The Montreal Canadiens have overcome wave after wave of adversity in 2021.
From losing streaks to a COVID-19 shutdown to injuries and long odds throughout an improbable playoff run, these underdogs mustered a response each and every time their backs were pressed firmly against the wall.
A franchise in search of its 25th Stanley Cup, and Canada’s first since Montreal last hoisted hockey’s Holy Grail on a June night back in 1993, will have to dig far deeper than at any point in this trying year to keep that now-flickering dream alive.
The Canadiens face the daunting task of climbing a mountain that only one other NHL team has ever conquered — erasing a 3-0 deficit in the final. And it has to happen against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” winger Josh Anderson said as Montreal prepared for Monday’s Game 4 at the Bell Centre, which can be seen at 8 p.m. ET on CBC and CBCSports.ca. “Everyone’s going to be ready, I can tell you that.
“We’re not finished yet.”
As tough as the challenge is against a well-oiled opponent without weak links that pounces on mistakes with lethal precision, being written off is nothing new for a team left for dead time and again.
‘It’s been a difficult season’
After firing its coach in February and enduring a coronavirus outbreak in March, the battered and bruised Canadiens limped into the post-season with the NHL’s 18th-best record at the conclusion of its pandemic-shortened schedule.
Montreal looked done and dusted through four games of the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but down 3-1 in the series, won three straight against a heavily favoured adversary to take it in seven before a stunning sweep of the Winnipeg Jets.
The grinding Canadiens continued to roll against the Vegas Golden Knights — the league’s biggest third-round favourite in more than 30 years — and triumphed even after interim bench boss Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19, which forced him to watch his team from isolation for two weeks.
The Canadiens were once again a longshot in the final, but also quietly confident in their formula.
But here’s the problem: Tampa possesses its own blueprint for success and, except for Game 2 when Montreal probably deserved a better fate, has executed it to a T.
WATCH | Late turnover ends Habs late rally:
Now the Canadiens require another counterpunch or they’ll be saying their physically distanced goodbyes in short order.
“It’s been a difficult season,” Montreal defenceman Jeff Petry said. “It’s presented challenges throughout challenges in different ways.
“This is another one. I wouldn’t expect it any differently with the year we’ve had.”
Ducharme said his players, who are hoping to join the 1942 Leafs as the only team to come back from a 3-0 hole to win the Cup, will fight until their last breath.
“That group has grown stronger together throughout the moments, adversity, and facing those situations,” Ducharme said. “We show it every day. Sometimes we lose a game or it doesn’t go exactly like you wanted.
“But there’s one thing that’s for sure — it’s not a lack of trying, it’s not a lack of will.”
‘Our focus is to make sure we play the right way’
The Lightning, meanwhile, are on the cusp of capturing their second straight title, and third overall, after winning inside last year’s post-season bubble.
Tampa can become just the second team in 22 years to claim back-to-back championships — joining the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins — the first team to sweep the final since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings, and just the second visiting club to lift the Cup on Canadiens’ ice, following in the footsteps of the 1989 Calgary Flames.
“It becomes like a legacy thing,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of repeating. “It’s street cred for the guys, for the organization.”
Petry said denying Tampa that moment at the Bell Centre doesn’t provide any added motivation.
“We don’t want to see the Lightning win the Stanley Cup at all,” he said. “You’re not going to win four games by winning (Monday).
“Our focus is to make sure we play the right way a strong, hard game.”
‘One more job to do’
Down 2-0 in the series, the Canadiens fell behind 2-0 early Friday thanks to a series of errors, and faced a three-goal deficit before the second period was four minutes old. Outscored a combined 14-5 through nine periods of action, Montreal hasn’t led for a single second against Tampa.
“The adjustment is not major,” Ducharme said. “We know what we need to do and we know it’s about executing. It’s about executing under pressure. It’s about making those plays at the right time.”
WATCH | Caufield can make history with Cup win:
The Canadiens faced elimination three times against Toronto in the first round and survived.
Now some 5 1/2 weeks later — it feels a lot longer in this crazy playoff spring that’s morphed into an unlikely Cup final summer — they once again have zero room for error.
“Everybody in that locker room believes in each other,” Anderson said. “The guys have been through a lot this year. We stuck together and we made it this far.
“We’ve got one more job to do.”
Then they’ll have to do it three more times.
Kyle Lowry joining Heat after nine seasons with Raptors – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — Raptors star guard Kyle Lowry is headed to the Miami Heat.
Lowry put out a social media post to his more than 907,000 Twitter followers saying “Miami Heat X Kyle Lowry” and “Let’s Goo!!” followed by five fire emojis.
The post came less than 45 minutes after free agency officially kicked off Monday at 6 p.m. ET. Deals will not be considered official until noon Friday, with the Raptors saying they would have nothing to say until then.
