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Canadiens must ignore optics of Niskanen ruling

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TORONTO — The optics don’t look good.

Brendan Gallagher will be getting his jaw wired shut after Matt Niskanen broke it with a cross-check in the dying minutes of Game 5 of Montreal’s series with Philadelphia, and we don’t know when he’ll be able to return. We do know it won’t be for Game 6 — or 7, if the Canadiens win on Friday — but Niskanen will be available to the Flyers come Sunday.

In a just world, that wouldn’t be the case. But justice appears to be a rather complex principle in the NHL.

Only in this league can a boarding minor — trumped up to a major and a game-misconduct because the victim of the hit suffered a small cut — equate to a crosscheck that causes someone a trip to the dentist, and one to the doctor for a procedure that ensures they’ll be drinking their food through a straw for the foreseeable future.

Granted, Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s punishment for the hit that sliced Travis Sanheim was 21 minutes and 45 seconds shorter than Niskanen’s will be. But we digress.

The NHL’s department of player safety put out a two-minute-and-24-second video to explain how they arrived at their conclusion following Niskanen’s 3 p.m. Eastern hearing on Thursday. There were 618 words spoken in there, but the only ones that resonated were the ones in the very first sentence.

“Wednesday night in Toronto, Flyers defenceman Matt Niskanen recklessly delivered a crosscheck to the face of Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, knocking him to the ice and causing an injury.”

And yada, yada, yada, that amounts to a one-game suspension.

For a league that wants to curb concussions and eliminate head-shots, it’s a bad look.

And this ain’t pretty, either: The Canadiens were 4-7-1 sans Gallagher this season, and now, following a win with their backs against the wall in Game 5, they have to go runner, runner against a Flyers team that hasn’t lost consecutive games since early January, which was well before the world as we knew it stopped turning and COVID-19 paused the NHL season.

And then there’s the fact that the one thing the Canadiens proved, as they plummeted to 24th in the standings from October to March, was that they weren’t able to overcome injuries to Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron, never mind one to the player who has led them in goals in each of the past three seasons. You know, the guy who interim head coach Kirk Muller referred to on Thursday as “our heartbeat.”

But here’s the thing: The Montreal team we’ve seen in this unprecedented summer tournament for the Stanley Cup bears little resemblance to the one that needed to be gifted the opportunity to play these games in Toronto. Against all odds, the Canadiens handled a championship-calibre Pittsburgh Penguins team in less than the maximum number of games it required to advance beyond the qualifying round, and they’ve been every bit as good as the top-seeded Flyers so far in this first-round series.

Their coach, Claude Julien, suffered a cardiac event, was hospitalized, operated on and sent home to Montreal after a hard-fought Game 1 loss to Philadelphia, and they responded to that adversity with a resounding 5-0 win in Game 2. They were shut out in Games 3 and 4 and did everything they could (and succeeded) to chase Carter Hart from his net in Game 5 — even if Flyers coach Alain Vigneault was going to pull the young goaltender but suddenly decided against it after a bad goal allowed was overturned due to a missed offside call.

Speaking of missed calls, there was Gallagher, pinned up along the boards, clutching at his mouth to keep his teeth from falling out, bleeding profusely before he got up from Niskanen’s “reckless cross-check” and berated the officials on his way off the ice.

It was wasted breath, and he knew it.

Just like these Canadiens know it would be a waste of energy to get bogged down in L’Affaire Niskanen. They can’t do anything about the fact that one of their best players will be unavailable to them for the rest of this series, nor can they change the fact that Philadelphia will have one of theirs back if it gets to Game 7.

Not that all recent history is irrelevant.

The Canadiens shouldn’t forget what they did to win Game 5. They overcame the early departure of their leading goal scorer in these playoffs (Kotkaniemi), and they battled back after blowing two leads. They should also remind themselves that they managed to get this far with just one goal in eight games from Gallagher, and, in his absence, they should play in his image — with reckless abandon and caution thrown to the wind.

We know there’s at least one person who believes they can do it. He’s the guy who wasn’t supposed to make it to the NHL — especially not just two-and-a-half years after being drafted 147th overall. The guy who no one thought would last in this league but is now eight years into his career. You know, the guy who’s made his living turning the optics upside down.

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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Lightning seek commanding lead over Stars as Game 4 favourites – Sportsnet.ca

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The Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking to take a commanding 3-1 series lead when they hit the ice on Friday for Game 4 of their Stanley Cup Final clash against the Dallas Stars as -150 favourites on the NHL odds at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Fired up by the brief return of Steven Stamkos, the Lightning offence wasted no time taking an early lead in a 5-2 victory in Game 3. With the win, Tampa Bay seized its first lead of the series, leading Dallas two games to one going into Friday night’s matchup at Rogers Place.

