Minus both their head coach and inspirational leader, the Montreal Canadiens fought tooth and nail to extend their season Friday.
But there’s lots to be proud of for a group many didn’t even think belonged in the NHL’s restart.
Kevin Hayes had a goal and an assist, Carter Hart made 31 saves, and the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Canadiens 3-2 on Friday to win their first-round playoff matchup 4-2.
“Everybody doubted us as soon as they announced what the format would be,” said Montreal captain Shea Weber, whose team was the 24th and final club included in the resumption to the pandemic-delayed campaign. “Everyone just axed us off.
“It just shows that maybe we’re closer than people think.”
The Canadiens were without heart-and-soul winger Brendan Gallagher after he sustained a broken jaw from a Matt Niskanen cross-check late in Montreal’s victory Wednesday. The Flyers defenceman was suspended one game by the NHL, but will be available when Philadelphia opens the second round against the New York Islanders inside the fan-less Scotiabank Arena.
WATCH | Gallagher sustains broken jaw on hit from Niskanen:
Gallagher’s absence was just the latest twist for the Canadiens, who beat the heavily-favoured Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the best-of-five qualifying round before head coach Claude Julien was rushed to hospital in Toronto following Game 1 against the Flyers with chest pains. The 60-year-old had a stent inserted into one of his coronary arteries, but is back home and expected to make a full recovery.
“It’s tough to replace a guy like Gally,” Weber said. “You just can’t really do it. Everybody stepped up. The commitment was there, the effort was there.
“They were just fortunate to get a couple bounces early and we just couldn’t seem to find our break.”
Ivan Provorov and Michael Raffl also scored for Philadelphia, which advanced to the second round of the post-season for the first time since 2012.
“Getting into the playoffs in the NHL is not easy,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “Once you’re in, I believe every team has a legitimate chance at winning.”
Nick Suzuki had both goals for Montreal, while Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia had two assists each. An unlucky Carey Price — two Philadelphia goals went in off teammates for the second straight game, while the winner hit the post and struck the netminder’s leg before trickling over the line — made 14 stops in taking the loss.
In all, seven of Philadelphia’s 11 goals in the series hit Montreal players before entering the Canadiens’ net.
“Those are the breaks you get in a winning, championship season,” Price said. “You see it every year. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way. Those are the things you can’t control.”
Suzuki, 21, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 20, led a Canadiens youth movement that bodes well for the future as both players finished with four goals in 10 games.
“A lot of guys stepped up to the plate and played very well in a tough situation against two very good teams,” said the 33-year-old Price. “Very proud of those kids for playing the way they did.”
“They were big, big parts for us here,” added Weber, 35. “They surprised a lot of people.”
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Raffl’s goal — one he didn’t know a whole lot about — was the difference through 40 minutes as the Flyers carried a 3-2 lead even though the Canadiens held a decided territorial advantage.
Montreal had more difficulty generating chances in the third, but Tomas Tatar hit the knob of Hart’s stick with 6:49 left in regulation on a great opportunity from in tight.
Paul Byron had another chance on Hart’s doorstep with 2:31 remaining as the Canadiens pressed, but he couldn’t find a way through.
Montreal fought until the final buzzer with Price on the bench, but the Flyers held on to advance.
“It’s a great experience here,” said Suzuki, who also had three assists in the post-season. “Definitely would have loved to keep playing.
“We’re happy with the effort, just not the result.”
Hart, who grew up idolizing Price, shared a moment with his childhood hero in the handshake line.
Down 2-1 after the first despite carrying the majority of the play, Montreal fell behind by two for the second time at 4:28 of the middle period when Travis Sanheim’s shot glanced off Raffle, hit the post and bounced off Price’s leg and in his for the winger’s third.
The Canadiens responded 1:39 later when Drouin beat a Flyers defender to the puck, took it hard out of the corner and fed Suzuki, who beat Hart for his fourth.
Montreal dominated proceedings from there, holding Philadelphia to one shot for most of the period.
All but eliminated from playoff contention when the schedule was suspended in mid-March because of COVID-19, the Canadiens fell behind 28 seconds into the first when Provorov’s innocent-looking effort hit Weber and sailed past Price on the game’s first shot.
Montreal responded with a couple of good shifts, but shortly after killing a Philadelphia power play, Price was once again victimized by some more bad luck when Hayes fired a shot that ricocheted off Artturi Lehkonen’s stick and in at 5:23.
