It was an all-Manitoba match-up, featuring two all-time great skips chasing their own pieces of history, and it made for a tantalizing finale to a memorable Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Sunday evening.
It was an all-Manitoba match-up, featuring two all-time great skips chasing their own pieces of history, and it made for a tantalizing finale to a memorable Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Sunday evening.
In the end it was Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., who changed the record books by pulling off a 10-4 victory over Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg to claim the Canadian women’s curling championship at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, B.C.
Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris won their fourth straight Scotties title, equalling the record held by Nova Scotia’s Colleen Jones (2001-2004).
It’s unbelievable to be up there with Colleen Jones. That’s pretty impressive. Four titles in a row
“Oh my God, it means so much,” Einarson told reporters after the game.
“It’s unbelievable to be up there with Colleen Jones. That’s pretty impressive. Four titles in a row … that’s amazing.
“I think this one’s even better than our first. It definitely never gets old.”
Team Canada (Einarson) lost just one game in the tournament for the second straight year and came the long way through the playoffs to avenge a Friday night “seeding game” defeat at the hands of Jones.
Einarson beat Nova Scotia’s Christina Black in the Page playoff 3 vs. 4 game Saturday, topped Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville 7-5 in Sunday’s semifinal and then topped six-time champion Jones in the final.
“So much grit, determination,” said Einarson, 35. “This team never gives up and that’s what makes us who we are. We just go out there and enjoy every single minute, and had some fun, and that’s when we really shine.”
Birchard, 28, won her fifth Scotties title in five finals. She won as a replacement third with Jones in 2018 and has now won the last four straight with Einarson.
“It’s amazing,” Birchard said. “I can’t believe we did it again. We did it exactly the same way we did it last year, going undefeated and then dropping that seeding game. If there’s one thing I know about this team, it’s that we can pick ourselves up after a loss and come back firing even more.”
Einarson and her teammates, who have been Canadian champions since February of 2020, will look to win their first world women’s title March 18-26 in Sandviken, Sweden.
Canada, with Team Einarson competing, won a bronze medal last year at the worlds and finished out of the medals in 2021. There were no world championships in 2022 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to chase that gold,” Birchard said. “We were so happy with bronze last year but we really want to be at the top of the podium and prove ourselves as the best in the world. I really think this is our year.”
Jones, who represented Manitoba in the Scotties, said she expects big things from an Einarson team that has already done so much on home soil.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Jones said of Einarson’s four straight wins. “They’ve been consistent at this event. They come and they play well and it’s an impressive win.”
Jones, playing with a first-year team that featured four players half her age, was trying to become the first person to win seven Scotties championships and cement her legacy as perhaps the greatest women’s curler of all-time.
“We just didn’t make quite enough shots,” Jones said. “We were just in all kinds of trouble. I’m proud of our week and really happy to have been in the final.
“I’m just disappointed that we didn’t come out and put our A-game together but it was great experience for all of us. It didn’t go our way today, but that’s why you keep grinding and keep trying to get better.”
Jones, who won in 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2018, still shares the record of six championships with her former teammate Jill Officer and Nova Scotia’s Colleen Jones. Jones has now lost four Canadian finals and is the only person ever to appear in 10 of them.
The 48-year-old joined a new team this year — with third Karlee Burgess, 24, Mackenzie Zacharias, 23, Lauren Lenentine, 22, and Emily Zacharias, 21 — after breaking up a team that represented Canada at the Olympics in 2022.
The Zacharias team made it to the Scotties in 2021 and 2022, without Jones, but reached new heights after adding an all-time great skip to the line-up and very nearly took home a Canadian women’s championship.
“I’m feeling a lot of emotions,” Mackenzie Zacharias said. “That was a pretty tough one. I’m super grateful for the opportunity to be here. I’m super happy we got to play in this game. It’s just been a thrill to play with (Jones).”
The Zacharias sisters, Burgess and Lenentine are still looking for their first national women’s title, though they did win the Canadian and world junior titles in 2020.
Just based on all the potential history, and the fact that two teams from the same province were going head-to-head, the game was highly anticipated by fans in Kamloops and TV viewers across the country.
