VANCOUVER – In the first game of his rookie season with the Vancouver Canucks, about 55 minutes before he was scorched by Connor McDavid on the Edmonton Oilers’ game-winning goal, Quinn Hughes turned to defence partner Chris Tanev before the opening faceoff and asked if they were staying out against the superstar once the puck was dropped.
Tanev told him yes. And the then 19-year-old Hughes, according to Tanev, replied: “OK, let’s go.”
Less than three months later, Hughes didn’t have to ask on Monday.
Matched most of the game against the McDavid-Leon Draisaitl line, Hughes not only helped hold the National Hockey League’s top two scorers to three shots on net and a one assist apiece (on the power play), he also blasted in the third-period game winner as the Canucks rallied to beat the Oilers 4-2.
“It’s good, but at the same time it’s humbling,” Hughes, who turned 20 two weeks after that Oct. 2 loss in Edmonton, said of shutting down McDavid. “I know that on any given night, those guys could make me (minus) three. I just try to play my position when I play those guys. It’s a good feeling.”
Checking centre Jay Beagle has had his whole NHL career to train for assignments like defending against McDavid and Draisaitl. Including the five he played for the Canucks straight out of University of Michigan at the end of last season, Hughes had 41 NHL games before Monday.
“For sure, he surprises me,” Beagle said. “I knew he was a great skater coming in. You could tell that from Day 1. Great with the puck. But there are obviously things that you learn about a guy just from playing more games with him, (and) his play away from the puck and his reads, it takes a long time for some guys to get that. He has it right away, which is good for us.”
Only a week ago, the laid-back West Coast (except when it comes to the Canucks or pipelines) was fiercely divided over whether coach Travis Green or general manager Jim Benning should be the first one fired after Vancouver lost four of five games to fall four points adrift of the final wild card playoff spot.
They’ve suddenly built their most impressive three-game winning streak of the season with a cathartic OT win against the Vegas Golden Knights, followed by victories against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Oilers, whose standings lead on the Canucks is down to two points.
But the tying goal on Monday was exceptionally controversial, since it involved the highly-subjective and mysterious “kicking motion” rule, the NHL war room in Toronto, a coin flip and a Ouija board before Bo Horvat’s right-footer was allowed to count for the Canucks.
Goal-less at home this season, which meant he hadn’t scored in Vancouver since he was named the Canucks’ captain on Oct. 9, Horvat clearly turned his right skate to guide the generous rebound from Tanner Pearson’s shot into an open net behind Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen at 4:12 of the final period.
There are less footsy goals in soccer than the one Horvat scored, which is why his celebration was muted. He actually looked guilty putting his arms in the air.
“I wasn’t going to get my hopes up until we went to centre ice and the puck was dropped,” Horvat said. “I came back to the bench and I was like: ‘You know what, with my luck at home right now, this probably isn’t going to count.’ Definitely wasn’t a kicking motion. I’m happy it went in. It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
It was hard to tell post-game which interpretation of the rules was more disappointing to Edmonton coach Dave Tippett: Horvat’s kick or the kick in the teeth of a too-man-men call that preceded Hughes’ power-play winner at 13:48.
“Borderline at that stage of the game,” Tippett said of the penalty. “You get some breaks like that, but ultimately you gotta take care of things like that. It’s the details in winning. If you’re not willing to do them enough, you’re going to lose some games and that’s what happened tonight.”
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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom scored to build a 2-1 lead for Edmonton, which had been 13-0-1 in games they led into the third period. Draisaitl and McDavid each finished minus-three, and the Oilers are just 2-6-1 in their last nine games.
Tyler Motte and Loui Eriksson, into an empty net, scored the other Vancouver goals.
A week ago, nobody foresaw the Canucks going into the Christmas break with this much good cheer.
“We never lost confidence,” Hughes said. “We’ve got a good team. We know it. Our coaching staff knows it and our management knows it. We believe in ourselves.”
Motte said: “Winning fixes a lot of things. The momentum going into the break is good.”
