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Jack Todd: Toronto didn't 'let' Canadiens do anything — Montreal simply did it – Montreal Gazette



After the Canadiens had their third win over the Leafs in as many meetings this season, the excuses were flowing out of Hogtown almost before Ilya Kovalchuk’s OT shot was in the net.

For two periods at the Bell Centre on Saturday night, the legendary Canadiens-Maple Leafs rivalry was enough to make any hockey fan feel sick.

The Canadiens had a flu epidemic going through the room and captain Shea Weber on the shelf. The Leafs were missing their goaltender and a couple of key defencemen and their vaunted offence hissed and sputtered like a string of wet firecrackers.

Heading into the third period, it was like watching the Canadiens and the New Jersey Devils play on a Tuesday night around 2001, when the only sensible thing to do was to find a bar where the liquor was cheap and they weren’t showing the game.

Then the third period started. The Canadiens had a scoring chance, the Leafs counter-attacked. John Tavares scored. 1-0 Leafs. Game on.

Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell looks on as Canadiens’ Ilya Kovalchuk celebrates his overtime goal at the Bell Centre on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Montreal.

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Tavares scored one minute and six seconds into the period. At the end of the frame, shots for the period stood at Canadiens 16, Leafs 1. Throw in the overtime session and the Leafs were outshot 19-2 when it mattered most.

Yet when it was over, newbie Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe would say “we let them hang around.” It was a stunning bit of arrogance on the part of Young Sheldon. The Leafs didn’t let the Canadiens do anything. The Habs simply did it, Toronto be damned.

Leading the way was Ilya Kovalchuk — always dangerous, always a threat to score. When he’s on the ice, the eye follows No. 17 the way a moth trails a flame. Kovalchuk carved out three or four chances in the third period. With a bit of luck or a little less Jack Campbell in the Toronto net, the game might have ended in regulation.

It was left to local hero Marco Scandella to tie it at 1-1 with time winding down. Then it was overtime and there was the brilliant and shifty Nick Suzuki bearing down on the Leafs goal, with Toronto star Auston Matthews labouring in his wake. Campbell made the save on Suzuki, but with Matthews paying no attention Kovalchuk sailed past him and pounced on the rebound.

Goal! And another of those Kovalchuk celebrations that have become a stamp of his brief tenure in Montreal. Think about it: the man hasn’t even had time to unpack and he already has two overtime winners and a shootout winner for the Canadiens. For a banged-up, ailing team, the big Russian has been the perfect cure-all.

If you want to know what effect Kovalchuk has had on the hockey-mad fans in this city, check the three-star selection. When Carey Price was announced as the game’s first star and Kovalchuk was ignored altogether, Price was greeted with some groans from the cheap seats.

For this one night, Price, a guy who has won the Molson Cup for 4,617 successive months and is worshipped this side of idolatry by the Montreal mob, was no longer the favourite. The fans wanted Kovalchuk to win that first star and they wanted him bad.

Mind you, Price put in a solid body of work on the evening, as did Campbell at the other end. As always when you’re winning, there were plenty of others: Jeff Petry stepping boldly into the Weber role as he always seems to do, Max Domi finding some fire, Nate Thompson killing penalties, Tomas Tatar making it all but impossible to offer him on the trade market.

When it was over, the Canadiens had their third win over the mighty Leafs in as many meetings this season, and the excuses were flowing out of Hogtown almost before Kovalchuk’s shot was in the net: back-to-back games, backup goaltenders, blah-blah-blah.

This is something Toronto has to learn, from the upper brass to the broadcast crews, the fan base, the players and Young Sheldon himself: teams are not going to simply step back and let you win because you signed a bunch of high-priced offensive talent. You’re going to have to fight and scratch and claw for every point — and efforts like Matthews’s half-hearted overtime backcheck are not going to get it done.

The Leafs are a very talented, but flawed team. The Canadiens are a somewhat talented, but flawed team. They’re more talented with Kovalchuk on the roster and Jonathan Drouin back on the ice, but they have some of the same holes, like backup goaltender.

Where the Canadiens have the edge is in sheer grit. If you must give an inch, as the great Red Fisher used to say, make sure it’s only an inch. This team has fought through a wave of injuries to key forwards followed by a flu epidemic. They’ve been counted out a dozen times already and yet here they are, still on the outside looking in but firmly in the rear-view mirror of teams like the Leafs and the Panthers.

The Canadiens may not get there. The odds are still against them. But with big No. 17 leading the way, they’ve been able to light up February in Montreal, which is no mean feat. By now, we can assume Marc Bergevin has got the message that Kovalchuk himself appeared to hurl to the rafters after that overtime goal:

Sign the man.


