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Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs recap: Kovalchuk secures a critical victory – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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If you happened to miss the game last night between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, you missed a great finish, but you also avoided a plodding start through two periods for both sides. For all intents and purposes, the match really began in the third period, and it didn’t kick off in the way Montreal had hoped.

Leading on the shot counter through two periods, you could say the Maple Leafs deserved the first goal they scored just over a minute into the third. After netting two the previous night versus the Anaheim Ducks, including the winner in overtime, John Tavares opened the scoring.

That proved to be the only shot the Leafs had the rest of the period. They decided to turn to the tactic employed by many NHL teams that carry a lead in the final frame: abandon everything that made you successful through more than two periods and hope the other team doesn’t score.

It nearly worked. Interim starting goaltender Jack Campbell held strong as the Canadiens turned what was a 22-12 shot disadvantage at the time of the Tavares goal into a 27-22 lead by the end of the period. The 26th came off the stick of Marco Scandella, and resulted in the defenceman’s first goal with his hometown team.

As the Maple Leafs collapsed into a defensive box, a half-hearted block attempt by Alex Kerfoot provided a partial screen for Campbell, while another defender was planted directly in front of the goalie. The puck made its way through all three players in blue and white to breach the wall the Canadiens had been hammering all period long.

The Habs had one more shot after the goal, and another chance right before the horn as Ilya Kovalchuk loaded up for a last-gasp attempt but missed the net with a fraction of a second remaining.

In overtime, Toronto finally added to their shot count, but Carey Price turned their only chance aside. Instead, it was the combination of the youngest player on the Canadiens’ roster and the oldest that completed the comeback in style.

Nick Suzuki collected the puck for a breakaway, but just as he was deking across the top of the crease to go to his backhand, the puck was knocked off his stick by a perfect pokecheck from Campbell. Kovalchuk was following up his rookie linemate, and caught the puck on a bounce between two Leafs skaters to fire it to the back of the net, and lead a raucous celebration at the Bell Centre.

In the same week that he shushed the crowd in New Jersey with a shootout decider, last night’s goal was Kovalchuk’s third game-winner since joining the team, and he now leads the Canadiens in that department despite playing just 15 games. This one was the most critical of the three, not only ensuring the Habs got the second point in the game, but also snatching it away from the Leafs to move Montreal one point closer to the third seed in the Atlantic Division. The Habs have now claimed the season series with Toronto, and have that tiebreaker in their back pocket should it be tight enough to need it at the conclusion of the 82-game schedule.

Such clutch performances will be needed all through the next week. Montreal has four games over a six-day span before getting a two-day break. It all starts with the freefalling Arizona Coyotes on Monday.

Thoughts

  • There were some noteworthy things in the opening two frames. Artturi Lehkonen blocked a shot with his hand on the penalty kill, and was clutching it the rest of the shift before skating directly to the dressing room. He came back to play the rest of the game, so hopefully that means there’s nothing too concerning there.
  • Nate Thompson had an excellent PK shift himself in the second. He took on four Maple Leafs players in their own zone, and battled even after getting stripped to kill off some more time. On the same penalty, Jake Evans was sent over the boards, getting some trust from the coach in his second NHL game. Making sure he didn’t mess his impression up, he was only out for about 20 seconds before sprinting back to the bench.
  • Jonathan Drouin made his return to the lineup. He wasn’t very noticeable in limited duty, as you’d expect for a player being dropped directly into a tightly contested battle. He’ll likely be feeling, and therefore looking, a lot more comfortable on Monday.
  • That’s pretty much it. They really were rough periods.

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Flames open road trip with win for Sutter against his former team – Sportsnet.ca

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LOS ANGELES — Sitting in the bowels of a Staples Center arena in which he raised two Stanley Cups, Darryl Sutter was asked about the drive to win another one.

“It’s, like, all that matters to me,” said the Flames’ singularly-focused coach. “You’re trying to translate that to the players, to get to that level that it takes. And the difference it makes in a career and their lives.”

The difference Sutter helped make in Los Angeles was recognized seven minutes into Thursday’s Flames win when he and Trevor Lewis were saluted in a Jumbotron video that drew a standing ovation from a sparse crowd of 13,241.

Guiding the Kings to the franchise’s first Cup win in his first season as their head coach in 2012, Sutter became just the 19th coach in NHL lore to win multiple titles when he won again in 2014.

He’s had a similar, early impact in Calgary where his Flames continue to be the talk of the league, improving their record to a best-in-the-west 14-4-5 with a 3-2 win over his former team.

He wouldn’t say it afterward, but you can bet it meant just a little bit more for him to see his club win one at Staples.

“Some of the players that went through here before told me they probably would,” shrugged Sutter of the video. “It’s good. Good for Trevor, and good for my family.”

Although he did his best to downplay it before and afterwards, this game was important to Sutter.

And the players knew it.

“We wanted to win it for our coach, we wanted to win it for Lewis and his return, and we wanted to get our first win in our division,” said Milan Lucic, whose second power play unit played a big role in the win, with two first period goals.

“Those are all important things for us tonight. It’s always nice to start a four-game trip off in the win column.”

Lucic went five-hole for the fourth time this season to put the Flames up 2-1 in a first period that also saw Andrew Mangiapane score with the man advantage.

“I looked up and saw defence and went back to it — it’s a high percentage shot,” said a smiling Lucic of the between-the-wickets shot that has helped him score the majority of his seven goals.

“If it misses it hits the pads and stays alive, as opposed to a shot in the glove. It seems to be working out. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’d love to tell you how I set it up, but I don’t want the goalies to know what my thought process is. So we’ll just leave it at that.”

