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Jets lose ground to Maple Leafs in North Division but gap not insurmountable –



WINNIPEG – In this latest fact-finding mission, the Winnipeg Jets were able to unearth an important discovery.

Despite dropping a 2-1 shootout decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night, the Jets cracked the code on one of the toughest assignments in the NHL – finally finding a way to contain the top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman.

The checking-plus line of Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton not only held that high-octane trio off the scoresheet, but delivered the lone goal for the Jets, who once again found a way to regroup following a regulation loss with a determined effort.

A quick look at the top of the North Division standings shows the Jets now trail the Maple Leafs by four points (with Toronto holding a game in hand) and have 18 games remaining in the regular season.

The gap is not insurmountable, especially with four head-to-head meetings left in the season series.

However, by sweeping this two-game set – even with the benefit of a penalty-shot contest in the finale – the Maple Leafs withstood this latest challenge to the North Division throne.

Just how wide is that gap between the Jets and Maple Leafs?

“Not that far off,” said Copp. “I mean, a 1-1 game goes into overtime and a shootout. Last game, we weren’t our best in the first period, but outside of that, I think we really liked our game. So I don’t know.

“We take five of six there, they get four of four here. It’s going to be back and forth the entire year we feel like. We have a lot of confidence in our group so if we end up in a playoff series against them at some point we will be confident in our team and go from there.”

What is it that separates the Jets and Maple Leafs right now?

“I don’t think we know yet. I don’t think you can tell,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “There’s two teams with a lot of firepower up front that are trying to play a better defensive game, maybe, than they did last year. Certainly not the goaltending, because they were really good at both ends. Made big, big saves. While there wasn’t the free-flowing offence that we’ve seen in the past between Toronto and Winnipeg, there was quality offence in kind of bursts out there where the goalies were the difference.”

The Jets will take Saturday off before hitting the ice for a quick skate on Sunday, then welcome the Ottawa Senators for a rescheduled game on Monday night.

Finding a way to recharge the batteries is paramount for a Jets team that survived a stretch of 17 games in 30 days in March, while playing in four different time zones.

Going into this first-place showdown, one of the prominent storylines surrounded how the Jets would try to find an advantage when having the last change for the first time against the Maple Leafs this season.

Well, it turns out having the choice of who to match up against the Matthews line didn’t make much difference early, but the switch to the Lowry line yielded some important results.

Since Maurice made the move late in the first period on Wednesday, the Jets didn’t allow another point to the trio.

Much has been made of the strides the Lowry line has taken when it comes to adding an offensive element to the equation this season.

Copp (12) and Appleton (nine) have already established career highs for goals, while Lowry (seven goals) has bounced back impressively after an injury-plagued campaign.

“They’re great. (Lowry) and (Copp) have been tremendous in their time together over the last number of years. They allow us to run our bench a certain way,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. ”They bring a heaviness to our lineup for sure and Mason Appleton has been one of my brightest, biggest surprises of the year. He just works hard every single game. He’s fit in incredibly well on that line. He’s a little bit like Brandon Tanev in a way just with the energy and speed he brings. So a great line. A huge weapon for our team.”

Holding the Maple Leafs to just four goals in the two games (not including the shootout marker) and not allowing a power-play marker is something the Jets are encouraged by – even if it only led to a single point in the standings.

“We were focused on the other end of the ice. We did a good job in our defensive zone,” said Wheeler, quick to focus on the positives when asked about the limited offensive production. “We checked them extremely well. If their goal is going to be a knuckler from the point that just finds its way, so be it. Our goaltender was outstanding. Some of those saves in overtime were just incredible.”

As important as the Lowry line has been to a Jets team that already has six double-digit goal scorers in the lineup, this two-game stint reinforced the importance of getting some additional offensive output from its top guns in these marquee matchups.

The Jets were limited to just one other goal in the series, a power-play marker from defenceman Josh Morrissey on Wednesday night and that one came after surrendering a shorthanded marker.

As the Jets continue to search for chemistry among the top-two lines, that process remains very much a work in progress.