Manitoba started with the hammer in the first end — the result of their win over McCarville in Friday night’s Page 1 vs. 2 game — but Jones was forced to take one and relinquish last rock quickly.
Einarson wasn’t able to do much with that in the second and she had a few nervous moments as her draw to the eight-foot slid as far as it possibly could without going too far and she scored one.
In the third, a good last draw by Einarson took away a potential big end from Jones, who wound up being forced to play a tap for one to take a 2-1 lead.
Both skips were heavy with rocks in the fourth end and squandered opportunities, but Einarson was good with her last one to score a deuce with a hit-and-stick takeout and tie it at 2-2.
The game took a big turn in the fifth, when Jones was forced to try a wide draw to the eight-foot to score one. Her rock seemed to fudge up and came up well light, giving Canada the first deuce of the game, on a steal.
The struggle continued in the sixth for Jones, who was left with only an opportunity to make a very difficult draw to score two. Her draw came up light again and wound up scoring just one to make it 4-3, also relinquishing the hammer back to Einarson.
Einarson had to hit against three with her last rock in the seventh, but she was on the money and took a point to make it 5-3.
Jones was held to one again in the eighth, though she tried a long double-raise to try to get a second point and it didn’t work out.
In the ninth, everything fell apart for Jones. Trailing 5-4, her team tried to pull out the stops to steal and wound up leaving Einarson a hit for five.
Einarson easily made the shot and it was an anti-climactic ending as Jones and her teammates chose to shake hands, trailing 10-4 with an end to play.
Anti-climactic yes, but historic all the same.
Here is the tale of the tape…
STUART SKINNER. 10. The biggest game in Stuart Skinner’s young career and he nailed it. 43 stops for the club’s 1st shutout of the season. Skinner made a point-blank stop on Kaliyev early in the 1st. A fine right pad stuff on Byfield. A terrific glove save on Kempe who had split the D in the 2nd and darted in with a dangerous deke. Confidently managed a Byfield back-hand. Erased a turnover with a great save off Kupari. He finished off the 2nd by stoning Lizotte with his glove on a breakaway. Big 3rd period stop off Kempe’s stick on the PP. Needed to be sharp on a Byfield deflection in front. Slammed the door shut down the stretch including a terrific toe save on Gavrikov late. His 10 wins in March sets a franchise record. Named the game’s 1st Star. We do not hand out “transcendent” grades lightly at The Cult of Hockey. But the quality of Skinner’s work multiplied by the significance of the game in the standings adds up to a “10”. And if you remember back to the circumstances of last year…one assumes Skinner will not get farmed out to Bakersfield after this shutout.
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS. 7. Tough play at his own blueline to clear the zone on the 1st period PK. Sweet pass to Draisaitl for a PP one timer. Just missed cashing in on a rebound of a Bouchard shot in the 3rd. One-timer off a McDavid behind-the-net pass in the 3rd. Led the team in 5v5 CF at 22-13, 63%.
DARNELL NURSE. 8. Darnell Nurse’s finest defensive effort of the season. Repeatedly used his speed to win races and his size to win battles. Nurse stood up Kempe in the neutral zone early on. An excellent defensive play on a driving Kopitar in the 1st. Another fine effort against Arvidsson in the 2nd. And expertly headed off a Moore net drive a few shifts later. Ended the night with 3 shots, 2 hits, 2 blocks in 23:32. Flat out excellent, shift-in and shift-out, and the Kings’ best.
CODY CECI. 7. Nice setup for a dangerous Foegele chance in the 1st. Solid play on Byfield who was driving the Oilers net in the 2nd. Failed to get a puck deep at the O-line, allowing the Kings to run it back and get a shot against. A 3rd Period wraparound attempt. Solid. His game has improved noticeably over the last half dozen outings.
EVANDER KANE. 8. Came out aggressive from the first shift, landing 7 (!) hits just in the first 20 minutes. His thump on Roy along the wall was particularly memorable. Took a slick back-hand feed from Draisaitl in the high slot and 1-timed it home high for the 1-0. Stopped on an Oilers 2-man break in the 2nd. Finished with 8 hits, 5 shots. Looked like he was on a mission. His goal proved to be the game winner. Played 20:25 and I thought he was the Oilers best Forward. That two excellent games back-to-back, now.
