The Maple Leafs started strong, and finished strong. And though there were some questionable moments in between, the Leafs used two-goal nights from Mitch Marner and William Nylander to beat the New York Rangers 6-3.
The Leafs got off to a 2-0 lead, didn’t wilt when the Rangers tied the game, and erupted for three goals in the third period in one of their more dominant games under new coach Sheldon Keefe.
“We controlled the puck, we didn’t throw it away,” said Marner, who has a six-game points streak. “We put the pedal down. We’ve got to make sure we keep doing it.”
Keefe called it progress. “It’s even going to the third period, then we get the lead and I thought we did a pretty good job of taking care of it, so there’s progress and that’s really what you’re looking for.”
The Leafs won for the fifth time in six games. They are 9-4-0 under Keefe — 6-3-0 on the road — and now have 40 points in 36 games. The win moved them into a playoff spot, third in the Atlantic Division, a point ahead of the Buffalo Sabres.
“Satisfaction is not a good word,” Keefe said. “We’re going to be in a battle all season long here. Other teams just keep winning games and it’s a tough league. So we just have to continue to focus every single day on being our best and making improvements along the way.”
Ilya Mikheyev added an insurance marker later in the third. Pierre Engvall opened the scoring for the Leafs.
Brady Skjei, Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich scored for the Rangers.
- Broadway show: Nylander and Marner each got their second goals of the night 47 seconds apart early in the third period to break a 3-3 tie.
Nylander scored on a wrist shot on a 3-on-2 rush, taking a feed from Auston Matthews, beating Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev between the pads.
Marner’s goal came the next shift. The Rangers had possession in their own zone and Marner’s linemates retreated for a line change. But Marner managed to strip the puck off Artemi Panarin and,despite being surrounded by four blue shirts, he got a decent wrist shot away for the Leafs fifth goal.
- Offensive outburst: The Leafs have scored six goals in a game twice under Keefe, and four or more in eight games. They’re getting offence from all lines. So what’s the biggest difference?
“Confidence,” Marner said. “Playing with the puck. Everyone’s getting their time out there with puck in their hands and not throwing it away and not feeling rushed. Every single line has a lot of skill on it and can score.
“So we have four lines that can control the puck consistently and we’re getting good line changes in the offensive zone. When you’re coming out fresh against tired guys, it’s hard for teams to defend that.”
- But who’s counting? The Leafs are 18-14-4, or back to .500 by counting overtime losses and shootout losses as losses. They haven’t been at .500 since Nov. 11. They’re on pace for 91 points at the moment, not typically enough to nail down a playoff but that may not be a concern if they can keep on this roll they’ve started.
It was also the 18th win of the year for Frederik Andersen. Backup Michael Hutchinson will try for his first win on Saturday when the Leafs play the Red Wings at the Scotiabank Arena.
This is the ninth of 14 sets of back-to-back games this season. Toronto is 4-3-2 in the first game of back-to-backs and 1-6-1 in the second game of back-to-backs.
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- A good third: The outburst from Nylander and Marner helped reverse a trend. The Leafs have been terrible in third periods — outscored 52-38 in the final frame coming into the game. Under Keefe, they have held leads going into third periods and have typically played a scattered game. They were tied in this one and played their best third period in some time.
“We’ve talked about in some of the previous games when the third periods haven’t gone well that the second period is maybe when some of the issues started to come up,” Keefe said. “I thought some of the positives of the second period today — which I thought there were lots — carried through to the third period.
“Obviously, we got a good start and the puck went in the net for us. That helped, but there were a lot of really good signs for our team in terms of how we retained the puck, which I thought was a real key to this game.”
- Scoring first: The Leafs are quite good at it lately. Thet jumped out to a 2-0 lead, with goals by Engvall and Nylander. It was the sixth time in a row and the 10th time in 13 games under Keefe. So, good right?
- Think again: The other trend with the Leafs is sloppy own-zone play, and weak attempts at clearing the zone. That allowed the Rangers to tie the game. Goals by Skjei and Strome were the result of avoidable turnovers.
- Depth delivers: With Engvall and Mikheyev scoring, the Leafs’ bottom six forwards have contributed greatly in recent games. Mikheyev (three times), Frederik Gauthier (twice), Alex Kerfoot and Dmytro Timashov have all scored in the last three games.
