TORONTO — With a precious standings point hanging in the balance and a chorus of boos raining from the rafters, Matthew Tkachuk calmly gathered the puck at centre ice, cruised down the left wing, curled to the slot, pulled back and snapped the shootout winner clean and low through Frederik Andersen’s legs.
In a flash, the villain turned hero.
“I’m sure he’ll get booed more in Edmonton than he did here,” cracked Calgary Flames teammate Derek Ryan following the visitors’ 2-1 victory.
“He just thrives in the moment. He loves to be in the spotlight. He loves to be in the high-pressure situation, and he just thrives on it.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the type of group immune to Tkachuk’s extracurricular antics. They rarely engage in hockey’s darker arts and prefer a speedy, low-impact contest (goaltenders’ egos being the exception). Many a night at Scotiabank Arena passes where one could count the number of scrums on no hands.
“We’re a team that’s good when emotion gets into our game, but we don’t get distracted by guys,” explained Jason Spezza
At 37, Spezza is the only Leaf old enough to intimately remember a time when the Zack Kassian-Tkachuk feud wouldn’t be unique enough to linger in the press five days after first contact.
“If you talked to guys who played 10, 15 years ago, those scrums happened every night. There was a bit more bad blood in the league,” Spezza said. “He’s a combination of high-end skill and being able to do that, so he’s a unique player for sure.”
So even though Tkachuk went out of his way to get in the grill of Leafs forward Dmytro Timashov early Thursday night and try to crawl under some blue skin, Toronto turned cheek, chugged legs and drew penalties.
It became apparent early, this wasn’t to be a “Chucky” type of game.
And yet, with a bonus point on the line, both goalies standing on their heads and the Pacific Division playoff race resembling a traffic jam, it was Tkachuk burning Andersen through the wickets and making a difference with his blade, when his shoulders and lips went mute.
“I was like, finally, someone shoots five-hole,” said David Rittich, pitching a 35-save masterpiece. “I was glad he did it.”
Tkachuk dedicated the snipe to his friend and goaltender, who will be joining him in St. Louis, a town overrun with Tkachuks, next week for the All-Star Game.
“You want to do everything in your power to win the game for him,” Tkachuk said. “He was our best player tonight, easily. For us to reward him, it was definitely on my mind.”
Interim coach Geoff Ward believes Tkachuk — to him, a leading scorer and all-star agitator, to so many others, public enemy No. 1 — rises to his best on the grand stage, thermostat cranked.
“It’s part of their DNA. They look forward to the big games and look forward to have an opportunity to make a difference in big games,” Ward explained.
“We had the same situation in Boston when I was (an assistant coach) with Brad Marchand — highly talented guy, can play the agitator role really well.
“You like having those guys on your team, and you hate playing against them.”
With the suspended Kassian continuing to pour gasoline on the resurrected inferno that is the Battle of Alberta through his scrums and encouraging us to circle Jan. 29’s Flames-Oilers rematch on our calendars, Tkachuk is downplaying the hype.
Zack Kassian isn’t going to forget about what Matthew Tkachuk did.
Circle your for January 29th. pic.twitter.com/L5KFBTKFDA
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 14, 2020
Ward spoke with Tkachuk about the Kassian situation Wednesday, and the club agreed that the topic would be off-limits Thursday. To a man, the Flames directed focus on defeating the Leafs, then did it.
Calgary became the first team to limit Sheldon Keefe’s weapons to fewer than three goals since it last completed the feat on Dec. 12, and although Rittich was the game’s first star, Tkachuk got the last laugh.
“Real good focus by him in order to keep out the noise and stay focused on what he had to do,” praised Ward, considering the narrative waiting for the Flames in Alberta.
“It gives people an opportunity to promote the game, write stories and both fan bases are into it. That makes for good conversation around the game, but I don’t think the players are concerned about that.”
Sean Monahan believes the Flames are in “must-win” territory already.
Tkachuk said he’s reached the point where he’s checking Western Conference scores post-game.
