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Canucks squander big opportunity in deflating loss to Golden Knights

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EDMONTON – You work and sacrifice, suffer physically, battle and crawl and build yourself a one-goal lead to try to save your season. And then the Vegas Golden Knights arrive like a landslide in the third period, pump in three goals and win 5-3.

And if you’re the Vancouver Canucks, you have to wonder if Sunday was your last best chance to make this a series.

After playing well for two periods on Sunday, the Canucks were buried by three goals in six-and-a-half minutes in the third and lost for the second time in 25 hours to the Knights, who took a 3-1 lead in this second-round Stanley Cup Playoffs clash.

Yes, the Golden Knights are loud and obnoxious. Who needs fans in the building when you have Ryan Reaves and the rest of the Vegas bench? But they seem capable of backing up everything they say.

Vegas won Game 3 with defence and won Game 4 with offence, scoring off the rush, scoring off the cycle and scoring on the power play. The Canucks, Canada’s last-standing team — not counting all the American ones in the bubble — are a Tuesday loss away from leaving the Stanley Cup tournament.

“It’s unchartered territory for a lot of players, obviously,” veteran Canucks forward J.T. Miller said late Sunday. “A lot of young guys on the team. We’ve just got to worry about next game. We’ve proven we can play with (the Golden Knights) for a long stretch of the first four games. We’re going to come out and try to have a good start to the next game and go from there. It’s the only thing we can focus on at this point.

“We put ourselves in a helluva spot to win a hockey game (tonight) and get right back in the series. And we need to do a better job… I mean, it’s not the third period we wanted. That’s a dream spot to be in in the playoffs, (trying) to tie a series 2-2 and be up one going into the third. And they had too many good looks.”

Starting with Nate Schmidt’s equalizer at 2:52, a 50-foot slapshot that beat goalie Jacob Markstrom between his arm and torso after a shift of sustained pressure, the Golden Knights surged back in the first half of the final period, scoring three times on Canucks mistakes and a couple of bounces.

Max Pacioretty reached behind him for the puck as he was being checked to somehow finish a three-on-two rush from Schmidt’s pass to put Vegas ahead 4-3 at 7:02. And from the remnants of another outnumbered rush, William Karlsson tapped in Pacioretty’s centring pass 87 seconds later as both Markstrom and defenceman Tyler Myers, just back after missing seven games with a shoulder injury, reacted slowly.

Markstrom made some terrific saves during the game but looked tired in the third trying to play both halves of the playoff back-to-back. Vegas coach Peter DeBoer had the luxury of dividing the weekend workload between his two “No. 1” goalies, starting Marc-Andre Fleury Sunday after Robin Lehner shut out the Canucks 3-0 on Saturday.

“I felt great,” Markstrom said defiantly after the game. “There was about five (goals) I would like to have back.”

“There’s no quit in this team,” Canucks centre Elias Pettersson said. “We’ve been working all season for this and we’re not going to back down without a battle. Of course, it’s frustrating now, but we’ve just got to focus on next game.”

They’d better focus solely on Tuesday because the idea right now of winning three straight against the Golden Knights is a little overwhelming.

The biggest game of the series was also the best as the Canucks and Golden Knights traded four goals through 25 minutes Sunday before Tyler Toffoli’s power-play marker gave Vancouver its first lead at 11:26 of the second period.

Quinn Hughes, hellaciously hit earlier in the game by Reaves to initiate a Vegas goal, surprised the Golden Knights by continuing forward on a power-play break in rather than drop the puck in the neutral zone. Hughes passed to Toffoli, who fired from close range high and in off Fleury’s shoulder.

The Canucks had tied the game seven minutes earlier when Fleury spilled a deflection from Miller, leaving captain Bo Horvat a tap-in that made it 2-2 at 4:07.

Vancouver’s push was impressive, as Vegas built a 2-1 lead in the first period but could have led by more based on the scoring chances.

Pacioretty made it 1-0 for the Golden Knights at 9:28, punishing the Canucks for a too-man-men penalty by shooting through Markstrom’s pads from the high slot.

Pettersson tied it 1-1 at 11:15, lethally measuring his shot and picking his spot glove-side on Fleury during Vancouver’s first power play.

But Vegas re-took the lead just 2:04 later when fourth-line centre Chandler Stephenson finished a three-on-two rush from Shea Theodore’s pass. The prerequisite to the goal was the 240-pound Reaves running over Hughes when the Canucks’ five-foot-10 rookie tried to reverse with the puck in the offensive zone, making himself a hugely inviting target. It was like a bear running over a rabbit.

