Canucks can’t catch Lightning in a bottle
It was a meeting between the two hottest teams in the NHL. Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks were on seven-game winning streaks, just the second time in NHL history that two teams with active winning streaks of at least seven games have met, according to the inimitable Jeff Paterson.
One of these two teams was going to see their streak cut short, while the other would leave with an even more impressive eight-game winning streak.
Anyone hoping for an evenly-matched clash between two titans was in for a rude awakening, not to be confused for la rue d’awakening, which is when you’re driving down the road and you nearly fall asleep and suddenly startle awake when you almost get in an accident. Also, it’s a great episode of the cult classic cartoon Clone High.
Until there were five minutes left in the second period, you could convince yourself that these two teams were on even footing, that the Canucks were on par with one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, a legitimate Stanley Cup Contender-with-a-capital-C. The game was tied 2-2, the shots were even at 16 apiece, and the Canucks even had the momentum, having just scored the tying goal.
And then it all went to hell and no one even bothered to provide the Canucks with a handbasket.
In the space of three minutes, the Lightning scored four goals. Really, they scored five goals, but one of those goals was disallowed, on account of them scoring a goal earlier in the shift that got missed.
If you missed those three minutes, you must have been wildly confused when you returned to your television. When you left, the game could go either way, but it was likely to be a tight, one-goal affair, with neither team giving an inch. When you got back, the Canucks had given 63,360 inches.
You might be worried that you won’t know what to say to your Canucks fan friends on Wednesday if you did miss those few minutes or, heaven forfend, the entire game. Never fear. You can either just say, “Did you see that ludicrous display last night?” and you’ll be fine, or you can read the rest of this article, because I watched this game.
- The Canucks lost by seven to end their seven-game winning streak, which is, in one sense, a good thing. If you’re going to see a winning streak cut short, you might as well go all out. Blow it all to pieces. 9-2? That’s not enough: they should have lost 10-2 or 11-2. Let it be the kind of performance that jolts the team awake instead of lulling them into a false sense of security.
- What is somewhat alarming is that, despite the streak, it took just one loss for Canucks to once again be outside the playoff picture. They’re currently sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference, behind the Winnipeg Jets for the final Wild Card spot. It turns out a bunch of the other teams in the West have also been winning games, which is just bad manners if you ask me. Quite rude.
- (The Canucks have two or three games in hand on most of the teams ahead of them in the standings, so don’t flip any pools just yet)
- It really felt like two completely different games. The first game, even though the Lightning had some long shifts in the Canucks’ zone, the two teams looked pretty even. The Canucks created some great chances: Bo Horvat hit a crossbar on the power play in the first period and J.T. Miller got robbed by Andrei Vasilevski on a great setup by Elias Pettersson in the second period. If either of those two chances went in, we’re talking about a very different game.
- Then the Lightning completely took over the game. The goals came quick as some sort of incredibly speedy thing, like an electrical discharge or something. Jacob Markstrom, who had been instrumental in the Canucks’ streak, suddenly looked fallible, but it was hard to blame him too much, given the turnovers and defensive breakdowns in front of him.
- Let’s start with the good: Pettersson opened the scoring late in the first period for the Canucks on an odd play. He tried to set up Brock Boeser at the backdoor, but his saucer pass plunked the sprawling Jan Rutta directly in the face. Pettersson, as is his way, made sure Rutta was okay and apologized before skating away. Rutta, assured that Steven Stamkos would get the puck out, went to the bench for a line change, leaving Pettersson all alone. Whoops.
- Stamkos failed to get the puck out, as Boeser chased him down and intercepted his pass. He turned and fed the wide open Pettersson, who faked a deke to the backhand and tucked the puck under Vasilevski’s right pad as soon as the goaltender lifted it to push across. It was a lovely goal, made possible by a puck to the face.
