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Maple Leafs’ OT thriller proves why you invest in offensive stars –



TORONTO – Perhaps it was after Connor Hellebuyck lost his stick, yet still scrambled to deny Mitch Marner right at the blue paint.

Maybe it was when the reigning Vezina champ stoned one of the three Toronto Maple LeafsWilliam Nylander, Zach Hyman and Pierre Engvall — on their clear-cut breakaways.

Or when Paul “Bunyan” Stastny lumberjacked Morgan Rielly’s stick to shards in overtime, a slash that went uncalled, and three Winnipeg Jets forwards closed in on Frederik Andersen’s crease, sniffing another victory.

But at some point prior to Thursday night’s storybook climax — as Toronto generated its 45th high-danger chance (to the Jets’ 11) and Hellebuyck made his 70th save through two games — a thought flashed through Sheldon Keefe’s mind.

What if we dominate play but come up empty, again? What if this skid extends to four and Winnipeg creeps within striking distance of the division lead? How do I convince my room that they’re on the right track?

“We very easily could have been on the other side of this one here tonight,” said Coach Keefe, after a roller-coaster 4-3 win that required four periods and line juggling and the kitchen sink.

“How do you frame that? How do you stay with it [considering] the fact you’re not getting the results and all of that?”

Zach Hyman says the Maple Leafs will be served well by this recent bout of adversity.

Nylander, who could be seen firing a puck at the boards during a TV timeout, believes, sometimes, frustration is a good thing: “I like it.”

Embrace the suck.

Or, as Joe Thornton said, wisely: “It’s a long year. You’ve got to enjoy the process. There’s going to be downs, but you fight through.”

Ostensibly, the sage old Leaf was talking about hockey. But on the anniversary of the pandemic shutting down sports and so much more, Jumbo could well have been speaking for all of us.

An earlier edition of this same Maple Leafs core might have wilted every time Hellebuyck windmilled the leather or tracked another cross-seamed pass perfectly.

They might’ve made passive-aggressive comments about whistles that went unblown or condemned their puck luck.

Or fell out of sync once Keefe mixed his top nine on the fly, trying Thornton alongside John Tavares and William Nylander.

So, it is saying something that the Leafs’ top-end talent never stopped pushing through their mini slump.

Morgan Rielly notched two assists, bringing his total to 19. Marner’s 11th even-strength goal vaulted him into a tie for second overall in that category. Tavares drew three defenders on an up-the-gut rush, then dished to Nylander for a beautiful one-timer. Hyman, Marner, Nylander and Auston Matthews — contributing another two-point night with a hurting hand — each registered a minimum of five shots on goal.

“We were generating a lot. It just felt like a matter of time before it would go in for us. I thought the guys were really working,” Keefe said, letting pride encroach his relief. “To get rewarded with a win certainly feels good.”

Nylander, in particular, shone bright, generating his own breakaway with a rare shot block, stripping pucks in the neutral zone, and pumping a game-high six shots.

“Willy Nylander had his best game of the season today,” Keefe enthused. “He was outstanding. It was great to see him get rewarded with a goal, because he certainly earned it with how he was playing. I’ve been really encouraged.

“He just looked determined — determined to score, determined to make a difference.”

A win like this, general manager Kyle Dubas would argue, is why you invest tens of millions in the difference-makers.

Quadruple down on talent.

Give enough looks to enough skilled players and, eventually, they’ll solve even the hottest goaltender.

Which is precisely what Matthews did, 59 seconds into a hectic overtime. Bum wrist and all.

Funny how the hockey gods taketh and giveth.

When Stastny chopped Rielly’s stick in sudden death and no penalty was called, Marner hit the deck to break up the Jets’ chance while Rielly fetched a fresh twig.

“There was a lot of yelling going on in that D-zone when Mo did break his stick. Me and Tone [Matthews] were kind of snow-angeling down there, playing whatever we could,” Marner described.

Marner head-manned the puck to Rielly, now in fine position to spring a gasping Matthews, who faked shot and roofed a buttery backhand deke for his league-leading sixth game-winner.

The move?

“I think it’s difficult for a lot of people; it’s not difficult for Tony [Matthews]. I’ve seen him pull it off a lot of times,” Marner said. “No one’s really surprised by it, regardless of how he’s feeling.”

“He’s a star. That’s what they do,” Keefe added.

