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Canadiens @ Flames game recap: Resilient Habs win in comeback fashion – Habs Eyes on the Prize



Of the four teams the Montreal Canadiens were scheduled to play on a pre-Christmas road trip, the Calgary Flames were the hottest, sporting an 8-2-1 record over their previous 11 games. Both of the regulation losses had come in the two most recent games, so the Habs were arriving in Calgary at a good time to take on what is a fairly well constructed squad.

There wasn’t much room for either team to work in the opening 20 minutes. Checking was tight in the first period, with a lot of play in the neutral zone and few quality chances around the nets.

It was after some of that closely contested play that the game’s first goal was scored. Jeff Petry took the puck away from a Flames forward behind his goal line by marking him closely. Attempting to break the puck up the wall moments later, Petry’s passing motion was thrown off by contact with an opponent, and it didn’t go to the intended teammate, but right onto the stick of Elias Lindholm in the slot instead. All of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, and Brendan Gallagher scrambled into defensive positions, but the Flames remained calm, and Brady Tkachuk was picked out on the opposite post to capitalize on the turnover.

Montreal’s best chances of the period came from the third line. First a two-on-one with Nick Cousins and Nick Suzuki saw the former hold the puck to move right into the slot for a shot, getting denied by goaltender David Rittich. A quick forward pass from Carey Price after a Flames dump-in found Suzuki in the neutral zone on a later shift, and the rookie got into the zone for a shot, but had the puck clank off the base of the post.

As momentum seemed to be shifting with a bit of sustained pressure from Montreal, Danault had the puck get behind him at the attacking blue line, and his effort to immediately sweep it away from a Flames player led to a trip instead, putting the Flames on a late power play. The man advantage had plenty of quick passing, and Calgary doubled its lead by making not one, but two passes right across the slot. Johnny Gaudreau moved the puck from the left side to Tkachuk on the right flank of the zone, forcing the defence to shift its focus. The Habs were then unable to react when Tkachuk sent the puck to Lindholm at the back post, and the Flames had a two-goal edge with just eight seconds remaining in the period.

Montreal had a couple of offensive flurries in the opening minutes of the second, but it was a relatively harmless play that created their first goal of the night. After Shea Weber had pinched down below the goal line to play the puck — as he is wont to do this season — the captain moved it over to Gallagher at the side boards. Gallagher saw Danault in front of the net and sent the puck in his direction, but the shot got through the netminder on its own, bringing Gallagher’s goal total up to 15, weeks ahead of the midpoint of the season.

Four minutes later, the Habs had another. Artturi Lehkonen collected the puck at the Flames’ blue line, entered the zone, and passed off to Joel Armia. Armia showed off the powerful release we’ve been seeing a lot this season, blasting the puck into the net so hard only the referee standing below the goal line saw it actually cross the line.

Flames head coach Geoff Ward challenged the play, as Lehkonen had crossed the blue line backwards with his feet entering the zone before the puck. After review, the linesman determined that the forward had been in control of the puck at the time, making player and puck a single unit as far as the offside rules are concerned, and the goal was allowed to stand.

Since they lost the challenge, the Flames were forced to serve a minor penalty for wasting everyone’s time. Montreal didn’t really do much with that power play, but they also didn’t allow Calgary to regroup. After more solid play once the game returned to five-on-five, with some great displays of talent from Ryan Poehling, they soon drew another man advantage. Despite the best efforts of Suzuki on the right-side boards, making passes and taking shots of his own while acting as the quarterback, a third goal wasn’t in the cards.

With the game tied, the Flames held a slight edge to open the third period. At the five-minute mark, Mikey Reilly and Tobias Rieder got into a jousting match in Montreal’s end, both getting time in the box and sending the game to four-on-four.

The open space nearly allowed Montreal to grab their first lead of the night. Armia went in alone on a breakaway, and got a good low shot away, but was denied by Rittich. Brett Kulak’s follow-up shot was aimed for the far corner, but the trajectory was off, sending the puck around the boards. Max Domi tried to ensure the sequence would continue, but that’s about as deep as his thought process seemed to go. He tried to stickhandle around three defenders, and when he realized that wasn’t going to work he tried to lay the puck across to where he hoped a teammate was stationed, but found the stick of Noah Hanifin instead.

