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Canadiens @ Maple Leafs recap: Romanov and Anderson shine in debuts – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Can you feel it? The freezing winds of winter have turned into a warm breeze filled with excitement. The 2020-21 NHL season didn’t get going until the former year had already left us, but that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that the league we all love is back for a new season. Montreal started the slate by going back to familiar ground, returning to the very same place where they had such a strong post-season run at the end of the summer.

Both the guests and the hosts for last night’s game had gone through major changes since they last faced off, way back in February. That game ended with a Montreal win in overtime. The hero? Ilya Kovalchuk. That’s right. It has now been almost a year since that brief period when Kovalchuk spellbound us Habs fans with his trickeries.

Claude Julien sent out an expected lineup, giving newcomers Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson, as well as rookie Alexander Romanov the possibility to start what hopefully will be illustrious careers in the Montreal Canadiens’ jersey.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, who vowed to get older and slower this winter, sent out Joe Thornton as a first line-winger and also gave T.J. Brodie, Jimmy Vesey, Zach Bogosian and Alexander Barabanov their first chance to prove themselves to the public eye of Toronto.

The Canadiens started off with flair and energy, looking like a team that had longed for the season to kick off. Romanov, starting on the third pairing besides Brett Kulak, introduced himself to his new audience with a heads-up outlet pass that started his team’s first decent attack of the night. Eyes On The Prize’s very own Romanov preacher was not late to notice his protégé getting off to a terrific start:

The Habs received their first power play after Bogosian, who ironically was brought into Toronto to help their penalty kill, went to the box on a tripping call. No goals that time, but even a pessimistic eye could notice that there seemed to be more ideas and interesting shifts during those two minutes than we’ve generally seen in the last few years. Interestingly, Romanov received time on the second power-play unit, already in the first period, making it possible for Jeff Petry and Shea Weber to pair up together on the first.

A large part of why Marc Bergevin felt that it was possible to push in his chips to the middle of the table during this off-season was the play of his two young centremen during last season’s playoffs. One of those two would get the honour of scoring Montreal’s first goal of the new season.

After once again going on the man advantage, The Canadiens established possession in Toronto’s zone. Petry got enough open ice to skate forward and release toward Frederik Andersen. On the rebound, Suzuki scored from a difficult angle, netting it home via a defenceman positioned in the crease.

The Maple Leafs managed a quick tie-up when Jake Evans lost a faceoff in his own zone and William Nylander accurately sniped the puck past a screened Carey Price. A nice effort by the Swede, who looked to have shaved off his teeny tiny moustache as a sign of better things to come.

Montreal continued to attack with much more velocity than their opponents and it would result in another lead just a few minutes before the period break.

A few days ago, Tomas Tatar coined the term “powerhorse” to describe Anderson’s playing style. But the newly acquired powerful workhorse can add more than that to any given game. He demonstrated this with a wrist shot from the slot, perfectly placed below the goaltender’s glove. When Anderson beat Andersen, it meant that with just one period played in a Habs jersey, the winger had already tied his total goal tally from his last year with the Blue Jackets.

Bogosian wasn’t done taking penalties. He received his second near the middle of the second period, after once again arriving late to the party. This time he felt forced to grab ahold of Jesperi Kotkaniemi to prevent the young Finn from getting into adequate scoring range.

The power play continued to look potent, even if there were few high-quality chances while holding the puck in the offensive zone. Young Romanov demonstrated his fearlessness by dancing past a deking Torontonian on the opposing blue line.

One minute later, still on the same power play, Romanov held the puck in his own zone and discovered Tomas Tatar making a perfectly timed rush toward that same blue line. The pass cut through the defence like a hot knife through butter, and Montreal’s best point-getter from a season ago made no mistake alone with Andersen. The puck slowly waltzed through the goaltender’s legs and the guests were suddenly up by a pair of goals. Coach Sheldon Keefe looked less than happy with his team’s defensive efforts.

Apart from a fight between Simmonds and Ben Chiarot, which (technically) resulted in the first man advantage for the Maple Leafs, the game continued to go the Canadiens’ way. The lead looked solid and the home team had difficulties finding the right angles against Price.

Then, suddenly, everything imploded near the end of the second period. Anderson received a boarding minor, and if you give the Leafs’ stars enough space while having an extra man on the ice, they will punish you time and time again. Nylander got his second of the contest while Edmundson was missing his stick.

Shortly afterward, the Habs shot themselves in the foot twice within three seconds to give their opposition 1:57 of five-on-three time. Once again, the penalty kill looked lacklustre, and captain John Tavares tapped in his first of the year. Ironically, this happened while his counterpart, Weber, was in the box for failing to properly clear the puck out of his own zone.

