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Kovalchuk’s passionate demeanour providing hope to Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca

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MONTREAL— It was after Ilya Kovalchuk stormed down the gut of the ice and ended a nail-biter of a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and his Montreal Canadiens that he circled back towards the home side’s bench, crossed his arms and then extended them out while screaming, ‘It’s over.”

Then he turned towards the crowd, pointed at his family in attendance and churned his arms up and down before slamming himself into the glass. He was then mobbed by his teammates.

#victoire #family GoHabsGo!!! #важнаяпобеда

20.1k Likes, 265 Comments – Ilya Kovalchuk (@ilyakovalchukofficial) on Instagram: “#victoire #family GoHabsGo!!! #важнаяпобеда”

Canadiens forward Max Domi called it the celebration of the year.

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“Across the league,” he added.

It was really just a perfect sample of who Kovalchuk has proven himself to be since signing a two-way, prorated $700,000 contract to rekindle his NHL career.

“If I just wanted to sit and collect my paycheque, I could have done that for another year-and-a-half (in L.A.),” he told us shortly after arriving in early January.

No one else was serious about offering Kovalchuk an opportunity to prove he was worth something after he and the Los Angeles Kings opted to terminate his contract less than halfway through their three-year, $18.75-million pact. But the Canadiens have gotten more than their money’s worth on their investment.

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On Saturday, in front of boisterous Bell Centre crowd, with Canada tuned into the national broadcast and much on the line between two of the NHL’s longest-standing rivals, Kovalchuk scored his fourth game-deciding goal (one in regulation, two in overtime and one in the shootout) as a member of the Canadiens. His shot, which gave them a 2-1 win and got them to within five points of the Leafs, who occupy third place in the Atlantic Division, was his 12th point in 15 games with Montreal.

But what the big Russian has given this group is so much more than that. Kovalchuk has brought hope, he’s brought wall-to-wall effort, and he’s taken care of every single detail to help them win nine of their last 12 games.

Not that we’d discount that he’s been on the ice for close to 50 per cent of the goals the Canadiens have scored since he’s arrived. And the six that have come off his stick have all been huge.

“We wouldn’t have those wins if it wasn’t for him,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said after Saturday’s contest. “He’s not the perfect player. There isn’t a perfect player. But everything that I’ve talked about for days now and weeks—his energy, his will, he’s happy for (Marco) Scandella to score his first goal (and) that’s the first thing that comes out of his mouth. He’s got the right demeanour for this team right now being a veteran and buying into everything we’re trying to do here. So there’s that, and then those goals.”

About Scandella (and goals): The Montreal native, who was the other player Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin brought in while his team was ailing at both ends and losing game after game, came up with the game-tying marker with 2:23 remaining in regulation. It was his first in bleu, blanc et rouge, and he too was in a celebratory mood after the win.

“Growing up watching the Canadiens, being a Habs fan my whole life, it’s a dream come true,” Scandella said. “Goals like that—this is why I play this game. I feel really blessed, lucky to be able to do that, to play at the Bell Centre every home game. I can’t even describe it. It’s amazing.”

He’s an example of a player who has willed his way towards contributing to the Canadiens keeping their thin playoff hopes alive, playing through a nagging injury and proving to be the reliable defenceman Julien was hoping for when Bergevin gave up a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 2.

“We went to him for reinforcements and he’s absolutely giving us reinforcements,” said Julien. “He’s a veteran and, again, no one’s perfect. We can look at his errors but we can look at his good things too. I think his experience, in general, is very good. He scored a big goal tonight. He’s got a good shot. We knew that he had a good shot. He came here with a good attitude and wants to be here and that’s the kind of guy we want in our dressing room.”

Kind of like Kovalchuk.

The 36-year-old, who finished up Friday’s practice and drove to an outdoor rink to play hockey with his kids while 30 centimeters of snow was falling and winds were swirling at close to 60 km/h.

Ковальчуки в городе #семья #кайф…Ma famille a Montreal @chcfondation @canadiensmtl @bleublancbouge #lafondationdescanadienspourlenfance #gohabsgo

59.3k Likes, 1,251 Comments – Ilya Kovalchuk (@ilyakovalchukofficial) on Instagram: “Ковальчуки в городе #семья #кайф…Ma famille a Montreal @chcfondation @canadiensmtl…”

Kovalchuk, the hockey-loving man who pinned Toronto’s goal on their only shot of the third period on himself after he lost an edge in the offensive zone to give the Leafs a 4-on-2 opportunity John Tavares ended up finishing.

