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Canadiens’ Lehkonen boosts trade value in playoff-style win over Senators –



It was a game tailor made for Artturi Lehkonen, with his Montreal Canadiens needing to lock down a one-goal lead for more than a period on the road.

The Finn was depended on to help shut down the opposition’s best players. There Lehkonen was to the right of Rem Pitlick and Jake Evans, up against Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stützle for most the night, with his feet in perpetual motion and his stick constantly in the way.

As a line, they held the 12-8 shot-attempt advantage at 5-on-5 against all Senators, according to On his own, Lehkonen was a menace on the forecheck, a force on the backcheck, a key cog on a penalty kill that kept the Ottawa Senators to one goal on four attempts, and the main reason the Canadiens stepped off the ice at Canadian Tire Centre having notched their fifth consecutive win.

He scored Montreal’s first goal at 16:47 of the first period, and he potted their only other one just under 13 minutes after Colin White tied the game 1-1 in the second period.

They were goals eight and nine and points 21 and 22 in Lehkonen’s 50th game of the season, and he deserved them.

“He plays the right way. He’s a guy who takes care of the team, I can’t stop saying it,” responded Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis when he was asked afterwards about Lehkonen. “Defensively, he’s an excellent hockey player. Offensively, he sees the game.

“And it’s fun to see a player like that rewarded with some goals, because it gives him confidence. Players like Lehkonen never try to cheat offensively without taking care of the defensive side, so it’s fun when they get rewarded for that with confidence and a sense of value.”

So, why trade him?

That’s the question many Canadiens fans are asking at the moment, with the NHL’s deadline coming on Mar. 21 and Lehkonen’s name vaulting to the top of the list of players likely to find a new home between now and then. It’s a legitimate question to be asking as management hopes to build the Canadiens into a young, skilled, fast, hard-working and in-your-face team.

Lehkonen fits naturally into that equation. And if money were no object, he would be guaranteed a new contract in Montreal.

But with the salary cap stagnant—it may or may not increase by a million dollars this off-season and likely won’t budge much more over the next couple of years—re-signing him to the deal he’s earning just doesn’t make much sense. He’s arbitration-eligible, a year away from unrestricted free agency, looking at least a million dollars more per season on his $2.3-million salary, and the Canadiens are already paying too much for middle/bottom-six forwards Joel Armia and Paul Byron, who each make $3.4 million on deals with term and likely won’t be traded for pennies on the dollar between now and next fall.

With versatile forward Jesse Ylönen maturing in the AHL—and with 24-year-old Pitlick and 26-year-old Laurent Dauphin proving to be serviceable 200-foot players who are up for new contracts that likely won’t combine to cost as much as Lehkonen’s will next year—trading the Finn is that much more viable.

But what makes it most viable is the value Lehkonen currently holds on the trade market, with several teams interested in adding him before 3:00 p.m. ET on deadline day.

If seeing Lehkonen pop a couple of goals on this night made the Montreal faithful lament the thought of him playing for someone else, it also probably made his suitors all the more enticed by the thought of acquiring him.

Goals haven’t come as often as the 26-year-old would have liked—or as anyone watching him would’ve expected—over his 388 games in the NHL. Lehkonen first arrived on this stage in 2016, just months after breaking Daniel Alfredsson’s playoff scoring record with the Swedish Hockey League’s Frolunda Indians. He scored his first-ever goal against the Senators, and it was one of 18 he notched in 73 games before posting two goals and four points in his first six Stanley Cup Playoff games.

It was widely thought that the former second-round pick would build on that, with all the details in his game making him a scoring-chance generator of the first order. But Lehkonen topping out at 13 goals in a season since put a dent in that hope.

Still, while he may only be on pace for 15 goals in 82 games this season, he’s only nine points off his career high and trending towards setting a new one well before the playoffs start.

Granted, offence isn’t the main selling point of Lehkonen’s game.

But add it to his complete profile—and his proven history of elevating his game in the playoffs—and the Canadiens are looking at the potential opportunity to redeem either a first-round pick or a high-end prospect in a trade over the coming weeks.

Whether another team is willing to pay as much—like the two-time Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning did for Lehkonen-types Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow in 2020—is debatable.

But any team with aspirations to go far in these playoffs had to be watching Lehkonen’s performance against the Senators on Saturday and thinking it would be worth it. Especially one that isn’t paying too much for middle/bottom-six forwards and will happily take advantage of Lehkonen being under team control for one more season.

He was the best player on the ice in a playoff-style game, and surely Canadiens fans weren’t the only ones who appreciated it.