The Canadiens responded on a man advantage of their own at 10:03 when Suzuki grabbed a loose puck in the slot and sifted a shot through Hart for the rookie’s third — a first indication the underdogs were planning to stay in the fight.
“They committed to playing hard and playing for each other,” Montreal interim head coach Kirk Muller said. “Let’s be honest, we surprised people. The experience of what all these guys learned … this has really gelled this group together.
“This is a great thing for these guys to build on.”
Blue Jays blow chance at higher seed with loss to Orioles in regular season finale – CBC.ca
Feeling healthy, confident and ready for the next challenge, the Toronto Blue Jays capped their regular season Sunday by tuning up for their first playoff appearance in four years.
A series against the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays was locked in when the Blue Jays dropped a 7-5 decision to the Baltimore Orioles in a game that meant little for either team.
The Blue Jays and Rays will play Game 1 on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET, and Game 2 on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET. Should the series go to a Game 3, it will be played on Thursday.
Toronto gave slugger Teoscar Hernandez the day off and rested most of its relievers so they’d be fully charged for Game 1 on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. The Rays have been the class of the American League but did have some trouble with the Blue Jays at times, making this best-of-three wild-card series all the more intriguing.
“They’re looking forward to the challenge and I love that about our kids,” said Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo. “They really want it.”
By losing to Baltimore, the Blue Jays — who sealed a post-season berth last Thursday — secured the eighth and final seed.
At the start of the day, Toronto had a chance to rise to the No. 5 seed. Potential outcomes existed that could have seen first-round matchups against the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians or the Chicago White Sox.
‘It’s going to come down to whoever makes the least mistakes’
Toronto was 4-6 against Tampa Bay this season. Four of the Blue Jays’ losses were by one run.
“They’re a good baseball team, they do everything well collectively,” said Toronto starter Tanner Roark, who gave up two earned runs to the Orioles over four innings.
“I think it’s going to come down to whoever makes the least mistakes in that series (will) win it. We’ve played them tough all year. We’ve lost a lot of one-run games and we’ve won a lot of one-run games.”
Toronto looked like it was on its way to closing the 60-game season on a five-game win streak after homers by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., in the third inning. But the Orioles scored three runs in the fourth and tacked on three more in the fifth.
Shun Yamaguchi (2-4) shouldered the loss after working two frames. Gurriel had four hits and scored three runs.
Toronto right-fielder Jonathan Davis made an all-world play in the second inning to take a home run away from Cedric Mullins. Davis extended his left arm over the top of the wall near the foul pole and managed to squeeze the ball as he crashed to the warning track.
Davis drove in the game’s first run in the bottom half of the frame as his sacrifice fly scored Gurriel, who led off with a double. An inning later, Guerrero hit a solo shot for his ninth homer and Gurriel hit a no-doubt two-run blast for his 11th homer of the season.
Mullins helped the Orioles (25-35) cut into the lead with a two-run triple in the fourth inning and Austin Hays drove him in with a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Yamaguchi gave up three straight hits at the start of the fifth and the Orioles pulled ahead to stay.
‘Our confidence right now is great’
Travis Lakins Sr., (3-2) worked two innings for the victory. Cesar Valdez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.
The Blue Jays finished the pandemic-shortened 60-game campaign with a 32-28 record. Toronto was 17-9 at Sahlen Field, normally home of the team’s triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons.
“Our confidence right now is great,” Gurriel said via translator Hector Lebron. “We have pretty much everybody healthy. From one through nine, the lineup is good and everybody is feeling great right now which is what you want going into the playoffs.”
Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will play in the post-season. Division winners are seeded Nos. 1-3 in each league, second-place teams are seeded fourth through sixth and two wild-card teams get the seventh and eighth spots.
The Blue Jays last reached the post-season in 2016 as a wild-card entry. Toronto went on to reach the American League Championship Series for the second straight year.
Toronto’s last World Series victory came in 1993. A long playoff drought followed until the Blue Jays returned to the post-season in 2015.
Led by Adebayo, Heat’s young talent instrumental in securing Finals berth – Sportsnet.ca
Bam Adebayo scored a career-high 32 points while grabbing 14 rebounds and dropping five dimes as the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics 125-113 Sunday evening to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014.
The NBA Finals will begin Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. ET.
