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NBA Exec Says 'What the League Is Working to Pull off Is Just F–king Epic' – Bleacher Report

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Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

While MLB and the NFL have been publicly feuding with their players over safety issues, the NBA‘s Orlando bubble has mostly opened without incident—both in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases and relative lack of complaints from players.  

As players get settled into the bubble, those around the league are beginning to express optimism about the season’s resumption. 

“What the league is working to pull off is just f–king epic,” one executive told ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “I do feel really good about how things are going thus far.”

The NBA’s “bubble” is without question the most comprehensive and ambitious of any major sports league’s plan to resume play amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL and MLB will essentially allow players to live their normal lives, conducting seasons that include air travel and hotel stays. The NHL is holding its playoffs with two similar “host” cities, but the level of amenities being given to hockey players pales in comparison to what the NBA has offered.

Complaints about the bubble have been relatively small (e.g. mediocre food) and have slowed since players have gotten out of their required quarantine phase. Many players have turned bubble life into a content opportunity, hopping on Instagram, doing beer chugging contests or streaming video games.

We’ll have to see how the bubble scenario holds up once games begin and once the novelty of the bubble begins to wear off. However, the NBA deserves some level of credit for putting together a plan that has seemingly satisfied players in the midst of a pandemic. 

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Oilers Notebook: Goaltending is key as series vs. Blackhawks continues – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — It was a cringe-worthy night on Tuesday as players blocking shots had the Rogers Place ice crew out, shovels in hand, scraping up the gruesome residue of a night’s work for guys like Winnipeg’s Tucker Poolman.

The Jets defenceman left a trail of blood all the way to his bench, but returned wearing a cage.

Heading into Game 3 between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, Oilers head coach Dave Tippett was asked if the reward of shot blocking can be outweighed by the risk of players who get injured in the process?

“The fear of losing trumps anything. If you don’t block shots you’re not going to win,” was Tippett’s answer. “You have to have a gut instinct that drives you to do anything you can to help the team win, and basically that’s what players who are all-in about winning do.”

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In Game 2 the Oilers blocked 22 shots, and many of those came during four Chicago power plays in the second period. Ten separate Oilers players were credited with a blocked shot, with Kris Russell and Matt Benning blocking four each.

Sure, one shot deflected off of Russell and past Mikko Koskinen. But how many of the shots that were blocked might have gone in, or left a rebound that turned into a Blackhawks goal? Tippett know where he stands on guys risking their health to help the team.

“When you’re blocking shots you’re not thinking about getting hurt,” he said. “You’re thinking about helping the team win.”

••

Don’t expect any Oilers lineup changes tonight, with every player available according to Tippett. Koskinen will start in goal for Edmonton against, we are guessing, Corey Crawford.

Crawford, who missed camp after contracting COVID-19, was solid in Game 1 despite barely having any training camp time, much to the Blackhawks’ relief. But through two games he has allowed 10 goals and has a saves percentage of just .844. Koskinen has a goals-against average of 2.65 through a game and a half, with a saves percentage of .911.

Crawford carried this Blackhawks team at times this season. With this coming down to a best-of-three series now, it’s highly likely that the team that gets the best goaltending moves on, while the other will move out of the Edmonton bubble.

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The Blackhawks get Drake Caggiula back tonight after he missed Game 2 on a one-game suspension for a head shot on Tyler Ennis. Caggiula watched the game from upstairs in the Blackhawks’ management suite, and quickly figured out what makes all of us media types so smart.

“You get some good perspective from up there, the game is a lot slower. Everyone thinks they’re an expert from up top,” he said. “It almost looks like a video game, everything is so much slower and you can see everything develop before it happens. As opposed to being on the ice where you have a split second to make that decision.”

On a team that doesn’t have Andrew Shaw, who is out for the season with concussion issues, Caggiula is the ‘Hawks most physical forward. And against his old team, he admits there are some words flying around out there as well.

“I’m out there talkin’ a little bit,” he laughed, “but no one is purposely going out of their way to chirp guys. If there’s a chirp here or there, that’s part of the game.

“I have a lot of good buddies on that team. But friendships are on hold right now.”

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While Connor McDavid leads these playoffs with four goals in two games, he also has notched the game-opening goal in both contests. He scored at 2:34 of Game 1 and 0:19 of Game 2, a fact that has not eluded ‘Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton.

“You want to score first, no question,” he said. “It’s tough to chase the game, to come from behind. And it gives them belief that they’re doing the right things. Obviously giving McDavid an early goal isn’t something we want to do.”

Meanwhile, Art Ross Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl (1-2-3) has half the points of both McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who have six a piece. Edmonton scored six goals in Game 2 and the Draisaitl line’s only point came on an unassisted goal by Ennis, though the big German was an even player in over 20 minutes of ice time.

“Leon gets judged on points a lot because he’s the leading scorer in the league,” Tippett said. “But he does a lot more for us than that. We’re asking him to do some things that aren’t about points, but about making sure we play a complete game. He’s been a solid player for us.”

Over on Chicago’s side, Dylan Strome and Alex Nylander each got stapled to the bench in Game 2, watching their ice time fall by 2:43 and 4:53 respectively from Game 1.

“Game 1 they had some really good shifts, and even in Game 2,” Colliton said. “But, we’re looking for more consistency. I think you could say that about a bunch of guys in Game 2.

“It’s their first experience in the playoffs. I know they’re going to be better for us.”