The Canucks’ next game is Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers play Friday against the Calgary Flames.
Blue Jays beat Yankees to clinch first playoff spot since 2016 – TSN
BUFFALO, N.Y. — 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.”
The Blue Jays (30-27) 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.
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.
Notes: The game took three hours 11 minutes to play. … Dolis earned his fifth save. … The Blue Jays will start a three-game series against the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Friday. The Yankees will close their season with a weekend set against the Miami Marlins. … Toronto won three of four against New York and split their 10 games against the Yankees this year. … The Blue Jays improved to 15-8 at Sahlen Field.
Nate Pearson active for Blue Jays vs. Yankees, expected to pitch in relief – Sportsnet.ca
Pearson spent just over a month on the injured list due to right elbow tightness. The 24-year-old rookie, who didn’t record a decision over four starts this season, will most likely serve as a reliever.
“If he comes out and he looks good out of the ‘pen, throwing 98, 97, I wouldn’t mind using him in high leverage,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said on a pre-game video call with reporters. “But he could also open for us if we need him.”
To make room on the roster, the Blue Jays designated reliever Wilmer Font for assignment.
The Blue Jays occasionally use openers, a term for pitchers who start the game but only throw an inning or two.
Toronto entered the finale of the four-game series against the Yankees with a magic number of one to clinch a playoff spot. The Blue Jays, who last reached the post-season in 2016, will close out the regular season with a three-game weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles at Sahlen Field in Buffalo.
Selected 28th overall by Toronto in the 2017 draft, Pearson is considered one of the top prospects in the major leagues. The six-foot-six right-hander can reach 100 m.p.h. with his fastball.
Pearson opened the season on the three-man taxi squad. He spent last year with class-A Dunedin, double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo.
His presence would give a boost to an injury riddled bullpen that has been uneven over the last couple weeks.
Closer Ken Giles is out for the season (elbow) while Jordan Romano (finger) of Markham, Ont., and Julian Merryweather (elbow) are on the IL. Rafael Dolis, who has served as closer and a setup man this year, is nursing a tender knee.
Over 16 1/3 innings this season, Pearson had 14 strikeouts, 12 walks and a 6.60 earned-run average.
Romano, who has been making strides in recent days, was scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday, Montoyo said. Merryweather, meanwhile, remains day to day.
Steven Stamkos' comeback is something to admire – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.
Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
Steven Stamkos made a surprising and dramatic return
Before last night, the injured Tampa Bay Lightning star hadn’t played since Feb. 25. That was 210 days, a core-muscle surgery and the declaration of a global pandemic ago. He’d finally started practising with his team again, but Stamkos still seemed very iffy to suit up before the end of the Stanley Cup final. And pretty much no one expected him to for Game 3.
So what a surprise when, about half an hour before puck drop, word arrived that Stamkos was taking warmups. And then he actually played. And then, on his third shift, he burned a Dallas defenceman along the boards, carried the puck in off the wing and zipped one into the top corner to put Tampa up 2-0. It was vintage Stamkos, and maybe the coolest moment of the playoffs. Watch it here as part of Rob Pizzo’s two-minute game recap.
Unfortunately, his comeback didn’t last long. Stamkos played five shifts for a total of 2:47 of ice time before appearing to be in discomfort on the bench and leaving the game. He didn’t play again, but he sat on the bench and took some quick twirls on the ice during stoppages. Tampa didn’t need him anyway: they led 5-1 after two periods and autopiloted to a 5-2 win that gave them a 2-1 series lead over Dallas.
We’re not supposed to glorify playing through pain anymore — as the NHL was reminded this week when it got dragged on social media for posting a (since-deleted) video showing guys blocking shots with the message that the “price” is “worth it.” There’s a dark side to that type of mythology. But there’s also beauty in what Stamkos did last night, sacrificing his personal well-being to help his team accomplish a goal they’ve been working their whole lives toward.