Hobbled by injuries that have kept him out of the lineup since February, Stamkos made his presence felt quickly. The Lightning captain potted a first-period goal that gave the club an early 2-0 lead, but was used sparingly the rest of the way, seeing just 2:47 of total ice time. But even with Stamkos stapled to the bench, the Lightning offence enjoyed a long-awaited resurgence, scoring three times on 21 shots in the second period before patiently playing a slow-moving third period that provided the Stars with little opportunity to rebound.

Tampa Bay’s five goals marked the first time the club has topped four goals since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. The breakthrough provided a payout to those taking the OVER at betting sites for the first time in the Lightning’s past six contests.

The Lightning have now scored at least five times on four occasions during this year’s playoffs, but have struggled to maintain momentum in subsequent outings, scoring just seven total goals in the games immediately following their three previous high-scoring contests. However, Tampa Bay has a history of maintaining playoff momentum, claiming victory in each of its past four Game 4 appearances while sporting a 2-1 series lead.

Now just two wins away from their first Stanley Cup victory since 2004, the Lightning have vaulted to -500 favourites on the NHL playoff series prices, well ahead of Dallas, which has slipped to +350. However, the Stars cannot be counted out as they prepare for Game 4 as +130 underdogs.

Wednesday night marked just the second time in these playoffs that the Stars had lost two games in a row. Dallas responded with a mammoth defensive effort to win six of seven following their last two-game slide. But after scoring just 12 total goals at even strength in their past eight games, the Stars must find a way to spark their offence if they are to even up the series on Friday night.

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Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Game 4: Live score, updates, news, stats and highlights – NBA CA

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The Los Angeles Lakers take a commanding 3-1 series lead after holding off the Denver Nuggets to seal a 114-108 win.

The Lakers are now 11-3 in the post-season and need just one more win to make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

Anthony Davis led the charge with 34 points, five rebounds, and three blocks, while LeBron James was just shy of another playoff triple-double, recording 26 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.

For the Nuggets, they were led by 32 points and eight assists from Jamal Murray as they face a 3-1 deficit for the third time in the 2020 playoffs.

If you missed any of the action we had you covered with live updates, highlights and more from this contest.

FINAL: Lakers 114, Nuggets 108

BOX SCORE | PLAY-BY-PLAY

– Davis buries two free throws to put the result beyond doubt and the Lakers go up 3-1 in the series.

– The Nuggets went cold down the stretch, not making a field goal over the last 3:28 minutes, missing their last five shots

– HUGE offensive rebound from Rondo, the Lakers’ 12th of the night. They’ve outscored the Nuggets 25-6 in second chance points

– Rondo climbs up the all-time playoff assist list, moving past Scottie Pippen for 8th

– Jokic misses the hook shot with a chance to cut it to five. He’s scorelss in the fourth, going 0-of-3.

– Monte Morris and Jamal Murray have scored the last 12 Nuggets points as they trim the lead to 105-102 (3:10)

– Jokic is back in the game alongside Millsap. They both have five fouls

– KCP hits the three at one end and gets the steal down the other. He’s making big plays for the Lakers down the stretch (3:56)

– Jamal Murray AGAIN! He gets another tough finish to go at the rim and the Nuggets are back within four points. (5:34)

– Davis and Rondo connect for another alley-oop. AD has scored the last eight Laker points as they go up five 99-94, (6:15)

– Anthony Davis goes down after turning his ankle on a jumper. He stays in the game and shoots two free throws (6:44)

– Jokic fouls Anthony Davis, picking up his fifth. The Lakers are in the bonus the rest of the way Millsap comes into the game (8:06)

– Jamal Murray is keeping the Nuggets within touching distance. His aggressiveness driving to the basket is catching the Lakers defence out.

End of third quarter: Lakers 87, Nuggets 84

– Every time the Lakers make a run and get the lead out to double-digits, the Nuggets have found a response and head into the third quarter down three points, closing the period on an 11-4 run

– Michael Porter Jr has come to life for the Nuggets with a couple of big triples. He gets one to go on the final shot of the quarter to make it 13 points and six rebounds off the bench.

– Anthony Davis is again struggling on the glass, with just one rebound. Howard (11) and LeBron (8) have done the bulk of the damage on the glass for LA.

– Rajon Rondo has provided a big spark in the third quarter! The ball fake never gets old. His layup gives the Lakers a 10-points lead (2:35)

– The Nuggets are shooting well from the field (57.4%) but the Lakers’ domination on the glass has made the difference. They’ve piled up 20 second-chance points midway through the third.

Torrey Craig drains the triple and Murray follows it up with another layup as the Nuggets get back to within five points. Timeout Lakers (7:21)

– Dwight Howard gets the free throw to go down and the Lakers have opened up a 10-point lead (70-60) thanks to a 10-2 run (8:14)

Half-time: Lakers 60, Nuggets 55

– After trailing by 12 points, the Nuggets rallied to cut the half-time deficit to just five points, led by Jamal Murray’s 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Jokic and Grant have 10 apiece

– Dwight Howard has been a monster in the first half, scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, with 6 on the offensive glass. His activity around the rim has helped the Lakers create 18 second-chance points, more than they’ve had in any game during this series.

