Maple Leafs coach has no doubts team will fight back
Sheldon Keefe’s tone when he spoke to media on Friday was a far cry from the one he had less than 24 hours prior.
The Toronto Maple Leafs head coach wore a blank expression with little to say in a very brief post-game press conference after his team’s 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series.
With Toronto staring at an 0-2 deficit going on the road for the next two games, Keefe said his team isn’t lacking confidence in making it a series when the teams meet for Game 3 on Sunday.
“Certainly don’t have any doubts in our group,” he told reporters via Zoom. “Obviously there’s things that we need to do better and would’ve liked to have handled better in the two games that we played here but those are in the past.
“We’ve got an opportunity to go out on the road where we’re comfortable and became comfortable and confident based on the results of our last series. That said, it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Toronto dropped the series opener 4-2, surrendering two goals after tying the game at 2-2.
In Game 2, the Leafs opened with an early 2-0 lead and took a one-goal edge into the second period. But two goals across a 47-second span early in the middle frame allowed the Panthers to go ahead, and Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky continuously turned away Toronto’s tying chances.
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov (35) watches the last minutes of the game from the bench pulled for the extra skater against the Florida Panthers during third period NHL second round playoff hockey action in Toronto on Thursday May 4, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
The Leafs are now 1-4 at home in the post-season and 3-0 on the road.
“Wish I had the answer for it. I think if we did, we’d be in a better position,” said forward Ryan O’Reilly on Thursday when asked about the team’s home performances. “I think we’re all obviously disappointed to be down 2-0 is not what we want.
“It’s a long series, there’s a lot of hockey left and we have to keep building our game (and get) better as we go. I’m not worried.”
Toronto opened its first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 7-3 loss before roaring back with three consecutive victories and eventually winning in six games. Three of those wins came on the road in overtime.
Keefe says those battles have helped shape the team’s hardened approach to adversity.
“Our group has been resilient. We saw that hardness that you’re referring to in the last series,” Keefe said. “When we’re down in games, the guys stay with it and keep going and find a way.
“I think it would be a very similar type of mindset and approach.”
The Panthers have found their stride behind Bobrovsky’s efforts and a strong forecheck. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner regained his starting job in Game 4 of their first-round series win over the Boston Bruins, after losing it late in the regular season.
Following a loss in that Game 4, Bobrovsky has led Florida to five straight wins.
“Well there’s always more that we could do, for sure,” Keefe said. “Whether there’s shots in traffic and such to be able to make life harder on him that way (and) continue to do that.
“We have had (a) significant amount of very clean looks where it’s just shooter against goaltender here, far more than we had in the previous series. So we’ve got to find ways to make good on those as well.”
As for the Panthers’ forecheck, Keefe admitted it has caused issues for the Leafs, particularly in Game 2.
“They’re one of the premier forechecking teams in the NHL in the regular season (and) that’s carried forward into the playoffs,” he said. ” ΓÇª The nature of some of our turnovers yesterday put us in some real bad spots and that was what was disappointing because that’s what we’ve been really seeking to avoid, is those big mistakes.
“Florida, with the way that they’re playing and how they forecheck and how they transition, perhaps more importantly, when they get the puck back, it makes it that much more dangerous.”
The Panthers are 5-1 on the road and carry a 1-2 record at home this post-season.
Although ready to feel the energy of their home crowd, head coach Paul Maurice said the feeling among the team wasn’t “rich and royal.”
“At no point in our last nine games have we felt that we’ve dominated the game, where if we just play our game, we should win,” he told reporters Friday via Zoom. “So even with the win, we won’t walk away from the rink last night and say, “Man, we really handed it to those guys.’
“We just scratch and claw.”
The Leafs will have to do the same to keep their post-season run alive.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.
Blue Jays’ Chris Bassitt announces birth of child to cap ‘perfect weekend’
The Toronto Blue Jays had a memorable few days in New York, thanks to a three-game sweep of the Mets, but that’s not the biggest reason starting pitcher Chris Bassitt is all smiles these days.
Bassitt and his wife, Jessica, welcomed their second child over the weekend, with the veteran right-hander reporting that both mother and baby are doing well.
“Perfect weekend complete,” Bassitt wrote on Twitter. “Momma and Colson are doing great.”
Jessica went into labour Friday, while her husband took his normal turn in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Bassitt channelled all of his “dad strength” in that outing against the Mets, firing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts in a 3-0 Toronto win. In a cruel twist from the universe, the start of the game was delayed more than 90 minutes due to inclement weather.
Once his outing was over, Bassitt rushed back to Toronto via private plane to be with Jessica for Colson’s birth. He made it in plenty of time, tweeting Saturday morning that the baby hadn’t arrived yet.
The 34-year-old will now be able to enjoy a few days with his family, as the Blue Jays placed him on the paternity list Saturday. Reliever Jay Jackson took his place on the 26-man roster.
Bassitt’s Blue Jays teammates gave him even more reason to cheer by eking out a 2-1 victory Saturday before getting the brooms out with a 6-4 win in the series finale.
Brandon Belt was the hero Sunday, connecting for a go-ahead, two-run home run in the seventh inning after Toronto squandered an early 4-0 advantage. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also went deep for the Blue Jays, while Whit Merrifield delivered a two-run double in the second inning.
Next up, Toronto welcomes the Houston Astros to Rogers Centre for a four-game series that begins Monday. Bassitt is listed as the probable starter for Wednesday’s contest.
Rory McIlroy (T-1) falls back on short game, stays positive with chance at Memorial
DUBLIN, Ohio – Rory McIlroy will set out Sunday afternoon at Jack’s Place looking to secure the second leg of the “Legends Slam” with a swing that’s well short of perfect and no shortage of would-be spoilers lurking.