MATTIAS EKHOLM. 8. Blocked shot on a 1st Period PK. A 2nd Period stretch pass sprung Ryan and Kane on a clear break. Did not give an inch to Moore who would have had a chance in front. 2 hits, 3 blocks, 2 takeaways. Cleared the slot while flat on the ice, late. Just rock solid.
EVAN BOUCHARD. 7. An icing led to 3 Kings shots against after the ensuing D-zone faceoff. But it was one of very few off-moments for the young man tonight. Fired one off the post late in the 2nd on the PP. Could not cash in on an excellent 3rd Period shot. As physical as I have seen him play…ever. Credited with 4 hits.
WARREN FOEGELE. 5. A good chance in the 1st off a Ceci pass. Ticked the post off a nice pass from Janmark. 2 shots.
MATTIAS JANMARK. 6. A wraparound attempt in the opening frame. Set up Foegele for a 2nd Period chance. His aggressive forecheck on the PK helped create the McDavid breakaway opportunity. No assist but the goa does not get scored without him.
BRETT KULAK. 6. Drew a 2nd Period PP. Took an interference call in the 2nd. High Dangers 4-1 with him on 5v5.
VINCENT DESHARNAIS. 6. Pretty iffy cross-check call in the 2nd. 2 hits, 2 blocks. High dangers 5v5 4-1.
KLIM KOSTIN. 5. Wraparound attempt in the 2nd, then buried Doughty with a heavy check.
PHILIP BROBERG. 5. Played just 4:05. Took shifts on both sides. 2 shots and a block.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane are only the 2nd trio of teammates to score their 300th career goals in the same season. Last time, it was Clarke, Barber and MacLeish for the Flyers in 1981.
The Oilers are now 44-23-9, 97 points. They host Anaheim Saturday.
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EDMONTON, AB – Their history against one another sets the stage, while their potential for another post-season series fuels the animosity.
“There are no surprises here,” Connor McDavid said. “Obviously it’s a big one for us tonight.”
Following their first-round matchup in last season’s playoffs and two regular-season meetings this season, both going the way of the Black & White, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings conclude their regular-season series with an all-important Pacific Division matchup on Thursday at Rogers Place that could be a preview of another first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the two rivals.
“We’re quite aware of what we’re up against and they have a clear understanding of what they’re up against,” Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Both teams are different than they were in last year’s playoffs. We have different personnel. Both teams have evolved in certain ways, so tonight should be a good matchup.”
The Oilers were pushed to the brink by the Kings in their first-round seven-game series last season, staving off elimination in Games 6 and 7 before winning the Battle of Alberta in the second round and advancing all the way to the Western Conference Final.
The Kings re-tooled in the summer, adding elite winger Kevin Fiala on a seven-year contract from the Minnesota Wild while extending some important pieces to their future in Sean Durzi (two years, $1.7 million), Carl Grundstrom ( two years, $1.3 million), Adrian Kempe (four years, $5.5 million) and Brendan Lemieux (one year, $1.35 million) for another season of growth in the City of Angels.
Los Angeles earned a 3-1 win at Rogers Place in Edmonton earlier this campaign on Nov. 16 before a spirited but sobering 6-3 defeat for the Oilers at Crypto.com Arena on Jan. 9 marked a turning point for the Blue & Orange early in the new year after they fell to the second Wild Card spot with the loss and nine points back of the Kings 42 games into the regular season.
The Oilers struggled on the penalty kill, with the Kings scoring four power-play goals on seven opportunities with the man advantage, while the physicality between the two teams ramped up in the latter stages of the game with a trio of fights.
Video: PRE-RAW | Connor McDavid 03.30.23
“I thought I saw a lot of teammates stick up for each other. I’ve saw a lot of teammates answer the bell and up their physical ante, and I thought it brought us together,” Woodcroft said.
“I think our record since that point speaks for itself.”
Since their January defeat to the Kings, the Oilers own the best points percentage (.758) in the NHL with a 22-5-6 record while LA has been the toast of the League since the All-Star break with a 15-3-3 record despite their franchise-best point streak of 12 games coming to an end on Tuesday with a 2-1 defeat to Calgary.
