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Diggs, Beasley's status uncertain for Bills – TSN

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The playing status of the Bills’ two top receivers, Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, is uncertain for Buffalo’s wild-card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.

Both were listed as questionable after practicing on a limited basis on Thursday.

For Beasley, who has missed one game, it marked the first time he’s practiced since hurting his knee in the fourth quarter of a 38-9 win at New England on Dec. 28. Diggs, meantime, returned after not practicing Wednesday because of an injury to his oblique muscle.

Coach Sean McDermott provided no definitive update whether either will be able to play in speaking before practice.

“Still not sure. We’ll just have to see,” he said, referring to Beasley, before adding: “And I can tell you the same with Diggs.”

Diggs, who led the NFL with 127 catches for 1,535 yards, was added to the injury report this week after apparently being hurt in a 56-26 season-ending win over Miami on Sunday.

Diggs was slow to get up but continued playing after defensive end Christian Wilkins landed on the receiver’s back while he was down following a 16-yard catch in the second quarter. Wilkins was penalized for unnecessary roughness.

Diggs on Wednesday said he felt fine and jokingly added, “Don’t believe everything you read,” in referring to the injury report.

McDermott acknowledged Diggs’ comments by saying: “I appreciate where he’s coming from. But at the end of the day, I’m always concerned when guys are in the training room.”

In an encouraging development, backup receiver Isaiah McKenzie (ankle), who scored three times against Miami, and starting guard Jon Feliciano (knee) practiced fully and are expected to play.

Diggs and Beasley were key fixtures in a Josh Allen-led passing attack that helped the AFC East champion Bills (13-3) match a franchise record in wins and set a team record by scoring 501 points. Allen broke several single-season passing records including 4,544 yards passing and 37 TDs passing.

Beasley finished second on the team with 82 catches and 967 yards, both career highs, while scoring four touchdowns.

If there’s a bright side, the Bills have depth at the receiver position with John Brown returning on Sunday after missing five games with a knee injury and a stint on the reserve-COVID-19 list. Brown had four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown against Miami.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Habs Headlines: The Canadiens “really do have something” early on – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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In today’s links, the Habs are standing up to the likes of Matthews and McDavid, Tyler Toffoli brings back memories of Michael Ryder, and fallout from Washington’s Covid problems.

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Canadiens @ Canucks game recap: Montreal overpowers Vancouver in a rout – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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On Wednesday night, the Montrea Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks played arguably the most exciting game of the early NHL season. Despite falling 6-5 in the shootout, Montreal overcame some self-inflicted penalty trouble, battling back multiple times to salvage a point in their sloppiest game of the season. A hat trick from Tyler Toffoli, plus goals from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brendan Gallagher, helped pace Montreal’s offence.

Claude Julien stressed that the team needs to be more disciplined and toughen up on the penalty kill going forward. Despite the loss, there were no changes to the lineup, and given their play at even strength, it’s hard to argue that there should have been any changes made.

For the Canucks, they were without Travis Hamonic, who was hurt on Wednesday night. Brogan Rafferty drew into the lineup in his place. Also missing was Alexander Edler, who was replaced by Olli Juolevi. Between the pipes it was Jake Allen for Montreal, while Thatcher Demko got the nod for the Canucks.

In need of a fast start, the Canadiens got just that as Kotkaniemi outworked Rafferty along the boards and flicked a puck into the slot. Both Joel Armia and Toffoli missed their initial swings at the puck, but Toffoli connected and fired it past Demko for the game’s opening goal, and Toffoli’s fourth in two games.

The lead was short-lived as a failed clear by both Shea Weber and Tomas Tatar made it to the stick of Tyler Myers. The Canucks defender fired a harmless looking shot toward the net, and Bo Horvat deflected it by Allen to almost immediately tie the game.

The Canadiens followed that up by getting called for a dubious hook, triggering flashbacks to the previous night. Only this time the Canadiens put up the goal on a Vancouver power play, thanks to a brutal turnover by Nate Schmidt. The defender’s pass flubbed off his stick right to Toffoli, who in turn hit a streaking Joel Armia, who fired it past Demko easily.

The Canadiens proceeded to tale another penalty, this time for slashing, and the Canucks made them pay this time. Artturi Lehkonen misread where he was supposed to be covering, and by the time he noticed his mistake, Horvat had the puck and was firing it home for his second of the game, once again erasing the Canadiens’ lead.

Despite some more looks on a power play, Montreal couldn’t break the deadlocked game, and as the horn blew to end the period Joel Edmundson buried Tanner Pearson to take a penalty for his troubles. The teams went into the intermission with two goals each, but Vancouver started the second period with a full two-minute power play.

Once again, it was the Canadiens’ penalty-killing units bringing the pain against Vancouver thanks to sloppy play by the Canucks. Elias Pettersson’s pass was knocked away by Armia, who picked out Toffoli breaking in alone toward the Canucks zone. Armia hit him in stride and with a beautiful hard deke Toffoli fooled Demko, and tucked home yet another goal.

The penalty parade on both sides continued as Myers took a penalty, and then Nick Suzuki was called for a slash. The game continued to be choppy, sloppy, disjointed, and messy, but the Canadiens kept their lead intact.

Then Montreal remembered they were the far better team at even strength and pounded in three straight goals in just over 90 seconds to suck all the wind out of the Canucks’ sails. First it was Jake Allen playing a perfect rebound out of the Canadiens’ zone to Jonathan Drouin who fed it to Suzuki. Suzuki’s shot went up in the air as Demko got a piece of it, but Josh Anderson. trailing the play. choked up on his stick and swung, drilling the puck into the net for a two-goal advantage.

Off the ensuing faceoff, a dump-in caught Demko in no man’s land allowing Paul Byron to sneak in and steal the loose puck. Byron fired his pass across the crease and Jake Evans fired his shot off the crossbar and made it a three goal Montreal advantage.