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Toronto Maple Leafs hope others step up with injured Jake Muzzin out for series – TSN

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TORONTO — The Maple Leafs have lost top-pairing defenceman Jake Muzzin to injury for the remainder of their qualifying-round playoff series against Columbus, but they aren’t in any mood to wallow.

“I believe that in our game in particular, everybody’s replaceable,” head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters on a Zoom call from the NHL’s Eastern Conference Hub at the Royal York Hotel on Wednesday. “Every single player is valuable, and Muzz certainly is among the most valuable and important people. But we’re going to have guys come in and we’re going to step up and just continue rolling along as a team.”

The Leafs were less than two minutes away from closing out the Blue Jackets in Game 2 on Tuesday night when Muzzin, out killing a penalty, was cross-checked from behind by Pierre-Luc Dubois and tripped head-first into Oliver Bjorkstrand’s knee.

Muzzin stayed down on the ice surrounded by medical personnel for nearly 15 minutes, before being stretchered off and taken to a local hospital accompanied by general manager Kyle Dubas. The 31-year-old has since returned to the Leafs’ bubble and will remain in quarantine and hopeful of a return if Toronto advances.

When play resumed on Tuesday, the Leafs finished off Columbus without Muzzin in a 3-0 shutout, to even their best-of-five series at one game apiece. But with Game 3 and Game 4 looming in the span of 24 hours on Thursday and Friday, there’s precious little time to make adjustments.

“It’s obviously tough. [Muzzin’s] a huge part of our team,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “It’s important that we have guys that are willing to take on more responsibility. I don’t think you can replace what he does for our team but I think it’s important to have other guys help [fill] that void. He really offers a lot, but I think it’s a good opportunity for guys to play more minutes, to play in different situations and rise to the occasion.”

Keefe got to work on altering his blue line in Wednesday’s practice, sliding Travis Dermott up to replace Muzzin beside Justin Holl as the Leafs’ top pairing, and adding Martin Marincin to the mix on the third pairing with Tyson Barrie.

Keefe had played Dermott and Holl together late in the regular season when Muzzin had previously suffered a broken foot, and they earned mixed results. Per Natural Stat Trick, in nearly 300 minutes playing together, Dermott and Holl were outscored 12-11 by opponents when on the ice, but held nearly 51 per cent possession.

Regardless, Keefe still felt confident enough to explore that option again.

“Both guys were taking on greater responsibility [back then],” Keefe explained. “Holl had really been doing it most of the season, had taken a big step, in terms of his responsibility and his role. Dermott is evolving and taking on more as it comes. It’s really been injury situations that have given him increased opportunity throughout the entire season and this is no different. [He showed before] just that he can handle that [promotion] when called upon.”

In the 16 games Muzzin was sidelined for due to injury in 2019-20, Toronto still managed a 7-5-4 record, and are at least somewhat familiar in how to get by in his absence. But Muzzin’s impact on the group is felt all over, from inside and outside the dressing room.

During the regular season, Muzzin averaged the third-most minutes among Leafs at 21:36 per game and was their second-most used penalty killer, averaging 2:31 shorthanded per night. That’s part of the reason why Keefe tapped Marincin, and not rookie Rasmus Sandin, to step in for Muzzin – not only does Marincin bring comparable size (his 6-foot-5 frame nearly mirrors Muzzin at 6-foot-3), the 28-year-old also logs heavy minutes on the kill, averaging 1:40 shorthanded in 26 regular season appearances.

“We think that Marty brings some of the elements that Muzz brings,” said Keefe. “Obviously he doesn’t replace Muzz in the intangibles that he brings; he’s a very important player for us. But there are some elements in particular [that Marincin has], like the penalty killing and the size. So there’s some similarities there in terms of what he can provide us and that’s important.”

Marincin hasn’t played in an NHL playoff game for Toronto since 2017, but was a key part of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies’ Calder Cup run in 2018. That’s a far cry from the championship pedigree Muzzin brings to the group, as a Stanley Cup winner with the Los Angeles Kings.

So while everyone may be replaceable in theory, some elements aren’t transferable. In the high-stakes playoff series at hand, Toronto will have to thoroughly test its own perseverance.

“I think [his contributions] start with the off-ice aspect, in terms of being a leader,” Rielly said. “His playoff mentality, he has experience, he’s played in these games before so that’ll be missed. But I think on the ice, just playing tough minutes against the opponent’s top line, playing penalty kill minutes. He’s a big tough guy out there for us that blocks shots, leads by example. We’re going to miss him, but it’s an opportunity for guys to step up and take more responsibility and have an impact.”

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Oilers 50/50 sales close early with 'historic, record-setting' $5.4M-jackpot – CTV Edmonton

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EDMONTON —
Sales for the Edmonton Oilers’ online 50/50 closed eight hours earlier than expected after what the team is calling “historic, record-setting sales.”

After Monday’s total pot hit just over $3 million between 9 a.m. and the 10:30 p.m. deadline, Albertans bought $5,417,130 worth of tickets by 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“Our online 50/50 service provider continues to upgrade server capacity to improve fan experience,” the Oilers said. “The volume of purchasers has been unprecedented. You should expect improvements in the very immediate future as we chase yet another 50/50 record. We will work diligently to address the maximum ticket issue in advance of Friday’s game to give Oilers fans every opportunity to support the raffle.”

The winning number for the $2,708,565-jackpot, which the Oilers are calling a world record, will be posted online no later than 11:30 p.m.

The program supports the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.

The Oilers are facing the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:30 p.m. The best-of-5 series is tied 1-1.

Sales for Friday’s jackpot will go live at 9 a.m. Albertans can purchase tickets online. 

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