“I think since post-Christmas our team is really going in the right direction, but that game certainly provided us with an opportunity to come together and I thought we did. We’ll see tonight where we’re at.”
Video: PRE-RAW | Connor McDavid 03.30.23
Thursday will offer a glimpse at what both these two teams at full strength can bring to a potential first-round playoff series.
“Certainly they’re different. They’re healthier,” McDavid said. “They added some pieces, a new goalie and they’re definitely different. As for us, I think we’re just a little bit older, a little more experienced and I think we’re better too.”
The Oilers will have Mattias Ekholm, Evander Kane, Vincent Desharnais and Nick Bjugstad in the lineup to contribute to the lineup this time around, while the Kings bolstered their ranks at the Trade Deadline with Vladislav Gavrikov on the back end and Joonas Korpisalo in between the pipes.
“I thought up until about the Trade Deadline, LA was one of the highest-scoring teams in the League and gave up a lot of goals,” Woodcroft said. “So what they’ve done here over since the All-Star break is they’ve tightened the screws defensively.”
With a victory, Edmonton can jump over the Kings into second place in the Pacific Division while pulling themselves within a point of the lead held by the Golden Knights.
“Certainly more at stake here tonight than any other regular season game, so certainly easy to get up for.”
The 300th goal of Evander Kane’s career on Tuesday night provided the cushion the Oilers needed in a tight one-goal game against the Vegas Golden Knights with six-and-a-half minutes remaining in the second period.
The forward finished Leon Draisaitl’s feed off a zone entry emphatically, shaking the twine in an eventual 7-4 victory for the Oilers with his first goal in five games since recording a hat-trick on Mar. 18 in Seattle. Kane has five goals and an assist in the 10 games since he returned from a nine-game injury absence on Mar. 9 against the Bruins.
The Oilers can feel like more of a complete team with Kane in the lineup after the 31-year-old wasn’t an option for Edmonton during their last meeting with Los Angeles at the turn of the new year.
Video: PRE-RAW | Mattias Ekholm 03.30.23
“Probably just more physical, bigger, faster — all the things that his game is all about,” McDavid said. “He plays with a lot of pace. He’s a big, strong guy. He gets on the forecheck hard and I wouldn’t want to be a D going back to retrieve pucks with him out there.”
Kane’s tally against the Golden Knights was one of four even-strength goals for the Oilers as they continue to get healthy and grow their game in advance of the playoffs with well-rounded scoring at five-on-five and on the power play.
“We’ve gotten healthier, so you’re starting to see the full complement of what we have,” Woodcroft said. “We’re still not yet at full health, but when you return someone like Evander Kane… I think you’re seeing people slotted into the proper batting order up front and it gives the coaching staff more options, allows for easier accountability when it comes to performance and those types of things.”
Netminder Stuart Skinner occupied the starter’s net at the morning skate and is the Oilers projected starter to face the Kings for Thursday’s important Pacific Division tilt.
Skinner matched Mike Smith (April ’22), Tommy Salo (March ’03), Grant Fuhr (Dec. ’87) and Andy Moog (Jan. ’83) for the most wins in a calendar month by an Oilers goaltender with his ninth win in March on Tuesday against the Golden Knights. The 24-year-old already surpassed Fuhr’s record for most wins by an Oilers rookie netminder rookie season (28) and is working towards beating the Hall of Famer’s single-season rookie record of 28 wins, already 24-14-5 this campaign.
“Coming in as a young guy and then becoming an All-Star, that’s the progression, right?” Zach Hyman said of Skinner. “I don’t know how many people had Stu as an All-Star on their ballot when the season started, but I think that’s credit to him and just working at his craft and just getting better every day. He deserves it.”
“He’s been playing amazing, and we’re lucky to have him.”
Video: PRE-RAW | Zach Hyman 03.30.23
— Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS vs. KINGS
STREAM: 7:00 p.m. MT; televised on Sportsnet West
Oilers Team Scope
The Oilers enter Thursday night’s contest fresh off one of their most impressive performances of the season against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.
