadiens were granted a power play just 22 seconds in; their first one after dealing with three for the Canucks in the opening 40 minutes. On that advantage, the Habs drew another one that would have sent them to a five-on-three, but Phillip Danault didn’t need the two additional bodies to make a goal happen.

Just upon hitting the ice after the very infraction that resulted in a second penalty, Danault slung the puck across the slot to Tatar. Tatar made a great fake as if he were going to go across the crease to his backhand, then pulled the puck back to his forehand just as Markstrom bit on the move, leaving the goalie unable to make the save.

With the first power play negated by the goal and the new one beginning, Shea Weber had his first one-time chance stopped, but he drifted in closer to the net as the Habs recovered his rebound. An initial pass from Domi to the captain was blocked, but a second one from Armia made its way to the destination, and Weber released the puck quickly to give the Canadiens a two-goal edge very early into the period.

A Tatar tripping penalty (this one actually deserved) gave the Canucks one last chance on the power play. The Habs may have surrendered one goal to the NHL’s fourth-best man advantage early in the game, but they locked down the two minutes Tatar was in the box to end the night killing three out of the four penalties they were given.

The Canucks’ best chance to reduce the lead came as a spinning shot got behind Price, hit the crossbar, and began rolling along the ice back toward the goal line. Ben Chairot was on the scene to tuck it safely into his goalie’s pads, ending the danger.

Vancouver called Markstrom to the bench with three minutes remaining, spending the first 60 seconds in the Canadiens’ zone but relegated to the perimeter by great defensive positioning. A quick flurry of action in the dying seconds saw pucks either blocked or turned aside by Price, and the game ended with Montreal up 3-1 on the scoreboard.

Overall it was a good night for the Canadiens on special teams, and something they should be able to build some confidence from. The defence has really turned a corner as well. Struggling to keep the puck out of their net in the opening months, they’ve yet to surrender more than three goals in the month of December, and no more than two in their past five games.

Next up is a trip to Alberta to take on a Calgary Flames team that had been doing well after a coaching change until recently. Montreal will hope to keep their offence cold when they battle at the Saddledome on Thursday night.

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Davis hits game-winning 3 at buzzer, Lakers take 2-0 lead on Nuggets – TSN

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Anthony Davis has never been this deep in the playoffs, never had the chance to take such an important shot.

It’s nothing new for the Los Angeles Lakers, though.

So when Davis’ 3-pointer swished through the net as time expired to give the Lakers a 105-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, coach Frank Vogel thought of a Laker who had done it before.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “To me, AD coming off, just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it’s a Mamba shot.”

The Lakers were wearing their Black Mamba jerseys. They were co-designed by Bryant, their Hall of Fame guard who died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash. Davis said wearing the jerseys that mean so much to the team made his winner feel even better.

“In the jersey we wore tonight, it just makes it even more special,” he said.

Davis finished with 31 points. He scored Los Angeles’ last 10 points and had 22 in the second half to help the Lakers avoid becoming the latest victim of a Denver comeback.

“Special moment for a special player. Happy to be a part of it,” said LeBron James, who had 26 points and 11 rebounds.

The Nuggets had trailed by as much as 16, but Nikola Jokic scored 11 straight Denver points down the stretch, including a basket that made it 103-102 with 20 seconds to play.

Alex Caruso then missed a 3-pointer and Jamal Murray blocked Danny Green‘s shot out of bounds with 2.1 seconds to play. Rajon Rondo inbounded under the basket and found Davis curling toward the sideline, and the All-Star forward swished it to put the Lakers halfway to the NBA Finals.

Jokic said there was miscommunication on the final play, when it appeared centre Mason Plumlee let Davis drift free believing there was going to be a switch. Jokic raced out to him, but too late.

“Great players make great shots and he did it, so he’s a really good player,” Jokic said.

Jokic had 30 points and nine assists, and Murray scored 25 points.

Game 3 is Tuesday night.

James carried the Lakers early, with 20 points in the first half. But they went more in the second half to Davis, who had 37 in an easy Game 1 victory.

This one was much tighter and appeared it would be another huge rally by the Nuggets, who were down 16, 19 and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers, when they erased a 3-1 deficit.

They had climbed all the way out this hole when Murray scored for an 87-86 lead with 7:26 to play. But Green and Rondo hit 3-pointers and, after a basket by PJ Dozier, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made another 3 to make it 95-89.

It was 100-92 after another 3 by Davis before Jokic answered with nine straight, tipping in a miss by Murray to give Denver a 101-100 edge with 31 seconds to play. Davis put the Lakers back on top with a basket in the lane, but Jokic backed him down on the other end to put the Nuggets back on top with 20 seconds remaining.

James started 5 of 6 while the rest of the Lakers missed their first 12 shots before Green’s layup 7 1/2 minutes in gave them a 14-12 lead.

