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Jack Todd: Canadiens' sweet start ends in bitter outcome for Julien – Montreal Gazette

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The Habs didn’t lose in regulation through their first seven games, then the wheels began to fall off with disastrous results.

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Professional sports can be cruel. It’s a high-stakes, pitiless business and when you don’t deliver, the door is only a step away.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin broke the bad news to head coach Claude Julien Wednesday morning, a few hours after another dispiriting loss to the Ottawa Senators.

Julien was dismissed, along with the popular former Canadiens captain Kirk Muller, because the club had come unglued after a brilliant start to the pandemic-shortened NHL season.

Dominique Ducharme, an assistant with a gold-plated resumé, will take over as interim head coach, while former Canucks star Alex Burrows joins the Canadiens’ staff.

Gone are two of the most respected individuals in club history — the salt-of-the-earth Julien (who was on his second stint as head coach) and the amiable Muller, once dubbed “Kirk is work” by the late Red Fisher.

But respect will get you only so far. The Canadiens had lost six of their last eight games. Special-teams play was a mess. Carey Price, the superstar goaltender who was expected to help the club win that elusive 25th Stanley Cup, has followed a difficult 2019-20 campaign with another bumbling season, somehow combining scintillating saves with painful howlers.

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It was a blown save by Price Tuesday in Ottawa that might have sped Julien on his way. The Canadiens had battled back to take a 4-3 third-period lead on a goal by the newly acquired Tyler Toffoli when the young Brady Tkachuk came down the right wing.

Tkachuk could manage no more than a feeble one-handed push, sending the puck toward Price at the speed of a dial-up connection.

The puck crept across the line between Price’s skate and the post to tie it at 4-4, a grotesque call from the Toronto war room on an apparent buzzer-beating goal from Brendan Gallagher sent it to overtime — and Price was beaten twice in a shootout to hand Ottawa the win and, perhaps, to end Julien’s coaching career.

For the 60-year-old Julien, it had to be the most bitter of outcomes. He ranks 13th in career coaching victories after stints with the Canadiens, New Jersey and Boston and a Stanley Cup victory with the Bruins in 2011.

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While I had predicted in a blog post Monday that Julien would be gone by the weekend, it still comes as a shock. To an extent, Julien was a victim of the short, 56-game season and the expectations created when the Canadiens added five quality NHL players during the offseason: Forwards Josh Anderson and Toffoli, who have carried the offensive load so far; defenceman Joel Edmundson, rookie defender Alexander Romanov and backup goaltender Jake Allen.

  1. Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin watches his team's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second period in Montreal on Feb. 10, 2021.

    Stu Cowan: Players forced Canadiens GM’s hand in firing of Julien

  2. Head coach Claude Julien blows a whistle over his mask during Montreal Canadiens practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Jan. 27, 2021.

    What the Puck: Canadiens goalie Price shares blame for Julien’s firing

  3. Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, right, speaks with associate coach Kirk Muller practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Wednesday November 27, 2019.  (John Mahoney} / MONTREAL GAZETTE)  ORG XMIT: POS1911271253161652

    Montreal Canadiens fire Claude Julien and Kirk Muller

  4. New Canadiens assistant coach Dominique Ducharme meets with the media at the team’s Brossard practice facility on April 27, 2018.

    Stu Cowan: Dominique Ducharme a head-coach-in-waiting with Canadiens

  5. Feb 20, 2021; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Montreal Canadiens center Tyler Toffoli (73) and right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) skate up the ice in the first period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

    About Last Night: Brendan Gallagher has every right to be mad

With a short training camp and no exhibition games, Julien still had his team ready to play when the season began in January. The club did not lose a game in regulation through the first seven and was scoring goals at a rate not seen here in a quarter-century.

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Then the wheels began to fall off and Julien’s highly conservative DNA kicked in, with disastrous results. The rookie Romanov, who was evoking comparisons with former Hab Andrei Markov early in the season, made a mistake, was made a healthy scratch for a game and seemed to have lost some confidence when he returned.

Young centreman Jesperi Kotkaniemi had some of the same difficulty getting ice time while Julien stuck with veteran Phillip Danault, who is mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought that includes all 18 games this season.

In the end, the veterans-first approach helped cost Julien his job. Julien leaves with a record of 201 wins, 185 losses, 10 ties and 50 overtime losses in parts of eight seasons with the Canadiens, including the stretch when he was hired in January 2003 to replace Michel Therrien, the coach he replaced in turn when he took the reins again on Valentine’s Day 2017.

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That led to no end of jokes about the coaching carousel and the same old faces, but Ducharme represents new blood. His interim appointment is not a surprise, given that he was hired to be an alternative if Julien should falter, although it seemed that the high-profile Joël Bouchard might have moved ahead of him on the depth chart while coaching the Laval Rocket in the AHL.

The 47-year-old Ducharme coached 10 seasons in the QMJHL and won the Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013 before serving as head coach for Canada’s world junior team, winning silver in 2017 and gold in 2018 before joining the Canadiens’ staff.