Credit to the idea of creating four lines that can score. “You’d like to have that all the time,” Keefe said. “It’s worked out really well. The puck has fallen to those guys at good times and they’ve made good on it. So that gives you a boost every time that happens.”
- Injury report: Andreas Johnsson remains on the long-term injured reserve with a leg injury. Trevor Moore (shoulder) could be ready to play any day now. “We’re going to see how things go,” Keefe said. “But, obviously, I’m excited to get Trevor back up and running.”
- Notes: The Leafs went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill and 1-for-3 on the power play … They outshot New York 40-22 … Toronto is 5-5-1 after being tied in the second period …. Morgan Rielly is the second Maple Leaf defencemen (Borje Salming) to begin his career with seven consecutive 20-assist seasons
- Up next: The Leafs face the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, 7 p.m.
Kerri Einarson wins Canadian women's curling championship – CBC.ca
A dream team of former skips came together to earn a Canadian women’s curling championship Sunday.
Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson beat Ontario’s Rachel Homan 8-7 in an extra end to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Einarson was heavy on a draw against two for the win the 10th, but did not make the same mistake in the 11th drawing for the point she needed.
“This means absolutely the world to me,” Einarson said. “I really wanted to do this for myself and my teammates. We really put it together this week and so proud of everyone.
“Relief, but joy as well.”
Einarson, vice Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur out of the Gimli Curling Club will represent Canada at the world championship March 14-22 in Prince George, B.C.
WATCH | Einarson wins Scotties for Manitoba:
Einarson also gets a return trip to next year’s Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.
Her foursome gains a berth in the 2021 Olympic trials and collects $105,000 of the $300,000 prize purse.
As this year’s national champions, the team is eligible for just under $170,000 in Sport Canada funding over a two-year period.
Homan is a three-time Canadian champion, but has lost back-to-back Hearts finals. Her team fell to Alberta’s Chelsea Carey last year in Sydney, N.S.
‘It’s awesome to lose to such a good team’
“It sucks to lose, but it’s awesome to lose to such a good team,” Homan said. “They’re going to be great representatives for Canada and good luck to them.
“We fought right to the end. In the end, she made a great shot.”
Einarson, Sweeting and Meilleur earned their first Canadian women’s titles.
Birchard won two years ago as a substitute third for Jennifer Jones, while regular vice Kaitlyn Lawes played mixed doubles at the Olympic Games.
Einarson and her teammates all skipped different teams in 2017-18 before joining forces.
That combination raised eyebrows given how specialized each position on a team has become.
They settled into their roles, but Einarson lost in the Hearts wild-card game in Sydney to fall short of a berth in the main draw.
She faced an Ontario lineup with more big-game experience Sunday.
Einarson stole a point in the second end and generated two in the fourth and the sixth.
Homan drew for her first deuce in the ninth and trailed 7-5 coming home without last-rock advantage.
Ontario’s skip attempted an intricate triple takeout for three in the seventh, but mustered just a point.
In a dramatic sixth end, stones of both colours clustered on and around the button with Manitoba counting two.
Homan’s raise pushed one of her counters to second shot, but Einarson then delicately nudged her own stone towards the pin for the two points.
Homan attempted a raise double, but left Manitoba shot stone in the fourth. Einarson drew the four-foot rings for two.
Homan attempted an angle raise for two in the second end. She missed to give up a steal and trail 2-0.
Sweeting lost back-to-back Canadian finals in 2014 and 2015
Sunday’s victory was particularly sweet for Sweeting.
She lost back-to-back Canadian finals skipping Alberta in 2014 and 2015, losing to Homan and Jones respectively.
Manitoba, Ontario and the Jones wild-card team each posted 9-2 records in the pool and championship rounds.
Einarson earned an express ticket to Sunday’s final downing six-time champion Jones 6-4 in Saturday’s playoff between the top two seeds.
Homan denied Winnipeg’s Jones a chance at a record-setting seventh defeating the latter 8-3 in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal.
Trade to Capitals may not be the end for Kovalchuk and the Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca
MONTREAL — Perhaps this isn’t goodbye, but more like see you later.
For Ilya Kovalchuk came to Montreal and truly fell in love with being a Canadien, and there’s a chance he’ll return as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and sign the contract that was presented to him before he was traded to the Washington Capitals on Sunday and given a chance to continue his lifelong pursuit of a Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens got a 2020 third-round pick back from Washington and retained 50 per cent of Kovalchuk’s prorated $700,000 contract, which he signed on Jan. 3 — just two weeks after he and the Los Angeles Kings terminated his three-year, $18.75-million contract before it was halfway through. And though it doesn’t seem like enough given Kovalchuk’s torrid start in Montreal, it was all GM Marc Bergevin was able to attain after the 36-year-old produced just one point over his last seven games.