- The Lightning’s first goal came off a turnover when Alex Edler sent a suicide pass to Jay Beagle. Instead of blowing up Beagle, Victor Hedman instead poked the puck to Ondrej Palat, who set up Tyler Johnson for the goal. Markstrom got a piece of the shot and the puck went off the crossbar, only for Johnson to get his stick behind Markstrom and backhand it in.
- The second Lightning goal came off a faceoff win on the power play directly to Stamkos on the left side of the faceoff circle and he generally doesn’t miss from there. That power play lasted two seconds, mainly because Tim Schaller stepped towards the faceoff dot instead of heading straight for Stamkos as soon as the puck was dropped. I’m not a penalty kill coach, but stopping one of the best goalscorers of his generation seems like a bit of a priority.
- The Horvat line stepped up to tie the game a few minutes later. Tanner Pearson chased down a dump-in, but couldn’t handle the puck. That turned to their advantage when Horvat faked a big slap shot and instead centred for Loui Eriksson, who got both his stick on the puck and a little lucky. His deflection careened off Hedman’s skate and in.
- Then things got ugly. Tyler Myers whiffed on a puck at the blue line, giving Alex Killorn a breakaway for the 3-2 goal. Then Oscar Fantenberg badly misplayed a 3-on-2 and Carter Verhaege ripped a shot off the back bar of the net, which was initially missed until Mitchell Stephens scored another goal seconds later. Stephens’ goal was wiped out, Verhaege’s counted, and the clock reset with the scoe 4-2.
- 31 seconds later, the Lightning made it 5-2 on a goal similar to their second: Beagle lost a faceoff in the defensive zone and Nikita Kucherov fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle off the post, off the back of Markstrom, and in.
- 25 seconds after that, Erik Cernak made it 6-2, second a slap shot from the point through traffic to beat Markstrom. There was so much traffic it was like the Lightning was DDoS’ing the Canucks’ net.
- That was it: 4 goals in a 2:55 span. Markstrom understandably got pulled, bringing in Thatcher Demko to mop up what was left. It didn’t get any better for him in the third: a blocked pass gave Brayden Point room to make it 7-2. A pass from Troy Stecher to Edler was just off the mark and no one picked up Verhaege at the back door and he made it 8-2. Then, to cap it off, the Lightning got a 5-on-3 power play and set up Verhaege for the hat trick to make it 9-2.
- The Canucks’ defence looked disorganized, disheveled, and disarrayed. The pairing of Tyler Myers and Oscar Fantenberg looked particularly troubled, but every pairing had their issues transitioning the puck up ice and avoiding turnovers, and the Lightning’s forward depth wreaked havoc on their in-zone coverage.
- To make it even more painful, the Canucks couldn’t score on their own extended 5-on-3, with Vasilevski robbing Pettersson and Boeser on their chances. Boeser’s was the better of the two, though he had to take Horvat’s pass off his skate and couldn’t get the shot off as quickly as he would have liked, Vasilevski still had to make a marvelous blocker save.
- The game got testy near the end, as blowouts often do. I was honestly surprised that Edler’s big hit on Yanni Gourde didn’t lead to anything: he took a healthy run at the 5’9” Gourde and sent him flying, but nothing came of it.
- Instead, the match that lit the fuse was a hit by Jake Virtanen on Ondrej Palat. The hit looked a lot worse than it really was. While it initially looked like a hit to the head, Virtanen pretty clearly caught Palat on the shoulder on the replay. The worst thing you could say is that it was, as soccer announcers would say, a very cynical challenge. Virtanen blew up Palat and headed straight off for a line change, avoiding the ensuing scrum entirely.
- Poor Chris Tanev got the worst of it, as Tyler Johnson went after him while he was already in a headlock from Rutta. Johnson likely thought Tanev had delivered the hit, possibly confusing Virtanen’s 18 for Tanev’s 8.
