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Long, winding road lifts Stars’ Khudobin to playoffs’ centre stage – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — At his first World Junior Championship, when Anton Khudobin was an 18-year-old Kazhak-born teenager entrusted with the Russian goal in Fargo North Dakota, he became the answer to a trivia question.

Under the Jeopardy category, ‘Russian goalies chased from their nets by Team Canada,’ Khudobin was the goalie in that lockout world juniors gold-medal game when he and Alex Ovechkin faced a Canadian roster that harboured names like Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and about 10 more players who would go on to successful NHL careers.

“It was a really fast game, and they were shooting from everywhere — which I wasn’t used to. I never played over here, and they were shooting bad-angle shots even. From everywhere,” Khudobin recalled in an earlier interview. “They were all over us. It was like a nightmare. Like I was sleeping. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

“After that, I went to the bench. They pull me.”

Some 16 years later, Khudobin has firmly established himself as perhaps the best backup goalie in the National Hockey League and, just as possibly, the most well-liked by teammates. A road that has wound through five organizations — he played for the Boston Bruins twice — has certified Khudobin as the Dallas Stars No. 1 goaltender, with Ben Bishop falling to injury.

It turns out the little backup with the thick Russian accent and wicked sense of humour also has game, carrying the Stars past Calgary, Colorado, and on Monday night’s opening game of Round 3, a 1-0 shutout of the Vegas Golden Knights.

“Dobby won the game for us,” said defenceman John Klingberg, who zipped home the only goal just 2:36 into the game. From there, the old Stars showed up to nurse home a 1-0 victory, buckling down a Game 1 win while looking nothing like the team that had just finished a 57-goal, seven-game series against Colorado.

“This is going to be a different series,” said Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer. “We haven’t played one of the top two defensive teams in the league yet, so we’re going to have to get our head around that and find a way to create offence. It’s not going to look or feel like the last series or the Chicago series.”

Dallas was the NHL’s second-stingiest defensive team this season, and it is moments like these when a player like Khudobin — who stays out after practice, keeps the guys loose on all those busses and planes over the course of a season, who never makes a peep when the No. 1 guy sends him to the bench week after week — can use some of that currency.

“I like to have fun with the guys, to just enjoy the practices and the games,” he explained. “Even if I am not playing I try to protect my guys, try to help them whenever I can. I can bring them water, or orange juice, during the intermissions. That’s normal for me. I just try to be helpful.

“If I’m not playing, of course I’m thinking about it. But at the same time I don’t want to be cancer in the room.”

On Sunday night, Dallas limited Vegas to just a dozen shots on goal in the opening 40 minutes. From there, Khudobin kept the door locked through the final 20:00, as a Vegas team with the luxury of playing a so-called backup named Marc-Andre Fleury got shut out by Khudobin, whose backup is a kid named Jake Oettinger who has never played an NHL minute.

“It’s great, you know, when guys are battling in front of you,” said an appreciative Khudobin of a concerted Stars defensive effort. “When they’re blocking the shots, when they have bruises, laying down (to block shots). When they keep hitting our guys and they keep playing and playing and never stop… It’s unbelievable.”

“When you have a guy who is going to work every game, every practice,” offered defenceman Jamie Oleksiak, “who is always out there looking like he’s having the time of his life? The D corps, we thrive off of that. We feed off of his energy.”

Vegas sleepwalked through the first two periods of Game 1. But they also found a foe that is vastly different than the Vancouver team that took them the distance in Round 2.

“This team is a lot bigger, a lot heavier,” compared defenceman Nate Schmidt. “Up and down their forward lineup they have guys who can get in and create space for other guys on the team.”

And if you get past them, you have a 34-year-old survivor that his teammates will do anything for.

It’s the kind of story you want to cheer for.

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Novak Djokovic loses cool but reaches Rome semis – TSN

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ROME — Less than two weeks after getting defaulted from the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic lost his cool again midway through a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the Italian Open quarterfinals Saturday.