“I kind of felt like I had to make it back from the mistake,” he said of the effort he showed after that.

It was Kovalchuk who had Montreal’s three best scoring and three of their 16 shots in the third period. It wasn’t for Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell, he’d have tied or closed this game out on his own before overtime.

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It didn’t matter in the end. Kovalchuk won it after Nick Suzuki generated a rebound on the breakaway and he celebrated like he might never score again.

“It’s how much he loves the game,” said Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot. “He’s not the youngest guy anymore, but every day he’s… Whatever he’s working on in the gym, on the ice—he’s as passionate of a guy as I’ve ever seen playing the game. That’s what’s made him one of the best players for his generation, one of the best goal scorers; it’s just how much he loves the game. And that’s what’s common among the great players is just how much they love the game. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, guys like that come to mind when I think of guys who have the same kind of passion for the game that Kovy does.”

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The free agent market is sizzling, who’s left for the Blue Jays?

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With MLB’s 2022 Winter Meetings in San Diego this week, the number of free agent signings has reached a frenzied pace. As of this writing, 44 free agents have already signed deals worth a combined $1.9 billion so far this offseason, headlined by monster deals for Yankees OF and AL MVP Aaron Judge (nine years, $360 million), new Phillies SS Trea Turner (11 years, $300 million), and new Texas ace Jacob deGrom (five years, $185 million). That figure doesn’t include the reported five-year, $90 million guaranteed deal that Japanese star OF Masataka Yoshida apparently agreed to on Wednesday. The average free agent contract so far has been for 2.4 years and $44 million total value.

The Toronto Blue Jays have so far been unlucky in their free agent pursuits, highlighted by starter Kyle Gibson passing up the same one-year, $10 million offer made by Toronto to sign instead with the Baltimore Orioles. The Jays have also been mentioned in relation to starters Justin Verlander, Andrew Heaney and Jameson Taillon, as well as reliever Kenley Jansen and CF Cody Bellinger, who have all signed with other teams. All of their other AL East peers have been active this week signing and trading for players.

The need for a power-hitting left-handed bat to balance out the Jays lineup has been clearly defined as necessary to improve this club’s postseason chances following the Teoscar Hernández trade last month. A number of LHH OFs have agreed to deals already, including the above mentioned Masataka Yoshida, Joc Pederson, who accepted the San Francisco Giants $19.65 million qualifying offer (QO), and Cody Bellinger, who signed a one year, $17.5 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.

Remaining LHH free agent options in CF include Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Kiermaier. Should the Jays decide to keep George Springer in CF instead of moving him to right to reduce the wear and tear on his body, they could also look at left-handed hitters Joey Gallo or Michael Conforto in RF. Trading Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in a package for starting pitching or a CF like the switch-hitting Bryan Reynolds or Dalton Varsho might make sense if they were were able to sign one of Michael Brantley or Andrew Benintendi for LF, But those trades would both be costly in terms of the likely drain on an already bottom third ranked farm system.

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Further, with the St. Louis Cardinals signing free agent catcher Willson Contreras to a five year, $87.5 million contract, it appears less likely that the Cards might be a trade destination for one of the Blue Jays three catchers. One of Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk or Gabriel Moreno in a deal for switch-hitting OF Dylan Carlson or LHH RF Lars Nootbaar looked good on paper, but now seems less likely.

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Marner and Matthews stay hot, Samsonov earns shutout as Maple Leafs beat Kings

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Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record point streak to 21 games with a second-period goal as the Toronto Maple Leafs earned a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

With Toronto in front 3-0, thanks to goals from Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander just 1:06 apart earlier in the second, Marner checked in with a slapshot marker after a Kings turnover inside their blue line.

The Maple Leafs (17-5-6) won for the seventh time in eight outings and handed Los Angeles (14-11-4) its seventh loss in 10 games.

With Canadian pop star Justin Bieber among the 18,567 at Scotiabank Arena, Marner scored his 11th of the season. He has 10 goals and 16 assists in his 21-game point streak.