- Virtanen initially was given a five-minute major, as the referees surely thought Virtanen had hit Palat in the head. They reviewed the replay, however, and reduced it to a minor penalty for charging. You could argue it wasn’t a penalty at all, but in a 9-2 game, taking Virtanen off the ice to ease tensions was probably the right call.
Blue Jays’ Chris Bassitt announces birth of child to cap ‘perfect weekend’
The Toronto Blue Jays had a memorable few days in New York, thanks to a three-game sweep of the Mets, but that’s not the biggest reason starting pitcher Chris Bassitt is all smiles these days.
Bassitt and his wife, Jessica, welcomed their second child over the weekend, with the veteran right-hander reporting that both mother and baby are doing well.
“Perfect weekend complete,” Bassitt wrote on Twitter. “Momma and Colson are doing great.”
Jessica went into labour Friday, while her husband took his normal turn in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Bassitt channelled all of his “dad strength” in that outing against the Mets, firing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts in a 3-0 Toronto win. In a cruel twist from the universe, the start of the game was delayed more than 90 minutes due to inclement weather.
Once his outing was over, Bassitt rushed back to Toronto via private plane to be with Jessica for Colson’s birth. He made it in plenty of time, tweeting Saturday morning that the baby hadn’t arrived yet.
The 34-year-old will now be able to enjoy a few days with his family, as the Blue Jays placed him on the paternity list Saturday. Reliever Jay Jackson took his place on the 26-man roster.
Bassitt’s Blue Jays teammates gave him even more reason to cheer by eking out a 2-1 victory Saturday before getting the brooms out with a 6-4 win in the series finale.
Brandon Belt was the hero Sunday, connecting for a go-ahead, two-run home run in the seventh inning after Toronto squandered an early 4-0 advantage. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also went deep for the Blue Jays, while Whit Merrifield delivered a two-run double in the second inning.
Next up, Toronto welcomes the Houston Astros to Rogers Centre for a four-game series that begins Monday. Bassitt is listed as the probable starter for Wednesday’s contest.
Rory McIlroy (T-1) falls back on short game, stays positive with chance at Memorial
DUBLIN, Ohio – Rory McIlroy will set out Sunday afternoon at Jack’s Place looking to secure the second leg of the “Legends Slam” with a swing that’s well short of perfect and no shortage of would-be spoilers lurking.
He couldn’t be happier.
For the third consecutive day at the Memorial, McIlroy leaned on luck and grit to keep pace with the co-leaders – Si Woo Kim and David Lipsky – at 6 under par with 10 other players within two shots of the lead. Betting lines will undoubtedly favor the world No. 3 against the other contenders, but the truth is he has no idea what to expect when he sets out in the week’s final group.
Full-field scores from the Memorial Tournament
“I don’t think I hit a green from the eighth hole through the 14th hole, and I played those holes in even par,” McIlroy shrugged following his third-round 70. “Chip in on 12 [for birdie] and got it up-and-down from some tricky spots. I was really happy with how I scored out there and how I just sort of hung in there for most of the day.”
If McIlroy’s happy-to-be-here take doesn’t match with his world-beater persona, it’s the honest byproduct of a swing that he’s repeatedly said is a work in progress. Saturday’s round on a hard-and-fast course was the most-recent example of his very real struggle.
There was the chip-in for birdie at No. 12 from 25 feet and scrambling pars at Nos. 8, 11, 13 and 14. The major champion, whose career has been written with an overwhelming driver and sublime iron play, has now fully embraced the scrappy life.
“Embracing it,” he smiled. “There was a couple of shots out there when I missed the greens that I was sort of looking forward to hit. I think it’s embracing that challenge and embracing the fact that you’re probably not going to hit more than 12 or 13 greens out there. I think with how my short game’s been this week it’s something I’ve been able to fall back on, which has been great.”
To be fair, Rory is still Rory off the tee. He’s eighth this week in strokes gained: off the tee and second in driving distance, which at Muirfield Village is an accomplishment considering host Jack Nicklaus’ mission is to take driver out of the hands of the game’s top players.
