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Canadiens Notebook: Nate Thompson has high praise for Ilya Kovalchuk – Montreal Gazette

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“Kovy’s a good guy. I just think it wasn’t the right fit there,” veteran says about his former teammate with the Los Angeles Kings.

Ilya Kovalchuk will see a familiar face in the locker room when he joins the Canadiens after being signed by general manager Marc Bergevin as a free agent on Friday.

Veteran centre Nate Thompson was Kovalchuk’s teammate last season with the Los Angeles Kings and had nothing but good things to say about the 36-year-old Russian after he signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canadiens that will pay him US$700,000 in the NHL and US$70,000 in the AHL.

“I saw his work ethic and the way he works in the gym and on the ice,” Thompson said about Kovalchuk, who has 436-423-859 totals in 897 career games after being selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the No. 1 overall pick at the 2001 NHL Draft. “He’s still very competitive and still wants to win and do well. So I think that will be good for us. I think it will be good for some of our young guys to see him. I’m sure some guys are going to be a little bit in awe. It’s Ilya Kovalchuk and he’s had a pretty good career in this league, so it will be fun.”


Canadiens centre Nate Thompson takes part in pregame warmup before NHL game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Feb. 21, 2019.

Dave Sidaway /

Montreal Gazette

Kovalchuk became an unrestricted free agent on Dec. 17 when he cleared unconditional waivers, allowing the Kings to terminate the remainder of his three-year, US$18.75-million contract, which had one more season after this remaining.

“Kovy’s a good guy. I just think it wasn’t the right fit there,” said Thompson, who was traded from the Kings to the Canadiens last February. “When we signed him in L.A. I think we were expecting big things that year and it didn’t work out. Sometimes things don’t work out when you sign somewhere. But Kovy wants to do well. He’s a good guy, he cares, he works extremely well. I think he’s going to be very, very motivated coming here.

“I think we play maybe a style that’s more fitting to him than it was in L.A.,” Thompson added. “Like I said, he’s a motivated guy. I think us older guys would say you’re getting another chance and you probably want to relish that opportunity. I’m sure he feels that way right now.”

When asked what his new teammates and Canadiens fans might be surprised to know about Kovalchuk, Thompson said: “I just think his work ethic on the ice and off the ice. When I was in L.A. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t really know much about him off the ice. But I’ve never really seen many guys work as hard as him off the ice in the gym. He’s kind of an animal. It was fun to watch and I think it will be good for a lot of guys to see that here.

“I like Kovy. I love Kovy. He’s a great guy,” Thompson added. “He was a lot of fun to play with. His numbers speak for themselves in the National Hockey League. He’s obviously very talented. I think bringing him here it’s going to be positive for us.”

A positive for Thompson is that at age 35 he is no longer the oldest player on the Canadiens.

Kovalchuk was still working on visa issues Friday and isn’t expected to be in the Canadiens lineup Saturday night when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

“Probably not,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said when asked if Kovalchuk could play Saturday. “But don’t shoot me if he does. But probably not. The sooner the better. They’re working on the visa now.”

Scandella paired with Fleury

Defenceman Marco Scandella took part in his first practice with the Canadiens on Friday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night in exchange for a fourth-round pick at this year’s NHL Draft.

Scandella skated beside rookie Cale Fleury on the third defence pairing, taking Brett Kulak’s spot.

“A good young defenceman,” Scandella said about Fleury. “I think we’re going to work well together. Just building that chemistry today. Just seeing how he moves out there. He’s a big kid that plays hard, so it’s going to be fun.”

Scandella, who is a Montreal native, is excited about playing his first game with the Canadiens Saturday night.

“The emotions of playing at the Bell Centre in front of these fans is just going to be huge,” the 29-year-old said.

“It’s a fast team, young team, a lot of talent,” Scandella added about the Canadiens. “So I just want to inject some positivity, bring a good defensive effort and have fun. At the end of the day it’s a game, let’s enjoy it. Let’s win some hockey games and have fun.”