As the Knights counter-attacked with Hughes caught and the Vancouver bench screaming for a penalty, Toffoli turned to confront Reaves, leaving lots of time and space for Vegas to execute its outnumbered rush.

After the goal, Reaves and other Golden Knights could be heard mocking Hughes, and the trash-talking soon involved Canucks coach Travis Green.

Reaves could have been called for boarding, but it would have been marginal. And the Canucks really had no complaints because in the second period Jonathan Marchessault was called for a high-stick on Troy Stecher when the offending twig actually belonged to Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler.

If the Canucks really want to shut up the Golden Knights, all they have to do is win.

“You’re not going to win the series next game,” Miller said. “You’ve got to worry about (only) next game. We’re not worried about… whatever can happen after that.”

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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NBA Playoffs 2020: The Boston Celtics need Gordon Hayward now more than ever – NBA CA

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8h ago


Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics could be up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals just as easily as they are down 2-0.

Blowing double-digit leads in each of the first two games of the series, the Miami Heat have out-hustled the Celtics for 48 (and some change) minutes in back-to-back games to give themselves a commanding lead.

With Boston on the brink of the infamous 3-0 deficit that no NBA team has ever come back from, Game 3 becomes a must-win if the Celtics are going to continue their push for their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.

There’s been a common thread in Games 1 and 2 (aside from the double-digit comebacks) that have placed Boston in this situation: Miami’s 2-3 zone defence. Our Scott Rafferty analyzed that issue in detail, and it’s been a glaring weakness for Boston’s offence all season.

But luckily for the Celtics, they still haven’t used all the cards up their sleeve. They still have a weapon stored away that could present itself at any moment now, as former All-Star forward Gordon Hayward‘s return is on the horizon.

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Hayward, who suffered an ankle injury in the Celtics’ first game of the postseason and has been out since, was upgraded to “doubtful” before Game 2. While that wasn’t much of an update, it showed he was getting closer to returning to the floor. The Athletic’s Jared Weiss confirmed that following Thursday’s loss, stating that Hayward is “progressing toward a return for Game 3,” adding that he felt good after Wednesday’s practice and will “get more on-court work Friday with the hope of playing Saturday.”

On Friday, he was officially listed by the team as “questionable” for Game 3.

It will surely take some time for Hayward to get back into the flow of things after missing one month of action, but he immediately helps Boston take steps toward breaking that impenetrable zone defence.

His 19.0 points per game in the bubble speaks for itself, giving the Celtics an extra scoring threat that the Heat will have to worry about. He can shoot from the perimeter (converting 38.3% of his 3s this season), he’s a solid slasher with the ball and cutter without the ball, and he’s a strong midrange shooter, pairing well with sharp playmaking skills that should help dissect that zone.

Most importantly, Hayward loves working in the soft spot of the 2-3 zone (right at the foul line), which should give Miami’s defence more trouble than its seen thus far.

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In Games 1 and 2, the Celtics elected to go with Marcus Smart or Daniel Theis to try and pierce the heart of that zone. Smart’s passing makes him an OK option for that middle spot, but he’s better off on the perimeter, where he’s converting 42.1% of his 3s this series. The Heat will live with him or Theis taking that midrange pull-up, whereas it becomes a much more efficient source of offence for Boston with Hayward taking that shot.

According to NBA Stats, Hayward shot 49.3% on midrange jumpers and 43.4% on shots in the paint (non-restricted area) this season. Having him in the middle will prevent the zone’s two defenders up top from expanding so far out, shrinking that long and athletic defence even just a tad bit more.

The Heat will be forced to collapse on Hayward, where he can showcase his playmaking ability to find open shooters on the perimeter. That makes Miami much more reliant on perfect and quick rotations to challenge Boston’s 3-point shooters.

If the Heat’s defenders don’t collapse on him or the centre (typically Bam Adebayo) doesn’t take a step up, Hayward will gladly take looks like the one below over and over again.

Even though he misses that particular jumper, it’s a shot Miami is much less likely to live with compared to Smart or Theis pulling up from there. Even when Hayward attacks from the perimeter, he has no problem stopping short of that centre defender for little pull-up jumpers like this one against the Heat earlier this season:

The Celtics have been dependent on quick passes for (often contested) 3-pointers, which has also developed into bad decisions for live ball turnovers or long rebounds going the other way to spark Miami runs off of offensive droughts. Having someone that can hit shots like the ones above makes that zone defence much more vulnerable than it has been so far.