If he wants to drop that interim tag from his title, Ducharme is going to have to get this team back to the more aggressive, risk-taking approach the Canadiens took early in the season.

He will also have to make a quick decision as to whether to go on giving Price the majority of the starts or turn to Allen, who has been significantly better to this point in the season.

Either way, these were changes that had to be made, even though it meant the departure of two quality individuals in Julien and Muller. Now we’ll see if it’s enough to salvage a season that was going down the drain.

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jacktodd46@yahoo.com

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Warriors top Grizzlies for No. 8 seed

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Stephen Curry scored a game-high 46 points en route to his second NBA scoring title and Jordan Poole stalled a rally with a late 3-pointer Sunday afternoon as the Golden State Warriors held off the visiting Memphis Grizzlies in San Francisco for a 113-101 win to claim the No. 8 position in this week’s play-in tournament.

With Curry scoring 17 of his 46 points, the Warriors appeared to take command of the game in the third quarter, but Dillon Brooks led a Memphis comeback. Before fouling out, Brooks contributed 13 points to a 22-5 flurry that made it 91 all with 6:32 still to play.

The Grizzlies went up by two twice after that, before Poole nailed his momentum-changing 3-pointer.

The loss ended Memphis’ five-game winning streak and landed the Grizzlies in the No. 9 spot in the play-in, where they will host 10th-seeded San Antonio on Wednesday.

Lakers 110, Pelicans 98

LeBron James scored 25 points as Los Angeles won in New Orleans on the final day of the regular season, but was unable to avoid the play-in round.

James left the game midway through the fourth quarter, slightly favoring the injured right ankle that sidelined him 26 games down the stretch.

But the victory wasn’t enough for the defending NBA champions to avoid the Western Conference play-in tournament. Portland defeated Denver to claim the sixth seed so the seventh-seeded Lakers will host eighth-seeded Golden State in a play-in game Wednesday.

Jazz 121, Kings 99

Jordan Clarkson scored 33 points and made six 3-pointers and Bojan Bogdanovic added 18 points to lead Utah past Sacramento and the league’s best regular-season record.

Rudy Gobert added 13 points and 16 rebounds. Mike Conley chipped in 11 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Utah clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Terence Davis scored 20 points to lead the Kings. Damian Jones chipped in 19 points. Buddy Hield added 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for Sacramento, which rested several key players: De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes

Timberwolves 136, Mavericks 121

Anthony Edwards closed his push for NBA Rookie of the Year with 30 points, and Minnesota dominated Dallas nearly wire-to-wire for a season-ending win in Minneapolis.

Edwards capped his debut season with his eighth game of 22 or more points over the final nine. He is in contention to be Minnesota’s first Rookie of the Year since teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, who won the award in 2016.

Dallas, which locked up the No. 5 seed and will play the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, shot 16-of-38 from 3-point range, including Kristaps Porzingis making 4 of 5. Porzingis finished with 18 points.

Heat 120, Pistons 107

Precious Achiuwa had 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead Miami to a road win over Detroit in the regular-season finale.

With little to no incentive to win the game, each team rested several starters. Miami already had the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs clinched going into the game, while Detroit was looking to clinch the league’s second-worst record and enhance its odds of winning the first pick in the NBA draft lottery.

Saddiq Bey scored 22 points and Josh Jackson scored 17 points off the bench for Detroit.

76ers 128, Magic 117

Tyrese Maxey had 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lift host Philadelphia over Orlando in game in which the 76ers rested all of their starters.

Since the Sixers have had already secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Danny Green, Seth Curry and Tobias Harris sat the game out.

Isaiah Joe scored 17 points, rookie Paul Reed added season highs of 17 and 12 rebounds, and Shake Milton contributed 15 points and nine assists for the Sixers, who improved to 49-23. George Hill added 14 points.

Nets 123, Cavaliers 109

Kevin Durant totaled 23 points, a season-high-tying 13 assists and eight rebounds in three quarters as Brooklyn Nets secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a wire-to-wire win over Cleveland in New York.

The Nets ended the season on a five-game winning streak and edged out the Milwaukee Bucks for the second seed. A loss by Brooklyn and a Milwaukee win over the Chicago Bulls would have pushed the Nets into the third seed due to losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bucks.

Kyrie Irving added 17 points on 7 of 11 from the field for the Nets and became the ninth player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Knicks 96, Celtics 92

RJ Barrett scored a game-high 22 points as New York completed a resurgent regular season and clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference by hanging on for a win over visiting Boston.

The Knicks, who are headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2013, will open the quarterfinals at home next weekend against the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics already were locked into the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference and the first seed in the play-in tournament. Boston, which needs to win just once to advance to the playoffs, will play the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

Pacers 125, Raptors 113

Canadian-born Oshae Brissett exploded for a career-high 31 points against his country’s displaced team, and Indiana earned a home game in the NBA’s play-in tournament with a thrashing of host Toronto.

Brissett completed a double-double with 10 rebounds, while Domantas Sabonis had one of his own with 25 points and 16 rebounds, as the Pacers snapped a two-game losing streak to clinch a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Indiana assured it would finish tied with either Charlotte or Washington, who were playing each other in a contest that finished after the Pacers-Raptors game had ended. The Wizards secured the win 115-110 over the Hornets.