When Djokovic was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the red clay in anger.

With the frame broken and the strings all mangled, Djokovic was forced to get a new racket and received a warning from the chair umpire.

“It’s not the first nor the last racket that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.

“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that — definitely.”

The top-ranked Djokovic was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger.

At the Foro Italico, Djokovic had already appeared frustrated during the game before he broke his racket, glaring toward the umpire following a couple of overrules and a point that was ordered to be replayed.

“That’s just me,” Djokovic said. “Of course I’m not perfect and I’m doing my best.”

The 97th-ranked Koepfer, who screamed at himself in frustration throughout the match, was also warned for misbehaviour early in the third set.

Aiming for his fifth title in Rome, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who eliminated local favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a match that lasted 2 hours, 57 minutes.

Nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal was playing Diego Schwartzman later in the other half of the draw.

Ruud is the first Norwegian to reach the semifinals of a Masters 1000 tournament. His father, Christian Ruud, got as far as the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters in 1997.

While fans have not been admitted to the tournament yet — Italy’s sports minister said Friday that 1,000 spectators will be allowed in for the semifinals and finals — workers, family members and other onlookers inside the picturesque Pietrangeli stadium provided some support for Berrettini, who is from Rome.

Nicola Pietrangeli, the 1957 and 1961 Rome champion and the man the stadium is named after — was also among those sitting on the white marble stands.

“There would have been a lot more adrenaline with fans,” Berrettini said.

In the women’s tournament, top-seeded Simona Halep reached the last four when Kazakh opponent Yulia Putintseva retired midway through their match due to a lower back injury.

Halep, who lost two straight finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018, will need to beat two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza to return to the championship match. Muguruza required more than two hours to eliminate U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“(Muguruza) feels really well on (the) clay court and here,” Halep said. “It’s a big challenge.

“I really want to win this tournament,” added Halep, who will be playing her fifth semifinal in Rome. “I love playing here. … It’s one of the biggest goals now.”

Halep was ahead 6-2, 2-0 when Putintseva decided she was in too much pain to continue — having already taken an off-court medical timeout between sets.

The 30th-ranked Putintseva was coming off two long three-set matches, having upset eighth-seeded Petra Martic and 10th-seeded Elena Rybakina. Entering the match, she had been on court for 7 hours, 22 minutes — far more than Halep, who had a bye in the opening round and won her next two matches in straight sets.

Putintseva also reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in her previous tournament, while Halep decided to skip the event in New York due to coronavirus travel concerns.

Halep improved to 8-0 since the tennis restart and 12-0 overall stretching back to February.

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More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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How the Tampa Bay Lightning built their Cup-contending team – Sportsnet.ca

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The Tampa Bay Lightning‘s success as an offensive juggernaut has had other clubs trying to capture that same kind of success ever since they went all the way to the Cup Final in 2015. You can see that blueprint unfolding across the Eastern Conference.

That flare for goal-scoring only took them so far, however — and we all know how last year turned out. This year’s focus on bringing in steady veterans to complement the exciting core has paid off in the form of a Stanley Cup Final berth.

While former general manager Steve Yzerman’s fingerprints are all over this team, current GM Julien BriseBois didn’t simply inherit this club — as assistant GM throughout Yzerman’s tenure, he had a huge hand in every part of this roster. Now front and centre, we’re about to find out if his adjustments over this past year will result in a Stanley Cup for a club who’s been on the brink ever since that trip to the Final five years ago.

DRAFTED & DEVELOPED

Forwards Mathieu Joseph (2015, fourth round, 120th overall), Mitchell Stephens (2012, second round, 33rd overall), and Alexander Volkov (2017, second round, 48th overall) were brought into the bubble in a depth capacity role, but when you look at the team’s top six (minus the sidelined Stamkos), none are first-rounders and all are a testament to the Lightning’s ability to draft and develop strong talent. Most are products of Yzerman’s draft board, but BriseBois should get plenty of credit here, too — while he inherited this team when Yzerman resigned in September 2018, he was part of Yzerman’s staff as assistant GM and oversaw the recruitment and development of so many of today’s stars who came through the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

Anthony Cirelli, Centre
Drafted: 2015, third round, 72nd overall
Cirelli, a success story for all other late bloomers to learn from, is yet another example of that mid-round draft success of Yzerman and the development chops of BriseBois. The RFA-to-be has got a nose for the net and is as clutch as they come.