Citing a source, The Associated Press reported Lowry had agreed to a three-year deal worth an estimated US$90 million in a sign-and-trade with Toronto that will send veteran point guard Goran Dragic and power forward Precious Achiuwa to the Raptors. There was no immediate word whether those players will stick in Toronto or head elsewhere in another thread to the deal.
A 15-year NBA veteran, the 35-year-old Lowry has spent the last nine seasons as a Raptor.
Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, the New York Knicks and Philadelphia had been seen as possible suitors come free agency. The debate over Lowry’s future had started prior to the trade deadline but he remained a Raptor, finishing out a difficult 27-45 season played in Tampa due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Lowry was seen as a key player in the free-agent guard sweepstakes, one of the first dominoes to drop and set the stage for future signings.
Several outlets reported that guard/forward Gary Trent Jr., is remaining with the Raptors after agreeing to a $54-million, three-year deal, with the third year a player option. The 22-year-old restricted free agent came to Toronto at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Norm Powell to Portland.
With Lowry’s contract expiring, it was the long goodbye for the star guard. In February, there were reports Lowry — who was in Tampa with the rest of the Raptors due to pandemic-relayed travel restrictions — had put his Toronto home on the market.
Then the March 25 trade deadline came and went.
As free agency approached, the Heat appeared to be making moves to pave the way to acquire Lowry in a sign-and-trade. They picked up the option on Dragic’s $19.4-million contract for the 2021-2022 season, which would help to make the numbers work in a deal.
Lowry is also said to be close to Heat star Jimmy Butler, who reportedly was nearing a contract extension with Miami.
“To be honest with you, my family will be a major factor in this,” Lowry said in his end-of-season media meeting in May, when asked about what will shape his decision on what’s next. “And also money talks and years talk and all that stuff. Let’s be real.
“I play this game for the love for the game. But at the end of the day I want to make sure my family is still taken care of for generations and for time to come. Even though they are now, I want to continue to be able to do that for my family.”
But the six-time all-star made it clear he is not ready to walk away from the game.
“Until that time comes, I still have a lot more to give, I have a ton of basketball left in me,” he said.
He also made it clear he wanted to play for a contender.
“I want championships, That’s always been the goal. Money comes with that and you get paid, but championships are a big key into why I play this game,” he said.
The Raptors will look to Fred VanVleet to take over as floor general.
Toronto drafted guard Malachi Flynn in the first round (29th overall) of the 2020 draft and last week took Canadian Dalano Banton (Nebraska, 46th) and fellow guard David Johnson (Louisville, 47th).
Lowry became the face of the Toronto franchise, a gritty combative guard who helped lead the team to the promised land in 2019 when it dispatched the Golden State Warriors in six games. He has made a career out of proving people wrong.
“I enjoy the challenge of people counting me out, counting the team out,” he said in May.
Scotiabank Arena became Lowry’s house. His two young sons were often in the Raptors dressing room, playing video games or just hanging out with dad.
On the court, Lowry was the Raptors’ conductor.
He averaged 17.2 points and 7.3 assists a game last season, when he was restricted to 46 games due to injury. Toronto finished out of the playoffs, in 12th spot in the East.
Listed at six foot and 196 pounds, Lowry makes his living in a land of giants. And he is willing to put his body on the line, with a league-leading 166 charges taken over the last five seasons.
Lowry was acquired by Toronto in a July 2012 trade with Houston that sent Gary Forbes and a protected future first-round draft pick (the Rockets eventually moved to the pick to Oklahoma City which used it to select centre Steven Adams) the other way.
“We feel we’ve added a solid starting-calibre point guard to our team who will bring toughness, grit and playmaking at a very important position,” then-Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said at the time. “At (26 years old), I would say Kyle represents what I would characterize as the future of the position.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 3, 2021
He was selected in the first round (24th overall) by Memphis in the 2006 NBA draft. Three years later he was dealt to Houston in a three-team trade that also involved Orlando.
Lowry is Toronto’s franchise leader in triple-doubles (16), three-points goals (1,518), assists (4,277) and steals (873). And with 10,540 points, he ranks second to good friend DeMar DeRozan (13,296) in the Raptors record book.
With 601 games and 20,813 minutes played in Toronto colours, Lowry is also second to DeRozan.
In January 2019, he added to his legacy by joining a select group with 5,000 career assists. Lowry found Serge Ibaka on a pick-and-roll and the big man beat Deandre Ayton to the hoop for a dunk in a 111-109 win over the Phoenix Suns.
“He’s been in the league a long time and he’s had the ball in his hands and got it to a lot of people,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said at the time.” Since I came here five-and-a-half years ago, it was the first thing I noticed — how he’d find the right guys to get the ball to. He really commands the offence and knows where to get it.”
Lowry’s pay was $30.5 million last season. According to HoopsHype, the Villanova University product has earned more than $190 million over his playing career.
Lowry is the latest member of the Raptors’ 2019 championship team to leave the fold. Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Norm Powell and Ibaka are among those who have already moved on.
