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Oilers’ comeback over Maple Leafs further cements growth of Nurse, Turris – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — At 31, Kyle Turris can see the end from here. He’s in the fight of his hockey life to push it back, to become a player that gets counted on again, the way he used to be through most of his 748-game career.

At 26, Darnell Nurse has found a new level. A place in the game he’s never been before, right there among the best defencemen in the National Hockey League. As he approaches his 400th game, he has figured out what so many said he would never solve.

Now the play builds when he carries the puck over the blue line, where it used to fizzle out.

Each player scored for Edmonton in a crucial, 3-2 overtime win at Toronto on Monday, Nurse solidifying himself as Edmonton’s No. 1 defenceman, Turris, jabbing his claws into that third-line centreman job that he lost early this season.

“We played a stronger second and a better third. We’re coming together as a team,” said Turris.

Nurse buried a shot on a two-on-one with Connor McDavid for the overtime winner, the kind of goal Turris used to score. Turris, meanwhile, had an Adam Larsson shot carom off his pants and into the Leafs goal — the exact type of goal that went off Nurse in overtime the previous game, when Auston Matthews’ shot ricocheted off his foot and past Mike Smith for a Leafs game-winner.

“That’ll be the joke, right? Two overtime goals, back-to-back,” Nurse chuckled. “It’s good to be on the other side of it this time.”

Nurse’s goal, his 12th of the season, makes him the leading goal scorer among NHL defencemen. He’s never scored more than 10 in a season — an 82-game season — and was always that defenceman who made the right play all the way to the offensive blue-line, but incrementally the wrong one, the closer he was to the opposing goal.

What’s changed?

“I’m generating more from the chances I have,” Nurse said. “Over the years I’ve found a way to get into good scoring positions, but I haven’t really capitalized. This year I’m getting myself back to those spots, and just shooting. We have great players on our team who find you when you get open. I just try to get to those spots.”

Turris is all in on getting back to those spots, areas on the ice and places in the game that he once owned but now rents, periodically.

He came here as a free agent, billed as the right-shot, third-line centreman that would round out the Oilers’ top-nine. With the trade deadline approaching, that GM Ken Holland is shopping for a right-handed third centre who can win faceoffs tells you all you need to know about how Turris’ season has gone.

“I know I have to play better, and I want to contribute more,” the likeable veteran said, happy to have scored — even if the puck went in off his butt, just his second goal of the season. “The timing of it has all been frustrating, but the bounce tonight, I feel like my legs are starting to come around… I know I need to play better, but I feel like I’m moving in that direction.”

Nashville thought Turris was done. That’s why they bought him out.

Then he came to Edmonton and played like Predators GM David Poile was right. Turris played his best game of the season, finally, on March 8. He went into COVID protocol and didn’t play again until Monday, where he matched up pretty well against a deep, good Maple Leafs team.

“I was happy for Turris. He’s gone through a lot,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “If anybody deserved to have one go in off his ass, it’s him.”

While we are slowly beginning to hear Nurse’s name tied to the 2022 Canadian Olympic team, Turris is another ineffective half-season away from the possibility of collecting two buy-out checks from two different teams. Everyone wants to see him succeed — that’s how well-liked Turris is within the game — but it comes down to production, and the veteran knows it.

Meanwhile, that third-line centre gig is still sitting there, waiting to be claimed. Or reclaimed.

“Yes,” Turris acknowledged. “Like I said, I know I need to play better. I didn’t have a good first however many games this season. I know what I can do, and I know what I can contribute. I just need to show everyone that I can.”

And isn’t it the same with his team?

The Oilers knew they could beat Toronto — they’d beaten them twice already this season — but the cold hard fact was that a loss on Monday and Toronto would be able to lord a five-game winning streak over Edmonton, should they meet in the playoffs.

Toronto was the better team in the game’s first half, and perhaps on the whole. But Mike Smith continued his renaissance season in goal, and stoned Matthews in overtime to create the rebound that went up ice and ended up in Toronto’s net.

It closes the season series at 6-1-2 for Toronto, 3-5-1 for Edmonton. But take away that three-game Leafs sweep in Edmonton, and you likely get a better picture of the parity between the two clubs.

“We look at the body of work,” Nurse said. “The six games that we played tight, hard, are more indicative of who we are as a team. They’re good games. You never know — you may be meeting late on in the playoffs.”

There was more on the line in this game than the Oilers were letting on. You knew it, they just wouldn’t say it.

“I sat here this morning and you all had questions about if we’re a team that was afraid to play in this type of series against this type of team,” Nurse told the media. “This shows what we’re capable of as a team.”

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

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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

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(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

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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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