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Carey Price, red-hot power play help Canadiens ground Jets – Sportsnet.ca

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The Montreal Canadiens were reeling to start the night in Winnipeg, giving the Jets the kind of opportunities that could have effectively ended the game before 10 minutes were even played.

But Canadiens coach Claude Julien challenged a Patrik Laine goal for offside and chastised his team while the play was being reviewed. The goal was reversed, but the Jets scored shortly thereafter on the power play.

The thing is, the complexion of the game had already changed dramatically.

Before it had, Carey Price turned miracles in Montreal’s net. He stopped Winnipeg’s franchise leader in points, Blake Wheeler, on consecutive shots in Seconds 16 and 19 of the first period.

Saves that followed on Mason Appleton, on Laine and on Nikolaj Ehlers were otherworldly.

Julien had seen enough, and he went off while Laine’s goal was in the process of being overturned. The Canadiens then shook off Kyle Connor’s power-play goal, and they went on to dominate the Jets—outshooting them 39-14 and outscoring them 5-1 for a 6-2 win.

Big win? They are all in this insane race taking shape in the Atlantic Division.

The Canadiens sit in third place. Earlier in the day, the Toronto Maple Leafs secured their hold on second with a win over the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Florida Panthers in regulation while the Buffalo Sabres were losing to the Ottawa Senators to stay within one point of both the Panthers and the Sabres, who rank just behind the Canadiens.

If this was supposed to be the most crucial trip of Montreal’s season—a four-game jaunt through Western Canada—a 3-1 record on it, with wins over Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg, could have serious implications when all is said and done. In the short term, that success has allowed the Canadiens to keep pace in a race that can shift a team from second place in the division to sixth on any given night.

And there’s no chance, absolutely no chance at all, that the Canadiens could have done that without what Price offered in these four games before the Christmas break.

A power play that can win the Canadiens games

Price and Julien were instrumental in the way this game got turned around early, but a power-play goal for Canadiens leading scorer Tomas Tatar in the 16th minute of the first period put a strong wind into Montreal’s sails.

It was the team’s first power play of the game and, after nearly a minute and a half of excellent puck movement and sustained pressure in the offensive zone, they capitalized on it with a perfect play between Tatar, Nick Suzuki and Jeff Petry.

One chance, one goal. Think about that.

This team, with much of the same personnel as it had a season ago, missed on its only other opportunity of the game, but has now scored on seven of its last 17 power plays over the last 10 contests. This team, which ran one of the worst power plays (13.2 per cent) since power-play statistics started being recorded by the NHL, is winning games thanks to its power play.

The Canadiens are doing this in spite of the fact that they’ve been given the 30th-most power-play opportunities in the NHL. They’re doing it without one of their most potent offensive weapons in Jonathan Drouin, who’s been out with a wrist injury since Nov. 15.

Impressive, no doubt.

Truly impressive? On the road, the Canadiens have managed to operate at 28.2 per cent, which is better than 29 other teams in the league.

This was all so unforeseeable when the season began close to three months ago, but here we are.

QUICK HITS

• We’re here because the chemistry the Canadiens have developed on the power play is undeniable. And that chemistry was typified by the play between Tatar, Suzuki and Petry.

Watch it first, then allow me to explain:

No one on the Winnipeg side knew Suzuki was making that pass.

But, you know who did know? Tatar.

As soon as Petry gets the puck back to Suzuki, Tatar steps into the seam. He does it because he knows if there’s one player who might fake a shot and pull off a perfect bullet pass through a stream of sticks and legs, it’s Suzuki.

That is chemistry.

• Phillip Danault, with two goals in the game, pulled to within three goals of his career high of 13. There are 45 games left to play.

At five-on-five, the Canadiens controlled 75.61 per cent of the shot attempts in the game with Danault on the ice.

Why? To start with, Danault won 13 of the 18 faceoffs he took in the game.

Then he, Tatar and Brendan Gallagher just dominated—whether they had to face Mark Scheifele’s line with Connor and Laine or Wheeler’s with Ehlers and Jack Roslovic.

Danault also led the Canadiens with seven shots on net.

The Victoriaville, Que., native is on pace for 65 points, and he’s picking up support (outside of Montreal) in the mid-season conversation about the Selke Trophy.

• Here’s what Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said about Max Domi in Vancouver, just hours before the team started this road trip: “What he did last year, we saw what he was capable of offering, so I don’t know why he wouldn’t be able to do it again. Sometimes a player thinks too much. It’s hard to get into a player’s head, but I’m not here to go after Max. I think he’s still a useful player to the organization and I’m sure he’ll come out of it.”

When Bergevin said this, Domi was stuck on six goals, 14 assists and 23 points through 33 games.