Wizards 115, Hornets 110

Bradley Beal made a go-ahead layup with 2:53 remaining as host Washington beat Charlotte to secure the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Russell Westbrook collected 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists and Beal added 25 points in his first contest after a three-game absence for the Wizards.

Robin Lopez posted 18 points and Rui Hachimura had 16 for Washington, which will visit the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics in the play-in round on Tuesday. Charlotte, which owns the No. 10 seed, will face the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

Suns 123, Spurs 121

E’Twaun Moore poured in 22 points, including the deciding 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds to play, to lift visiting Phoenix past San Antonio.

Phoenix was without Devin Booker (rest), Chris Paul (rest) and Deandre Ayton (knee) as the Suns opted to keep key players on the bench despite the chance to earn the top spot in the Western Conference.

San Antonio pulled its starters at the end of the third quarter, allowing the two teams’ bench players to decide the contest. The Suns’ reserves had just enough to secure the win that forced Utah to win in Sacramento later Sunday in order to finish atop of Phoenix in the West.

Hawks 124, Rockets 95

Led by rookie Onyeka Okongwu’s career bests of 21 points and 15 rebounds, Atlanta tuned up for its first trip to the playoffs since 2017 with a win over visiting Houston in the regular-season finale on Sunday.

Okongwu, who posted his second double-double, was 10-for-13 from the field and added three assists, two steals and two blocked shots. The Hawks had eight players in double figures, including Skylar Mays with 16, John Collins with 15 and De’Andre Hunter with 14. Trae Young (sore big right toe) was limited to 16 minutes and scored 10 points with nine assists.

The Hawks will be the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and face off with the No. 4 New York Knicks in the first round.

Bulls 118, Bucks 112

Thaddeus Young finished with 20 points and seven rebounds to help host Chicago finish its season with a victory over playoff-bound Milwaukee.

Young was one of six Bulls who scored in double figures. Coby White totaled 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Lauri Markkanen had 17 points and five rebounds.

Locked into the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference after the Brooklyn Nets’ victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in the evening, the Bucks rested all of their starters — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday and Donte DiVincenzo.

Thunder 117, Clippers 112

Aleksej Pokusevski scored a career-high 29 points to lead Oklahoma City to a win over Los Angeles in the final night of the NBA regular season.

The loss sent the Clippers to the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. They’ll face Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.

Pokusevski got off to a hot start and then hit a 3-pointer to break a tie in the final minute and snap the Thunder’s nine-game losing streak. He hit his first six shots and finished 10 of 19 from the floor, hitting six 3-pointers.

Trail Blazers 132, Nuggets 116

CJ McCollum scored 24 points and Portland clinched a Western Conference playoff spot with an easy victory over visiting Denver.

Damian Lillard recorded 22 points and 10 assists and Jusuf Nurkic added 20 points and 13 rebounds in the wire-to-wire victory that allowed Portland to avoid the play-in round and claim the No. 6 spot in the West.

Nikola Jokic scored 21 points in the first half before exiting for the Nuggets, who landed the third seed in West despite the setback because the Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver owned the tiebreaker with the Clippers.

–Field Level Media

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Djokovic outlasts Sonego to set up Rome final with Nadal

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Defending champion Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal will clash for the Italian Open title after the top two seeds advanced to the final of the Masters tournament on Saturday.

Djokovic, who beat Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6 7-5 7-5 in a rain-delayed quarter-final earlier in the day, was also stretched to three sets in the semi-final before overcoming local favourite Lorenzo Sonego.

Sonego, the first Italian to make the semi-finals in Rome in 14 years after he beat world number seven Andrey Rublev earlier on Saturday, had his dream run ended by Djokovic who triumphed 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2.

Djokovic failed to convert two match points in the second set that lasted 91 minutes as Sonego forced a tiebreak, where the Serb lost a 4-2 lead.

However, the world number one controlled proceedings in the decider and advanced after Sonego’s return on match point found the net.

Earlier, Nadal beat Reilly Opelka 6-4 6-4 to move into the final in Rome for the 12th time.

The match was Nadal’s 500th on clay where he has a formidable 458-42 record and the Spaniard advanced after twice breaking the big-serving American.

“When you play these kind of matches, you know it’s not going to be a beautiful match… you’re not going to find rhythm in the match. You’re going to have just a few chances to break,” Nadal told reporters.

“It’s important not to suffer much with your serve because if you are… you feel the stress all the time. So the positive thing today, I just faced break points in one game during the whole match.”

Djokovic was trailing Tsitsipas 6-4 2-1 when Friday’s quarter-final was halted by rain but the Serb raised his game at key moments to twice come back from a break down in the deciding set.

Djokovic has a 29-27 career record against Nadal but the Spaniard has won five of their eight matches in Rome.

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru and Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)

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New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job

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The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.

The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.

A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.

Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.

He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.

He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.

The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.

Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.

–Field Level Media

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