The Flames rushed the other way, with Johnny Gaudreau speeding into the zone, pulling up along the boards, and finding Oliver Kylington racing up with a head of steam. Gaudreau fed his defenceman, and Kylington notched his first goal of the year to put his side back on top.

It could have been the back-breaker for a Habs team that had already been forced to overcome a two-goal deficit, but that wasn’t the case. With eight minutes to play in regulation, Suzuki engaged in a bit of fencing with Derek Ryan at the top of the crease to get his stick on top. It proved to be a key manoeuvre, because moments later a shot-pass came in from Cousins, and Suzuki was able to rotate his blade to the perfect angle to deflect the puck over Rittich’s shoulder but still under the crossbar, tying the game with his seventh goal of the year.

As time wound down on the third period, Montreal seemed content to secure the point, but the Flames were going for the win. Price had to make a few critical saves to keep his team alive, getting in front of everything the home side could muster. With three seconds on the clock and a faceoff in Montreal’s zone, Calgary pulled off a nearly perfect play, getting the high-danger chance they were hoping for. The puck glaced off Shea Weber and headed toward the net, but it found iron rather than mesh, and the game continued on to overtime.

In the extra frame, Montreal held the majority of the possession. The team wasn’t finding many chances to attack the net, and spent most of their time regrouping in the neutral zone. Tatar managed to get two decent chances, though neither was successful.

Montreal lost an offensive-zone draw late in overtime, and that led to a massive advantage for Calgary, with the extra point on the stick of Lindholm. The forward was denied by a great save from Price, and then it was Montreal’s turn to catch the opposition on its heels.

Domi was the one to collect the puck, and he carried it all the way down the ice and over the blue line. Having done a full lap of the rink, he didn’t try any dangles, but decided rather to load up a slapshot, pounding one beyond the reach of Rittich to give Montreal a 4-3 overtime victory.

The Canadiens have now won five of their last six games (it’s nice to be able to dismiss that debacle versus the Detroit Red Wings like that) and have secured at least a split on their four-game Western Canadian road trip. The Habs will look to do better than that when they take on the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday evening; a matchup of elite skill versus strong depth.

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Blue Jays sit 1 win away from clinching playoff berth after thumping Yankees –



The Toronto Blue Jays showed Wednesday night why they could be a dangerous wild-card team in the playoffs.

Danny Jansen hit two solo homers as the Blue Jays used a 16-hit attack and eight-run sixth inning to bulldoze the New York Yankees 14-1 at Sahlen Field. Jansen had four hits and three runs to help the Blue Jays move closer to nailing down a playoff berth.

“Putting ourselves in this spot is a great feeling,” Jansen said. “But we’ve still got work to do.”

Toronto (29-27) trimmed its magic number to one with the victory and can secure its first post-season spot since 2016 with a win in Thursday’s series finale.

Cavan Biggio scored three times, Randal Grichuk added a pair of runs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., had three RBIs. Starter Robbie Ray was effective over four-plus innings and A.J. Cole threw a scoreless fifth inning for the win.

Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the post-season. Division winners will be seeded No. 1 through No. 3 in each league, second-place teams will be seeded fourth through sixth, and two third-place wild-card teams will get the seventh and eighth seeds.

The Los Angeles Angels, currently ninth in the AL, kept their faint playoff hopes alive earlier Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres.

Facing veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (3-3), the Blue Jays took advantage of a couple breaks to put up two quick runs in the first inning.

With Biggio on after a leadoff walk, Teoscar Hernandez hit a double-play ball up the middle that took an unexpected high bounce near the lip of the grass and rolled into the outfield.

Guerrero stroked a single that scored Biggio with the game’s first run. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tried to pick the young slugger off first base but a wide throw went down the right-field line as Hernandez trotted home.