He might give us some slick talk about the Oil later this month, but in the meantime, he’s zeroed in on defeating brother Brady’s Ottawa Senators on Saturday, then heading home to bask in his first all-star weekend.
“Normal five days for me,” Tkachuk shrugged.
“I don’t let anything distract me.”
Val Sweeting finally breaks through at Scotties after so much heartbreak – TSN
MOOSE JAW, Sask. – It took some extra drama, but Val Sweeting has finally reached the top of the Canadian curling mountain.
The vice for Kerri Einarson’s Manitoba rink captured her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts championship Sunday night with an 8-7 extra ends victory over Rachel Homan’s Ontario foursome.
“I’ve had quite a few heartbreaking final losses, so I definitely needed that,” an emotional Sweeting said after the game. “It’s hard to get back up, but we did and got back to that final.
“I’m so proud of us.”
Einarson, who also won her first Scotties on Sunday after dropping the 2018 final to Jennifer Jones in Penticton, B.C., says she couldn’t be happier for Sweeting.
“Val is such a wonderful player. So smart and talented. Her and I together, I think work really well,” said Einarson. “We’ve come a long way. We really focused on the little things that matter.”
The 32-year-old Sweeting has had her fair share of heartbreak at the Canadian championship in the past. Sweeting skipped Alberta to back-to-back national finals in 2014 and 2015, losing both times to Homan and Jones respectively, with the latter final happening right here at Mosaic Place. Those Moose Jaw Scotties were the last Sweeting competed in until this week.
Sweeting lost in the next two Alberta provincial finals (2016 and 2017) before dropping the page playoff 3 vs. 4 game in 2018. Her heartbreak wasn’t restricted to just traditional curling either. Sweeting and teammate Brad Gushue made it all the way to the 2018 Canadian Olympic Mixed Double trials finals before losing to John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes. That tandem would go on to win the first ever gold medal in that discipline in Pyeongchang, South Korea a few months later.
“It was heartbreaking for sure. I didn’t know how many times I could get back up,” said Sweeting of all those losses. “It just shows that you have to and I’m so honoured to get that Maple Leaf.”
At one point Sunday it seemed it was going down the same nightmarish route once again.
Manitoba held a four-point lead with two ends to play. Homan put up a deuce in the ninth before Einarson was heavy on her last throw in the 10th, giving Ontario a steal of two and a tie game.
Sweeting says she didn’t let her mind go to a dark place.
“Maybe for a second,” said Sweeting, who shot 83 per cent in the final. “I just thought ‘oh that sucks.’ I knew that we would regroup and have a really strong 11 and ultimately just leave the skip the four-foot. Kerri played amazing all week. Especially through playoffs and our last games.”
Einarson executed on a similar shot in the 11th end to win the Canadian title.
“What an emotional roller coaster,” said Einarson. “This is so amazing. I’m so incredibly proud of my teammates and they played so well all week. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know where I’d be today.”
Shannon Birchard, the second on the team, said they won this one for Sweeting and their skipper.
“We said before the game ‘we’re doing these for Val and we’re doing this for Kerri,’” said Birchard, who was on that Jones’ 2018 Scotties team as a replacement for Lawes. “For those two, losing the national final, it must have been heartbreaking. We just really wanted to do it for them this week.”
Sweeting’s first national championship came in her home province as she was born in Redvers, Sask., and has lived in Edmonton for many years as the team’s lone out-of-province curler. Sweeting says she could feel the support from multiple parts of Canada despite wearing the buffalo.
“Although I had the Manitoba logo on, I felt like I was representing everybody and I felt that support from everybody,” she said.
This rink out of the Gimli Curling Club made headlines when they formed prior to last season as Einarson, Sweeting, Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur were all skips of their own teams prior to coming together.
Birchard and Meilleur weren’t major contenders on the elite curling level circuit, so their moves weren’t shockers, but Sweeting’s swap to the third position was surprising. Could all these skips work together? Were there too many cooks in the kitchen?
“I think we all really owned our positions,” said Sweeting. “We really bought in and learned what we needed to do in each of our roles.”