Since then? Domi notched two assists in the win over the Canucks, scored the overtime winner in Calgary, scored a beautiful goal in the 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, and scored a goal and added an assist in Winnipeg.

Suddenly, the plucky 25-year-old is on pace for 20 goals and 58 points.

That’s good news for Domi, given that he had 28 goals and 72 points in a breakout campaign last season and that he’s playing for a new contract right now. But it’s better news for the Canadiens, who need the Domi they saw in Winnipeg from here to the end of the season—and hopefully beyond.

• Victor Mete, back from an ankle injury that kept him out of 10 Canadiens games, played 13:04 and finished plus-1 against the Jets.

• Former Jet Joel Armia left the game with an upper-body injury. His last shift came in the eighth minute of the second period, and there was no update on his status afterwards.

Armia is one goal from his career high (he scored 13 last season) and he’s been one of Montreal’s most consistent and best players. The team and its fans will be hoping his injury isn’t too severe.

UP NEXT

The Canadiens will resume play in Florida on Dec. 28. From there, they’ll play the Lighting on the 29th and the Hurricanes on the 31st to finish off this season-long road trip.

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Esposito, Gainey celebrate legacies with Stars, Lightning in Cup Final – NHL.com

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The 2020 championship series being played at Rogers Place in Edmonton is the first Stanley Cup Final between two Sun Belt teams, each aiming for its second title.

Watching on TV from his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, Gainey is pulling for the Stars, having arrived in Dallas in 1993 as GM of a relocated team that had been founded as the Minnesota North Stars as part of the NHL’s 1967 six-team expansion.

Bob Gainey behind the Dallas Stars bench.

It was Gainey who from the mid-to-late 1990s built Dallas into a Stanley Cup contender, then hit the pot of gold with the 1999 team going all the way.

“I’m happy to see the Stars where they are now,” said Gainey, who won five championships while playing his entire 1,160-game NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens. “I know that their fans in the Dallas area and those who follow them from afar are happy to see them there and they deserve to be there. They’re a really good team.

“I have the lucky situation where I could have a team in each conference and that would give me two horses in the race. I wouldn’t be in a danger zone unless the Canadiens and Stars ended up in the Final against each other.”

From a makeshift broadcast studio in Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena, where he’s doing radio color commentary, Esposito loudly proclaims himself to be a fierce fan of the Lightning, having been a driving force in bringing the expansion team to Florida in 1992.

In Tampa Bay’s fledgling days, Esposito was team president, general manager and chief marketer, selling sponsorships, tickets and pretty much everything except arena beer. 

The native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, played 1,282 games between 1963-81 for the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, winning the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972 with the Bruins. He was a Lightning radio broadcaster when the team won its Cup in 2004.

Bob Gainey (left) and Phil Esposito early in their NHL careers.
 

As they now pull for their respective sides, Gainey, 66, and Esposito, 78, take great pride in the roles they played in building the Stars and Lightning, cherishing memories of importing the NHL into non-traditional hockey markets.

Gainey was coach and GM of the North Stars when the team moved south to begin the 1993-94 season, having coached and managed the team in Minnesota after cutting his coaching teeth in France in 1989-90, diving in immediately upon his NHL retirement as a player.

If Texas had a rich minor pro hockey history dating to the 1940s, the NHL would be a different product, one that hoped to share a crowded stage dominated by the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, baseball’s Texas Rangers and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

“It was an unknown for me and for many of us who were involved,” Gainey said of the move. “We learned quickly more than 25 years ago that Dallas is a very avid sports-minded community. And people came to our games. The business community gave us a chance. They said, ‘This is a new entity, why not? This could be good.’ It took a lot of work by the parts of the organization that were trying to establish ticket and sponsorship sales. But eventually we got there, and we had a very, very good relationship with the community.”

Esposito, who was GM of the Rangers from 1986-89, had been feeling out the expansion process in the early 1990s when then-NHL President John Ziegler told him to stay away from Texas. Esposito had his eye on Florida anyway, and believed that the North Stars might be headed to Houston, his goaltending brother Tony’s final minor-pro stop on his way to the NHL.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Phil Esposito with defenseman Roman Hamrlik, the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NHL Draft.
 

He recalls playing golf in Orlando when he took a call inviting him to Tampa to meet with high-profile lawyer Henry Paul, who ultimately would be a Lightning co-founder.

“As I’m driving into the city, there are no buildings. No buildings!” Esposito said. “I’m saying to myself, ‘Where are the buildings? How can this be the 12th largest television market in the country?’ I didn’t know anything about St. Pete, Clearwater, Bradenton or Brandon, where we’d have fans. I didn’t know anything about Tampa then. All I knew was that they had the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they weren’t very good. I thought we could steal a lot of their business. 