Then, just to add insult to injury, Joel Armia added one more goal before the end of the period, taking a Kotkaniemi feed and dangling around Demko and making it 6-2.

With the game more or less in the bag, Montreal was content to let the game ride out and get out of Rogers Arena without further incident. However, Brandon Sutter had to introduce Alexander Romanov to the NHL first, with the veteran putting the rookie through a spin cycle and lifting a backhand past Allen to make it a 6-3 game.

Montreal then managed an actual self-inflicted wound later in the period, crossing off the “stay healthy” part of the checklist for this game. Shea Weber fired a heavy slapshot on net, and it managed to catch Paul Byron right in the skate boot, knocking him to the ice immediately. Byron needed help to the tunnel, making it seem like it might be a serious injury. He was able to return to the bench after several minutes before then heading back to the locker room.

A late power play gave Montreal a chance to get Toffoli his second hat trick in as many nights, but a fantastic save from Demko denied him the chance.

The game wasn’t without one final horrible moment thanks to Myers. Armia was working along the boards for a puck, and Myers lifted up and into Armia’s head, dropping the Finn and earning himself a five-minute major.

The Habs scored on the ensuing power play, with Ben Chiarot netting the first man-advantage goal of his career, sealing the game for good at 7-3.

Montreal, now with potentially two massive injuries to Armia and Byron may have to dip into their taxi squad for Saturday’s finale against the Canucks. Carey Price and Braden Holtby are the expected starters for the 7:00 PM EST clash.

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Leafs star Auston Matthews misses practice ahead of rematch with Oilers – CBC.ca

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The Maple Leafs are looking for balance.

And they’re hoping their best player will be part of the solution.

In the wake of Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Edmonton where Toronto severely limited Oilers stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at 5 on 5, but also failed to offer much of anything going the other way in a plodding, mostly uneventful affair, the Leafs are aiming for more symmetry.

“Just because we’re defending well doesn’t mean we can’t be attacking and playing well in the offensive zone,” said winger Zach Hyman. “You can have both. You don’t have to have one without the other.”

What’s unclear is whether Toronto will have star centre Auston Matthews to help lead the charge in Friday’s rematch at Scotiabank Arena. The 23-year-old took the ice before Thursday’s practice, had a conversation with assistant coach Manny Malhotra and another chat with a trainer before departing ahead of the formal session.

“He just wasn’t feeling great coming off the game,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We’ll have an update [Friday] morning.”

Toronto is already minus two options up front with veteran forward Joe Thornton, who suffered an upper-body injury against the Oilers, expected to miss time, and winger Nick Robertson (knee) unavailable. Keefe put his lines in a blender out of necessity Thursday, bumping Hyman into the top-6 alongside John Tavares and William Nylander, while Jimmy Vesey skated in Thornton’s spot with taxi squad member Adam Brooks — a practice placeholder for Matthews — and Mitch Marner.

“We’ll see how it all comes together,” Keefe said. “There’s a lot of things happening. The health of our players in our lineup is one thing. [The] salary cap and how all those things move around affect a lot of different decisions. We’ll see how it all settles.”

WATCH | Leafs fall to Oilers in tight-checking game:

Leon Draisaitl’s power-play goal midway through the 3rd period as Edmonton defeats Toronto 3-1. 0:57

The Leafs gave up a fluke own goal, a power-play effort from Draisaitl that came off a fortunate bounce and an empty-netter in Wednesday’s matchup that, despite a boatload of talent under one roof, never saw the expected fireworks materialize.

“We negated the biggest offensive threats on their team,” Keefe said. “It gave us a chance to win, but certainly we have to deliver on the other side of the puck as well.”

Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen, who seems to be finding his groove after some early hiccups, had a front-row seat to the on-ice chess match — the first of nine meetings between the North Division rivals in this abbreviated season.

“I saw two teams that definitely locked it down pretty good defensively,” he said. “Great teams do both things well. I think we have that ability. It’s something we want to set the standard to do every night.

“Even though you play well, you might not get the results you want.”

Oilers head coach Dave Tippett made the point after his team’s practice Thursday that both rosters have a say in the other’s ability or inability to score at even strength.

“It’s almost funny to me how everybody talked all [off-season] about Toronto and Edmonton have to defend better,” he said of the offensive juggernauts’ past troubles keeping the puck out of their respective nets. “And then Toronto and Edmonton actually defend well, and now they think it’s a bad hockey game.

“It just baffles me sometimes.”

WATCH | Thornton exits with injury:

Maple Leafs centre Joe Thornton is checked by Oilers’ Josh Archibald during the 3rd period. 0:40

Leafs blue-liner Jake Muzzin said finding a balance between trying to contain elite skill and pushing forward can be tricky.

“Good players, you’ve got to focus in on them and take away their game,” he said. “But on the flip side, you’ve got to realize we’ve got to focus on us, too, and make plays.

“Maybe [on Wednesday] we focused a little too much on defending.”

As for Toronto’s new line combinations, Hyman said he’s looking forward to suiting up with Tavares and Marner after playing with both separately at different points in their careers.

“Excited to get at it,” Hyman said. “This year more than any year, your depth is going to be tested. Fortunately for us, we have a ton of guys who can move up and down the lineup.”

Keefe said despite the criticism of Wednesday’s performance — it was far from easy on the eye — the Oilers deserved credit for a committed defensive effort.

Now the Leafs need to respond.

“They clearly came in with a plan,” Keefe said. “It was two teams that were trying to respect each other’s strengths and nullify them. Ultimately, as much as we didn’t like our game … we gave ourselves a chance.

“There’s lot of encouraging signs there. We’ve just got to put it all together. We’ll stay at it.”

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