“The condition of his hand and stuff aside, he was quite tired there, too. That was a long shift. A long shift in overtime. Overtime shifts are difficult. Just to have the energy to get up the ice and put himself in that spot amongst the chaos of the broken stick and all of that nonsense that was happening. That’s big-time stuff.”

Big-time talent.

Big-time slump bust.

Big-time rubber match, Saturday.

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Olympics-U.S. women to face Australia in women’s football at Tokyo Games



(Reuters) – The U.S. women’s national team will face Australia, Sweden and New Zealand at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, while in the men’s competition 2016 winners Brazil will take on Germany following the group stage draw on Wednesday.

The American women’s team are the reigning world champions and four-time winners of the Olympic tournament and will start as favourites in Tokyo, with Rio 2016 winners Germany failing to qualify.

Team GB women have drawn 2016 bronze medallists Canada, Chile and hosts Japan. Making only their second Olympic tournament appearance, Team GB will be led by England’s interim coach Hege Riise.

On the men’s side, Brazil will take on Germany, Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia.

Mexico, the 2012 gold medallists, were pitted against hosts Japan, South Africa and France.

The men’s team are usually restricted to selecting players under the age of 23, with just three overage players allowed.

However, the age bracket has been raised for the Tokyo Games in line with the one-year postponement of the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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Rafael Nadal rallies from set down to advance in Barcelona



Top seed Rafael Nadal rallied from a set back to beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday in the second round at the Barcelona Open in Spain.

Nadal lost serve in the opening game of the match and wasn’t able to break Ivashka’s serve throughout the first set. He won just 70.6 percent of points on his first serve, was broken twice and had two double faults in an uncharacteristically poor showing on service in the opening set.

By the second set, he had righted his serve, winning 86.7 percent of points on his first serve in the second set and 83.3 percent in the third. He didn’t face a break point in either set.

In other action, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, No. 3 Andrey Rublev of Russia, No. 4 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, No. 6 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain and No. 10 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada were among those advancing.

No. 9 Fabio Fognini of Italy defaulted for verbal abuse. He was losing 6-0, 4-4 to Zapata Miralles of Spain when the line judge reported him for swearing after a foot fault. He had been warned earlier in the match

Serbia Open

Top seed and home-country favorite Novak Djokovic needed just 68 minutes to top South Korean Soon-woo Kwon 6-1, 6-3 and advance to the quarterfinals in Belgrade, Serbia.

Djokovic capitalized on five of his eight service break opportunities in the win. In the next round, he’ll meet fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, the eighth seed, who needed three sets to oust Arthur Rinderknech of France 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Also advancing was the No. 2 seed, Matteo Berrettini, who defeated fellow Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 6-3. Fifth seed Filip Krajinovic beat Nikola Milojevic 6-1, 6-1 in an all-Serb match.


(Field Level Media)

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Ice hockey-Women’s world championships cancelled due to COVID-19



(Reuters) -The women’s ice hockey world championships set to be played in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia have been cancelled because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in Canada, Hockey Canada said on Wednesday.

The announcement came one day before the 10 teams were to arrive to begin their quarantine ahead of the May 6-16 tournament.

“This is very disappointing news to receive with just a few weeks until the tournament was to begin,” said International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel in a statement.

“We strongly believe that we had the adequate safety measures in place. In the end, we must accept the decision of the government.”

The IIHF and Hockey Canada were informed by the Nova Scotia provincial government on Wednesday that the 10-country tournament could not go ahead due to safety concerns associated with COVID-19.

Still the news came as a shock after Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer had 24 hours earlier given the event the thumbs- up.

“At five o’clock this morning we were full go and at 7:30 am we were not,” explained Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney. “That is the way the world is right now and there is only so much we can control.

“At the end of the day there is a bigger game than the one we play here and quite honestly it is about the safety of the general public.”

The cancellation was another blow for the women’s game that has endured a number of recent setbacks, including the folding of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

It was also the second consecutive year the Nova Scotia world championships have been stopped by COVID-19.

“Definitely, a little bit of disbelief, a little shock, a lot of emotion,” said Canadian coach Gina Kingsbury, who pulled some players off the ice to deliver the bad news. “This is a group that has been through a lot this past year and two years so they are definitely familiar with disappointing news.”

Both the IIHF and Hockey Canada indicated they plan to play the world championships this year, possibly this summer, in Canada.

“Our intention, and that of the IIHF, is to reconnect with this event as a world championship in 2021 in Canada,” said Renney. “That’s our number one objective. We have every desire to hold this event in Canada.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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