Miami last made the NBA Finals with James still in the lineup as part of the celebrated team that made four straight Finals and won two, led by the current Lakers superstar, retired Heat legend Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen.
The Heat hadn’t advanced past the second round since James’ departure, but in just six seasons since he decided to head back home to Cleveland they’ve managed to re-tool and rebuild on the fly to once again compete for a championship.
Many of those pieces that have led Miami back to this point in their history took starring roles in its Game 6 victory over Boston. Here’s a few takeaways from the Heat’s big Eastern-Conference clinching victory.
Heat get it done when it matters most
Before diving into the Heat in the future, it’s worth looking back at what they did in the game that got them to the Finals first. And the most important moment from Game 6 followed a relatively consistent trend seen across all but one of Miami’s wins in the series.
Instead, what happened was a 35-17 Heat run to close the game and run right over the Celtics to punch their tickets into the Finals.
As part of that run all the key pieces of Miami’s rebuild were involved, with Adebayo scoring six points, rookie Herro dropping all 11 of his fourth-quarter points during it, Duncan Robinson drilling a couple of key three-pointers and Jimmy Butler closing things out with nine points.
Outside of the big free agent splash of Butler, all of these names weren’t the most highly-regarded around the league heading into this season, but they were all instrumental in Miami’s win.
And on the flip side of this, while the young talent of the Heat managed to rise to the occasion, the Celtics appeared to wilt under the spotlight all series long — conceding not just this six-point lead, but also a 14-point one early in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and a 15-point advantage in Game 2.
The Celtics have a lot of talent, but just couldn’t seem to rise to the occasion when it mattered most.
If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.
Bam vs. AD
Outside of his Game 5 blip, Adebayo was the best all-around player in the series, averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 11 rebounds and 5.2 assists on 60.8 per cent shooting from the floor while also coming up with highlight of the series — his game-saving block on Jayson Tatum’s dunk attempt in Game 1 — and playing just overall, consistently great defence both as a rim protector and out on the perimeter.
As such, because of his rare combination of size, length, strength, athleticism and skill, his forthcoming matchup with Lakers centre Anthony Davis – who is every bit his equal in just about every category except passing – is intoxicating.
Like an old-school matchup, but in the modern era with both Adebayo and Davis exuding “unicorn” big man qualities because of their high skill level at their sizes. Davis probably has a better handle and shooting touch – certainly from outside – and Adebayo is an absolutely brilliant passer who the Heat can, and do, play out of similar to what the Nuggets do with Nikola Jokic.
This matchup is sure to be entertaining, at the very least.
“That’s my rock.”
Bam Adebayo shows love to his mother after reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in his career
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 28, 2020
Interesting stats heading into the Finals
Here’s some interesting stats from the conclusion of the Eastern Conference Finals for you to mull over:
• Though hailed as the team’s best player – and he’s still probably their most important – Butler never led Miami in scoring all series long. This is a good indication of the impact he has that goes beyond just getting buckets – despite his nickname.
• Andre Iguodala, who came up big in Game 6 scoring 15 points on perfect shooting from the field (including drilling four triples), is headed to his sixth straight Finals now. The first five, of course, were with the Golden State Warriors.
This stat is just about as impressive as the remarkable accomplishment from James who is competing in his ninth Finals in 10 years.
• Lastly, some Canadian content here for you:
Kelly Olynyk and Kyle Alexander on the Heat will represent Canada in the Finals, marking the 10th straight year a Canadian has been in the Finals.
Only seven Canadians in history have won a championship. Can these two add their names to this list?
Foles leads incredible comeback, Falcons collapse again in Bears win – TSN
ATLANTA — No matter how bad things might have seemed a week ago, the Atlanta Falcons somehow managed to make it even worse.
Yep, another epic fourth-quarter collapse.
This one could spell the end for embattled coach Dan Quinn, who already carried the burden of the biggest squandered lead in Super Bowl history.
The Falcons surrendered a 16-point advantage in the final 6 1/2 minutes to the Chicago Bears, who got three touchdown passes from backup quarterback Nick Foles and pulled out a 30-26 win on Sunday.
It would have seemed downright improbable — if it hadn’t happened for the second week in a row.
Atlanta (0-3) became the first team in NFL history to lose back-to-back games in which it led by 15 or more points in the final period, according to STATS.
