With 13 games to go in the regular season, the Maple Leafs are hanging on to a playoff position in spite of themselves. They aren’t third in the NHL’s Atlantic Division on merit. They are third because the Florida Panthers pretty much lose in lockstep.
Toronto returns home against Tampa Bay on Tuesday after a California trip, in which it lost to three opponents with losing records. The Maple Leafs were outscored 8-3 by San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim – three of the league’s worst offensive teams. And one of their three goals should have been negated by an offside.
As the postseason approaches, there are but a few certainties. There will be much talk about “the process.” A lot of conversations about looking in the mirror. And discussion about the need to play a full 60 minutes. About having to bring more energy. About belief in the group.
All of these things reflect badly on a team about to head into its 70th skirmish. That is the definition of scuffling. Of a team on the hobble to the finish line rather than a sprint. Of a team that has more questions than answers.
Perhaps there will be a surprise. Before these most recent defeats came a string of smashing victories, likely the best three of the entire season.
It is hard to predict what happens next. The Maple Leafs are an unpredictable bunch that has rarely been able to escape tumult. Their defence and goaltending are leaky, but their offence is excellent. Then their defence buckles down and their offence is non-existent.
Sheldon Keefe and his players worked overtime to find positives to say on a road trip that went badly. At worst, they should have won two of three. Instead, they collected a single point by forcing overtime against the Kings.
“I thought it was a pretty even game all the way through,” Keefe said Thursday. “It’s a game that really could have gone either way. We’re happy to get one point. We could have gotten two, but [there is] not a lot to complain about for us as a group.”
The swing west was an opportunity to gain traction at a critical time. Instead, Toronto flew home on Saturday slightly worse than when it left. The Panthers inched two points closer in the division standing. They now trail Auston Matthews and Co. by just three.
There are great stories all around the NHL right now. The Philadelphia Flyers have won nine in a row and sit atop the Metropolitan Division with the Washington Capitals. After a terrible start, the Minnesota Wild entered Sunday only a point removed from a wild-card berth in the Western Conference.
The Oilers won four of their past five games to climb ahead of the Golden Knights and into first place, at least temporarily, in the Pacific Division. Edmonton is 7-0-1 in the second game of back-to-backs, and Mikko Koskinen stopped 97 of the 99 shots he saw this week. Vegas played in Calgary on Sunday night, and then plays in Edmonton on Monday.
The Flames, Canucks and Jets are among four teams battling for three playoff positions in the Western Conference. The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, spoke about being snake-bitten last week after losing to three opponents playing for only pride and perhaps roster spots next season.
“We’re all in this together,” Matthews said after Friday’s loss in Anaheim. “You play through the good and the bad and the adversity and, obviously, in the position that we’re in, there’s lots of critics and lots of stuff that comes with it.
“But I think in this room we’re headstrong, and it doesn’t matter what’s going to get thrown our way, we’re going to come out of it stronger. Obviously, it was not the road trip that that we really wanted. So, that’s on us. We’ve got to just build forward and put this aside, learn from it and be better.”
It is pretty late to be learning at this stage, and to be drowning in hockey speak.
Toronto’s next three games are with the Lightning, the Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins. It has 24 points in the past 23 games. That is only a tad better than its pace when Mike Babcock was fired.
He lost his job because so much more was expected from this team. Pretty much since then, the Maple Leafs have stayed on the same track. With a few weeks left, they are still sailing into a strong headwind.
“It was a great game, a beautiful game,” goaltender Frederik Andersen said on Thursday. “It was great to play behind a team like that. The way we played made it easy for me.”
It was a great 1-0 loss.
Schwarber hits grand slam, Red Sox hammer Astros to take ALCS lead – Sportsnet.ca
BOSTON — Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez walked off the mound with a six-run lead and a message for Carlos Correa and the rest of the Houston Astros:
Now it’s Boston’s time.
Tapping his wrist to mimic Correa’s Game 1 celebration, Rodriguez rode four more Boston homers — including Kyle Schwarber’s record-setting grand slam — to a 12-3 victory Monday night as the Red Sox took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.
The taunt drew a rebuke from Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who reminded his pitcher that they still need two more wins to advance to the World Series for the fifth time since 2004. Games 4 and 5 are at Fenway Park on Tuesday night and Wednesday.
“It’s not that I’m mad at him,” said Cora, who was celebrating his 46th birthday. “We don’t act that way. We just show up, we play, and we move on.”
One game after J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers each hit grand slams, Schwarber hit a second-inning 3-0 pitch 430 feet into the right field grandstand.
Boston is the first team ever with three slams in a postseason series.
“Electrifying. It’s unbelievable,” outfielder Alex Verdugo said. “You can have a big swing and get four runs in on just that one play — it’s huge.
“It’s one of the best plays in baseball, man. You give up a grand slam, it takes a lot out of you,” he added. “And just to kind of keep stepping on their neck and adding the pressure, it’s huge.”
Martinez and Devers each homered again, Christian Arroyo also hit one, and Kike Hernandez had two more hits for Boston, which opened 9-0 leads and coasted to victory in back-to-back games. Right fielder Hunter Renfroe ended it with a diving catch of Correa’s sinking line drive.
“They count as one (loss),” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We come back and win tomorrow and the series is even. You don’t like it tonight, but you come back in the morning.”