Not surprisingly, Lucic got the starting nod alongside fellow Kings alumni Lewis and Brad Richardson as part of Sutter’s gritty All the King’s Men Line.

“My buddies call us the Full Pension Line, which I thought was funny,” laughed Lewis of a nickname offered up by childhood friend and former Flame, Shane O’Brien.

“But whatever you guys want to call it.”

An Alex Iafallo redirection gave the opposition the opening goal for just the fifth time in 23 games — and first on the road — five minutes in.

Mangiapane responded with his 16th before Lucic struck.

Minutes after taking the lead Matthew Tkachuk did his best to resurrect his feud with Drew Doughty with a gritty shift on which he knocked the Kings defender down with a reverse hit before punctuating the whistle with a pair of net-side punches to Doughty’s face.

The second poke drew a penalty the Flames killed off as part of yet another perfect night that saw the unit stop both of L.A.’s man advantages.

Even scoreboard urging from Snoop Dogg couldn’t spur on the Kings.

Tkachuk wound up with the last laugh as he used Doughty as a screen to score his 11th of the season — a top-shelf beauty that stood as the winner early in the second.

“Whoever the defenceman was on that side I just tried to shoot it through him, and it worked out,” said Tkachuk. “I’m sure if you asked (Sutter) he wouldn’t want us to be extra motivated for him. He’d say he wanted us to come in here and get off on this road trip on the right foot and don’t worry about his homecoming. But it was big to get them the win.”

Alexander Edler’s first as a King narrowed the gap late in the second, setting up a third period push that saw Lewis make a key block after Jacob Markstrom made a stunning glove save on Victor Arvidsson’s point blast — one of 40 saves on the night.

The Flames play in Anaheim Friday as part of a four-game road trip that takes them through Vegas and San Jose.

“I think it’s really good for our team, and it’s another measuring stick to see where you are at when you get into the division part of it,” said Sutter before the game when asked about the trip against division rivals.

“This trip there are two we haven’t played and two we haven’t beaten.”

Make that one they haven’t beaten.

NOTES: The Flames sent Juuso Valimaki to Stockton to get some much-needed playing time, as the 23-year-old first-rounder has only been used in eight of the team’s 23 games this season.

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Prediction Time: CFL.ca writers' Div Finals picks – CFL.ca

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TORONTO — The anticipation is building by the day as we get closer to our Eastern and Western Division Finals on Sunday.

A pair of longtime rivals are the final four teams standing and on Sunday we’ll find out which of those two make it to the 108th Grey Cup next week in Hamilton.

If you’re looking for sound, stable and successful advice, look no further than our Jamie Nye. Tied for first-place with Pat Steinberg with a 39-26 record, Jamie was the only one of the six CFL.ca writers that went 2-0 last week, wisely taking the Ticats and Riders to hold court at home. This week they’re both on the road, heading into Toronto and Winnipeg, respectively, to take on the first place Argos and Bombers.

Home field didn’t carry quite as much weight in the East with the pick-makers as it did in the West this week, despite the Argos’ 6-1 record at BMO Field. Just about everyone is on board with the Bombers hosting at IG Field, a place where they haven’t had the taste of defeat all season. The last time the Bombers lost at home was Sept. 27, 2019. That Week 16 loss to Hamilton came a couple of weeks before the Bombers traded for Zach Collaros.

The Riders have a hill to climb this week and they seem to recognize that. The Ticats have a hill of their own, having dropped three of their four meetings with the Argos this season, including their Week 15 encounter that clinched first in the East for the Double Blue.

We’re just days away from having answers and knowing who will be playing for the Grey Cup, setting up a true Sunday Funday.

RELATED
» Head to Head: Who has the edge in the Eastern and Western Finals?
» CFL Pick ‘Em: Make your picks for the divisional finals!
» Weekly Predictor: Betting on the Ticats

HAM at TOR

The Argos might have one of the most underappreciated home field records in recent league history. Standing at an impressive 6-1 — the blemish coming in a meaningless end-of-season tilt with Edmonton — they won’t be an easy out at BMO Field. There’s pressure on each side to win of course, but there’s a little more on the Ticats, who beat the Argos in their first meeting on Labour Day, then dropped their next three meetings, with encounters No. 2 and 3 being one-point losses. Still, the majority of our pick makers think the Ticats can do it, coming off of a convincing win over Montreal last week. A traveling pack of supporters making the trip up the QEW might help pack the stands on Sunday and will try to even out that home field advantage.

PICK

Writers 66% Hamilton

SSK at WPG

The Riders get one last crack at the blue and gold riddle they haven’t been able to solve on Sunday afternoon. This edition of the Bombers might stand as one of the franchise’s all-time great teams, led by a defence that feasts on turnovers and miscues, and is steered on offence by Zach Collaros‘ calm and deliberate style of play. The defending Grey Cup champs come into this game as rested as can be, will have the support of a packed IG Field and have been focused on the next game in front of them since we kicked the season off back in August. The Riders will likely have to be close to perfect to take them down. Going into the game, it feels like a very tall order.

PICK

Writers 83% Winnipeg

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Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo misses game vs. Raptors for undisclosed reason – Sportsnet.ca

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was scratched from the Milwaukee Bucks‘ lineup against the Toronto Raptors for an undisclosed reason.

Antetokounmpo was not among the Bucks’ starters ahead of tipoff. Pat Connaughton was moved into his place in the starting lineup against the Raptors.

The 26-year-old is coming off a dominant performance against the Charlotte Hornets where he had 40 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in a 127-125 victory. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists through 21 games this season.

Milwaukee’s next game is on Saturday against the Miami Heat.

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