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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
The Blue Jays are looking for a home
There seems to be some confusion out there about what happened with the Jays over the last few days and what it means. So here it is:
On Saturday, the Canadian government officially rejected the Blue Jays’ request to play their home games for the upcoming shortened season at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. This came a couple of days after a loosely worded TSN report saying the team had received “government approval” to host games at its home stadium. That report gave some people the impression that it was a done deal. But in fact, the Jays only had approval from the Ontario government, which was never in doubt. It was the federal government that still needed to give the green light — and ultimately decided not to.
Another source of confusion is why Canada won’t let the Jays play at home when it’s allowing the NHL to hold its playoffs in Edmonton and Toronto. The difference is that the NHL is setting up so-called “bubble” environments where players and staff are isolated from the general public and don’t move around. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, is having its teams play out of their home stadiums. That means the Jays and visiting teams from various American cities would have been coming in and out of Toronto over the next couple of months. That was the deal-breaker for the federal government.
So where do the Jays go now? Two places immediately came to mind: Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y. Both cities would allow the Jays to set up shop there, and both have their advantages, but both have drawbacks too. Dunedin is where the team’s spring-training headquarters are located, so the facility is familiar and has more big-league-calibre amenities than your typical minor-league park. But Florida is a notorious COVID-19 hotspot at the moment.
Buffalo has a low infection rate, is less than two hours down the highway from Toronto, and is home to the Jays’ triple-A affiliate. But its stadium is bush-league. The field itself is mostly fine, but major leaguers would not find the back-of-the-house stuff (clubhouses, indoor batting cages, etc.) up to their standards. Both Buffalo’s and Dunedin’s stadiums would also need lighting upgrades in order to host major-league night games. And there’s not much time to get that done.
So now the Jays are considering a stadium-sharing arrangement with another major-league team. Or teams. Judging by comments made to reporters over the weekend, this is what the players seem to want. Ideally, the Jays would play somewhere with a low infection rate that’s located in the eastern United States (all their games this season are against AL East or NL East teams).
It’s also important that the Jays’ schedule matches up well with anyone they’re sharing a stadium with. They can’t both be playing at home at the same time. For all these reasons, the Jays are reportedly eyeing Pittsburgh’s PNC Park (one of the best-looking ballparks in the game). But they’d still need to line up another stadium or two for the dates where their home games overlap with the Pirates’. Another option is hopping around between several parks, using whatever is available when the main tenant is on the road.
Whatever the Jays decide, they need to do it soon. Their first (and last) two exhibition games are Tuesday and Wednesday at Fenway Park. They open the regular season Friday night with the first of three games at Tampa Bay, followed by a pair at Washington, then the “home” opener on July 29. The clock’s ticking. Read more about the Blue Jays’ options here.
WATCH | Blue Jays’ Toronto plan denied by federal government:
The NFL is not special
While the pandemic battered nearly every sports league in the world — cancelled games, months-long hiatuses, millions in lost revenue — the richest one remained largely untouched. Save for having to scale down its annual draft spectacle and nix off-season minicamps, the NFL has barely sacrificed anything.
This was due almost entirely to lucky timing — the Super Bowl happened about a month before the pandemic really hit North America hard, and the 2020 season doesn’t open until early September. But, given the NFL’s vast resources and the fortune at stake in making sure the games kick off as scheduled, it seemed reasonable to assume the people in charge would parlay their stroke of good fortune into developing and executing the best possible plan for playing sports in the time of COVID-19.
Instead, it looks like they squandered much of their head start. Training camps are set to open in about a week, and the league and the players are still battling over return-to-play health protocols and economic issues — just like the NHL, NBA and MLB before them. Meanwhile, the NFL still hasn’t ordered teams to play in empty stadiums — the only sensible-looking option for months now. Many teams are still clinging to the hope of partial-capacity crowds, which seems overly optimistic at best.
Odds are the NFL season will kick off as scheduled on Sept. 10. Too many people in the U.S. want it too badly to expect otherwise. But it’s clear now that this league is not the well-oiled machine many assumed (or hoped) it was. Read more about the players’ concerns and how they voiced them with a Twitter blitz here.