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Rocket advance with win in 3OT thriller | – American Hockey League



The Laval Rocket are off to the Eastern Conference Finals after a wild 6-5 triple-overtime victory over the Rochester Americans on Wednesday night.

The Rocket completed a three-game sweep of the Amerks and will face either Charlotte or Springfield in the next round.

Working on a power play following a delay of game penalty against Rochester, former Amerk Jean-Sébastien Dea wristed a shot that beat Aaron Dell at 1:51 of the third OT period to give the Rocket the victory. It was the second goal of the night for Dea, and came on Laval’s 60th shot of the evening.

Rochester nearly escaped with a Game 3 victory, scoring three times in the third period to take a 5-4 lead before Jesse Ylönen netted the equalizer for the Rocket with 1:07 remaining in regulation.

Back home in front of an energetic crowd of 10,662 fans at Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks struck quickly when Mark Jankowski pounced on a loose puck and scored his sixth goal of the playoffs just 1:04 into the contest.

JJ Peterka made it 2-0 in favor of Rochester with a power-play goal at 8:05, and that lead held until late in the second period, when Laval scored four goals in a span of 3:56 to swing the game in their favor.

Brandon Gignac started the comeback with 6:08 to go in the second period with a nifty deflection of a Corey Schueneman shot from the point. Danick Martel tied things up 55 seconds later, taking Gabriel Bourque’s pass from behind the net and snapping home his fifth goal of the series.

Just 76 seconds after that, the Rocket took their first lead of the night as Xavier Ouellet floated a shot from the left point through traffic that found the top corner over the glove of Aaron Dell.

And with 2:12 to go before intermission, Dea put Laval in front by two, hitting an open cage with Dell out of position following a collision with a teammate in front.

Rochester regrouped during the break and needed just 1:32 to tie things back up. Brett Murray scored 13 seconds into the third period to pull the Amerks to within 4-3, and Peterka got his second of the night 1:19 later off a slick feed from Peyton Krebs.

Murray then scored his second of the period at 8:35, getting a piece of Ethan Prow’s shot from the point and deflecting it home to put Rochester back in front.

Laval outshot Rochester 24-12 during sudden death and killed off two Amerks power plays before converting on their own for the winner.

Cayden Primeau (6-1) made 34 saves and earned his fourth consecutive victory in net for the Rocket. Dell (5-5) stopped a career-high 54 shots for Rochester.

North Division Finals (best-of-5)
N3-Laval Rocket vs. N5-Rochester Americans
Game 1 – Sun., May 22 – LAVAL 6, Rochester 1
Game 2 – Mon., May 23 – LAVAL 3, Rochester 1
Game 3 – Wed., May 25 – Laval 6, ROCHESTER 5 (3OT)

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Bozak scores OT winner, Blues rally vs. Avs to stave off elimination –



DENVER (AP) — Tyler Bozak and the St. Louis Blues experienced just about every emotion imaginable over the course of a win-or-season-ends game in which they fell behind by three goals.

Ultimately, they landed on this improbable one — elation.

Bozak scored 3:38 into overtime and the Blues fended off elimination in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, overcoming a pair of deficits in a 5-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.

Bozak, a fourth-line center, unleashed a shot from near the blueline that got past Darcy Kuemper, capping a remarkable comeback for St. Louis.

“It was an amazing hockey game,” Bozak said. “I’m sure everyone that was watching thought the same thing.”

Robert Thomas had two goals, including the tying tally with 56 seconds left in regulation, for a resilient Blues team. It’s the latest game-tying goal for the Blues when facing elimination, according to NHL Stats. Vladimir Tarasenko and Justin Faulk also scored, Nick Leddy had four assists and Pavel Buchnevich had two.

They never doubted — even down 3-0 late in the second period and 4-3 late in the third.

“You’ve got nothing to lose, you might as well throw it all out there,” Thomas said. “That was our mentality.”

The comeback offset a hat trick from Nathan MacKinnon, who looked like he might have just turned in a signature moment with goal No. 3. He went end-to-end, working his way around Blues defenseman Leddy with nifty stick work and lifting a shot over goaltender Ville Husso for a 4-3 lead. It was his second career postseason hat trick.

Hats hit the ice.

“Doesn’t matter,” MacKinnon said of his feat. “Looking to get a win.”

Thomas tied it up with Husso on the bench for an extra skater, setting the stage for Bozak, who played college hockey down the road at the University of Denver.

To think, he didn’t play much down the stretch of the third period, with the Blues rolling out just three lines. When he got his chance in OT, he made the most of it.

