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How the NHL's new division format affects playoff chances – The Athletic

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In less than a week, the 2020-21 NHL season is starting. Finally.

As you may have noticed, I’ve spent the last few weeks breaking down each team’s chances, from playoff odds to Stanley Cup probabilities, going division by division. The big change this year is that every single regular-season game will be divisional and divisions were realigned to accommodate a closed Canada/United States border. 

In case you’ve somehow missed it, here’s how those divisions look.

Scotia® North Division

Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets

MassMutual® East Division

Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals

Discover® Central Division

Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas…

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Aaron Rodgers laments Packers uncertain future: 'Myself included' – TSN

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Aaron Rodgers was lamenting the sudden end of a remarkable season he’ll treasure long after he’s retired, running through a list of Green Bay Packers teammates he’s grown the closest to.

“There’s a lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain, myself included,” Rodgers said, managing a slight laugh as if to momentarily soften this harsh reality in the immediate aftermath of the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship game. “That’s what sad about it most.”

The 37-year-old produced by most measures in 2020 the finest performance of his brilliant career, making him a leading contender for a third NFL MVP award.

The Packers went 13-3 for the top seed in the NFC, cruising past the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round and finally giving Rodgers a home game to play for a spot in the Super Bowl. His other four shots at it as the starter, including the win at Chicago (2010 season) that preceded his only championship, were on the road. They lost in the semifinals at San Francisco (2019), Atlanta (2016) and Seattle (2014).

Ten years and counting since the Packers won it all with Rodgers, this 31-26 loss to Brady and the Bucs will sting for awhile. Especially considering what happened last spring, when Green Bay drafted quarterback Jordan Love in the first round. Rodgers is signed through 2023, but that sure doesn’t guarantee in this league that he’ll stay that long — or that he’d want to.

“I’m going to have to take some time away for sure and clear my head and just kind of see what’s going on with everything, but it’s pretty tough right now,” Rodgers said. He later added: “It’s a grind to get to this point, and that makes the finality of it all kind of hit you like a ton of bricks.”

Rodgers went 33 for 48 for 346 yards and three touchdowns, but this wasn’t exactly his best. He had one interception that Tampa Bay used to set up a last-second touchdown before halftime and completed only two of nine attempts on goal-to-go situations. He also took five sacks.

Both of his goal-to-go completions went for scores, though, and coach Matt LaFleur twice took away a fourth-down chance to finish a drive in the end zone by settling for short field goals.

The fourth-and-8 decision with an eight-point deficit and 2:09 left — after Rodgers left the pocket and threw an incompletion to Davante Adams, eschewing the alternative of running for the pylon — was the surprisingly safe choice that Packers fans will have to chew on for years. Rodgers didn’t agree with it, though he used his words carefully.

“I understand the thinking, above two minutes with all of our timeouts, but it wasn’t my decision,” Rodgers said.

He was frustrated, of course, by the consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter after the defence came up with interceptions No. 2 and No. 3 of Brady. He was mad about the pass interference call on Kevin King that allowed the Bucs to extend their drive with 1:41 left and salt the game away.

Mostly, though, Rodgers sounded sad about what he won’t get to do anymore this season — play with a Packers team that he enjoyed as much as any of his career.

There’s no telling that Love would actually be ready, if the conclusion were to be reached, mutually or not, that the Rodgers era in Green Bay has ended. Throughout his video news conference with reporters from the basement of Lambeau Field, however, Rodgers sure sounded a lot like a guy saying goodbye.

Will he be back in green and gold?

“I certainly hope so,” LaFleur said. “The guy is the MVP of this league. He’s the heart and soul of this football team. Hell yeah, he better be back here. He’s our leader. Just so appreciative of him buying into what we’re trying to get done around here and believing in that group. I feel for him to be in this situation and for us not to get it done. It hurts.”

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

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Player grades: Jesse Puljujarvi has game of his life as Edmonton Oilers beat Winnipeg Jets in a thriller – Edmonton Journal

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Josh Archibald, 4. Quiet game, too quiet for a forward.

Ethan Bear, 7. His game is back in sync. He got beat by Scheifele on a rush to the Edmonton net in the second. He and Nurse failed to shut down a nasty one-handed tip off the rush by Ehlers in the third. But overall played well in tough situations.

Darnell Nurse, 7.Has played like a No. 1 d-man these last three games, a real No. 1 d-man. Not a perfect game, but a super solid one. He turned over a puck in the second leading to an iffy moment in his own zone, but quickly recovered by deflecting a pass out of danger, then throwing. a forearm shiver to bash a Jet attacker into the boards. Made a solid block on a pass on a Jets power play in the second. The power play finally looked good when he took over from Barrie.

Adam Larsson, 7. He had a strong, hard and effective stick on defence all game. Made a strong play to cut out an Ehlers centering pass  late in the first. Not one major mistake on a Grade A chance against at even strength all game, even as the team was often under heavy pressure when he was out there.

Slater Koekkoek. 6.  He’s become a Steady Eddie of the Oil’s blueline. He made a fantastic sliding blocked shot on Perreault in the slot in the second.

Kris Russell. 6. Solid, smart defensive play the whole game. Had a bad luck deflection in the slot fly into his own net. That’s gotta hurt.

Tyson Barrie. 4. He made four major mistakes on Grade A chances against at even strength, so not his sharpest game back there. On the power play in the first he hit Draisaitl in the skates on a pass, part of the disconnect we’re seeing on the power play. He failed to cover his man, Mason Appleton, on a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous shot in the second.

Mikko Koskinen, 6. He was a bit too slow getting across the net on Winnipeg’s first goal. He came up with a huge save off Josh Morrissey later in the first after Ennis and Kassian’s rancid line change. He wasn’t tested much in the second, but came up with a whale of a save off Mason Appleton. I can’t fault him on either third period goal. Played well enough for Oilers to win.

