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Maple Leafs’ North Division lead widening as trade deadline looms –



Like masked pedestrians approaching each other on a sidewalk, the gap just keeps widening.

One week ahead of the NHL’s trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames are speeding in opposite directions. To the point where the former can dress their third- and fourth-string goalies, generate a big bag of nothing through two periods of fun-sucking Darryl Sutter hockey, muddle 15 minutes without a shot on net, and still pull out a decisive 4-2 victory.

With their playoff chances shrivelling to 1.2 per cent and no Hamburglar in site, the underwhelming Flames are playing for pride and milestones and, perhaps, their own trade value.

To that end, Sutter’s bunch did a fine job of making the division leaders look something less than ascendent on Easter Sunday. Although Morgan Rielly scored on the game’s first shot, Joakim Nordstrom responded for the home side in short order, laying a skilled blade on a Mark Giordano point shot that gave the captain his 500th point of his career.

Giordano revealed that he’d promised his son he’d get on the board.

“I’ve got my little guy, Jack, at home, and it’s his birthday,” said Giordano, looking into a TV camera at intermission. “That’s for you, buddy.”

Andrew Mangiapane gave Calgary a 2-1 lead with 40 seconds left in the first frame, ripping a high shot that probably should’ve been snuffed by one of the four Toronto bodies between him and the net.

Mangiapane’s go-ahead marker was part of Calgary’s mid-game push that featured 14 consecutive shots and the Maple Leafs’ anemic power play failing to score on its 28th straight attempt.

But Alex Galchenyuk driving the crease and cashing in a John Tavares pass late in Period 2 gave the Maple Leafs life and Galchenyuk his first goal for his seventh NHL organization.

“Sooner or later, it’s gonna go in,” Galchenyuk had said Friday, but it was unclear if he was promising the Leaf Nation he’s slowly winning over or himself. “It’s something I definitely try to focus on — getting my first one as a Leaf.”

“A big goal by Alex. Got us back in the game,” Joe Thornton said. “It’s huge for his confidence. He’s a young player still.”

So what if Calgary had reined in the explosive Leafs to just four high-danger chances at that point? Tie game.

“We obviously were not very good at all through 40 minutes, but we were in a game,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We gave ourselves an opportunity to win a hockey game.”

“No one was happy,” Galchenyuk said of the second-intermission mood. “We knew we got better and definitely had to come out and with more intensity, more compete level. And we did that, and the game kinda shifted over to our advantage.”

The Maple Leafs’ game-winner was a rebound own-goal that clicked off Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin’s skate blade only after netminder David Rittich stopped shots off the rush by both William Nylander and John Tavares.

The type of head-hanger that crams Calgary’s dismal season into a nutshell.

Auston Matthews provided the insurance — after stripping Matthew Tkachuk of a puck in his own zone — and became the first NHLer to hit the 25-goal plateau.

The Flames offered little pushback, and Michael Hutchinson stood tall when it mattered, backstopping the Leafs to the league’s best road record (13-4-1).

With 53 points, Toronto now holds a six-point lead atop the North over both Edmonton and Winnipeg — and an 18-point lead over Calgary.

So, on a day when prime New Jersey trade bait Kyle Palmieri is healthy-scratched to make sure the merchandise is fresh, Leafs fans wonder if Palmieri might waive the contending Leafs off his no-trade list, and Flames fans wonder what they might salvage from their own expendable forwards.

While it’s no secret Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is trying to add a forward capable of slotting alongside Tavares and Nylander, Galchenyuk says the chemistry with his linemates is growing by the day.

“You’re around the group, playing in our system, the type of team and the type of players we have, you’re only going to get more comfortable,” Tavares said. “At this time of year, things get tighter and tighter. It gets much harder to get open ice and time and space. I think that’s where his work ethic and determination will continue to come through.”

Galchenyuk perks up when describing the upbeat vibe that comes with contributing to a 25-10-3 squad.

“Obviously, it’s a confident group, and everybody has a lot of fun. It’s a loose group. But when it comes to game time, it’s all business. So, that’s what you want,” Galchenyuk said. “Everybody has a lot of fun, but nothing’s more fun than winning.”

You don’t have to tell Hutchinson that.

Flashback to the 2020 trade deadline: Hutchinson commissioned a custom Felix Potvin throwback Leafs mask to represent his team, only to get dealt to Colorado before he could break it in.

Back for his second go with Toronto, Hutchinson has been practising in the Potvin. And if he keeps performing like he did Sunday, maybe the mask will even see game action.

“He’s obviously performed better, but I think we’re a better team. I think we can’t not address that. I think at times when Hutch was struggling last season, our team didn’t play well in front of him,” Keefe said.

“We regrouped in the third and got a win — that’s on the back of solid goaltending. Our guys have done a really good job, all three goalies this year, of giving us opportunities to win games. It’s a big part of why we are where we are.”

Where the Maple Leafs wake up Monday, readying to face the Flames for the second half of this Easter back-to-back, is the same comfortable yet uncertain place they’ve awoken for a couple weeks.

Their power play is in shambles. They’re not certain who will start in goal (Jack Campbell skated Sunday and is hopeful). And yet, they feel pretty good about their chances of winning a hockey game.

“We’ve got 100 per cent confidence in whatever goalie is playing on whichever night,” Matthews said.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel



AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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