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Marner’s streak is now tied for 23rd all-time in the NHL with Dave Taylor, Adam Oates and Bobby Hull.

Marner also became the 10th different player in the past 35 years to string together a point streak of 21 or more games and the third active skater, behind Patrick Kane (26 games in 2015-16) and Sidney Crosby (25 games in 2010-11).

Well-rounded team effort leads Maple Leafs to second straight shutout win

Toronto goaltender Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout in a Maple Leafs sweater and the seventh of his career.

The Maple Leafs outshot their opponents 41-29.

Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, who made 36 saves, kept his club in the game for the opening 25 minutes.

The Maple Leafs had outshot the visitors 19-7 when Engvall beat Quick with a wrist shot for a power-play goal 5:10 into the second period.

Twenty-six seconds later, Kampf employed linemate Alex Kerfoot as a decoy to score on a two-on-one rush started by Kerfoot to provide the Maple Leafs with a two-goal advantage.

Nylander checked in with his 15th of the season, and fifth in seven games, on a breakaway goal 40 seconds later. He also set up Auston Matthews for his 14th goal midway through the final period.

Maple Leafs tally three goals in 66 seconds to jump ahead vs. Kings

Kerfoot was good for two assists against the Kings.

Engvall’s night ended early in the third period when he was given a match penalty for intent to injure after he high-sticked Kings defenceman Sean Durzi, a former Toronto draft pick, in the back of the head in the neutral zone.

During the ensuing five-minute power-play, Los Angeles winger Adrian Kempe scored but the goal was rescinded after a video review determined the play was offside.

Maple Leafs’ Engvall receives match penalty for slashing Kings’ Durzi up high

BRODIE’S BACK

Maple Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie returned to the lineup after a 12-game absence because of an oblique injury, playing alongside newcomer Conor Timmins. Toronto went 9-0-3 without Brodie.

 

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Marner and Matthews stay hot, Samsonov earns shutout as Maple Leafs beat Kings

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Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record point streak to 21 games with a second-period goal as the Toronto Maple Leafs earned a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

With Toronto in front 3-0, thanks to goals from Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander just 1:06 apart earlier in the second, Marner checked in with a slapshot marker after a Kings turnover inside their blue line.

Gotta See It: Maple Leafs’ Marner scores to extend point streak to 21 games

The Maple Leafs (17-5-6) won for the seventh time in eight outings and handed Los Angeles (14-11-4) its seventh loss in 10 games.

With Canadian pop star Justin Bieber among the 18,567 at Scotiabank Arena, Marner scored his 11th of the season. He has 10 goals and 16 assists in his 21-game point streak.

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Marner’s streak is now tied for 23rd all-time in the NHL with Dave Taylor, Adam Oates and Bobby Hull.

Marner also became the 10th different player in the past 35 years to string together a point streak of 21 or more games and the third active skater, behind Patrick Kane (26 games in 2015-16) and Sidney Crosby (25 games in 2010-11).

Toronto goaltender Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout in a Maple Leafs sweater and the seventh of his career.

The Maple Leafs outshot their opponents 41-29.

Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, who made 36 saves, kept his club in the game for the opening 25 minutes.

The Maple Leafs had outshot the visitors 19-7 when Engvall beat Quick with a wrist shot for a power-play goal 5:10 into the second period.

Twenty-six seconds later, Kampf employed linemate Alex Kerfoot as a decoy to score on a two-on-one rush started by Kerfoot to provide the Maple Leafs with a two-goal advantage.

Nylander checked in with his 15th of the season, and fifth in seven games, on a breakaway goal 40 seconds later. He also set up Auston Matthews for his 14th goal midway through the final period.

Kerfoot was good for two assists against the Kings.

Engvall’s night ended early in the third period when he was given a match penalty for intent to injure after he high-sticked Kings defenceman Sean Durzi, a former Toronto draft pick, in the back of the head in the neutral zone.

During the ensuing five-minute power-play, Los Angeles winger Adrian Kempe scored but the goal was rescinded after a video review determined the play was offside.

BRODIE’S BACK

Maple Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie returned to the lineup after a 12-game absence because of an oblique injury, playing alongside newcomer Conor Timmins. Toronto went 9-0-3 without Brodie.

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