As for the pressure of being a hometown boy playing for the Canadiens, Scandella said: “There’s always pressure. I played for Team Canada. When you play in the NHL you’re expected to perform. We’re paid to play this game and I just try to bring that outlook of positivity every day, have fun with it. I mean we’re playing a game. I work hard, I get to enjoy this game. I’m one of the lucky ones that got to play at this age. So I’m just enjoying every minute of it and playing in Montreal is just going to be special.”

Scandella can become an unrestricted free agent this summer and Bergevin didn’t rule out the possibility of re-signing the defenceman, depending on his performance the rest of this year.

“He’s got good size and we have good skaters in Kulak, (Victor) Mete, (Jeff) Petry and even Ben (Chiarot),” Bergevin said about Scandella. “He’s a bigger body who’s more defensive, and I don’t know if Claude (Julien) will use him with Petry or Fleury, but we’ll find out over the next couple of days and probably tomorrow.”

The lines

Thompson had a therapy day and didn’t take part in Friday’s practice. Here’s how the forward lines and defence pairings looked:

Tatar – Danault – Cousins
Lehkonen – Domi – Suzuki
Poehling – Kotkaniemi – Weal
Vejdemo – Peca – Weise

Chiarot – Weber
Mete – Petry
Scandella – Fleury
Kulak – Folin

Gallagher is feeling better

Bergevin said Friday that Brendan Gallagher is feeling better after suffering a concussion during a 3-1 loss to the Hurricanes on New Year’s Eve in Carolina.

“He’s feeling better today,” Bergevin said about Gallagher, who was placed on the injured-reserve list. “He could be sooner than later but, again, there’s a protocol you have to follow. If he’s good the next four days and on the fifth day he doesn’t feel good again, then it’s starting all over again. So I don’t know, but there’s hope he could be the first guy to be back. But again, I don’t have any time frame.”

Gallagher is one of five Canadiens on the injured-reserve list along with Jonathan Drouin (wrist), Joel Armia (hand), Paul Byron (knee) and Matthew Peca (knee).

Bergevin said that the next two weeks in the schedule — with eight games in 14 days after facing the Penguins Saturday night — will be crucial for the Canadiens before they head into their bye week.

“Again, everybody gets injuries, I get that,” Bergevin said. “But it happened with the guys we got injured, Drouin was playing very well, Armia was a force, Paulie Byron scored 20 goals the last two seasons. Now Gally’s out. Those are big pieces of our team. I believe if these guys would have been healthy we’d probably be in the playoffs or even closer now. I don’t think we’re out. I think we’re trying to stay in, hang in there until the break and start having our guys back.”

The Canadiens hit the midway point of the season with Thursday night’s 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which dropped their record to 18-17-6.

Bergevin keeping eye on Caufield

Cole Caufield, the Canadiens’ first-round pick at this year’s NHL Draft, had only one goal and one assist in five games with Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, but that doesn’t concern Bergevin who didn’t rule out the possibility of the right-winger signing with the Canadiens after his freshman season with the University of Wisconsin.

“Possible, but not a guarantee,” Bergevin said. “If you look at (Alex) DeBrincat’s (world junior) tournament, I think he had one assist one year and the second year he didn’t make the team. But today we see he’s a guy who’s performing really well in Chicago. So I’m not basing my evaluation on just what happened the last week (with Caufield). We have time to make a decision on him, but he’s still one of our top prospects.”

Team USA lost 1-0 to Finland in the quarterfinals of the world junior tournament.

Caufield has 12-8-20 totals in 18 games with the Wisconsin Badgers.

What’s next?

The Canadiens have a morning skate scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Brossard before facing the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens then have a rare Sunday practice scheduled in Brossard at 11 a.m. to prepare for four games next week. The Winnipeg Jets will be at the Bell Centre Monday (7 p.m., TSN2, TSN3, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) before the Canadiens fly to Detroit to face the Red Wings on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Edmonton Oilers will be at the Bell Centre next Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and then the Canadiens will wrap up the week next Saturday in Ottawa against the Senators (7 p.m., CBC, SN, SN360, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

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

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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 – Sportsnet.ca

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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 – Sportsnet.ca

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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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