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.
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.
“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.
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.”
Flames open road trip with win for Sutter against his former team – Sportsnet.ca
LOS ANGELES — Sitting in the bowels of a Staples Center arena in which he raised two Stanley Cups, Darryl Sutter was asked about the drive to win another one.
“It’s, like, all that matters to me,” said the Flames’ singularly-focused coach. “You’re trying to translate that to the players, to get to that level that it takes. And the difference it makes in a career and their lives.”
The difference Sutter helped make in Los Angeles was recognized seven minutes into Thursday’s Flames win when he and Trevor Lewis were saluted in a Jumbotron video that drew a standing ovation from a sparse crowd of 13,241.
Guiding the Kings to the franchise’s first Cup win in his first season as their head coach in 2012, Sutter became just the 19th coach in NHL lore to win multiple titles when he won again in 2014.
He’s had a similar, early impact in Calgary where his Flames continue to be the talk of the league, improving their record to a best-in-the-west 14-4-5 with a 3-2 win over his former team.
He wouldn’t say it afterward, but you can bet it meant just a little bit more for him to see his club win one at Staples.
“Some of the players that went through here before told me they probably would,” shrugged Sutter of the video. “It’s good. Good for Trevor, and good for my family.”
Darryl Sutter & Trevor Lewis react to the arena tribute as they both make their returns to the Staples Center. pic.twitter.com/7Kh7iw9NaF
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 3, 2021
Although he did his best to downplay it before and afterwards, this game was important to Sutter.
And the players knew it.
“We wanted to win it for our coach, we wanted to win it for Lewis and his return, and we wanted to get our first win in our division,” said Milan Lucic, whose second power play unit played a big role in the win, with two first period goals.
“Those are all important things for us tonight. It’s always nice to start a four-game trip off in the win column.”
Lucic went five-hole for the fourth time this season to put the Flames up 2-1 in a first period that also saw Andrew Mangiapane score with the man advantage.
“I looked up and saw defence and went back to it — it’s a high percentage shot,” said a smiling Lucic of the between-the-wickets shot that has helped him score the majority of his seven goals.
“If it misses it hits the pads and stays alive, as opposed to a shot in the glove. It seems to be working out. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’d love to tell you how I set it up, but I don’t want the goalies to know what my thought process is. So we’ll just leave it at that.”
Not surprisingly, Lucic got the starting nod alongside fellow Kings alumni Lewis and Brad Richardson as part of Sutter’s gritty All the King’s Men Line.
“My buddies call us the Full Pension Line, which I thought was funny,” laughed Lewis of a nickname offered up by childhood friend and former Flame, Shane O’Brien.
“But whatever you guys want to call it.”
An Alex Iafallo redirection gave the opposition the opening goal for just the fifth time in 23 games — and first on the road — five minutes in.
Mangiapane responded with his 16th before Lucic struck.
Minutes after taking the lead Matthew Tkachuk did his best to resurrect his feud with Drew Doughty with a gritty shift on which he knocked the Kings defender down with a reverse hit before punctuating the whistle with a pair of net-side punches to Doughty’s face.
The second poke drew a penalty the Flames killed off as part of yet another perfect night that saw the unit stop both of L.A.’s man advantages.
Even scoreboard urging from Snoop Dogg couldn’t spur on the Kings.
Top cheese Tkachuk.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 3, 2021
Tkachuk wound up with the last laugh as he used Doughty as a screen to score his 11th of the season — a top-shelf beauty that stood as the winner early in the second.
“Whoever the defenceman was on that side I just tried to shoot it through him, and it worked out,” said Tkachuk. “I’m sure if you asked (Sutter) he wouldn’t want us to be extra motivated for him. He’d say he wanted us to come in here and get off on this road trip on the right foot and don’t worry about his homecoming. But it was big to get them the win.”
Alexander Edler’s first as a King narrowed the gap late in the second, setting up a third period push that saw Lewis make a key block after Jacob Markstrom made a stunning glove save on Victor Arvidsson’s point blast — one of 40 saves on the night.
The Flames play in Anaheim Friday as part of a four-game road trip that takes them through Vegas and San Jose.
“I think it’s really good for our team, and it’s another measuring stick to see where you are at when you get into the division part of it,” said Sutter before the game when asked about the trip against division rivals.
“This trip there are two we haven’t played and two we haven’t beaten.”
Make that one they haven’t beaten.
NOTES: The Flames sent Juuso Valimaki to Stockton to get some much-needed playing time, as the 23-year-old first-rounder has only been used in eight of the team’s 23 games this season.
Prediction Time: CFL.ca writers' Div Finals picks – CFL.ca
TORONTO — The anticipation is building by the day as we get closer to our Eastern and Western Division Finals on Sunday.
A pair of longtime rivals are the final four teams standing and on Sunday we’ll find out which of those two make it to the 108th Grey Cup next week in Hamilton.
If you’re looking for sound, stable and successful advice, look no further than our Jamie Nye. Tied for first-place with Pat Steinberg with a 39-26 record, Jamie was the only one of the six CFL.ca writers that went 2-0 last week, wisely taking the Ticats and Riders to hold court at home. This week they’re both on the road, heading into Toronto and Winnipeg, respectively, to take on the first place Argos and Bombers.
Home field didn’t carry quite as much weight in the East with the pick-makers as it did in the West this week, despite the Argos’ 6-1 record at BMO Field. Just about everyone is on board with the Bombers hosting at IG Field, a place where they haven’t had the taste of defeat all season. The last time the Bombers lost at home was Sept. 27, 2019. That Week 16 loss to Hamilton came a couple of weeks before the Bombers traded for Zach Collaros.
The Riders have a hill to climb this week and they seem to recognize that. The Ticats have a hill of their own, having dropped three of their four meetings with the Argos this season, including their Week 15 encounter that clinched first in the East for the Double Blue.
We’re just days away from having answers and knowing who will be playing for the Grey Cup, setting up a true Sunday Funday.
HAM at TOR
The Argos might have one of the most underappreciated home field records in recent league history. Standing at an impressive 6-1 — the blemish coming in a meaningless end-of-season tilt with Edmonton — they won’t be an easy out at BMO Field. There’s pressure on each side to win of course, but there’s a little more on the Ticats, who beat the Argos in their first meeting on Labour Day, then dropped their next three meetings, with encounters No. 2 and 3 being one-point losses. Still, the majority of our pick makers think the Ticats can do it, coming off of a convincing win over Montreal last week. A traveling pack of supporters making the trip up the QEW might help pack the stands on Sunday and will try to even out that home field advantage.
Writers 66% Hamilton
SSK at WPG
The Riders get one last crack at the blue and gold riddle they haven’t been able to solve on Sunday afternoon. This edition of the Bombers might stand as one of the franchise’s all-time great teams, led by a defence that feasts on turnovers and miscues, and is steered on offence by Zach Collaros‘ calm and deliberate style of play. The defending Grey Cup champs come into this game as rested as can be, will have the support of a packed IG Field and have been focused on the next game in front of them since we kicked the season off back in August. The Riders will likely have to be close to perfect to take them down. Going into the game, it feels like a very tall order.
Writers 83% Winnipeg
Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo misses game vs. Raptors for undisclosed reason – Sportsnet.ca
Antetokounmpo was not among the Bucks’ starters ahead of tipoff. Pat Connaughton was moved into his place in the starting lineup against the Raptors.
The 26-year-old is coming off a dominant performance against the Charlotte Hornets where he had 40 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in a 127-125 victory. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists through 21 games this season.
Milwaukee’s next game is on Saturday against the Miami Heat.
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