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Maple Leafs get lesson in champion savvy as Lightning level series in Game 2 –



TORONTO — For anyone wondering what it means to be a championship-calibre team, what it is to march into city after city having never lost back-to-back games on the way to winning back-to-back Cups, this is what it looks like.

After the Toronto Maple Leafs served up a thumping in Game 1 of their first-round series against the defending champions, everyone on both sides of the ice expected an entirely different affair in the sequel, the Tampa Bay Lightning just too good, too seasoned, to not come back with an answer.

But Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena, the Bolts showed Toronto what exactly veteran savvy looks like, baiting the Maple Leafs into a game that played perfectly into their hands, coaxing the quick-footed series leaders away from the style of play that’s made them one of the best clubs in the league this season, and into one that hung two banners at Amalie Arena.

Early on, you’d have had a tough time seeing it coming.

Sheldon Keefe’s squad started Game 2 much the same way they finished Game 1, putting together the fourth straight period that saw them out-skate and out-chance the Lightning. They were rolling, the power play getting good looks, the penalty kill firing pucks down the ice, Jack Campbell holding down the fort in net.

From the opening puck-drop, it was clear both teams were intent on carrying over the “borderline violence” that highlighted the first meeting, bodies draped in both jerseys flying against boards and against each other, all across the sheet. The crowd swelling and roaring in approval as Colin Blackwell, Wayne Simmonds and half the Maple Leafs blue line got licks in during that early 20 minutes, while the blue-and-white high-flyers got their looks on net.

It was in the second period that it all went sideways.

The Maple Leafs headed into the middle frame down a goal, a lucky bounce breaking Tampa Bay’s way in the final seconds of the opening period. Right off the hop, Toronto looked focused on establishing that heightened physical presence, Ilya Mikheyev veering off course to pop Alex Killorn soon after the opening faceoff. A couple minutes later, it was Michael Bunting, swatting at Corey Perry en route to the bench as the veteran winger skated by him in the Lightning zone — only to see Perry then zip up to the Leafs’ blue line, collect a wicked heads-up pass from Victor Hedman, and beat Jack Campbell to lift the visitors’ lead to 2-0.

Still, down 2-0 with the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner sitting on Toronto’s bench, flanked by a bevy of dynamic playmakers, it was an inconvenience rather than an insurmountable climb.

The rough stuff continued — a body crashing into Simmonds, Lyubushkin throwing his own around, another Bolt taking on Kase. Auston Matthews channelled that energy into an avenue that could’ve led Toronto to a better night, No. 34 throwing all 205 of his pounds into Ryan McDonagh down by the Lightning net, separating the Tampa defender from the puck, and getting it over to linemates Mitch Marner and Bunting for a crucial goal.

The score 2-1, the tides potentially turning.

But what seemed a turn on the path, leading Toronto back towards the type of relentless attacking that had them coming out on top through four of the series’ first five periods, was instead a fork in the road. And the Leafs, it seems, chose wrong.

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Instead of leaning into that high-octane offence, they continued picking bodies off along the wall at every chance. Instead of trying to stir up the type of dizzying playmaking that had clubs spinning all year, they kept looking for opportunities to prove they could throw weight around with the best of them — a game after they’d proven all they needed to.

It started going off the rails midway through that second period, when Simmonds was marched to the box, having dumped Pierre-Edouard Bellemare beside Toronto’s net well after the whistle blew. Within 30 seconds, the puck was in the Maple Leafs’ net, courtesy of a bit of signature trickery from Nikita Kucherov — the first goal of the post-season for the Lightning’s most dangerous scorer, now awake.

And yet, moments after being burned by one, the Maple Leafs found themselves in another post-whistle scrum, this one featuring Bunting in the melee.

Five minutes into the next period, it was a familiar scene: the Maple Leafs a touch desperate after an early goal again, Simmonds marched to the box for a post-whistle fracas again, and a surgical power-play goal from the defending champs again — this one a tic-tac-toe tally from Hedman, Kucherov and Brayden Point.