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After Stripling's absolute gem, Blue Jays' bats finally erupt for huge win –



TORONTO – All the ingredients for another game to unravel and end in heartbreak for the Toronto Blue Jays were there in the seventh inning. Cedric Mullins ended Ross Stripling’s run of six perfect innings by lining his first pitch to centre for a base hit. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. then bobbled Anthony Santander’s chopper, preventing him from getting the lead runner. Stripling, at 72 pitches in his return from the injured list, was done, leaving a man in scoring position for Yimi Garcia, the afternoon’s outcome very much hanging in the balance.

This time, the Blue Jays didn’t wilt at the moment of truth.

Bo Bichette, crucially, made a tremendous barehanded grab and throw on a Ryan Mountcastle chopper that immediately shifted control of the inning. Garcia followed by striking out Austin Hays and positive momentum followed into the bottom of the frame, when Teoscar Hernandez blooped in a one-out single, Bichette moved him to third with a perfectly executed hit-and-run and catharsis arrived when pinch-hitter George Springer lined a go-ahead RBI single.

That they poured it on from there – starting with a two-run double by Santiago Espinal, plating Springer, who first-pumped after sliding safely into home, and capped by Alejandro Kirk’s two-run double – made it feel all the more like a cleansing of two weeks’ worth of frustration.

“Against a hitter that’s done obviously pretty well against us, it was a hell of a play by Bo,” interim manager John Schneider said of the barehanded throw after his Blue Jays completed a 6-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday afternoon. “He had an awesome game all around between that and his at-bats. To keep that right there instead of it being first and third and Yimi having to work in some real traffic, to me that was the play of the game right there.”

Factoring in Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s bases-loaded walk during the ensuing rally, the six-run frame nearly matched the Blue Jays’ total output of seven runs over the previous three games. The victory before a crowd of 40,141, just their fourth in 13 outings, featured their most productive day at the plate since a 9-3 win at the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 4.

In avoiding a sweep by the Orioles (61-56), the Blue Jays (62-54) also secured their hold on a wild-card spot and gave themselves some positive vibes to carry into a four-game series against the struggling New York Yankees beginning Thursday in the Bronx. A three-game set in Boston against the Red Sox follows right after.

“Hopefully it kind of lets guys just breathe and understand that you can do it because at times when you don’t do it, you start to think that you can’t do it – and then all of a sudden it happens,” Springer said of the relief provided by the offensive outburst. “Hopefully it can spiral into a lot more individual moments like that. It’s a big seven games coming up this week. We’ll see what happens.”

Jose Berrios gets the ball in the opener in New York with a chance to ensure the victory becomes a turning point rather than a respite. Kevin Gausman is set to follow on Friday and Mitch White will get the ball Saturday instead of Yusei Kikcuhi, who was moved into a relief role and sat in the bullpen Wednesday.

Such a move is representative of the urgency of the moment for a Blue Jays team that’s acting like it understands its runway is running out.

“It could be against left-handed hitting, it could be for some length,” Schneider said of what Kikuchi’s bullpen roles could be. “We’re talking about a guy with an electric arm and the improvements – although you can’t really see them on paper, I get that part of it – but incrementally he’s been a lot better. So we’re excited about it. He strikes a lot of guys out and has electric stuff. When put in the right position, I think he can really help us.”

Stripling’s return, of course, is the linchpin on that front and he couldn’t possibly have been more impactful.

From a dominant six-pitch first inning onwards, he kept the Orioles off balance by effectively locating his four-seamer and then discombobulating them with a changeup that generated six whiffs on 10 swings. A handful of sliders, sinkers and curveballs only added to the impressive mix and as the perfect innings piled up, it looked like he might leave interim manager John Schneider with a dilemma.

Stripling was at 67 pitches through six frames, the same number of pitches he’d thrown in a rehab outing for triple-A Buffalo last week, but between the right hip/glute strain that sidelined him and the all-star break, it had been July 13 since he’d last exceeded that mark.

How long to let him chase perfection, especially in a 0-0 game for an unsteady team, would have been a gut-wrenching call to make. But Mullins eliminated that from the mix with his single and it was all matching up in leverage from that point forward.

“I would have fought to stay in there all the way because I felt great physically,” said Stripling, who was pulled from a no-hit bid during his big-league debut after 7.1 innings and 100 pitches. “I feel great physically now a couple of hours removed, and felt strong through the outing. I’m built up, right? … I know what it takes to go 90/100 pitches in a big-league game. So I would have fought that tooth and nail to stay in there for sure. Might have been taken out of my hands. But now 32 years old, who knows if I’ll ever get an opportunity like that ever again? You would have had to drag me off the mound.”

