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

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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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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.

Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.

Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.

Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.

He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.

Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.

“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.

“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”

Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills

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North Division

It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.

The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.

Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.

Passers

Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.

Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.

Shooting

A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.

Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.

Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.

Stick Handling

Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.

If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.

Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.

When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.

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