Toronto Mayor John Tory paid tribute to Lowry, calling him “the greatest Raptor of all time.”
“He showed our city who we want to be. The fighter. The leader,” Tory said in a statement. “The player who’s got your back and leads the charge. Who takes the charge. Who falls down and gets back up. Again and again.”
Olympic high jumpers overcome with emotion after sharing gold medal – Yahoo Canada Sports
All Olympic athletes arrive at the Games with aspirations to perform their best and hopefully bring home some hardware.
In addition to fierce competition, however, the Olympics are a great platform to show the world the importance of sportsmanship.
On Day 9 of the Tokyo Games, fair play was on full display in the men’s high jump final between Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi.
Clearing 2.37m, both competitors successfully arrived at the 2.39m jump without any failed attempts. After Barshim and Tamberi fell short of making the jump three times apiece, an Olympic official approached the two, pitching that they compete in a jump-off to determine the winner.
What happened next, though, was truly a lasting moment of the 2020 Games.
“Can we have two gold?” Barshim asked.
The official green-lighted the request, which sent Barshim and Tamberi into pure euphoria.
“I look at him, he looks at me, and we know it. We just look at each other and we know, that is it, it is done. There is no need,” Barshim said, according to CBC.
“He is one of my best friends, not only on the track, but outside the track. We work together. This is a dream come true. It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit, and we are here delivering this message.”
What an amazing moment between two athletes at the absolute peak of their sport.
Belarussian Maksim Nedasekau, who also cleared 2.37, took home bronze via the countback.
The win marked the first gold medals for Barshim and Tamberi at the Olympics, and it created a moment that will last a lifetime.
More from Yahoo Sports
Belarusian sprinter 'safe and secure' in Tokyo hotel after plea to IOC for help – CBC.ca
A Belarusian athlete walked into a Polish Embassy in Japan on Monday, a day after refusing to board a flight at a Tokyo airport that she said she was taken to against her wishes by her team.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, will seek asylum in Poland, said a member of the local Belarus community who was in touch with her.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz wrote on Twitter that Tsimanouskaya has been “offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses.”
An activist group said the sprinter is applying for a visa. Vadim Krivosheyev of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said the group has bought her a ticket to Warsaw for Aug. 4.
Poland 🇵🇱 is ready to help Kryscina Tsimanouskaya a Belarusian athlete ordered by the Lukashenka regime to return form Olympic Games to Minsk. She was offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses.
Tsimanouskaya spent the night in an airport hotel after she went to Japanese police at Haneda airport seeking protection late on Sunday, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told a media conference. A number of agencies were in contact with the sprinter, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he said.
In a brewing diplomatic incident, both Poland and the Czech Republic publicly offered her assistance on Monday.
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“She has assured us she is safe and secure. We are talking again to her this morning to understand what the next steps will be,” Adams said. “We need to listen to her, find out what she wants and support her in her decision.”
The sprinter, who was due to race in the 200-metre heats at Olympic Stadium on Monday, had her Games cut short when she said she was taken to the airport to board a Turkish Airlines flight.
A removal order ‘from above’
She told a Reuters reporter via Telegram that the Belarusian head coach had turned up at her room on Sunday at the athletes village and told her she had to leave.
“The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me,” she wrote in the message. “At 5 [p.m.] they came my room and told me to pack and they took me to the airport.”
But she refused to board the flight, telling Reuters: “I will not return to Belarus.”
The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state.”
Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich told state television he “could see there was something wrong with her … She either secluded herself or didn’t want to talk.”
The IOC would continue conversations with Tsimanouskaya on Monday and the Olympics governing body had asked for a full report from Belarus’s Olympic committee, Adams said.
In response to a number of questions by journalists about what the IOC would do to ensure other athletes in the village were protected, the IOC spokesperson said they were still collecting details about what exactly occurred.
Earlier seeking asylum in Japan
A member of the local Belarusian community, who had been in contact with the athlete throughout the night, told Reuters that after long talks with various officials she had petitioned for asylum in Japan.
The Japanese government said the athlete had been kept safe while Tokyo 2020 organizers and the IOC checked her intentions.
“Japan is co-ordinating with relevant parties and continue to take appropriate action,” said chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato.
WATCH | Belarusian athlete says she was taken to airport against her will:
Poland’s Olympic committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said he considered the situation around the Belarusian “scandalous.”
“The Czech Republic is ready to help,” he tweeted. “We are offering her a visa to enter the territory so that she can apply for international protection with us. Our embassy in Tokyo is also ready to help.”
Tsimanouskaya’s refusal to board the plane, first reported by Reuters, highlighted discord in Belarus, a former Soviet state that is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko.
On Monday, the IOC spokesperson said it had taken a number of actions against Belarus’s Olympic committee in the run-up to the Games following nationwide protests in the country.
In March, the IOC refused to recognize the election of Lukashenko’s son Viktor as head of the country’s Olympic committee. Both father and son were banned from attending the Games in December.
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