Staring down a trip to Florida for Game 3 with the series knotted up at 1-1 following a night that saw the Lightning put away three power-play goals, Keefe had little trouble diagnosing this one.

“The refs set the standard early — they took one after the whistle, which made it pretty clear that they were going to call it like that after the whistle. We didn’t do a good job of reading that and responding to that,” he said. “We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be more responsible with that. But we will be.”

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On the other side of the ledger, the Lightning’s leaders assessed the key that unlocked a return to level ground in this first-round series, pointing to the precise element that wound up as Toronto’s biggest gap — that ability to play physical, but focused.

“They’re calling it tight,” Brayden Point said post-game. “I think it’s just playing hard, but playing between the whistles is a focus for us. I thought tonight we finished checks and played physical, but walked the line a little bit. We know how dangerous that team is on the power play, so staying out of the box is crucial.”

Added his coach, who made clear what the gameplan was going in:

“We’re aware of what we’re doing. We can only control ourselves — we can’t control the other team. And you’ve got to play the game between the whistles,” said Jon Cooper.

“It’s playoff hockey. Guys are going to step up and back their team. … It’s teams that want to win. It’s guys that are battling hard. But you’ve just got to be smart about it.”

The Maple Leafs weren’t, and they relinquished a series lead because of it.

Instead, they played right into their veteran opponents’ hands. A team built on speed, dynamic offence, and skilful creativity has been pulled into a competition to see who can crush the boards hardest.

And Toronto’s captain knows that path isn’t the one that offers a chance at redemption when the teams return to the ice for Game 3. It’s the one they’ve followed all season that will get them there.

“When we play fast, and we’ve been able to come together, get on the forecheck, get to the middle of the ice and make it difficult for their goalie to see the puck and be as confident as he can be… it obviously challenges them,” John Tavares said Wednesday night, taking stock of his team’s approach. 

“If we can generate the momentum, play on the terms that we want to play on, it allows us to be on the front foot. And just controlling emotion, I think. It’s such a fine line.”

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This Battle of Alberta won’t be like the past, but the emotion will be unmatched –



EDMONTON  — It’s been 31 years, so long that a generation really only knows the Battle of Alberta in snap shots from Hockey Night in Canada videos. 

Gretzky down the wing on Vernon. Smith, in off of Fuhr. Fleury break dancing across the Northlands Coliseum logo. Dave Brown, startin’ the lawn mower on Jim Kyte. 

Glen Sather, alternately cheering an OT goal in Calgary and issuing a hand gesture to Flames fans that would have garnered him a healthy fine today. 

We’re here to tell you: societal norms dictate that the old Battle of Alberta will never be re-lived. This can not be that. 

But although we might know what we’re NOT going to see when the Calgary Flames hook up with the Edmonton Oilers starting on Wednesday night, you never know what you might see in a matchup set to consume this prairie province for the first time since 1991. A grudge match that — in its best days — was as good a rivalry as the National Hockey League has seen in all its many years. 

“You always knew going into it that there was going to be bloodshed, and it was going to be some of your own,” former Oilers (and Flames) defenceman Steve Smith said in my book, The Battle of Alberta. “It was real then. There were going to be fights and you were expected to be part of fights and physical hockey.” 

“They were big, strong, physical,” added Edmonton defenceman Jeff Beukeboom. “They were dirty. Just like us,”  

The sheer violence does not exist anymore, and for that the NHL is a better place. But the emotion that has gone missing with that violence? 

That, we’d like to surgically implant back into the game, like a ligament from a cadaver that could put the hop back in the step of a league where too many players are buddy-buddy, asking how the wife and kids are rather than putting a glove in their opponent’s face. 

It was that emotion that fuelled the high-octane dragster that was The Battle. 