The lead was five midway through the second quarter before the Lakers had an 11-0 run that featured a steal and dunk and a 3-pointer by Alex Caruso that pushed it to 52-36 with about 4 minutes remaining in the half. Denver trimmed it to 60-50 at the break.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver is 8-8 in this post-season. … Michael Porter Jr. had 15 points. … Dozier was 1 for 5 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

Lakers: Los Angeles missed nine of its first 10 shots. … Green and Caldwell-Pope both scored 11 points.

BUZZER BEATERS

The Lakers said Davis was just the seventh Laker to make a buzzer-beater in the playoffs, a list that includes Bryant. Also on the list: Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Metta World Peace.

THROUGH THIRTY

This was the 30th post-season game between the Lakers and Nuggets. The Lakers lead 23-7 and have won all six series.

___

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Anthony Davis hits buzzer-beater as Lakers grab 2-0 lead over Nuggets – Sportsnet.ca

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Anthony Davis has never been this deep in the playoffs, never had the chance to take such an important shot.

It’s nothing new for the Los Angeles Lakers, though.

So when Davis’ 3-pointer swished through the net as time expired to give the Lakers a 105-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, coach Frank Vogel thought of a Laker who had done it before.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “To me, AD coming off, just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it’s a Mamba shot.”

The Lakers were wearing their black Mamba jerseys. They were co-designed by Bryant, their Hall of Fame guard who died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash. Davis said wearing the jerseys that mean so much to the team made his winner feel even better.

“In the jersey we wore tonight, it just makes it even more special,” he said.

Davis finished with 31 points. He scored Los Angeles’ last 10 points and had 22 in the second half to help the Lakers avoid becoming the latest victim of a Denver comeback.

“Special moment for a special player. Happy to be a part of it,” said LeBron James, who had 26 points and 11 rebounds.

The Nuggets had trailed by as much as 16, but Nikola Jokic scored 11 straight Denver points down the stretch, including a basket that made it 103-102 with 20 seconds to play.

Alex Caruso then missed a 3-pointer and Jamal Murray blocked Danny Green’s shot out of bounds with 2.1 seconds to play. Rajon Rondo inbounded under the basket and found Davis curling toward the sideline, and the All-Star forward swished it to put the Lakers halfway to the NBA Finals.

Jokic said there was miscommunication on the final play, when it appeared centre Mason Plumlee let Davis drift free believing there was going to be a switch. Jokic raced out to him, but too late.

“Great players make great shots and he did it, so he’s a really good player,” Jokic said.

Jokic had 30 points and nine assists, and Murray scored 25 points.

Game 3 is Tuesday night.

James carried the Lakers early, with 20 points in the first half. But they went more in the second half to Davis, who had 37 in an easy Game 1 victory.

This one was much tighter and appeared it would be another huge rally by the Nuggets, who were down 16, 19 and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers, when they erased a 3-1 deficit.

They had climbed all the way out this hole when Murray scored for an 87-86 lead with 7:26 to play. But Green and Rondo hit 3-pointers and, after a basket by PJ Dozier, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made another 3 to make it 95-89.

It was 100-92 after another 3 by Davis before Jokic answered with nine straight, tipping in a miss by Murray to give Denver a 101-100 edge with 31 seconds to play. Davis put the Lakers back on top with a basket in the lane, but Jokic backed him down on the other end to put the Nuggets back on top with 20 seconds remaining.

James started 5 of 6 while the rest of the Lakers missed their first 12 shots before Green’s layup 7 1/2 minutes in gave them a 14-12 lead.

The lead was five midway through the second quarter before the Lakers had an 11-0 run that featured a steal and dunk and a 3-pointer by Alex Caruso that pushed it to 52-36 with about 4 minutes remaining in the half. Denver trimmed it to 60-50 at the break.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver is 8-8 in this post-season. … Michael Porter Jr. had 15 points. … Dozier was 1 for 5 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

Lakers: Los Angeles missed nine of its first 10 shots. … Green and Caldwell-Pope both scored 11 points.

BUZZER BEATERS

The Lakers said Davis was just the seventh Laker to make a buzzer-beater in the playoffs, a list that includes playoffs. Also on the list: Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Metta World Peace.

THROUGH THIRTY

This was the 30th post-season game between the Lakers and Nuggets. The Lakers lead 23-7 and have won all six series.

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Pogacar rides to victory at COVID-defying Tour de France – Sportsnet.ca

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PARIS — In a stunning performance for the ages, Tour de France rookie Tadej Pogacar won cycling’s showpiece race Sunday on the eve of his 22nd birthday, becoming the second-youngest winner of the 117-year-old event that this year braved — and overcame — France’s worsening coronavirus epidemic.

Turning him from promising prodigy into cycling superstar, Pogacar became the youngest winner since World War II and the first from Slovenia.