Ray earns timely outs

Ray breezed through the first inning but issued two walks in the second. Gio Urshela singled to load the bases and a passed ball allowed Luke Voit to score the Yankees’ lone run.

New York loaded the bases with none out in the fifth inning. But Cole (3-0) held off the heart of the Yankees’ order by fanning Giancarlo Stanton and getting Voit — who leads the majors in homers — on an infield fly and then Gleyber Torres on a flyout.

“That was really the game,” Jansen said. “Saving that was huge for us. Bases loaded, no outs, coming in and getting that. There’s a lot of momentum swing right there.”

Toronto followed New York’s lead by putting its first three batters on base in the sixth. The Blue Jays took full advantage by batting around with a two-run single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Biggio’s two-run double serving as highlight blows.

The victory came a day after New York dumped Toronto 12-1.

“Today was a big game after yesterday,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s what they’ve done all year — come back from top losses. It was great to see, facing another good pitcher like Tanaka, coming back tonight and scoring all those runs. A big win for us.”

New York (32-24) had four hits and a season-high four errors. The Yankees have a magic number of one to secure a second-place finish in the East Division.

Ray, who was pulled after the first two batters reached in the fifth, allowed three hits, four walks and had five strikeouts. Tanaka gave up three earned runs, eight hits and three walks while striking out five.

Jansen, who went deep off Tanaka in the fourth, added another shot in the eighth off Yankees catcher Erik Kratz, giving the Toronto backstop six homers on the season.

Toronto was a wild-card entry when it last reached the post-season four years ago. The Blue Jays went on to reach the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.

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Jays win big, magic number is 1 – Bluebird Banter



Yankees 1 Blue Jays 14

Our magic number is now 1. A win tomorrow (or in any of our last four games) would put us into the playoffs.

It is nice when the other team forgets how to play baseball. The Yankees made 4 official errors and a few unofficial ones. They were just playing bad baseball all night.

We got a good start from Bob Rae (as much as it hurts the old man in me to say that 4+ innings is a good start). Through four innings he allowed just 2 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts. There was an unearned run against him, scoring on a passed ball (he and Jansen got crossed up, Ray threw a fastball, Jansen thought something bendy was coming). He went to full counts too much, but he kept the Yankees off the bases.

Ray allowed a walk and a single to start off the fifth and that was it. A.J. Cole came in a gave up a walk to load the bases. Looking at the final score, it doesn’t seem like there should have been a big moment of the game on the pitching side, but this was a big moment. We were up 5-1 with Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Viot and Gleyber Torres coming up. But Cole got a strikeout, popout and fly out. It was nice to see because Cole has had a rough time of it lately.

Ross Stripling pitched the last four inning, giving up just 1 hit with 1 strikeout. He gets a save on a game we won by 13.

We scored 2 in the first, 1 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 8 in the sixth and 1 in the eighth. Our hitters:

  • Cavan Biggio was 2 for 5 with a walk, double and 2 RBI.
  • Bo Bichette was 2 for 4, with 2 walks, double, 2 RBI (he had 3 walks on the season before tonight).
  • Teoscar Hernandez 1 or 4.
  • Randal Grichuk 1 for 4, 1 walk, 1 RBI.
  • Vladimir Guerrero was 2 for 5, double, 3 RBI. He had an interesting night. He misjudged a popup in the first inning. Thankfully it didn’t cost us a run. He drew a pick off throw from Gary Sanchez, by taking a few steps towards second on a strike and Sanchez threw wide of first, getting us a free run. Then an crushed RBI double in third, an RBI ground out. And he made a very nice play, again a going a long way off first to get a ball, but Stripling got to the bag at first in plenty of time, and Vlad made a nice throw hitting the moving target.
  • Lourdes Gurriel was 3 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Travis Shaw was 1 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Joe Panik only managed a walk.
  • Danny Jansen hit 2 home runs on a 4 for 4 night, with 3 RBI. Yes, one of the home runs was off Yankees’ catcher Erik Kratz (but it still counts).