Brayden Point, Centre
Drafted: 2014, third round, 79th overall
Looking at this roster, second- and third-round steals are this team’s bread and butter. Just imagine being a GM today and seeing Point still on the board in Round 3…

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Goalie
Drafted: 2012, first round, 19th overall
It took him just two seasons after getting drafted to get his first taste of the NHL, and two more after that to take over the starter’s job from former teammate — and now opponent — Ben Bishop.

Cedric Paquette, Centre
Drafted: 2012, fourth round, 101st overall
The fourth-round fourth-liner has been especially quiet this post-season. Feels like a contender for this year’s unlikely hero, no? It would seem fitting.

Nikita Kucherov, Right wing
Drafted: 2011, second round, 58th overall
Last year’s Hart Trophy winner is a steal in the second round. That he’s the No. 1 line’s lowest draft pick is a testament to Yzerman’s (and his scouting staff’s) draft-season chops.

Ondrej Palat, Left wing
Drafted: 2011, seventh round, 208th overall
Three picks later, and he would’ve been that year’s Mr. Irrelevant. Put alongside Point and Kucherov on Tampa’s lethal top line, he’s anything but.

(Fun fact: With Steven Stamkos sidelined, there are no first-round picks in the Lightning’s top six.)

Victor Hedman, Defence
Drafted: 2009, first round, 2nd overall
Brian Lawton’s tenure at the helm of Tampa Bay was short, but fortuitous in that it brought the club its No. 1 rearguard in Hedman.

Here’s a neat storyline for this Cup Final: Before Rick Bowness joined Dallas as an assistant (and then interim head coach), he was part of Jon Cooper’s staff in Tampa Bay. There, Bowness oversaw the club’s defence – which of course included Hedman, who achieved career-high stats across the board in his first season under Bowness, and credits the longtime bench boss with being able to get his game to the next level.

Hockey Central

Victor Hedman on his Lightning advancing to the Eastern Conference Final

September 01 2020

Steven Stamkos, Centre
Drafted: 2008, first round, first overall
The captain is one of just two players on this roster, along with Alex Killorn, drafted by former GM Jay Feaster. Stamkos was Feaster’s parting gift to the franchise, as the longtime executive left his post on July 11, 2008 – just a few weeks after that year’s draft.

Including Hedman, he’s one of just three members of this year’s team not drafted by either Yzeman or BriseBois.

Alex Killorn, Left wing
Drafted: 2007, third round, 77th overall
He’s the longest-tenured Tampa teammate, as one of three players predating Yzerman and BriseBois’ time. His career is also a true testament to patience – six years passed between the forward getting the draft call and getting the call-up to the NHL, developing in the NCAA with Harvard and in the AHL under BriseBois’ guidance.

TRADE

Last year’s first-round exit is what hockey nightmares are made of. This year’s trade targets — Coleman and Goodrow — show a focus on bringing in grit and depth. And while they weren’t the flashiest of deals, the Lightning’s place in the Stanley Cup Final shows they’re key parts of the puzzle.

Blake Coleman, Centre/Right wing
Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Devils
This deal, which saw forward prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick in either 2020 or 2021 sent to New Jersey in return, looked good at the deadline as Coleman was a strong candidate to head to a contending club. The deal looks even better now that the Lightning have gotten all the way to the Stanley Cup Final with the help of the gritty, skilled, depth forward who’s got another affordable year on his deal after this year.

Barclay Goodrow, Left wing
Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Sharks
Was it a bit surprising that Goodrow garnered a first-round pick? Yup. But if the depth forward can keep contributing en route to a Stanley Cup? Totally worth it.

