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Even in exhibition, Battle of Alberta stays feisty as Oilers top Flames –



Connor McDavid scored two goals Tuesday to pace the Oilers to a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames in the official debut of Edmonton’s NHL post-season hub-bubble.

Kailer Yamamoto and Patrick Russell also scored for Edmonton while Elias Lindholm replied for Calgary.

It was the lone exhibition game for the two teams prior to the weekend start of the NHL’s play-in round.

It was played before thousands of empty seats at Rogers Place, which has been locked down to prevent any spread of COVID-19 as Edmonton hosts the Western Conference play-in/play-off series to finish the 2019-20 season.

The game was only a minute old when Oiler centre Leon Draisaitl chased down a dump-in to Calgary’s end to spark an attack that ended with Yamamoto firing a rebound over goalie Cam Talbot’s glove to make it 1-0.

The Oilers’ power play, the league’s best at 29.5 per cent in the regular season, made it 2-0 at the 7:44 mark. Draisaitl threaded a cross-ice pass through heavy traffic in the slot to McDavid on the doorstep who then flicked the puck over a sprawling Talbot.

WATCH | Video tribute to Colby Cave:

Before the start of the Oilers/Flames exhibition game, a video tribute and a moment of silence was held for Edmonton forward Colby Cave who died in April. 1:47

Calgary battled back in the second period, taking the game to Edmonton on the forecheck and outshooting them 16-7. Lindholm, on the power play, jumped on a loose puck at the crease and scored high on Oiler goalie Mike Smith to cut the lead to 2-1 with less than four seconds to play in the period.

The Oilers put the game away late in the third, with Russell and McDavid scoring 33 seconds apart.

WATCH | McDavid pots a pair:

Connor McDavid scores twice in Edmonton’s 4-1 victory over Calgary. 0:41

Edmonton is hosting the 12 Western Conference teams as one of two NHL hub cities. Toronto is hosting the Eastern side.

The COVID clampdown made for a surreal atmosphere inside Rogers Place.

The downtown arena was closed to fans. The lower bowl stands were tarped over. Massive video screens hung down from the rafters. Calgary, dressed in red, was the designated home team, welcomed to the ice by the announcer revving up the phantom faithful with a drawn out: “Yourrrrr Calgarrrry Flaaaaames!”

WATCH | Hockey’s return a positive amid pandemic:

For NHL fans, the return of hockey is a more-than-welcome distraction from a year with few things to cheer about — and fans in bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton are finding creative ways to boost the excitement of watching hockey in the time of COVID-19. 2:01

At times it sounded like a late night beer league game at the local arena, albeit at a slightly faster pace: players could be heard calling for pucks, swearing blue streaks at opponents, and sometimes derisively asking the referee what game he was watching. The slap of the sticks and the boom of the puck echoed off the plastic and mesh seats.

Media members, masked up and temperature checked, were spaced at distances high up in the rink, just below the press box.

While it was a tune-up game, there were flashes of the bad blood between these two Alberta rivals, with multiple post-whistle scrums along the glass and in the goal creases.

WATCH | Rob Pizzo previews Oilers vs. Blackhawks:

In part 4 of 10, Rob Pizzo breaks down whether the Blackhawks could upset the Oilers.  1:05

In the first period, Oiler forward Zack Kassian levelled Calgary defenceman Erik Gustafsson, knocking his helmet off, while Flame forward Matthew Tkachuk pushed himself right into Mikko Koskinen’s crease, prompting the goalie to whack him with his stick.

Tkachuk, famous for his pest tactics, also delivered a hit on former Flame James Neal, leading to Neal lumberjack-whacking him on the back with his stick and drawing a penalty.

Talbot played the first half of the game for Calgary making 19 saves on 21 shots, many of the difficult variety. David Rittich came on halfway through the second.

Koskinen saved 17 of 17 between the pipes in the first half of the game for Edmonton. Smith took over the second half.

Calgary outshot Edmonton 37-30 but the dangerous chances favoured the Oilers.

The Oilers will play the 12th seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the best of five play-in series starting Saturday afternoon.

The Flames play the Winnipeg Jets.