Emotion that would drive Doug Risebrough to slink into the penalty box with an Oilers jersey purloined from the latest Pier 6 brawl, and slice it into ribbons with his skates. Emotion injected into a practice from Flames head coach Bob Johnson, who dressed a Junior A goalie in an Oilers jersey so his players could feel the thrill of blowing pucks past a Grant Fuhr lookalike. 

“That’s the thing we’re missing in the game today. Emotion,” said former Flames goalie Mike Vernon. “Those games had so much emotion, and there was a price that had to be paid. Like the time Dave Brown fought Stu Grimson. Grimmer sat in the penalty box for 10 minutes with a broken face. 

“You want to see real? That’s real.” 

Emotion from players who knew, this wasn’t going to be a normal game. And if I play like it is, I won’t survive it. 

“I had no problem [expletive] cuttin’ your eye out. Wouldn’t have bothered me a bit,” said Theoren Fleury, a small man who cut a big swath through the Battle. “Hey – you’re trying to [expletive] kill me? This was survival. It was that unpredictability that allowed me to have the room that I had.”

On a macro level, Edmonton and Calgary have always been contesting each other.

They fought over who would get the first Canadian Pacific Railway terminal (Calgary), way back in the 1800s. They argued over who would be designated the provincial capital, or lay claim to the University of Alberta in the early 1900s (Edmonton, and Edmonton). 

Today the contest has been mostly won by the city that is simply 300 kilometres closer to the rest of the world than its rival. Calgary is the Dallas to Edmonton’s Houston, where the oil patch is concerned, an industry orchestrated by the white collars in the South, but serviced and operated by blue collars up North. 

But where all this has impacted the sports scene is this: Anecdotally, more people born in Edmonton continue to live in Edmonton, while Calgary has become a city more rich in people from elsewhere; Edmonton is a city you leave, whereas Calgary has become somewhere people come to, with allegiances to other teams in tow.

That assessment is subjective, sure, but it’s backed up by the fact the Oilers tend to post better media numbers than the Flames do, whether it’s radio, TV or print. There is simply more local interest in Edmonton’s team than Calgary’s, a phenomenon that will be invisible to the naked eye these next two weeks. 

When the original Battle began however, there was no question who was the big brother, and who was the little one. 

Edmonton had joined the NHL from the old World Hockey Association in 1979, and the Flames arrived from Atlanta a year later. Soon, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey et al. were clearly a group the Flames could not match, or catch up to via the draft. So the Flames, with former University of Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson behind their bench, built a team using older college grads like Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Jamie Macoun and Gary Suter.

In the end, the Flames only won one of five playoff meetings between the two, but they played the Boston Red Sox to Edmonton’s New York Yankees, or Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins to the 70’s Habs that were Edmonton. 

“Ali needed Frazier,” Messier once said. “That top opponent that pushes, and challenges, and makes you better.” 

As the two teams ready for a meeting beginning Wednesday night in Calgary, that old Saddledome is perhaps the only visual that will provide a similar look, outside the familiar jerseys of each team. The landscape is unfamiliar, with teams full of players who have never faced each other in a post-season series. 

Two teams who once combined for 780 goals in a season settled for 576 this season. And penalty minutes? 

Forget about it… 

In 2022 however, there are some similarities. Connor McDavid will play the part of Wayne Gretzky, while the Elias Lindholm line will lend depth and execution the way Johnson’s old Flames would attack Edmonton using his oft-referenced — but never actually seen — “Seven Point Plan” to beat the Oilers. 

Today Matthew Tkachuk is the spoon that stirs the emotional bouillabaisse, whereas before it was Esa Tikkanen or Neil Sheehy, the Flames defenceman and Gretzky-pesterer whose refusal to fight anyone on Edmonton wound the Oilers up like a top. 

When it’s done, all we can hope for is some lasting memories, some players who might not tee it up together the way they may have a summer ago, and two organizations that see each other as they once did — as the in-division hurdle that had to be jumped on the way to a Stanley Cup. 