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Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs dominate Buffalo Bills to earn 2nd straight trip to Super Bowl – TSN

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took the Kansas City Chiefs five frustrating decades to make their third Super Bowl appearance.

Now, the defending champs are headed there for the second straight year.

Showing no lingering effects from his concussion, Patrick Mahomes sliced up Buffalo’s secondary with ruthless efficiency Sunday night, helping the Chiefs roll to a 38-24 victory over Josh Allen and the Bills in the AFC championship game.

The reigning Super Bowl MVP finished with 325 yards passing and three touchdowns, most of it to favourite targets Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, who complemented their star quarterback with a record-setting night of their own.

The Chiefs will face a familiar foe — Tom Brady — and the NFC champ Buccaneers in two weeks in Tampa, Florida.

“It was just trusting each other. The best thing about this team is we believe in each other,” said Mahomes, who was also dealing with a toe injury. “But the job’s not finished. We’re going to Tampa; we’re trying to run it back.”

Kelce finished with 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Hill added nine catches for 172 yards, becoming the first duo in NFL history with consecutive games of at least 100 yards receiving each in a single post-season.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams added short TD runs for the Chiefs, who will try to become the eighth franchise and first team since the Brady-led New England Patriots in 2003 and ’04 to defend the Lombardi Trophy.

“So glad to get to do it again,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar founded the franchise. “Thought a lot about my dad tonight, thought about my family and how excited my father would have been that we got to do it again in Arrowhead Stadium. That’s what he would have liked the most about it.”

Allen, who had his worst game of the season in a Week 6 loss to the Chiefs, again struggled against the blitzing Kansas City defence. He finished with 287 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception, but a big chunk of his numbers came as the Bills tried to rally from a 38-15 deficit in the final minutes.

Their frustration boiled over with 3:19 to go, when Allen was getting sacked by Tanoh Kpassagnon. Alex Okafor finished off the tackle, and Allen pitched the ball in his face in resentment. Offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Dion Dawkins rushed in and levelled Okafor, resulting in a flood of offsetting personal foul penalties.

“Obviously a lot of emotion,” Allen said. “Any time you don’t finish the season with a win, that’s the type of emotion you’re going to have. The way it ended doesn’t sit right with me with how chippy and ticky-tack it got. I’m disappointed in myself. I let my emotions get to me there. That’s not how you’re supposed to play football.”

It capped a bitter night for the Bills, who had reached their first AFC title game since beating Kansas City at home on Jan. 1, 1994. They had won 11 of 12 since their loss to the Chiefs earlier this season — in fact, they hadn’t trailed in the second half since Week 8 — and were riding a wave of confidence that this might finally be their championship year.

Instead, after finally conquering the Patriots in the AFC East, the Bills have a new roadblock to the Super Bowl.

“It stings to get this far,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott, who once worked under Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid in Philadelphia. “Sometimes the further you go, the harder it is to lose. It’s a learning experience for us as an organization.”

The Chiefs actually spotted the Bills a 9-0 lead, thanks in large part to Mecole Hardman’s muffed punt inside their 5 that gifted Buffalo a touchdown. But the reigning champs were hardly rattled; the Chiefs, after all, rallied from double-digits in each of their post-season wins last season, including their Super Bowl triumph over San Francisco.

Mahomes and Kelce soon found their groove. And the rest of the Chiefs offence followed suit.

They surgically took apart Buffalo’s defence on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a short TD throw to Hardman — no hard feelings over that fumble. Then, the Chiefs cruised 82 yards in just five plays, the big one Hardman’s 50-yard end-around that set up Williams’ touchdown tumble. Finally, they made it three TDs in three possessions when Edwards-Helaire — in his first game back from an ankle injury — capped a 77-yard drive with a short plunge.

The only answer from Buffalo was Tyler Bass’s chip-shot field goal that made it 21-12 at the break.

You don’t beat Kansas City by kicking field goals from the 3-yard line, though. Or from the 9, where the Bills settled for another one to close within 24-15 late in the third quarter.

That became painfully clear on the ensuing drive. Mahomes hit Hill in stride and the All-Pro wide receiver promptly made the Bills secondary look downright foolish. Weaving in and out of woebegone defenders, Hill was finally caught inside the 5-yard line after a 71-yard gain, ultimately setting up Kelce’s short TD catch a few plays later.

“You watch him on film, you see what he’s doing. It’s like he’s running at a different speed compared to everybody else,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. “And tonight, we saw first-hand for the second time. He’s fast.”

Any hopes the Bills had of a comeback were dashed when Rashad Fenton picked off a tipped pass deep in Kansas City territory. The Chiefs breezily marched the other direction, and Mahomes and Kelce kicked off the celebration of another trip to the Super Bowl when they connected for their second score of the game.

“I’m proud of these guys,” said Reid, who moved into a tie with Joe Gibbs for fourth on the career list with his 17th playoff win. “They did a phenomenal job, and hats off to the Buffalo Bills and the great job they did all year, and most of all, listen, we have the Lamar Hunt Trophy back in Kansas City.

“Now we have to get the big one.”

INJURIES

Chiefs: RG Andrew Wylie hurt his knee early in the second half and LT Eric Fisher limped off in the fourth quarter with an injury to his Achilles’ tendon. … CB L’Jarius Sneed and SS Armani Watts were evaluated for concussions.

UP NEXT

The Chiefs and Buccaneers have only played 13 times, and Kansas City had lost five straight before a 27-24 win in Tampa on Nov. 29 — a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. Brady is 5-5 in his career against the Chiefs, including an overtime victory with the Patriots in the AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium two years ago.

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

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