In their first campaign together 2018-19, Team Einarson won multiple times on the World Curling Tour, but lost to Team Tracy Fleury in the Manitoba final and then lost the Scotties Wild Card game to Team Casey Scheidegger in Sydney, N.S. A good first season, but Sweeting knew they could reach another level.
“I think we really identified a lot of little things this season that we wanted to work on and I think we just owned them,” she said.
Birchard says all four teammates having a skip mentality can be an advantage.
“I know that Briane and I are always thinking about strategy. We’re always keeping everything in check and Val as well. It just helps. It’s definitely a team effort out there,” explained Birchard.
Now, Team Einarson will trade in the yellow and black for red and white as they will represent Canada at the world women’s curling championships next month in Prince George, B.C.
“We’ve got some work to do,” said Sweeting. “There’s so many good teams there and we’ll draw on players who have had experiences there and good coaching. We’ll just work really hard and do everything we can to bring a medal back to Canada.”
Kerri Einarson wins Canadian women's curling championship – CBC.ca
A dream team of former skips came together to earn a Canadian women’s curling championship Sunday.
Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson beat Ontario’s Rachel Homan 8-7 in an extra end to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Einarson was heavy on a draw against two for the win the 10th, but did not make the same mistake in the 11th drawing for the point she needed.
“This means absolutely the world to me,” Einarson said. “I really wanted to do this for myself and my teammates. We really put it together this week and so proud of everyone.
“Relief, but joy as well.”
Einarson, vice Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur out of the Gimli Curling Club will represent Canada at the world championship March 14-22 in Prince George, B.C.
WATCH | Einarson wins Scotties for Manitoba:
Einarson also gets a return trip to next year’s Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.
Her foursome gains a berth in the 2021 Olympic trials and collects $105,000 of the $300,000 prize purse.
As this year’s national champions, the team is eligible for just under $170,000 in Sport Canada funding over a two-year period.
Homan is a three-time Canadian champion, but has lost back-to-back Hearts finals. Her team fell to Alberta’s Chelsea Carey last year in Sydney, N.S.
‘It’s awesome to lose to such a good team’
“It sucks to lose, but it’s awesome to lose to such a good team,” Homan said. “They’re going to be great representatives for Canada and good luck to them.
“We fought right to the end. In the end, she made a great shot.”
Einarson, Sweeting and Meilleur earned their first Canadian women’s titles.
Birchard won two years ago as a substitute third for Jennifer Jones, while regular vice Kaitlyn Lawes played mixed doubles at the Olympic Games.
Einarson and her teammates all skipped different teams in 2017-18 before joining forces.
That combination raised eyebrows given how specialized each position on a team has become.
They settled into their roles, but Einarson lost in the Hearts wild-card game in Sydney to fall short of a berth in the main draw.
She faced an Ontario lineup with more big-game experience Sunday.
Einarson stole a point in the second end and generated two in the fourth and the sixth.
Homan drew for her first deuce in the ninth and trailed 7-5 coming home without last-rock advantage.
Ontario’s skip attempted an intricate triple takeout for three in the seventh, but mustered just a point.
In a dramatic sixth end, stones of both colours clustered on and around the button with Manitoba counting two.
Homan’s raise pushed one of her counters to second shot, but Einarson then delicately nudged her own stone towards the pin for the two points.
Homan attempted a raise double, but left Manitoba shot stone in the fourth. Einarson drew the four-foot rings for two.
Homan attempted an angle raise for two in the second end. She missed to give up a steal and trail 2-0.
Sweeting lost back-to-back Canadian finals in 2014 and 2015
Sunday’s victory was particularly sweet for Sweeting.
She lost back-to-back Canadian finals skipping Alberta in 2014 and 2015, losing to Homan and Jones respectively.
Manitoba, Ontario and the Jones wild-card team each posted 9-2 records in the pool and championship rounds.
Einarson earned an express ticket to Sunday’s final downing six-time champion Jones 6-4 in Saturday’s playoff between the top two seeds.
Homan denied Winnipeg’s Jones a chance at a record-setting seventh defeating the latter 8-3 in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal.