“There’s definitely no such thing as a bad shot,” Bozak said. “So just tried to get it through the traffic and it went in. So that’s awesome.”

Game 6 is Friday in St. Louis.

The Blues have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take a playoff series twice in their history _ 1999 against Phoenix and 1991 versus Detroit.

They’re looking to write another chapter.

“This team’s come from behind quite a bit this year in games so they don’t give up,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog also scored and Bowen Byram had two assists for the Avalanche, who were on the verge of advancing to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2002.

Instead, they have to wait — and wonder. The second-round has proven to be a big hurdle for the Avalanche. They’ve been eliminated at this stage in each of the last three postseasons.

“You sulk for three minutes and you move on. Simple as that,” Landeskog said. “It’s playoff hockey. It’s not supposed to be easy.”

Husso made 30 saves for St. Louis. He took over in Game 3 when Jordan Binnington was injured following a collision between Nazem Kadri and Blues defenseman Calle Rosen that caused Kadri to crash into Binnington.

Afterward, Kadri received racist death threats on social media, which led to increased security to protect him. He responded in Game 4 with a hat trick. On Wednesday, fans along the boards held up signs that read “Stand with Naz.”

Kuemper stopped 25 shots.

MacKinnon came out flying in the first period, taking five shots and scoring twice to give the Colorado an early 2-0 lead. Those were the first two goals of the series for MacKinnon, who has seven in the postseason.

The speedy MacKinnon also had an assist to give him 82 career playoff points. He became the fourth player in franchise history with 80 or more postseason points, joining the company of Sakic (188), Peter Forsberg (159) and Peter Stastny (81).

After Landeskog made it 3-0 just over 4 minutes into the second period, Tarasenko knocked in his first goal of the series 10 1/2 minutes later to jumpstart the Blues.

“We got on our heels a little bit,” said MacKinnon, whose team is 4-0 on the road in these playoffs. “We wanted it so bad, I guess. … Win the third, go to the conference finals, whatever. It’s one period. Got to keep our game going, stay aggressive. That’s what we’ll do.”

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Canada Soccer cancels men’s national team friendly vs. Iran in Vancouver –



TORONTO — Canada Soccer has cancelled a planned friendly with Iran in the face of growing criticism.

In a one-paragraph statement, the governing body gave no reason for the cancellation of the scheduled June 5 game at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.

But the idea of hosting the Iranian team, ranked 21st in the world, has drawn fire since it was first announced.

At issue is whether Canada should be hosting Iran given the Canadians who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, minutes after taking off from Tehran, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. The Canadian government says 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people killed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week the game “wasn’t a very good idea,” pointing the finger at Canada Soccer. The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims called for Canada Soccer “to cancel the game immediately.”

Association spokesman Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and young daughter Reera were among those who died on Flight 752, said in an interview last week. “What kind of friendship do we have with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

“We want the (Canadian) government to take them to international court. And instead of that, we get humiliated by them … I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back — (as well as) the other family members. After 28 months we don’t see any sign of seeking justice here. We don’t see sign of taking Iran to any international forum. And instead of that they invite the (Iran) soccer team here.”

Conservative MPs added their voice to the protest on Wednesday. And the PM said this week that it will be up to the Canada Border Services Agency whether the Iran team is allowed into the country.

The Iran game was to be the first of a two-game Vancouver homestand. The Canadian men open CONCACAF Nations League A play there against Curacao on June 9 before closing out the FIFA international window with another CONCACAF Nations League game against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on June 13.

Canada, ranked 38th in the world, and Iran are both preparing for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this November.

For Canada Soccer, the Iran contest was a rare chance to test the Canadian men against a team outside of their CONCACAF confederation, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Canadians have played just two teams from outside their region since John Herdman took over as coach in January 2018: a 1-0 loss to Iceland in January 2020 and a 1-0 win over New Zealand in March 2018.

The FIFA International window opens Monday, with players arriving from their clubs from around the world. Now they will get extended training time rather than a match ahead of the CONCACAF Nations League fixtures.

Canada has not played on home soil since qualifying for the World Cup in a 4-0 win over Jamaica at Toronto’s BMO Field on March 27. The Canadian men last played at B.C. Place in March 2019 when they beat French Guiana 4-1 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.

The Canadians topped the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with an 8-2-4 record. Their last game was a 1-0 loss in Panama on March 30.

Canada has a 1-2-0 all-time record against Iran, winning the most recent encounter 1-0 in April 2001 in Cairo. Iran posted 1-0 wins in 1997 and 1999 games in Toronto and Edmonton, respectively.

Canada opens World Cup play Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before facing No. 16 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.

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