There was no reason why we would have to be here, but when the teams got back on the ice for the third period, the game was all tied up at three apiece. To make matters worse, there were still 20 seconds left on Weber’s penalty. Thankfully, Toronto’s power play mania stopped at just two goals, meaning that the Canadiens could go back on attack while at five-on-five.

It’s fascinating how two GMs can look so differently on how you wish to build up your roster to compete for a championship. Toronto is adamantly top heavy and excels on the power play, while hoping to patch over any roster holes created by expensive contracts with size, experience, and grit. Meanwhile, a less star-studded Montreal tries to break their opponents down with a never-ending skating pace, pressuring furiously while attempting to attack with four lines of NHL quality.

If anyone wants to know why Marc Bergevin traded Max Domi and a third-round pick to Columbus this past October for Josh Anderson, look no further than the Canadiens’ fourth goal of the evening.

Using the very qualities I mentioned above, Montreal quickly transitioned from defence to offence by winning a faceoff to the right of Price. Anderson got a one-on-one opportunity against a misplaced Tavares and pushed himself in front of the Leafs centre to swiftly get to the net and whip the puck past Andersen and in. I mentioned earlier that it took less than one period to tie his total goal tally from last year. Well, it took less than three periods in a Habs jersey to double that quota.

Suzuki continued to dazzle when he got a bit of space to work with, showing exactly zero signs of an approaching sophomore slump like the one Kotkaniemi suffered through last year.

To this point, all of Toronto’s goals had felt somewhat flukey. But as previously stated, when a team has three or four of the league’s top talents, you need to prevent them easy opportunities. With 10 minutes left to play, a dumped puck bounced off the referee placed behind Price’s net to completely bamboozle the veteran goalie. Nylander quickly found a wide-open Jimmy Vesey in the crease. The former Hobey Baker-winner didn’t have to break a sweat to score, tying the score up yet again.

When the clock hit 60 minutes, the game was still tied at four goals apiece. During overtime, Phillip Danault ended up with the puck on the Leafs’ side of the ice, riding solo from mid-ice, but not getting a quality shot off. Tyler Toffoli also had a quality scoring chance, but his slapshot was prematurely read and stopped by Frederik Andersen.

Instead, the first game of the season would end with an overtime loss. Tavares and Morgan Rielly ended up in a two-on-one against Ben Chiarot. When the Habs defenceman decided to move to stop the puck-holder, Tavares fed his teammate across the crease, and Price could do nothing but watch as the red lamp in Scotiabank Arena went off for the final time this night, a 5-4 win for the home team.

Even if the game ended with an unnecessary loss of a point, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the season that lies ahead. The young players looked inspired and the newcomers have qualities that add further unpredictability to the team. The Canadiens will now have a few more days to practise before facing the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night for a possible first win of the new year.

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Chiefs defeat Bills to set up meeting with Buccaneers in Super Bowl – Sportsnet.ca

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took the Kansas City Chiefs five frustrating decades to make their second Super Bowl appearance.

Now, the defending champs are headed there for the second straight year.

Showing no lingering effects from his concussion, Patrick Mahomes sliced up Buffalo’s secondary with ruthless efficiency Sunday night, helping the Chiefs roll to a 38-24 victory over Josh Allen and the Bills in the AFC championship game.

The reigning Super Bowl MVP finished with 325 yards passing and three touchdowns, most of it to favourite targets Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, who complemented their star quarterback with a record-setting night of their own.

The Chiefs will face a familiar foe — Tom Brady — and the NFC champ Buccaneers in two weeks in Tampa, Florida.

“It was just trusting each other. The best thing about this team is we believe in each other,” said Mahomes, who was also dealing with a toe injury. “But the job’s not finished. We’re going to Tampa; we’re trying to run it back.”

Kelce finished with 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Hill added nine catches for 172 yards, becoming the first duo in NFL history with consecutive games of at least 100 yards receiving each in a single post-season.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams added short TD runs for the Chiefs, who will try to become the eighth franchise and first team since the Brady-led New England Patriots in 2003 and ’04 to defend the Lombardi Trophy.

“So glad to get to do it again,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar founded the franchise. “Thought a lot about my dad tonight, thought about my family and how excited my father would have been that we got to do it again in Arrowhead Stadium. That’s what he would have liked the most about it.”

Allen, who had his worst game of the season in a Week 6 loss to the Chiefs, again struggled against the blitzing Kansas City defence. He finished with 287 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception, but a big chunk of his numbers came as the Bills tried to rally from a 38-15 deficit in the final minutes.

Their frustration boiled over with 3:19 to go, when Allen was getting sacked by Tanoh Kpassagnon. Alex Okafor finished off the tackle, and Allen pitched the ball in his face in resentment. Offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Dion Dawkins rushed in and levelled Okafor, resulting in a flood of offsetting personal foul penalties.