Trade to Capitals may not be the end for Kovalchuk and the Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca
MONTREAL — Perhaps this isn’t goodbye, but more like see you later.
For Ilya Kovalchuk came to Montreal and truly fell in love with being a Canadien, and there’s a chance he’ll return as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and sign the contract that was presented to him before he was traded to the Washington Capitals on Sunday and given a chance to continue his lifelong pursuit of a Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens got a 2020 third-round pick back from Washington and retained 50 per cent of Kovalchuk’s prorated $700,000 contract, which he signed on Jan. 3 — just two weeks after he and the Los Angeles Kings terminated his three-year, $18.75-million contract before it was halfway through. And though it doesn’t seem like enough given Kovalchuk’s torrid start in Montreal, it was all GM Marc Bergevin was able to attain after the 36-year-old produced just one point over his last seven games.
Should Bergevin have pulled the trigger earlier?
It seems that way, with Kovalchuk scoring six goals and 12 points in his first 14 games with Montreal and the Canadiens not gaining any significant ground in the playoff race. There were at least four other teams outside of Washington that expressed varying degrees of interest in his services, though no formal offers worth accepting came across Bergevin’s desk at that time.
There were other factors at hand here, too.
• That Kovalchuk and the Canadiens hadn’t abandoned hope that they could pull off the improbable after winning eight of those first 14 games.
• That there were other dominoes that needed to fall before the Canadiens could hope to obtain what they were looking for (a second-round pick, or at worst a conditional third that would become a second) in a Kovalchuk trade.
• That his offence dried up at the precise moment they moved him into the type of role he was more likely to fill with any of the teams that were interested in acquiring him.
Now Kovlachuk is gone to the Capitals to join the Great 8 and a team that’s just one season removed from being crowned Cup champions. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Vrana, Carlson, Holtby, Samsonov — among others; they were a threat before Kovalchuk arrived.
But now? Watch out.
Don’t think for a second that the big Russian isn’t grateful to the Canadiens and Bergevin. Kovalchuk was holding out hope a contender would sign him out of his contract termination with the Kings, but none were willing to take that risk before seeing him prove he could be infinitely more effective than he was in Los Angeles. The Canadiens gave him an opportunity to salvage his NHL career, they immediately put him with their best players, they gave him a top-line power-play role, and they gave him 18:54 of ice-time per game.
He took advantage of it, and his gratitude was on full display from Day 1.
“I love everything about this team,” Kovalchuk said back on Super Bowl Sunday, following the team’s 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. “The way everyone has welcomed me to the fans, who are unbelievable.”
“This group of guys is special,” he added. “They all care, they want to win, they want to be better. And all the young guys like (Nick) Suzuki … and (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and (Cale) Fleury — they sent them down, but they’re all ready to play. This team has a bright future, and if I can be part of it that would be really good.”
Kovalchuk was with the team for 51 days and his impact on its future was felt throughout.
He blew his young teammates away with his dazzling skill, with his size and strength, with his commitment away from the puck, with his practice habits, with his determination, with his kindness (he bought Brett Kulak a Rolex for giving up No. 17 upon his arrival), but most of all with his passion.
The older guys were equally taken aback.
“It’s how much he loves the game,” said 28-year-old Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot moments after Kovalchuk scored his fourth game-deciding goal — and this one against the Toronto Maple Leafs — on Feb. 8. “He’s not the youngest guy anymore, but every day he’s… whatever he’s working on in the gym, on the ice… he’s as passionate of a guy as I’ve ever seen playing the game. That’s what’s made him one of the best players for his generation, one of the best goal scorers; it’s just how much he loves the game. And that’s what’s common among the great players is just how much they love the game. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler — guys like that come to mind when I think of guys who have the same kind of passion for the game that Kovy does.”
It’s a passion that legitimately could be rewarded with a Stanley Cup this spring.
And then, perhaps, Kovalchuk will come back to Montreal and put pen to paper on a deal that will be waiting for him from the Canadiens. There are no guarantees of it happening, but it’s also not a given that this is goodbye.
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