Where the challenge has come is from the fairway and, despite his lofty status among the leaders, Saturday’s effort was his statistically worst of the week with just 7 of 18 greens in regulation and a loss to the field (1.71 shots) in strokes gained: approach the green.
Still, he’s the easy favorite with 18 holes remaining and for good reason. Other than Kim, who has four PGA Tour victories including the 2017 Players Championship, the next six players on the board have a combined four Tour victories.
“It’s a big tournament and I’ve got quite a bit of experience in that and you would like to think that gives you a little bit of an advantage,” McIlroy said. “Everyone’s going to go out there tomorrow and, regardless of where you are in the tournament, this golf course makes you a little uncomfortable anyway. So, everyone’s going to be feeling like that. With the way the leaderboard is and how bunched it is, it’s just going to come down to who can sort of hold their head the most coming down the stretch.”
Considering his own assessment of his swing, keeping a positive outlook doesn’t seem to be a problem for McIlroy this week. It might have something to do with what has admittedly been a rough couple of weeks, which stretch back to his missed cut at the Masters. Or it might just be the opportunity.
When he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2018, it was two years after that tournament’s host and legend had died. For a player who grew up idolizing The King, it was a bittersweet accomplishment and a part of why Sunday at Muirfield Village is likely to mean more than the sum of its parts.
“To be able to walk up that hill from 18 and get that handshake from Jack would be pretty nice,” he said. “I won Arnold’s tournament a few years ago, but he had already passed by that time. So it would be so nice to be able to do it and have Jack be there.”
It’s been an interesting year for McIlroy both on and off the course, which at least partially explains a lightness in his step that had been missing. There was also a message from his sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, last week that appeared to resonate with the 23-time Tour winner: “You are going to win your fare share of golf tournaments. You tee it up to see what your fare share is.”
Vladimir Guerrero Drives Home Winning Run, Jays Beat Mets
Jays 2 Mets 1
Off the top, I’m pretty sure that’s the worst job we’ve seen from a plate umpire this year. He had no clue where the strike zone was. John Schneider got thrown out of the game after a particularly bad strike call on Vladimir Guerrero in the ninth.
Fortunately, Vlad still doubled down the third base line to bring in the winning run. Pretty amazing job after being down 1-2. George Springer had a one-out single and steal.
Our only other run came in the sixth. Brandon Belt led off with a double. Matt Chapman walked. Two outs later, Alejandro Kirk, singled home Belt.
We had the bases loaded in the first but couldn’t get a run in. There were other chances but no luck.
In all we had 10 hits. Springer, Bichette, Belt and Kirk had two each. Chapman, Merrifield and Kiermaier had the 0 fors.
Jose Berrios was terrific. 5 innings, 4 hits, 3 walks and 6 strikeouts. 1 earned, scoring in the second inning, when he gave up a single to Starling Marte and a double to Daniel Vogelbach. But then he got three quick outs, and the Mets didn’t do much against him the rest of the way.
Trevor Richards, Nate Pearson (getting the win) and Erik Swanson (save #1 of the season), each pitched a scoreless inning. I didn’t understand pulling Richards after the one inning, but it all worked out. I think Pearson would have stayed out for another inning if the Jays didn’t take the lead.
Jays of the Day: Vlad (.310 WPA), Belt (.222), Swanson (.177), Berrios (.164), Pearson (.098) and Richards (.082).
The Other Award: Merrifield (-.376 for his 0 for) and Kiermaier (-.175 for his 0 for).
Tomorrow the Jays go for the sweep with Yusei Kikuchi (6-2, 4.47) vs. Kodai Senga (5-3, 3.44). It is to be a 1:30 Eastern start, but then today’s was to be a 4:00 Eastern start but the Mets had Al Leiter talking for 30 minutes about how great he was.
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