While there have been flashes since the latest change was made three games ago, the Maple Leafs did their part to neutralize the Jets’ top-three goal scorers, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor.

But it was not for a lack of quality scoring chances, as the Jets watched Jack Campbell improve to 8-0 on the season by making two more saves in the shootout than his good friend Connor Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck was brilliant once again for the Jets, making 37 saves as he appeared in his 300th NHL game.

“We played a very good game. We shut them down,” said Hellebuyck. “If this was the playoffs, we’d still be in overtime right now waiting for a break. We played the right way and we ran into a hot goaltender. You can’t be too mad about the result because we put a good game forward.”

Hellebuyck remains the great equalizer – and could ultimately be the difference-maker should these two teams clash in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“Par for the course. I think he’s the best in the league, and we’re lucky to have him,” said Copp. “He makes big save after big save, especially on that penalty kill in overtime. He’s just so solid back there and we have all the confidence in the world in him.

“It’s nothing we didn’t already know, but it just further shows just how elite he is.”

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe took some time during his post-game zoom availability to offer a compliment about the Jets — and this didn’t sound like hollow praise.

“They’re a good team that makes it hard on us,” said Keefe. “We just come away from these two games with, I think, an even greater respect for their team and what they’re capable of and just how good we need to be able to be to beat them in regulation.”

While it’s true the Maple Leafs have taken four of the six meetings so far, two of them required extra time (so the Jets are 2-2-2 in the season series).

There are still plenty of things for the two teams to learn about one another before the end of the regular season.

It won’t take long for the Jets to get another crack at the Maple Leafs as they’ll meet on April 15 at the end of a five-game road trip.

But before the Jets get that chance, they must prepare to face a hardworking Ottawa Senators team in three of the next five games and also see how things shape up against a Montreal Canadiens team that is rolling after dealing with a Covid scare.

Things suddenly look a lot more congested in the North, with the Jets and Edmonton Oilers tied for second place with 47 points, but the Canadiens actually slipping ahead of both teams in winning percentage (.621 to .618) while needing to make up five games in hand.

After missing the final two periods of Wednesday’s game with an undisclosed injury, Jets captain Blake Wheeler kept his iron man streak alive, appearing in his 193rd consecutive game.

When asked to elaborate about what knocked him out of the game and left his availability as a game-time decision, Wheeler chose instead to keep the intrigue alive.

“I’d prefer not to,” said Wheeler, who has missed only six games in 10 seasons with the Jets. “But I appreciate the concern.”

Wheeler’s durability throughout the course of his career has been impressive.

“Yeah, he’s the heart of our team,” said Jets defenceman Neal Pionk. “And I didn’t realize it, I guess, until I got here but he’s for sure one of the tougher guys I’ve played with. I mean, to see the stuff that he’s battled through, to see the minimal games that he’s missed throughout his career and then finally getting to play with him, I see why now and how tough he is.”

The Jets revealed some injury news earlier in the day, announcing that defenceman Nathan Beaulieu had undergone successful surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Beaulieu was already dealing with a broken bone in his hand after blocking a shot from John Tavares in a game against the Maple Leafs on Mar. 9.

“Three broken bones last year, another one this year, the shoulder, scratching and clawing to kind of be a player for us. He’s a really important part of that room because of it,” said Maurice. “The people that invest a lot, that give a lot to their teammates…it’s so painful when they go down.

“But once we kind of knew what he was dealing with, the next question is can we make it right, can we get him back to where he’s, you hope. He had a good surgery, so that brings some positivity into it. Those things are tough rehabs and they take a long time. But we believe that when he’s done he’s going to be back, and he deserves that right. The one thing we know about (Beaulieu) is he’s not going to milk it. He’s going to be back the day he’s supposed to be back and ready to play, for sure.”

With the NHL trade deadline coming up on April 12, the Jets were already in the market to bolster the defence corps.

And with Beaulieu sidelined for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, the need to add to the blue line remains the top priority for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now



The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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