He couldn’t be happier.
For the third consecutive day at the Memorial, McIlroy leaned on luck and grit to keep pace with the co-leaders – Si Woo Kim and David Lipsky – at 6 under par with 10 other players within two shots of the lead. Betting lines will undoubtedly favor the world No. 3 against the other contenders, but the truth is he has no idea what to expect when he sets out in the week’s final group.
Full-field scores from the Memorial Tournament
“I don’t think I hit a green from the eighth hole through the 14th hole, and I played those holes in even par,” McIlroy shrugged following his third-round 70. “Chip in on 12 [for birdie] and got it up-and-down from some tricky spots. I was really happy with how I scored out there and how I just sort of hung in there for most of the day.”
If McIlroy’s happy-to-be-here take doesn’t match with his world-beater persona, it’s the honest byproduct of a swing that he’s repeatedly said is a work in progress. Saturday’s round on a hard-and-fast course was the most-recent example of his very real struggle.
There was the chip-in for birdie at No. 12 from 25 feet and scrambling pars at Nos. 8, 11, 13 and 14. The major champion, whose career has been written with an overwhelming driver and sublime iron play, has now fully embraced the scrappy life.
“Embracing it,” he smiled. “There was a couple of shots out there when I missed the greens that I was sort of looking forward to hit. I think it’s embracing that challenge and embracing the fact that you’re probably not going to hit more than 12 or 13 greens out there. I think with how my short game’s been this week it’s something I’ve been able to fall back on, which has been great.”
To be fair, Rory is still Rory off the tee. He’s eighth this week in strokes gained: off the tee and second in driving distance, which at Muirfield Village is an accomplishment considering host Jack Nicklaus’ mission is to take driver out of the hands of the game’s top players.
Where the challenge has come is from the fairway and, despite his lofty status among the leaders, Saturday’s effort was his statistically worst of the week with just 7 of 18 greens in regulation and a loss to the field (1.71 shots) in strokes gained: approach the green.
Still, he’s the easy favorite with 18 holes remaining and for good reason. Other than Kim, who has four PGA Tour victories including the 2017 Players Championship, the next six players on the board have a combined four Tour victories.
“It’s a big tournament and I’ve got quite a bit of experience in that and you would like to think that gives you a little bit of an advantage,” McIlroy said. “Everyone’s going to go out there tomorrow and, regardless of where you are in the tournament, this golf course makes you a little uncomfortable anyway. So, everyone’s going to be feeling like that. With the way the leaderboard is and how bunched it is, it’s just going to come down to who can sort of hold their head the most coming down the stretch.”
Considering his own assessment of his swing, keeping a positive outlook doesn’t seem to be a problem for McIlroy this week. It might have something to do with what has admittedly been a rough couple of weeks, which stretch back to his missed cut at the Masters. Or it might just be the opportunity.
When he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2018, it was two years after that tournament’s host and legend had died. For a player who grew up idolizing The King, it was a bittersweet accomplishment and a part of why Sunday at Muirfield Village is likely to mean more than the sum of its parts.
“To be able to walk up that hill from 18 and get that handshake from Jack would be pretty nice,” he said. “I won Arnold’s tournament a few years ago, but he had already passed by that time. So it would be so nice to be able to do it and have Jack be there.”
It’s been an interesting year for McIlroy both on and off the course, which at least partially explains a lightness in his step that had been missing. There was also a message from his sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, last week that appeared to resonate with the 23-time Tour winner: “You are going to win your fare share of golf tournaments. You tee it up to see what your fare share is.”
Vladimir Guerrero Drives Home Winning Run, Jays Beat Mets
Jays 2 Mets 1
Off the top, I’m pretty sure that’s the worst job we’ve seen from a plate umpire this year. He had no clue where the strike zone was. John Schneider got thrown out of the game after a particularly bad strike call on Vladimir Guerrero in the ninth.
Fortunately, Vlad still doubled down the third base line to bring in the winning run. Pretty amazing job after being down 1-2. George Springer had a one-out single and steal.
Our only other run came in the sixth. Brandon Belt led off with a double. Matt Chapman walked. Two outs later, Alejandro Kirk, singled home Belt.
We had the bases loaded in the first but couldn’t get a run in. There were other chances but no luck.
In all we had 10 hits. Springer, Bichette, Belt and Kirk had two each. Chapman, Merrifield and Kiermaier had the 0 fors.
Jose Berrios was terrific. 5 innings, 4 hits, 3 walks and 6 strikeouts. 1 earned, scoring in the second inning, when he gave up a single to Starling Marte and a double to Daniel Vogelbach. But then he got three quick outs, and the Mets didn’t do much against him the rest of the way.
Trevor Richards, Nate Pearson (getting the win) and Erik Swanson (save #1 of the season), each pitched a scoreless inning. I didn’t understand pulling Richards after the one inning, but it all worked out. I think Pearson would have stayed out for another inning if the Jays didn’t take the lead.
Jays of the Day: Vlad (.310 WPA), Belt (.222), Swanson (.177), Berrios (.164), Pearson (.098) and Richards (.082).
The Other Award: Merrifield (-.376 for his 0 for) and Kiermaier (-.175 for his 0 for).
Tomorrow the Jays go for the sweep with Yusei Kikuchi (6-2, 4.47) vs. Kodai Senga (5-3, 3.44). It is to be a 1:30 Eastern start, but then today’s was to be a 4:00 Eastern start but the Mets had Al Leiter talking for 30 minutes about how great he was.
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