WATCH | Rob Pizzo previews Flames vs. Jets:

In part 5 of 10, Rob Pizzo breaks down the only all-Canadian matchup in the qualification round.  1:11

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Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pains –



Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien is in hospital after suffering chest pains following Wednesday night’s playoff series opener against the Philadelphia Flyers in Toronto.

General manager Marc Bergevin says associate coach Kirk Muller will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the best-of-seven series while Julien is sidelined.

Julien, 60, went to hospital after Philadelphia’s 2-1 win in Game 1 on Wednesday.

The Canadiens, the lowest-seeded team in the NHL’s post-season, upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the qualifying round.

A native of Blind River, Ont., Julien has been an NHL head coach since 2002 when he began his first run as coach of the Canadiens.

Julien guided the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011. He returned to coach Montreal midway through the 2016-17 season.

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Report: Westbrook out to begin playoffs – TSN



When the Houston Rockets begin their playoff quest for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, they won’t have Russell Westbrook.

The former MVP is expected to miss at least the start of the playoffs because of a strained right quad, Jonathan Feign of the Houston Chronice is reporting.

Feign adds that there is no firm timetable but Houston believes he will be out for at least the first few playoff games and possibly longer.

He will not play Friday in the Rockets’ regular season finale against the Philadelphia 76ers.

In 57 games so far this season, his first in Houston, Westbrook is averaging 27.2 points per game on 47.2 per cent shooting to go along with 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists.

The Rockets head into play Thursday at 44-27, good for fifth place in the Western Conference.

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Stecher honors late dad after goal for Canucks in Game 1 win vs. Blues –



Troy Stecher saw the puck go in the net and instantly pointed with his right hand, the index finger, up in the air.

The Vancouver Canucks defenseman followed with a fist pump, screaming “Let’s gooooo.” He ended the celebration with a subtle, more personal point up to the roof on his way to the bench.

It was Stecher’s way of celebrating his go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal by honoring his late father, Peter, who died on June 21, Fathers’ Day. He was 65.

[RELATED: Full Blues vs. Canucks series coverage]

“It’s been tough obviously at certain moments throughout this process but I’m thankful to be surrounded by my teammates,” Stecher said following the Canucks’ 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round on Wednesday. “Obviously, I had a couple seconds there to reflect on my dad and the biggest thing is everybody showed support on the bench instantly and kind of gave me a tap and it just kind of motivated me to keep it going.”

Stecher’s goal at 5:37 of the third period gave the Canucks a 3-2 lead at Rogers Place.

It’s likely the most poignant and emotional goal scored by the 26-year-old from Richmond, British Columbia, who went to Canucks games with his dad while growing up.

“Any time someone goes through something like that, you feel for them, it’s sad,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “He’s probably had some hard days and to see that happen to him was special for sure, and I know his teammates were happy for him.”

After Stetcher scored, the Canucks responded by scoring two more goals, from center Bo Horvat at 8:01 and from forward J.T. Miller at 19:21, to seal their Game 1 win in the best-of-7 series.

Game 2 is in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city, on Friday (6:30 p.m. ET; NHL Network, SN, FS-MW).

“Winning definitely helps,” Stecher said.

Playing the game helps. Scoring arguably the biggest goal of his career helps. Teammates certainly help.

It’s all part of the life in the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble that Stecher needed in the months following his father’s death.

Forward Elias Pettersson embraced Stecher during a break in action shortly after he scored the goal.

“What Troy had to go through during the summer was just devasting, so I just wanted to go and hug him,” said Pettersson, a center.

Jacob Markstrom hugged him after the game.

“Very emotional for him,” said the Canucks goalie, whose father died from cancer in November. “I know what he’s going through and it’s not easy. For him to show that kind of emotion, just so happy he got it. I got emotional as well thinking about it so I gave him a big hug after the game. I’m super happy for him.

“To get rewarded with a goal in a big game with everything he’s been going through, that’s huge.”

Stecher can become a restricted free agent after this season and his future is unclear. 

But all that matters to Stecher now is what he can do to help the Canucks against the Blues. He started by creating a memory that months ago he would have been able to share with his dad.

Instead, it’s one he used to honor him.

But Stecher didn’t want to dwell on it for too long.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to keep going here,” Stecher said. “We have to put our foot forward and get ready for the next game now.” staff writer David Satriano contributed to this story.

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