Rodriguez gave up five hits, including Kyle Tucker’s three-run homer, and struck out seven. He retired Correa to end the sixth and let the Astros shortstop know that his gesture in Game 1 was not appreciated.
Cora chastised Rodriguez before giving him a hug when he reached the dugout.
“He just told me `Don’t do that,’” said Rodriguez, who said he would apologize to Correa if he sees him. “It was something that was part of the moment. But (Cora) just told me, ‘We don’t do that here. Stay humble. Just go out there and play hard every time.”’
“Besides that,” Cora said, “he was outstanding.”
Correa said he “loved every single bit of it.”
“It’s just the way baseball should trend, moving forward,” he added. “You need to let the players have fun.”
Boston matched a franchise record with its seventh straight postseason win at home. The Red Sox had 11 hits in all, becoming the first team in major league history to reach double digits six straight times in a single postseason.
Hernandez, who has 18 hits during the playoffs and is batting .500 — both leading the majors — left the game after six innings.
Asked why, Cora said with a smile: “He has been running the bases a lot in the last few days, or weeks, or whatever.”
The Red Sox capitalized on two Astros errors and the struggles of Houston starter Jose Urquidy, who gave up six runs, five earned, on five hits and two walks, striking out one in 1 2/3 innings.
Rodriguez, who missed all of last season with COVID-related heart problems, retired the first six batters before running into the trouble in the third, when Tucker made it 9-3.
His outing enabled Cora to keep Nick Pivetta fresh for a Game 4 start.
To the delight of the Fenway fans, who targeted him with profane chants for his role in the Astros 2017 cheating scandal, Jose Altuve struggled at the plate and in the field.
A Gold Glove and AL MVP-winner, the three-time batting champion went 0 for 4 and let Arroyo’s chopper bounce off his chest for an error with the bases loaded in the second inning. One batter later, Schwarber hit Boston’s third grand slam in 11 innings.
The Red Sox, who only had three grand slams during the regular season, matched the 1998 Atlanta Braves as the only clubs to hit three in a single postseason. Boston has 20 homers this postseason, matching the 2004 Astros for the most through the first eight games of the playoffs, per MLB.com.
Altuve also waved at a throw from Martin Maldonado on Hunter Renfroe’s stolen base in the third; the error went to the catcher. The throw to third was also wild, but the Astros were saved another error when the ball missed the dugout and bounced off the padding back toward the field.
Astros: Baker said outfielder Jake Meyers, who injured his left shoulder crashing into the wall in Game 4 of the Division Series, is doing better and could start as soon as Tuesday.
The teams play Game 4 on Tuesday night. The Red Sox are expected to rely on Pivetta, who was 9-8 with a 4.53 ERA in the regular season. Houston will call on RHP Zack Greinke, with RHP Cristian Javier ready to follow the veteran. Greinke has been limited over the past two months due to a neck issue and a positive COVID-19 test.
Canada's women's team drops third straight game with 8-0 loss to Drumheller Dragons – The Globe and Mail
The Drumheller Dragons held Canada’s women’s hockey team off the scoresheet Monday, blanking the national squad 8-0 in a tune-up game.
Adam Raesler scored a hat trick for the Alberta Junior Hockey League side, while Luke Fennig added a pair of goals. Ty Daneault, Grayson Dietrich and Ty Whitford all scored singles.
Canada’s Kristen Campbell stopped 19-of-22 shots in two periods of work and Emerance Maschmeyer made six saves in relief.
Eric Ward saved all five shots he faced in 29 minutes of play for the Dragons and Garrett Fuller finished out the game, making six stops.
Neither side capitalized with the man advantage, with Team Canada going 0 for 3 on the power play and Drumheller going 0 for 2.
Canada has now lost three games in a row to junior-A hockey teams as it prepares for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Olympics-Small minority of U.S. Olympians oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandate, say officials
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said on Monday its decision to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for those competing at next year’s Beijing Olympics has been met with some resistance.
In a bid to create a safe environment and restore some level of consistency in planning, the USOPC announced last month that Team USA athletes hoping to compete in the Beijing Olympics will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The response is as you would expect: Within our general population, there are some people who are extremely happy that we introduced this policy,” Jonathan Finnoff, the USOPC’s chief medical officer, said during the virtual Team USA media summit.
“And there are others that are upset and would like to not have any mandate regarding vaccinations.”
According to Finnoff, it is only a “very small minority” of Team USA athletes who oppose the mandate and the USOPC is having one-on-one conversations with each one to discuss their feelings and explain why the decision was made.
Last month’s announcement by the USOPC came days before the International Olympic Committee said the Beijing Olympics would have tight COVID-19 measures in place to ensure the safety of all participants during the Feb. 4-20 event.
Finnoff said the “more stringent” Beijing measures, which he added unlike the USOPC’s rules will not grant religious exemption, would supersede the U.S. policy.
Any athlete who is granted a medical exemption will have to go through a 21-day quarantine in Beijing before they can begin training ahead of their event.
“These are challenging times but the vaccine policy that we’ve put in place and that China has put in place is going to make the Games as safe as possible,” said Finnoff.
USOPC Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland said the COVID-19 mandate is all about the safety and health of the team.
“The presence of this virus makes the challenge greater for all of us in a Games environment but we are committed to doing everything we can to mitigate illness and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Hirshland.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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