“I went to Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville before deciding to come to Tampa. The decision was clear as a bell to me. I asked Henry Paul in our very first meeting, ‘Do you think hockey can survive in this area?’ Henry said, ‘Well, Phil, we love football, (NASCAR) car crashes, boxing and wrestling. Seems to me you’ve got all of that in hockey.’ I said, ‘I’m going for it, are you with me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ That’s how it started — myself, Henry and our partner Mel Lowell.”

Gainey looks back fondly at the Stars 1999 Stanley Cup championship team, one that he helped assemble. 

From left, Bob Gainey, Marcel Dionne and Lanny McDonald with the Hall of Fame rings as members of the Class of 1992.

“We were able to pick up a player like Joe Nieuwendyk, for instance,” he said, the future Hall of Fame center acquired by trade from the Calgary Flames in 1995 for forwards Jarome Iginla and Corey Millen. “Free-agency arrived, and we found Pat Verbeek (in 1996) and Ed Belfour (1997). We learned how to win over two or three years of playoffs where we were eliminated — by Edmonton early (seven-game 1997 Western Conference Quarter-Finals), then a disappointing loss deeper in the playoffs to Detroit (six-game 1998 conference final). But those are the things that ultimately take you up to the next level of competition and allow you to really compete for the Cup.

“In 1999, we won our first game of the year, started the season in first place and didn’t leave it to win the Stanley Cup,” Gainey said. “It was an end-to-end commitment by the team and players to accomplish what had just been out of our reach the previous couple of years.”

It was the Stars’ championship parade, modest by most standards, that Gainey says was one of his most enjoyable and rewarding moments in Dallas.

“I realized that we had a cross-section of the whole city that was really enjoying the team’s success,” he said. “For me, that was the message that we weren’t just a flash like a sports team that enters a market and stays for a little while then leaves. We’d penetrated deeper and broader and the franchise, handled properly, could be there for a long time.”

Brothers Phil and Tony Esposito play a 1970s table hockey game bearing their names.

More than 1,000 miles to the east, Esposito remembers delegating many of the Lightning roster decisions to his brother, Tony, whom he brought in as director of player personnel. 

“I was busy selling tickets,” he said. “Tony would come to me and ask for my opinion and I’d just say, ‘Brother, do what you think is right, that’s fine with me.’ 

“I remember the first couple years, people up in Canada and the Boston and New York area saying that I was a raving (expletive) lunatic for trying to put hockey in Florida. I just didn’t understand it. I think it was the ego of the Canadian media that couldn’t deal with it. The fact is, you play indoors. You keep the building at 69 or 70 degrees and the ice is fine.”

It’s with fatherly pride that Esposito supports the Lightning, and he gets a kick out of fans asking him whether he cheers for the Bruins, with whom he enjoyed his greatest playing success as a fearsome, record-setting sniper, or Tampa Bay.

“I tell them, ‘Are you kidding me? I gave birth to the Lightning. There’s no question. None,’ ” he said. “If the Lightning were out of the playoffs and Boston was still in, yeah, I’d probably cheer for Boston a little bit.

“Of course, I’m pulling for the Lightning. I’d love to see them win the Cup for (owner) Jeff Vinik and for the fans. It’ll make it even better around here. What’s going on downtown is amazing. And you know what? There are buildings in Tampa now. Lots of them.”

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Blue Jays sit 1 win away from clinching playoff berth after thumping Yankees – CBC.ca

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The Toronto Blue Jays showed Wednesday night why they could be a dangerous wild-card team in the playoffs.

Danny Jansen hit two solo homers as the Blue Jays used a 16-hit attack and eight-run sixth inning to bulldoze the New York Yankees 14-1 at Sahlen Field. Jansen had four hits and three runs to help the Blue Jays move closer to nailing down a playoff berth.

“Putting ourselves in this spot is a great feeling,” Jansen said. “But we’ve still got work to do.”

Toronto (29-27) trimmed its magic number to one with the victory and can secure its first post-season spot since 2016 with a win in Thursday’s series finale.

Cavan Biggio scored three times, Randal Grichuk added a pair of runs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., had three RBIs. Starter Robbie Ray was effective over four-plus innings and A.J. Cole threw a scoreless fifth inning for the win.

Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the post-season. Division winners will be seeded No. 1 through No. 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.

The Los Angeles Angels, currently ninth in the AL, kept their faint playoff hopes alive earlier Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres.

Facing veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (3-3), the Blue Jays took advantage of a couple breaks to put up two quick runs in the first inning.

With Biggio on after a leadoff walk, Teoscar Hernandez hit a double-play ball up the middle that took an unexpected high bounce near the lip of the grass and rolled into the outfield.