His victory was remarkable, too, for the way in which he sealed it: at the last possible moment, on the penultimate stage before Sunday’s finish on Paris’ Champs-Elysees. During the three-week cycling marathon over all five of France’s mountain ranges and 3,482 punishing kilometres (2,164 miles), Pogacar held the race lead and its iconic yellow jersey for just one stage — the last and most important one into Paris, with a yellow bike to match.

Pogacar KO’d the race and Slovenian countryman Primoz Roglic by snatching away the yellow jersey that he’d worn for 11 days, in a high-drama time trial Saturday.

Their 1-2 is the first for one country since British riders Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome also took the top spots at the 2012 Tour. Australian Richie Porte rounded out this year’s podium, at age 35, after his brilliant time trial that hoisted him from fourth to third overall.

Irish rider Sam Bennett won the prestigious final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, giving him his second stage win at this Tour. He also won the race’s green jersey, awarded for picking up the most points in sprints during and at the finish of stages.

With jets trailing plumes of red, white and blue smoke above the riders as they raced on the Champs-Elysees, lined with French tricolour flags, the Tour was also celebrating a victory — over the coronavirus.

When the race, delayed because of the epidemic from its usual spot in July, left the start town of Nice three weeks ago, it was unsure that riders would be able to stay virus-free to the finish.

But none of the 176 riders who started, or the 146 finishers, tested positive in multiple batteries of tests, validating the bubble measures put in place by Tour organizers to shield them from infection.

Roadside fans still cheered them on, mostly respecting riders’ pleas that they wear face masks, but were kept well away at stage starts and finishes.

The only COVID-19 positives touched a handful of team employees and the race director, even as infection numbers soared across the country.

The director was back after a week of self-isolation and, in a mask, signalled the start of Sunday’s stage at Mantes-La-Jolie west of Paris with a wave of his flag through the sunroof of his car.

Mask-wearing spectators waiting for the rumble of the riders’ arrival on the handlebar-shaking cobbles of the Champs-Elysees said holding the Tour had lit up a dark year and demonstrated that the coronavirus need not bring all life to a grinding halt, if health measures are respected. The famous boulevard lacked its usual fervour, a victim of the virus, with the usually rows-deep crowds limited to a socially distanced maximum of 5,000 people, clumped in pens by police and barriers.

But Pauline Bourbonnaud, a 22-year-old podiatry student, said it was nothing short of “an exploit, enormous” that the Tour succeeded in keeping riders virus-free. At previous Tours, she’d been roadside when they zoomed through her region in central France. But this year’s postponement to September, when she was back in Paris for her studies, allowed her to soak in the finish for the first time.

“It’s important to have events like this that are diverting. People needed the Tour after a year like this,” she said.

One of the most enthusiastic backers of the pandemic-defying Tour was also its most powerful: French President Emmanuel Macron. With his government trying to revive France’s COVID-battered economy, Macron praised the race as “the pride of the country” and an example of how it must learn to live with the virus and the restrictions it imposes.

“Even in September, the Tour de France is magic!” Macron tweeted Saturday after Pogacar crushed Roglic in the time trial.

Largely deprived of racing as the epidemic tore across the globe, and with those in lockdown only able to keep fit on home trainers, riders arrived at the Tour somewhat race-rusty but with the pent-up energy of caged hounds, their disrupted seasons reconfigured to make them peak physically on cycling’s biggest stage.

After a slow-burn start, with multiple crashes, the racing became increasingly furious. Roglic, the winner of last year’s Spanish Vuelta and a pre-Tour favourite, was backed by a powerful Jumbo-Visma team of star riders devoted to putting him in yellow — achieved on Stage 9 — and then keeping the prized jersey until Paris.

But UAE Team Emirates rider Pogacar hadn’t read their script.

He first demolished Roglic’s 57-second lead and then built his own Tour-securing margin of 59 seconds in the time trial, an incredible reversal of fortunes.

The birth of the Pogacar supernova is now set to ripple across the cycling galaxy for years to come. His future rivals are unlikely to repeat Jumbo-Visma’s mistake of allowing him to ride his way back into contention, as he did after losing time in crosswinds in the first week, when he slumped from third to 16th.

By conquering the Tour on his first attempt, Pogacar joined an elite club of rookie winners that includes, among others, the great Eddy Merckx, who ended up winning five. He unseated Egan Bernal, who was 22 when he won last year, as the Tour’s youngest champion since World War II. And he become the race’s second-youngest winner ever, behind only Henri Cornet, who was just shy of 20 when he was crowned in 1904.

The lone Canadian in the race, Hugo Houle, a support rider for the Astana Pro Team, finished 47th. The 29-year-old from Sainte-Perpetue, Que., finished 91st in last year’s Tour.

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