If the Lightning go on to win the Cup, Stamkos will join the pantheon of athletes who made dramatic returns from injury and helped their teams win a championship by playing hurt. Hockey fans who weren’t even alive at the time talk about the Leafs’ Bobby Baun scoring the OT winner in Game 6 of the 1964 Cup final on a broken ankle. Willis Reed is still revered for limping out of the tunnel to help the Knicks win Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Curt Schilling has become a problematic figure, but his bloody sock will always be part of Red Sox lore as a symbol of his pitching through an ankle injury to help Boston snap its 86-year World Series title drought in 2004. One of the greatest moments in Olympic history is Kerri Strug’s sticking her final vault on a sprained ankle to seal gold for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Kirk Gibson’s “I don’t believe what I just saw!” pinch-hit walkoff homer on one good leg in Game 1 of the ’88 World Series still gives me chills every time I watch it.
Today, we better understand and empathize with the physical, mental and emotional toll that moments like these can take on the people who performed them. And player safety is a much bigger concern than in decades past. Those are good things. But we don’t have to deny that witnessing great athletes push their bodies and minds to the limit is one of the things that makes sports so compelling.
WATCH | Stamkos strikes early for Lightning in Game 3 win:
Canada lost a French Open player, but also gained one. Milos Raonic announced today he’s skipping the final Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year, which begins Sunday. At 20th, he’s Canada’s second-highest-ranked men’s singles player, behind No. 10 Denis Shapovalov. Canada now has four players in the men’s tournament: Shapovalov, 21st-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime, 76th-ranked Vasek Pospisil and 179th-ranked Steven Diez. The latter got in today by winning his third consecutive qualifying match. Two Canadians are in the women’s singles draw: 100th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez and 168th-ranked Genie Bouchard. No. 7 Bianca Andreescu hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury 11 months ago and announced this week she’s taking the rest of the year off. Read more about the Canadians who are in or out of the French Open here.
The Blue Jays can clinch a playoff spot tonight. If they beat the Yankees in the finale of their four-game series, the Jays will officially be back in the post-season for the first time in four years. Even if they lose, a spot in this year’s expanded playoff tournament is still all but assured. The Jays’ magic number is 1, meaning they need just one more win or one more loss by the team right behind them in the wild-card standings (currently the Los Angeles Angels) to clinch. The odds of Toronto making the playoffs are 99.8 per cent, according to ESPN’s model. The regular season ends Sunday. Read more about the Jays’ 14-1 win over New York last night here.
Tyler Herro was the hero of last night’s NBA playoff game. The 20-year-old Miami rookie came off the bench to score a game-high 37 points (17 in the fourth quarter) in another narrow Heat win over Boston that put them up 3-1 in the Eastern Conference final. Only Magic Johnson has scored more points in an NBA playoff game at age 20 or younger. Tonight at 9 p.m. ET is Game 4 of the Western final between the Lakers and Nuggets. Canadian Jamal Murray will try to follow up his 28-point, 12-assist performance from Denver’s Game 3 win.
Both WNBA semifinals resume tonight. Minnesota, which is the only remaining team with Canadians on it, trails Seattle 1-0 in their best-of-five-series. Canada’s Bridget Carleton had 14 points and four assists in the Lynx’s 88-86 loss. Top-seeded Las Vegas and Connecticut are tied 1-1 after Vegas evened the series on Tuesday night.
A Canadian soccer international hopes their coming out will help young trans people. Quinn, who goes only by that name or Quinny now and no longer uses Rebecca Quinn, decided to share their true identity in an Instagram post earlier this month. Part of the reason, they say, was a desire to be “a visible figure for young trans folks or people questioning their gender, people exploring their gender. Because, unfortunately, when I was growing up, and even going through that process of figuring out myself in college, I didn’t have those people in the public sphere to look up to really.” Quinn also hopes to show others how “to be better allies” to trans people. Quinn, 25, has made 59 appearances for the Canadian women’s national team, scoring five goals. They were a member of the 2016 Olympic squad that won bronze, as well as the 2019 World Cup team. Read more about Quinn here.
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