Edmonton picked up the 7-4 win over the Pacific Division rivals, dominating the division leaders for large stretches of the contest. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored a goal and added four assists to extend his point streak to nine games and bring his season total to 96 (35G, 61A) on the year.
The teams traded offence in the first period, with goals from Nugent-Hopkins, Evan Bouchard, and Leon Draisaitl negating a pair of Vegas goals from Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. It was the second period where the Oilers turned up the heat on the Nevada side, outshooting the Golden Knights 21-6 and outscoring them 3-1 in the middle frame. Darnell Nurse notched his 10th of the year, giving the Oilers 12 double-digit goalscorers this season. Evander Kane finished off an incredible feed by Draisaitl, who undressed the Vegas defender before sliding the puck over to the Oilers sniper for goal 14 of Kane’s season.
Hyman notched the final goal of the frame, finishing off a Nugent-Hopkins feed for his 33rd of the year. The Oilers chased Golden Knights starter Jonathan Quick from the crease after two period, scoring six times on 34 shots against the former Kings goaltender.
Brett Kulak added the Oilers lone third period goal, firing a shot off the post and in after coming out of the penalty box to cap off the scoring for the Blue & Orange. Stuart Skinner won his 24th game of the season, making 18 saves on the night, and bringing the Oilers within three points of the Western Conference lead.
“I think a lot of people in this crowd right here might have wrote the Oilers off when it comes to where we’re going to finish,” Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said after the game. “As you hear me say every single day, we try to take it one at a time. We’re going to get on our plane, get back to Edmonton, have a good rest day tomorrow, and make sure we’re ready for a really good Los Angeles Kings team. We know what we’re up against in them. We want to show well against a really good team and the points will take care of themselves. We just want to get our game in order.”
Kings Team Scope
The Los Angeles Kings head up the road to Edmonton after a 2-1 defeat to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. The loss ended a 12-game point streak for the Kings and allowed the Oilers to draw within a single point of the California club.
Defenceman Sean Durzi scored the Kings only goal of the evening, his eighth goal and 37 point of his so-far career-best campaign.
The Flames saw goals by Andrew Mangiapane and Walker Duehr, while Jacob Markstrom made 32 of 33 saves to pick up the win. In goal for the Kings was Joonas Korpisalo, who was acquired at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Jonathan Quick to Columbus (before being swiftly dealt to Vegas) and has been stellar since the move. The Finn is 4-1-1 as a member of the Kings, with his lone regulation loss coming in his 30-save performancer against the Flames.
“On our behalf there wasn’t a lot of zone time, yet we had some really good scoring chances, long chances that had us looking at Markstrom, and he made some really good saves,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said after the game. “At the other end, we spent too much time in our end, and I thought our game management for the first time in a long time was poor.”
By The Numbers
The Oilers come in to Thursday’s contest with a 7-0-1 record in their last eight, with 40 goals for during that stretch… In the Oilers eight-game point streak, their power play has operated at 42.3 per cent… If the season were to end today, the Oilers would set the NHL’s all-time record for power-play efficiency at 32.7 per cent… Edmonton has earned at least a point in 28 of their last 33 games, with a 22-5-6 record and a .758 points percentage… The Oilers have recorded at least a point in 14 of their last 15 home games… Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl all enter Thursday’s contest with a point streak of at least nine games…
The Kings 12-game point streak which was snapped in Calgary was the longest in franchise history, breaking the record of 11 games set on three different occasions… The Oilers and Kings have the two best point percentages in the month of March, with only three regulation losses between the two teams… Los Angeles penalty kill has been a weakness for Todd McLellan’s team lately, allowing a PPG against in their last five games… The Kings have allowed a PPG in 47 of their 74 games this year… Los Angeles has been involved in 36 one-goal games this season, the third most in the NHL….
OILERS – Oscar Klefbom (shoulder) is on IR; Mike Smith (undisclosed) is on IR; Ryan Murray (undisclosed) is on IR; Ryan McLeod (undisclosed) is day-to-day.
KINGS – Akil Thomas (undisclosed) is on IR; Gabriel Vilardi (undisclosed) is day-to-day.
— Michael Arcuri, EdmontonOilers.com
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