Guerrero stroked a single that scored Biggio with the game’s first run. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tried to pick the young slugger off first base but a wide throw went down the right-field line as Hernandez trotted home.

Ray earns timely outs

Ray breezed through the first inning but issued two walks in the second. Gio Urshela singled to load the bases and a passed ball allowed Luke Voit to score the Yankees’ lone run.

New York loaded the bases with none out in the fifth inning. But Cole (3-0) held off the heart of the Yankees’ order by fanning Giancarlo Stanton and getting Voit — who leads the majors in homers — on an infield fly and then Gleyber Torres on a flyout.

“That was really the game,” Jansen said. “Saving that was huge for us. Bases loaded, no outs, coming in and getting that. There’s a lot of momentum swing right there.”

Toronto followed New York’s lead by putting its first three batters on base in the sixth. The Blue Jays took full advantage by batting around with a two-run single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Biggio’s two-run double serving as highlight blows.

The victory came a day after New York dumped Toronto 12-1.

“Today was a big game after yesterday,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s what they’ve done all year — come back from top losses. It was great to see, facing another good pitcher like Tanaka, coming back tonight and scoring all those runs. A big win for us.”

New York (32-24) had four hits and a season-high four errors. The Yankees have a magic number of one to secure a second-place finish in the East Division.

Ray, who was pulled after the first two batters reached in the fifth, allowed three hits, four walks and had five strikeouts. Tanaka gave up three earned runs, eight hits and three walks while striking out five.

Jansen, who went deep off Tanaka in the fourth, added another shot in the eighth off Yankees catcher Erik Kratz, giving the Toronto backstop six homers on the season.

Toronto was a wild-card entry when it last reached the post-season four years ago. The Blue Jays went on to reach the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.

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Jays win big, magic number is 1 – Bluebird Banter

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Yankees 1 Blue Jays 14

Our magic number is now 1. A win tomorrow (or in any of our last four games) would put us into the playoffs.

It is nice when the other team forgets how to play baseball. The Yankees made 4 official errors and a few unofficial ones. They were just playing bad baseball all night.

We got a good start from Bob Rae (as much as it hurts the old man in me to say that 4+ innings is a good start). Through four innings he allowed just 2 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts. There was an unearned run against him, scoring on a passed ball (he and Jansen got crossed up, Ray threw a fastball, Jansen thought something bendy was coming). He went to full counts too much, but he kept the Yankees off the bases.

Ray allowed a walk and a single to start off the fifth and that was it. A.J. Cole came in a gave up a walk to load the bases. Looking at the final score, it doesn’t seem like there should have been a big moment of the game on the pitching side, but this was a big moment. We were up 5-1 with Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Viot and Gleyber Torres coming up. But Cole got a strikeout, popout and fly out. It was nice to see because Cole has had a rough time of it lately.

Ross Stripling pitched the last four inning, giving up just 1 hit with 1 strikeout. He gets a save on a game we won by 13.


We scored 2 in the first, 1 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 8 in the sixth and 1 in the eighth. Our hitters:

  • Cavan Biggio was 2 for 5 with a walk, double and 2 RBI.
  • Bo Bichette was 2 for 4, with 2 walks, double, 2 RBI (he had 3 walks on the season before tonight).
  • Teoscar Hernandez 1 or 4.
  • Randal Grichuk 1 for 4, 1 walk, 1 RBI.
  • Vladimir Guerrero was 2 for 5, double, 3 RBI. He had an interesting night. He misjudged a popup in the first inning. Thankfully it didn’t cost us a run. He drew a pick off throw from Gary Sanchez, by taking a few steps towards second on a strike and Sanchez threw wide of first, getting us a free run. Then an crushed RBI double in third, an RBI ground out. And he made a very nice play, again a going a long way off first to get a ball, but Stripling got to the bag at first in plenty of time, and Vlad made a nice throw hitting the moving target.
  • Lourdes Gurriel was 3 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Travis Shaw was 1 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Joe Panik only managed a walk.
  • Danny Jansen hit 2 home runs on a 4 for 4 night, with 3 RBI. Yes, one of the home runs was off Yankees’ catcher Erik Kratz (but it still counts).

Jays of the Day: Cole (.119 WPA), Vlad (.190) and Jansen (.107).

No Suckage Jays. Shaw had the low mark at -.063.

Tomorrow is our last game of this four game series against the Yankees and then we have a weekend series against the Orioles to end the season.


We had 847 comments in the GameThread. I led us to victory (and I didn’t even have a beer tonight). But I did have a nice day. I took a drive out in the country and saw the changing of the colours, while avoiding the news for a day. I’d say it was a mental health day, but there really is no mental health left.

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