Schneider conceded that he would have let Stripling run with it – “I’m glad I didn’t have to have (that conversation). But he was going to keep going,” he said. And demonstrating the amount of trust the right-hander has earned, the manager asked him if he wanted to remain in the game to face Mountcastle during a mound visit.

Thinking for sure his day was done, Stripling was stunned at the question – “I was like, uhhh,” he admitted – and said he’d geared down mentally and that it would be better to bring in Garcia.

Schneider did precisely that, the result broke the Blue Jays’ way with Bichette’s help and counter to their recent fortunes, they opened things up with a pivotal rally.

“We all knew that it’s going to happen eventually. It’s just the process,” said Bichette. “That inning definitely was big for all of us. Obviously we need to score runs to win. So it was a big deal, a lot of big hits. Maybe a little bit of relief, but I think just everybody’s excited to get the job done.

An excitement borne out of ensuring that in a coin-flip game, they found a way to win.

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Blue Jays shift Kikuchi to bullpen; White to start vs. Yankees – TSN



Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider confirmed the team will start righty Mitch White Saturday against the New York Yankees while struggling southpaw Yusei Kikuchi shifts to the bullpen.

Kikuchi did not sit in the dugout for Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles and was instead seated in the bullpen with other relievers, indicating an apparent change in role. 

The 31-year-old has struggled mightily in 20 starts this season, posting an ERA of 5.25 and a WHIP of 1.51. His latest outing came Monday night when he allowed six runs (three earned) in 3.1 innings in an eventual 7-4 loss to the Orioles. It was his second tough outing against Baltimore in as many starts as he surrendered five earned runs in 5.0 innings one week prior at Camden Yards. 

Signed to a three-year, $36 million deal in the off-season, Kikuchi is due $16 million this season and then $10 million in 2023 and 2024.

Meanwhile, White was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers on trade deadline day earlier this month and will start his third game for the Jays Saturday in the Bronx. In 17 appearances split between the two teams this season, White is 1-3 with a 3.72 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 65.1 innings.

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Canada at The 2022 FIFA World Cup: Time To Build Excitement



It’s been a long time since Canada made it to the FIFA World Cup Finals. Indeed, for younger Canadians, this will be the first time they get to see their national team on soccer’s biggest stage — the last time they played in the finals was way back in 1986. They’ll be hoping that things go a little better this time since, in their previous outing, they lost all three games without scoring a goal, making them the worst-performing team in the competition.

Still, there are two things to remember. First, just making it to the World Cup is an achievement. And second, the World Cup is a lot of fun even if your team doesn’t win! So it’s going to be an exciting month of football. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some essential information that’ll help you to build excitement for the tournament.

Canada at The 2022 FIFA World Cup: Time To Build Excitement

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Who Canada Will Play And When

Canada are guaranteed to play at least three games. Their first match will take place on November 23 (2 pm ET, 11 am PT), when they take on Belgium at the Al Rayyan Stadium in Qatar.

Next up is Croatia, who they’ll play four days later on November 27 (11 am ET, 8 am PT). Their final group game will be against Morocco, who they’ll play on December 1 (10 am ET, 7 am PT). If they finish in the top two, they’ll play again on December 5 or 6. But it’s best not to mark that potential date in your calendar just yet.


What Are Canada’s Chances of Winning?

Canada do not, unfortunately, have all that much chance of winning the World Cup — there are simply too many sides stronger than them. They’re unlikely to make it out of the group stage, in large part because they were given an especially difficult draw. Belgium have some of the world’s best players, while Croatia made it to the final of the World Cup last time out in 2018. Stranger things have happened, but don’t be too disappointed if they’re returning home early — they’re still heroes!


Extra World Cup Fun

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Extra World Cup Fun

There’s more to enjoy about the World Cup than just Canada’s participation. This, after all, is a tournament that’s easy to love even if your country did not qualify. During the competition, there’ll be plenty of ways to get into the World Cup spirit, including listening to themed podcasts, participating in BetVictor’s Crack The Code competition, challenging yourself in a fantasy football tournament, and organising viewing parties for you and your friends.

Throw yourself into all that the World Cup provides, and you’ll find that you enjoy the month of sporting action even if Canada don’t go as far as you would like.


What Else To Know About The World Cup

This World Cup is unique because it’s the first to take place in the winter and also the first in the Middle East. This means it’ll be slightly different from previous tournaments, but if you think it’ll be any less enjoyable, think again. The World Cup is a global spectacle that’s fun no matter when it’s held!

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