Jan Rutta, Defence
Acquired: Jan. 2019, from Chicago
A depth piece on this roster, Rutta has appeared in just one game this post-season.

Ryan McDonagh, Defence
Acquired: Feb. 2018, from Rangers
Tampa Bay’s rental at the 2018 trade deadline gelled so well in his new Florida home, the former Rangers captain signed on long-term a few months later.

Carter Verhaeghe, Centre
Acquired: July 2017, from Islanders
Being traded from the Islanders to the Lightning in exchange for goalie Kristers Gudlevskis in 2017 was just one step in what has been a long journey to the NHL for the forward — a journey that took him from the ECHL to now the highest level of the NHL.

Mikhail Sergachev, Defence
Acquired: June 2017, from Canadiens
Trading an unhappy Jonathan Drouin for a recently-drafted defenceman full of potential feels like one of Yzerman’s biggest trade-floor wins from his days as GM.

Erik Cernak, Defence
Acquired: Feb. 2017, from Kings
The second-pairing rearguard was part of the return from L.A. when goaltender Bishop was rented out to the Kings at the deadline.

Braydon Coburn, Defence
Acquired: March 2015, from Philadelphia
Yzerman has been known for some strong trade market moves, but this one doesn’t look great in hindsight. Tampa paid a steep price for Coburn back in 2015, sending Radko Gudas and the Lightning’s first- and third-round picks to Philadelphia in exchange for the rearguard.

FREE AGENCY

Picking up undersized, undrafted free agent forwards like Tyler Johnson (2011) and Yanni Gourde (2014) felt like Yzerman’s calling card.

Signing veterans to short-term, risk-free, rebound contracts to complement the club’s strong core might turn out to be that of BriseBois. Just like this year’s trade targets, BriseBois’ savvy, short-term deals to bring in veterans searching for a rebound have yielded strong results.

Zach Bogosian, Defence
Signed: Feb. 24, 2020 (one year, $1.3M)
A smart veteran signing after having his contract terminated by Buffalo, Bogosian’s strong play with Tampa Bay – his first playoff experience, no less – looks really good right now.

Kevin Shattenkirk, Defence
Signed: Aug. 2019 (one year, $1.75M)
Three years ago, Shattenkirk landed in New York on a four-year deal worth $6.65 million per season as one of the top UFAs on the market. After being bought out last August, Tampa Bay picked him up on a smart, mutually beneficial pact that has revived his career and paid off for the Lightning, too.

Pat Maroon, Left wing
Signed: Aug. 2019 (1 year, $900,000)
The big power forward and hometown hero with last year’s Blues is proof that every teams needs a little old-school on the roster.

Curtis McElhinney, Goalie
Signed: July 1, 2019 (two years, $2.6M)
He was one of the best stories out of Carolina’s Cinderella run in last year’s playoffs, and a strong insurance policy with Tampa this time around. Money well spent.

Scott Wedgewood, Goalie
Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, 700,000)
The affordable depth option hasn’t played since signing with the club, but as we learn (and re-learn every playoffs), you can never have too much insurance in net.

Luke Schenn, Defence
Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, $700,000)
Schenn is another example of players being picked up by Tampa Bay on low-cost, risk-free deals aimed at setting players up for a career revival. One of the first-round picks on this club (taken fifth overall by Toronto in 2008), Schenn is now an affordable depth forward with the Lightning and a complementary piece to this fast group.

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Nuggets’ customary comeback falls short as Lakers dominate Game 1 – Sportsnet.ca

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A funny thing happens when a professional sports team pulls off two minor miracles back to back: minor miracles start to feel inevitable.

The Denver Nuggets have made a habit in these playoffs of not just coming back from two 3–1 series deficits to the Utah Jazz and the Clippers, but massive in-game deficits as well. And so when the Los Angeles Lakers blew open Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in the second quarter Friday night, it felt like just a matter of time until the Nuggets did what the Nuggets do.