Jays of the Day: Cole (.119 WPA), Vlad (.190) and Jansen (.107).

No Suckage Jays. Shaw had the low mark at -.063.

Tomorrow is our last game of this four game series against the Yankees and then we have a weekend series against the Orioles to end the season.

We had 847 comments in the GameThread. I led us to victory (and I didn’t even have a beer tonight). But I did have a nice day. I took a drive out in the country and saw the changing of the colours, while avoiding the news for a day. I’d say it was a mental health day, but there really is no mental health left.

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Lightning’s Stamkos secures place in Cup lore with Game 3 goal vs. Stars –



EDMONTON — Seven seconds.

That’s how much time the puck spent on Steven Stamkos’s stick blade on this night, and perhaps that’s all it will spend there throughout the entirety of this Tampa Bay Lightning playoff run.

That’s all the hard-luck captain needed to secure his place in Stanley Cup lore. Seven freaking seconds.

Somehow, after spending 60 days as a practice-only player inside the NHL bubble and going 210 days between games, Stamkos scored the biggest goal of a career overflowing with them.

He was in full stride down the right boards when Victor Hedman hit him in the neutral zone. He blew past Esa Lindell, who defended the play poorly and managed to settle a bouncing puck in time to tuck it up under the crossbar behind Anton Khudobin.

The Lightning bench exploded. Jon Cooper said the reaction was “just a little bit louder” than any of the others during a playoff run that has included five overtime goals. The coach saw it as a sign his team wouldn’t be denied, and they weren’t while grabbing a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Stars with a 5-2 victory Wednesday.

“It was pretty damn cool,” said Cooper.

Stamkos called it a dream come true.

Forget the unfortunate timing of the injuries that have cost him big playoff games and a chance at playing for Team Canada at the Olympics in recent years. Just being trapped inside the bubble with no guarantee of playing would be agony for someone who has given as much to the Lightning as Stamkos.

And then to get in for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and only be able to play five shifts and score on one of them after not playing for seven months?

Hollywood might not accept that script.

“At this time of the year, you want to do anything you can to help your team win,” said Stamkos. “I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true and I’m so proud of these guys. And to be able to share that moment with them and just even be on the bench and watch how well we played tonight, I have told these guys before: It’s inspiring.

“It was great to be part of.”

Quickly, the backstory: Stamkos underwent core muscle surgery on March 2 and was supposed to be recovered in time for the second round of a normal playoffs. Then we had the COVID-19 pause, he had some kind of setback while preparing for the NHL’s return to play and the Lightning have gone on a run without him.

But he’s remained a large figure in the shadows.

You could see him dousing Brayden Point with water after he scored a quintuple overtime goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1 and he was summoned to the ice to help the Lightning accept the Prince of Wales Trophy after they eliminated the New York Islanders.

Everything he had to endure in order to even play for two minutes 41 seconds of Wednesday’s game has happened behind the walls. And based on the fact he sat on the bench while not taking a shift for the final 46 minutes here suggests we might not see him in uniform again for the rest of this series.

So that goal? That was something.

“He’s worked extremely hard to get back to a spot where he could play,” said Brayden Point. “Just seeing him day in and day out — the positivity that he brings, and the leadership that he brings. It’s nice to see him work that hard to get back into the lineup. And then to score one? It’s pretty inspirational for everyone.”

Added Victor Hedman: “This is how much he means to us as a teammate and as a leader and as a friend. We were just super happy for him.”

Stamkos played six games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Final and didn’t manage to score. In this situation, the Lightning put him on the fourth line alongside Cedric Paquette (zero goals this playoffs) and Pat Maroon (one goal this playoffs) and he produced one in limited minutes before his injury forced him to become a spectator.

What happens next will determine what this means historically.

But what it meant to Stamkos and the Lightning won’t change no matter what. He’s only going to get so many chances like this one.

“It was amazing to be a part of a huge win for us,” he said. “I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”

This was a kid who used to go to shooting school twice per week and fire 500 pucks per session. That’s a skill that endured the injuries, the layoff, everything.

It made this moment possible.

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