“Obviously a lot of emotion,” Allen said. “Any time you don’t finish the season with a win, that’s the type of emotion you’re going to have. The way it ended doesn’t sit right with me with how chippy and ticky-tack it got. I’m disappointed in myself. I let my emotions get to me there. That’s not how you’re supposed to play football.”

It capped a bitter night for the Bills, who had reached their first AFC title game since beating Kansas City at home on Jan. 1, 1994. They had won 11 of 12 since their loss to the Chiefs earlier this season — in fact, they hadn’t trailed in the second half since Week 8 — and were riding a wave of confidence that this might finally be their championship year.

Instead, after finally conquering the Patriots in the AFC East, the Bills have a new roadblock to the Super Bowl.

“It stings to get this far,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott, who once worked under Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid in Philadelphia. “Sometimes the further you go, the harder it is to lose. It’s a learning experience for us as an organization.”

The Chiefs actually spotted the Bills a 9-0 lead, thanks in large part to Mecole Hardman’s muffed punt inside their 5 that gifted Buffalo a touchdown. But the reigning champs were hardly rattled; the Chiefs, after all, rallied from double-digits in each of their post-season wins last season, including their Super Bowl triumph over San Francisco.

Mahomes and Kelce soon found their groove. And the rest of the Chiefs offence followed suit.

They surgically took apart Buffalo’s defence on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a short TD throw to Hardman — no hard feelings over that fumble. Then, the Chiefs cruised 82 yards in just five plays, the big one Hardman’s 50-yard end-around that set up Williams’ touchdown tumble. Finally, they made it three TDs in three possessions when Edwards-Helaire — in his first game back from an ankle injury — capped a 77-yard drive with a short plunge.

The only answer from Buffalo was Tyler Bass’s chip-shot field goal that made it 21-12 at the break.

You don’t beat Kansas City by kicking field goals from the 3-yard line, though. Or from the 9, where the Bills settled for another one to close within 24-15 late in the third quarter.

That became painfully clear on the ensuing drive. Mahomes hit Hill in stride and the All-Pro wide receiver promptly made the Bills secondary look downright foolish. Weaving in and out of woebegone defenders, Hill was finally caught inside the 5-yard line after a 71-yard gain, ultimately setting up Kelce’s short TD catch a few plays later.

“You watch him on film, you see what he’s doing. It’s like he’s running at a different speed compared to everybody else,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. “And tonight, we saw first-hand for the second time. He’s fast.”

Any hopes the Bills had of a comeback were dashed when Rashad Fenton picked off a tipped pass deep in Kansas City territory. The Chiefs breezily marched the other direction, and Mahomes and Kelce kicked off the celebration of another trip to the Super Bowl when they connected for their second score of the game.

“I’m proud of these guys,” said Reid, who moved into a tie with Joe Gibbs for fourth on the career list with his 17th playoff win. “They did a phenomenal job, and hats off to the Buffalo Bills and the great job they did all year, and most of all, listen, we have the Lamar Hunt Trophy back in Kansas City.

“Now we have to get the big one.”

INJURIES

Chiefs: RG Andrew Wylie hurt his knee early in the second half and LT Eric Fisher limped off in the fourth quarter with an injury to his Achilles’ tendon. … CB L’Jarius Sneed and SS Armani Watts were evaluated for concussions.

UP NEXT

The Chiefs and Buccaneers have only played 13 times, and Kansas City had lost five straight before a 27-24 win in Tampa on Nov. 29 — a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. Brady is 5-5 in his career against the Chiefs, including an overtime victory with the Patriots in the AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium two years ago.

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Maple Leafs attempting to out-sprint competition with condensed schedule – Sportsnet.ca

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Heavy hearts inside the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Heavy legs in all four corners of the dressing room.

It was a sombre Sunday with news of George Armstrong’s death and a quirky 2 p.m. game to be played under conditions that screamed “schedule loss.” The Leafs landed in Calgary some 20 hours before puck drop and hadn’t had a chance to come up for air since training camp began three weeks ago. The Flames hadn’t played in six days.

“It was our seventh game in 12 days and travelling out here and then having to play a 2 o’clock game, it’s a tough ask. And then you’re playing against a rested team,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “This one we felt would not be pretty.”

The only beauty to be found in a 3-2 victory was the two points it added to their total in the North Division standings and the strong play of backup goalie Jack Campbell, who continues to build a case for giving Frederik Andersen more nights of rest.

But what was even more telling than the game itself was the way Keefe, in particular, approached the circumstances of the day.