But, of course, that feeling is more useful for making blowouts watchable than it is actually indicative of future success. And on this night, the comeback failed to arrive. Foul and turnover trouble — not to mention the one-two punch of newly minted all-NBA first-teamers LeBron James and Anthony Davis — teamed up to undo the Nuggets as the Lakers took Game 1 by 12 points.

Here are a handful of takeaways from the game:

SECOND YELPING

Both teams started off hot in this one. Davis led all players with 14 points on a mix of jumpers, stepbacks and aggressive play that got him to the line for free throws. Meanwhile, Denver’s Nikola Jokic netted 11 points in 11 first-quarter minutes, and teammate (and Canadian) Jamal Murray got nine of his own thanks in part to a buzzer-beating three in Davis’s face at the end of the frame.

But everything changed in the second quarter. The Nuggets came out as sloppy and cold as Winnipeg in March, and the Lakers started the frame on a 17–1 run. As mentioned above, a major culprit was turnovers.

Through the first five minutes of the quarter, the Nuggets had more turnovers (six) than shots (five — all of which they’d missed). Even worse for Denver was the Lakers managed to do all the damage with Davis on the bench.

Any hope of closing the gap was quashed by all three of Jokic, Murray and Paul Millsap leaving the game with three fouls. The Lakers shot 25 free throws in the second quarter alone, roughly equal to the 28 the Nuggets took over the entire game.

While the Lakers parade to the line ended in the second half, Davis didn’t need much more as he stayed hot. He finished with 37 points in 33 minutes.

THE ANKLE ROLL HEARD ’ROUND THE GYM

Early in the second quarter, James stepped on Jerami Grant’s foot while driving to the basket, and rolled his ankle slightly. The grimace on his face, the slow-mo replay, and eventually the super-shot first free throw made it seem like a bigger issue than it was, but roughly a minute later he rose for a huge dunk and put any questions to bed.

James didn’t need to score much in this one, but finished with 15 points on 11 shots, 12 assists and six rebounds in only 31 minutes.

After the game, James was asked about NBA MVP voting, in which he finished second to back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo. He wasn’t diplomatic.

Fair to assume James isn’t lacking for motivation at this point of either these playoffs or his career.

BIG TIME

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said before the game he intended to play his twin towers of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee after giving them an average of 9.4 minutes combined throughout the team’s previous series against the uber-small Houston Rockets. On Friday, Howard matched his minutes total from the Houston series with 16 while McGee took the floor for 11, five of which came in garbage time.

And the bigs rewarded their coach’s renewed faith against the larger Nuggets lineup. Howard, in particular, was quick to shake off any rust that had gathered, blowing up Denver pick and rolls, and getting to the line eight times in the first half. For his effort, he got to start the second half in place of McGee, and put up eight points in the frame.

LOW-KEY DENVER STARS

Perhaps the biggest impact of the Lakers’ bigs was on Jokic, who had been one of the biggest stories of the playoffs to this point.

McGee helped set the tone by blocking a Jokic layup in the opening seconds of the game. Then the Lakers’ bigs played a big part in Jokic’s foul trouble, which resulted in just 25 minutes for the Nuggets’ MVP.

Jokic finished with 21 points but just two assists — his lowest total so far in these playoffs.

Murray also finished with 21, but the only other Nugget in double figures was Michael Porter Jr., who went on a late run to tally 14.

MIRROR BALL

(Is that a Neil Young reference or a Taylor Swift reference? You be the judge!)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the Nuggets play an L.A. team super tight in the first quarter before getting trounced in the second and third, before both teams coast to the finish in the fourth.

The ebb and flow of this game was dead on Game 1 of the Clippers-Nuggets series. In fact, with four minutes left in Friday’s game, the score actually hit on 120–97 — the final score in Nuggets-Clippers Game 1 — exactly.

This, along with other recent evidence, should serve the Nuggets well in looking for reasons not to take the loss to heart.

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