– Davis leads the way with 19 points, but the Lakers have four different players in double figures with 14 points from LeBron and 10 from Kuzma.

Half-time team stats:

https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/NBA_Global_CMS_image_storage/ac/ce/nuggets-lakers_48lf0pqr75zf1x8326b6qcx54.png?t=-1023334772&w=500

– The Lakers have now missed 8 of their last 9 shots as the Nuggets trim the lead to four points (1:36)

– Jamal Murray or Michael Jordan? Check this finish from the Nuggets PG!

– Kyle Kuzma’s giving the Lakers some strong minutes, He’s got 10 points in 10 minutes on court.

– The Lakers are making their presence felt on the glass, outrebounding the Nuggets 15-6 midway through the period. Jokic if off to a slow start with 2 points and 0 rebounds.

Alex Caruso drains the corner triple as the Lakers open their largest lead of the game 42-32 early in the second.

End of first quarter: Lakers 37, Nuggets 30

– It’s been a first-quarter shootout between Davis and Murray. AD leads the Lakers with 14 points, while Murray has 12 for the Nuggets. We’re on track for a high-scoring game with both teams shooting above 55%.

– Howard’s making the most of his start today, hauling in eight rebounds to go with eight points late in the first. Lakers lead 29-23.

– The Lakers have gone to their zone defence early, but credit the Nuggets who have moved the ball well early, getting 4 assists on their first 8 made field goals

– LeBron’s bucket caps off a 12-3 run as the Lakers take an eight point lead (5:26)

– A fast start for Anthony Davis, he’s got the Lakers’ first 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting as they lead 10-9. (8:16). Millsap picks up two quick fouls guarding AD and heads to the bench.

– Jokic gets the layup to go for the first points of the game and we’re underway in Game 4

Pre-game

– Dwight Howard will start at centre in place of JaVale McGee, alongside Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis

– Nuggets starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic.

– Jamal Murray gets loose ahead of Game 4

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Blue Jays clinch 1st post-season berth since 2016 after defeating Yankees – CBC.ca

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Vladimir Guerrero Jr., homered and ace Hyun-Jin Ryu threw seven shutout innings as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the New York Yankees 4-1 on Thursday night to wrap up their first post-season berth in four years.

Toronto survived a nervous eighth inning as New York scratched out a run off reliever Anthony Bass, who was pulled after loading the bases with his third walk of the frame.

Rafael Dolis came on and got pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez to fly out on a ball that Randal Grichuk caught against the wall in left-centre field for the third out.

Dolis returned for the ninth and when he fanned Aaron Hicks for his third strikeout of the inning, the party was on at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field.

The Blue Jays celebrated near their dugout, with many players putting on T-shirts that read “Respect Toronto.”

“We keep believing in ourselves,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “It’s awesome. I’m so proud of this group. I’m the happiest guy right now.”

The Blue Jays were in control of their playoff destiny after entering play with a magic number of one. The two teams that had a chance of catching Toronto — the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners — were idle.

Regular-season play continues through Sunday and the playoffs will begin Tuesday. All first-round series will be best-of-three matchups.

It’s possible that the Blue Jays could still move up in the seeding order, but they are good bets to stay in the No. 8 position. If the season ended Thursday night, Toronto would meet the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays.

Expanded playoff format

Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the playoffs. Division winners will be seeded Nos. 1-3 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.

Guerrero had three of Toronto’s 10 hits. He hit a solo homer off New York starter Jordan Montgomery in the second inning and scored on Alejandro Kirk’s two-run double in the sixth inning.

Ryu pitched into the seventh inning for the first time this season, allowing five hits and two walks. He had four strikeouts and threw 62 of his 100 pitches for strikes.

Gio Urshela doubled off Ryu (5-2) in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He was left stranded when Clint Frazier struck out.

Guerrero turned on a 1-1 pitch from Montgomery (2-3) in the bottom half of the frame for his eighth homer. Back-to-back doubles from Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette in the third made it a 2-0 game.

The Yankees (32-25) threatened in the sixth inning after singles by Luke Voit and Hicks. But Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out and then Urshela on a groundout.

Kirk, a rookie catcher who served as designated hitter, lashed a pitch from Adam Ottavino into the left-field corner to help the Blue Jays double their lead. Grichuk scored ahead of Guerrero, who hustled around third base and slid just under Kyle Higashioka’s tag.

New York can’t catch first-place Tampa Bay in the East and has a magic number of one to secure second place in the division.

Before the game, the Blue Jays activated right-hander Nate Pearson after a month-long stint on the injured list due to right elbow tightness. Reliever Wilmer Font was designated for assignment.

The Blue Jays won the wild-card game en route to an appearance in the American League Championship Series in 2016.

Toronto’s last World Series victory came in 1993. A long playoff drought followed until the Blue Jays reached the ALCS in 2015.

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