Hayward’s return wouldn’t just be a luxury for the Celtics, it’s essential for them to keep their season alive in trying to even the series.

The Celtics need Gordon Hayward now more than ever if their title pursuit is going to continue.

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History will be made in latest Belichick-Carroll matchup – NFL.com

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There’s no shortage of history that’s been made by Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll in their sterling coaching careers.

When their teams stand on opposing sidelines Sunday night, they’ll make a little history together.

Carroll and Belichick, 69 and 68-years-young, respectively, are the two oldest coaches in the NFL and their combined age of 137 years and 162 days on game day will set a record for the oldest head coaching matchup in the history of the league, per NFL Research.

Like fine wine, Bill and Pete will age past Marv Levy and Don Shula, who were a combined 136 years and 117 days old when they battled one last time back in Week 16 of 1995, according to NFL Research.

In previous head-to-head matchups, Carroll owns a 2-1 advantage.

Between the two, their NFL success is historic, as well, obviously. The two have combined for 455 wins in the regular season and seven Super Bowl trophies — although Belichick clearly has a huge advantage there.

And who knows how long they’ll keep building on to their Hall of Fame resumes.

“I don’t know,” Carroll said when asked who would retire first. “Ask him. I’m feeling great. I’m kind of on a five-year plan. Five years from now I’ll figure it out and reassess. I actually owe that to David Brooks. And he taught me that a while back. Something he wrote, ‘Why are you looking year-to-year? Why don’t you just plan it out over a five-year period?’ So, each year is five more years. So it was five years last and it’s five years this year and we’ll figure it out when the time comes.”

Though their ages are adding up to history, their past and present success offers no reason that their futures will be up anytime soon.

For now, it’s all about this Sunday and another historic marker in two historical coaching careers.

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Novak Djokovic loses cool but reaches Rome semis – TSN

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ROME — Less than two weeks after getting defaulted from the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic lost his cool again midway through a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the Italian Open quarterfinals Saturday.

When Djokovic was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the red clay in anger.

With the frame broken and the strings all mangled, Djokovic was forced to get a new racket and received a warning from the chair umpire.

“It’s not the first nor the last racket that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.

“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that — definitely.”

The top-ranked Djokovic was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger.

At the Foro Italico, Djokovic had already appeared frustrated during the game before he broke his racket, glaring toward the umpire following a couple of overrules and a point that was ordered to be replayed.

“That’s just me,” Djokovic said. “Of course I’m not perfect and I’m doing my best.”

The 97th-ranked Koepfer, who screamed at himself in frustration throughout the match, was also warned for misbehaviour early in the third set.

Aiming for his fifth title in Rome, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who eliminated local favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a match that lasted 2 hours, 57 minutes.

Nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal was playing Diego Schwartzman later in the other half of the draw.

Ruud is the first Norwegian to reach the semifinals of a Masters 1000 tournament. His father, Christian Ruud, got as far as the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters in 1997.

While fans have not been admitted to the tournament yet — Italy’s sports minister said Friday that 1,000 spectators will be allowed in for the semifinals and finals — workers, family members and other onlookers inside the picturesque Pietrangeli stadium provided some support for Berrettini, who is from Rome.

Nicola Pietrangeli, the 1957 and 1961 Rome champion and the man the stadium is named after — was also among those sitting on the white marble stands.

“There would have been a lot more adrenaline with fans,” Berrettini said.

In the women’s tournament, top-seeded Simona Halep reached the last four when Kazakh opponent Yulia Putintseva retired midway through their match due to a lower back injury.

Halep, who lost two straight finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018, will need to beat two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza to return to the championship match. Muguruza required more than two hours to eliminate U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“(Muguruza) feels really well on (the) clay court and here,” Halep said. “It’s a big challenge.

“I really want to win this tournament,” added Halep, who will be playing her fifth semifinal in Rome. “I love playing here. … It’s one of the biggest goals now.”

Halep was ahead 6-2, 2-0 when Putintseva decided she was in too much pain to continue — having already taken an off-court medical timeout between sets.

The 30th-ranked Putintseva was coming off two long three-set matches, having upset eighth-seeded Petra Martic and 10th-seeded Elena Rybakina. Entering the match, she had been on court for 7 hours, 22 minutes — far more than Halep, who had a bye in the opening round and won her next two matches in straight sets.

Putintseva also reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in her previous tournament, while Halep decided to skip the event in New York due to coronavirus travel concerns.

Halep improved to 8-0 since the tennis restart and 12-0 overall stretching back to February.

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More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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