“These last two weeks have been nothing short of crushing,” said Quinn, the sixth-year coach who desperately needed a strong start to the season after two straight losing campaigns.
A week ago, Atlanta became a national laughingstock after failing to pounce on an onside kick, allowing the Dallas Cowboys to finish off their comeback from a 39-24 deficit to win 40-39 on a field goal as time expired.
“It doesn’t get no worse than this,” defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “We probably found the two worst ways you can lose a football game.”
Under Quinn, the Falcons also wasted a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl after the 2016 season and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots.
Quinn faced questions about his job security after the latest debacle. He insisted that he’s only focused on turning things around.
“I need to be the same guy on our best days and on our worst days,” Quinn said. “Anything past that does not help the team. All I can focus on is us finishing better. That’s where my focus needs to be.”
This time, it was Foles who guided the improbable comeback after relieving erratic Mitchell Trubisky in the third quarter, pushing the Bears to 3-0 for the first time since 2013.
The former Super Bowl MVP won it with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Miller with 1:53 remaining.
“Pretty special,” said tight end Jimmy Graham, who had a pair of touchdown catches. “He was out there ad-libbing a bit for sure and checking and changing some plays. There’s one play he called, I’m like, ‘We got that?’ So it was pretty cool to see and pretty cool to be a part of.”
Foles had two apparent touchdown passes overturned by official reviews — and still managed to pull out the victory.
He tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Graham to make it 26-16 with 6:20 to go. The Falcons still appeared in good shape after the Bears failed on a 2-point attempt.
But Chicago got the ball back and moved quickly down the field. Foles connected with Allen Robinson on a short pass that turned into a 37-yard touchdown when Isaiah Oliver and Blidi Wreh-Wilson both missed tackles, allowing the receiver to scoot down the sideline.
After the Falcons went three-and-out on their third straight possession, Foles heaved one down the middle of the field with a rusher in his face. Miller hauled it in for the winning score.
The Falcons still had a shot, but Matt Ryan‘s pass was intercepted by Tashaun Gipson to seal it.
Foles finished 16 of 29 for 188 yards. Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, was 13 of 22 for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked twice.
Brian Hill and Todd Gurley each ran for a touchdown and Ryan connected with Hayden Hurst on a short TD pass that helped stake the Falcons to their seemingly comfortable lead.
Of course, no lead is safe for the Falcons.
Especially with Foles recapturing some of the magic he had in guiding the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl title three seasons ago after replacing the injured Carson Wentz.
Foles spent one injury-plagued season in Jacksonville, then was acquired by the Bears to put some heat on the disappointing Trubisky.
Trubisky set up Chicago’s first touchdown with the second-longest run of his career, a 45-yarder after the Falcons abandoned the the entire middle of the field. He connected on Graham on a 2-yard scoring pass to pull the Bears within 16-10 at halftime.
But Foles got his chance after Trubisky threw an interception in the third quarter that led to a Falcons field goal, pushing the lead to 26-10.
“It kind of happened out of nowhere,” Trubisky said. “I just accepted the news. I had Nick’s back like he’s had mine. The situation sucked, but it was just the flow of the game and how it happened and coach made the decision that he felt was best for the team.”
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Foles pushed the Bears down the field on his first possession, connecting with Robinson on a play that was initially ruled a 21-yard touchdown pass even though Darqueze Dennard came away with the ball. After reviewing the replay, the officials ruled that Robinson never had control and awarded an interception to Dennard.
With just under 11 minutes remaining, Foles delivered another apparent touchdown on fourth down, connecting over the middle to Miller on a 17-yard throw. But a replay showed the receiver trapped the ball against the turf, turning the ball over to the Falcons on downs.
Turns out, Foles was just getting warmed up.
Bears: RB Tarik Cohen left the game in the second half with a knee injury. S Sherrick McManis was knocked out by an ailing hamstring.
Falcons: The Falcons played without six starters, including WR Julio Jones (hamstring). Also missing were LB Foye Oluokun (hamstring), OT Kaleb McGary (knee), DE Takk McKinley (groin), S Ricardo Allen (elbow) and CB A.J. Terrell (COVID-19 reserve list). The Falcons then lost WR Russell Gage (concussion) in the first half, and DT Grady Jarrett (hip) hobbled off in the second half.
Bears: Return home to face the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday.
Falcons: Head to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers in a Monday night game to finish off Week 4.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
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