“All the most important, most memorable team meetings we ever had were held in that dressing room in Calgary,” Craig MacTavish once said. “We were the best two teams in the NHL of that day, and we would meet very early in the playoffs. 

“They were absolute wars,” he added. “A pleasure to be a part of, in hindsight.” 

We leave you with this anecdote, from Beukeboom. 

“I think it was a pre-season game,” he began. “I was going up ice and got two-handed on the back of the legs by Fleury. Whack! I remember a pile-up in the corner one day, after Simmer (Craig Simpson) had taken out their goalie, and Fleury was running his mouth. ‘You guys suck. You can’t skate, you big [expletive].’ So now we’re in the pile in the corner, and he’s on top of me. But, we come out of it together, and now he’s saying, ‘It’s OK. I’ve got you. No problem.’ Like, now he’s being a nice guy.” 

So, what did Beukeboom do? Exactly what Fleury would have done, had the shoe been on the other foot 

“I suckered him. Cut him open for stitches,” he said. “It was one of the few times [head coach] John Muckler paid me a compliment.” 

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Barkov, Bergeron, Lindholm named as Selke Trophy finalists –



The Calgary FlamesElias Lindholm joined fellow centres Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins as one of three finalists named for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, the NHL announced Tuesday.

The award, which is given “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of
the game,” is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, with the top three vote-getters listed as finalists.

Lindholm, 27, has never won the award, but posted a plus-61 rating that was second only in the league to teammate Johnny Gaudreau’s plus-64. The Swedish centre was the fifth-best in the league at faceoffs, with a 52.9 per cent success rate in 1,592 attempts.

Barkov, who won the Selke last year, led the Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy this season with the league’s best record. The 26-year-old from Finland posted a career-best 57 per cent success rate in faceoffs and led his team’s forwards in average ice time (20:18) for the fifth straight year. His plus-36 was fourth best in the league amongst forwards.

Bergeron, who may retire this off-season, has won the Selke four times in his 19-year career, which is tied with former Montreal Canadiens great Bob Gainey for the most in NHL history. The 36-year-old from L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que., has been a finalist for the Selke 11 times and led the league this season for the seventh time in his career in faceoff wins, with a success rate of 61.9 per cent.

The NHL plans on revealing its 2022 award winners during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final.

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England to host 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup



World Rugby (WR) has named England as the host nation for the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

In addition, WR also unanimously approved Australia as hosts for the men’s World Cup in 2027 and the women’s in 2029 with the United States (US) hosting the men’s tournament for the first time in 2031 and the women’s in 2033.

WR is hoping to generate US$1 billion from the World Cup in 2031 as it seeks to tap into the US’ vast sporting culture and commercial potential.

“The USA is the golden nugget everyone wants to get a hold of. It’s the world’s biggest sporting market,” said WR chairperson, Sir Bill Beaumont.

2031 and 2033 World Cups have 25 or so venue bids on the table from all over the country. WR delegates have already been shown around the Denver Bronco’s impressive Empower Field home. One possibility could see the tournament start in the west of the country and gradually move east. There is also the possibility of using localized pools, where each group plays in a different part of the country before congregating for its grand finish.

The whole process is expected to cost in the region of US$500 million and has already received bipartisan support, alongside the seal of approval from President Joe Biden, who wrote a letter to Sir Beaumont promising regulatory support and infrastructural guarantees.

In the US, there have been many attempts to crack the market, but none have yet succeeded. However, the continued presence of rugby in the Olympics, the growing footprint of Major League Rugby (MLR) and an acceptance of where things went wrong in the past, means there is optimism around the next decade.

The US men’s team faces one of the biggest games in their history in June when they have their two-legged playoff against Chile for a spot in the 2023 Rugby World Cup scheduled to take place in France from the 8th of September to the 28th of October 2023.

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