Should Bergevin have pulled the trigger earlier?
It seems that way, with Kovalchuk scoring six goals and 12 points in his first 14 games with Montreal and the Canadiens not gaining any significant ground in the playoff race. There were at least four other teams outside of Washington that expressed varying degrees of interest in his services, though no formal offers worth accepting came across Bergevin’s desk at that time.
There were other factors at hand here, too.
• That Kovalchuk and the Canadiens hadn’t abandoned hope that they could pull off the improbable after winning eight of those first 14 games.
• That there were other dominoes that needed to fall before the Canadiens could hope to obtain what they were looking for (a second-round pick, or at worst a conditional third that would become a second) in a Kovalchuk trade.
• That his offence dried up at the precise moment they moved him into the type of role he was more likely to fill with any of the teams that were interested in acquiring him.
Now Kovlachuk is gone to the Capitals to join the Great 8 and a team that’s just one season removed from being crowned Cup champions. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Vrana, Carlson, Holtby, Samsonov — among others; they were a threat before Kovalchuk arrived.
But now? Watch out.
Don’t think for a second that the big Russian isn’t grateful to the Canadiens and Bergevin. Kovalchuk was holding out hope a contender would sign him out of his contract termination with the Kings, but none were willing to take that risk before seeing him prove he could be infinitely more effective than he was in Los Angeles. The Canadiens gave him an opportunity to salvage his NHL career, they immediately put him with their best players, they gave him a top-line power-play role, and they gave him 18:54 of ice-time per game.
He took advantage of it, and his gratitude was on full display from Day 1.
“I love everything about this team,” Kovalchuk said back on Super Bowl Sunday, following the team’s 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. “The way everyone has welcomed me to the fans, who are unbelievable.”
“This group of guys is special,” he added. “They all care, they want to win, they want to be better. And all the young guys like (Nick) Suzuki … and (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and (Cale) Fleury — they sent them down, but they’re all ready to play. This team has a bright future, and if I can be part of it that would be really good.”
Kovalchuk was with the team for 51 days and his impact on its future was felt throughout.
He blew his young teammates away with his dazzling skill, with his size and strength, with his commitment away from the puck, with his practice habits, with his determination, with his kindness (he bought Brett Kulak a Rolex for giving up No. 17 upon his arrival), but most of all with his passion.
The older guys were equally taken aback.
“It’s how much he loves the game,” said 28-year-old Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot moments after Kovalchuk scored his fourth game-deciding goal — and this one against the Toronto Maple Leafs — on Feb. 8. “He’s not the youngest guy anymore, but every day he’s… whatever he’s working on in the gym, on the ice… he’s as passionate of a guy as I’ve ever seen playing the game. That’s what’s made him one of the best players for his generation, one of the best goal scorers; it’s just how much he loves the game. And that’s what’s common among the great players is just how much they love the game. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler — guys like that come to mind when I think of guys who have the same kind of passion for the game that Kovy does.”
It’s a passion that legitimately could be rewarded with a Stanley Cup this spring.
And then, perhaps, Kovalchuk will come back to Montreal and put pen to paper on a deal that will be waiting for him from the Canadiens. There are no guarantees of it happening, but it’s also not a given that this is goodbye.
Canadiens deal Kovalchuk to Capitals – CBC.ca
The Ilya Kovalchuk era in Montreal has come to an end.
The Canadiens traded Kovalchuk to the Washington Capitals for a 2020 third-round pick on Sunday, ending the Russian winger’s time in Montreal after 22 games.
At the time of the trade, Montreal was six points out of a playoff spot, while the Capitals sat in first in the Metropolitan Division.
The 36-year-old sniper, who has 442 goals and 872 points in 919 career NHL games, signed a one-year, US$700,000 deal with the Canadiens on Jan. 3 after being waived by the Los Angeles Kings a month earlier.
Montreal has agreed to retain 50 per cent of Kovalchuk’s salary and cap hit.
Kovalchuk had three goals and nine points over 17 games this season with the Kings, and another six goals and 13 points in 22 games with the Canadiens.
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