He broke from tradition in the typical pre-game meeting to honour Armstrong rather than focusing on finer points of the Flames attack or details of defensive emphasis. Keefe is 40 and never came close to seeing the man known as “Chief” play. Many of his players are a generation younger than that and may not have even realized that Armstrong spent 75 years with the organization, captaining the Leafs during their last Stanley Cup win in 1967 but also serving as a coach, assistant general manager, scout and community ambassador.

The message that came with a video about Armstrong’s life is telling about the mindset of the club in the here and now.

“What we talked about is just how efforts like [those from Armstrong] back in the 60’s in particular — the last time the Leafs won the Cup — that’s the reason why Leaf Nation is as strong as it is,” said Keefe. “That’s why generations of families grow up as Leaf fans, because of those efforts, and we have a role to play to continue to build upon that.”

There was nothing scripted about the way Auston Matthews paid tribute to Armstrong in his post-game availability with reporters. He actually interrupted a member of the team’s public relations staff running the Zoom call to make sure he could get in a few words before the questions started.

“First off, I just want to extend my condolences to the Armstrong family,” said Matthews. “Obviously George was an incredible ambassador for the city of Toronto and the Maple Leafs. He paved the way for guys like us that are obviously trying to accomplish something big here.”

This is not a group hiding from its aspirations.

When it was revealed recently that their season is being documented by behind-the-scenes cameras for an upcoming series on Amazon Prime, a couple players mentioned that they welcomed it because of where they expect to go.

Keefe is pushing hard, too.

The Leafs expect to have a great regular season and are putting the pedal down during this 5-2-0 start. Under different circumstances, Matthews may have been given another precautionary game off after sitting out Friday’s win over Edmonton because of a hand injury and not having skated with any purpose since Wednesday.

Instead he logged 21:42 against the Flames despite both he and the coach acknowledging that he was missing some explosiveness in his stride.

“I think that first period I just tried to get my legs going and then I kind of felt a little bit better towards the second half of the game,” said Matthews.

A trend is developing here. No NHL forward is averaging more minutes than Mitch Marner (24:03) so far and beyond that only Anze Kopitar (23:52) and Mark Scheifele (23:32) are getting more playing time than Matthews (23:07).

With a Cup on their minds and a compacted 56-game schedule inside their agendas, the Leafs are attempting to sprint ahead of the competition.

They needed some good bounces to beat Calgary on Sunday, seeing all three pucks that got behind Jacob Markstrom go in off a piece of equipment other than a stick. Campbell took care of the rest with 31 saves.

“Soup was an absolute rockstar for us,” said Matthews.

The Leafs have now beaten every team in the division except Vancouver and won’t see the struggling Canucks for the first time until Feb. 4. Given the binary nature of results in a season featuring only intra-division play, that’s a fantastic start.

There are process-related objectives they’ll need to improve upon, including finding ways to more consistently generate quality chances from their time in the offensive zone and ideally creating a mix on the fourth line that can be trusted to play.

But you won’t find them chopping apart their victories right now, particularly with the challenging pace of the schedule.

Results are what matter when your goal is to hang another banner beside the one Armstrong and Co. put up 54 years ago. The standard needs to be set high. That’s why Keefe made sure not to allow Armstrong’s death to pass without special mention on Sunday afternoon.

“When you’re in this every single day, you’re in the moment, you’re taking care of what you can control,” he said. “I do think it’s important to stop and pause every now and again just to look at the bigger picture and recognize that what we’re doing here every day is for a greater purpose beyond ourselves.

“And we have a role to play within how we prepare and how we play and people like George showed the way.”

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Justin Poirier and Conor McGregor show mutual admiration during backstage meeting following UFC 257

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Despite his first knockout loss in the UFC, Conor McGregor was all class in defeat.

McGregor returned to action for the first time in a year when he faced Dustin Poirier in a rematch in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 257 event in Abu Dhabi. After a competitive first round, Poirier started to take over in the second, landing a series of hard low leg kicks to McGregor that put him in a compromised position.

“The Diamond” would take advantage of his brilliant strategy, dropping and finishing McGregor at just over the halfway point of the round to complete the biggest victory of his career.

While it was all class in the octagon and at the post-fight press conference, Poirier and McGregor shared a moment backstage following their second battle.

Poirier evened up the series at a win apiece on Saturday. McGregor knocked out Poirier in the opening round of their first meeting at UFC 178 in September 2014.

A trilogy fight is of interest to both competitors, but it seems that Poirier will move ahead to compete for the lightweight title, which is currently held by the retired Khabib Nurmagomedov. UFC President Dana White hasn’t lost hope that “The Eagle” will return for at least one more fight. It appears as if those chances are fading away by the hour, though an official decision on the title has yet to be announced.

Source:- MMA Fighting

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