Patrice Bergeron is up for the Selke Trophy for the ninth consecutive time. The Bruins star has won the award, for the best defensive forward in the NHL, four times during that span — most recently in 2017. The other two finalists this year are St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly, who won the Selke last year, and Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier, who has never won it. The shortlist for the Norris Trophy for top defenceman was also revealed today: Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, Washington’s John Carlson and Nashville’s Roman Josi. This is Carlson’s first nomination, and he appears to be the front-runner after leading all defencemen with 75 points in 69 games. Read more about the Norris and Selke finalists here.
Mackenzie Hughes is on a roll. The Canadian golfer finished tied for third a few weeks ago, and yesterday he tied for sixth at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament — one of the better events on the PGA Tour. That performance, which included a 67-foot putt that Hughes drained for a birdie, earned him a spot in this year’s U.S. Open. It also lifted Hughes to a career-best 75th in the world rankings. Spain’s Jon Rahm is the new No. 1 after winning the Memorial by three strokes. Read more about Hughes and watch him sink that long putt here.
Max Domi rejoined the Canadiens. The 25-year-old forward, who has Type 1 diabetes, was given an extra week to decide whether to participate in the NHL’s restart. Domi joined Montreal’s training camp today, indicating he’s decided to play. Domi had 17 goals and 44 points in 71 regular-season games for the Habs, who open a best-of-five playoff series vs. Pittsburgh on Aug. 1. Read more about Domi’s return here.
And in case you missed it…
The National Women’s Soccer League tournament got wild. The North Carolina Courage came into the Challenge Cup as favourites to win their third consecutive NWSL title, and they breezed through the preliminary stage with a perfect 4-0-0 record. The tournament’s only unbeaten team wasn’t expected to have much trouble with Friday’s quarter-final matchup against last-place Portland Thorns FC — the only winless team. But Morgan Weaver scored in the 68th minute to lift Portland to a stunning 1-0 upset that eliminated the defending champs. And that was just one of the quarter-final surprises: No. 7 seed Sky Blue FC and the 6th-seeded Chicago Red Stars joined No. 8 Portland in the semifinals. The only favourite to advance was the 4th-seeded Houston Dash, which beat 5th-seeded Utah. Adding to the drama, the Houston, Chicago and Sky Blue wins all came via penalty shootout. The semifinal matchups (Portland vs. Houston, Sky Blue vs. Chicago) are both Wednesday, and the final is Sunday.
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In the Habs Room: 'I heard it hit the crossbar,' Nick Suzuki says of last-minute shot – Montreal Gazette
Article content continued
The Canadiens went 0-for-12 on the power play during their qualifying-round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, so Weber’s goal could provide an important confidence boost for the team going forward.
“That is big, obviously, for the power play,” said Weber, who now has a team-leading three goals and five points in the five postseason games. “Hopefully that can build some momentum and we’ve been so good five-on-five already that we’d like to keep that up.
“But I think you always talk about big shifts after scoring a goal, last minute of a period, first minute of a period,” Weber added about Farabee’s goal. “Those are kind of the key moments. Definitely a little bit of a letdown there, but I still thought we responded well and even after that I still thought we had a pretty good second period, minus that.”
Midway through the third period, Canadiens coach Claude Julien juggled his lines, moving Max Domi up from the fourth-line centre role he played against the Penguins, putting him at right wing on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi at centre and Jonathan Drouin on left wing. The move almost paid off with less than two minutes left when Domi just missed setting up Kotkaniemi from behind the net for a great scoring chance in the slot. It looked like Kotkaniemi might not have been ready for the pass.
For Canadiens fans who were shaking their heads watching Domi play on the fourth line, their reaction to the move was probably: About time!
5 Things: Flyers vs. Canadiens Game 1 – NHL.com
#1 – Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-9, 89pts)
#8 – Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71pts)
at Scotiabank Arena | Toronto, Ontario
ROUND 1 – GAME 1: Series tied 0-0
TIME: 8:00 p.m. | TV: NBCSP | RADIO: 93.3 WMMR
Presented by: BELFOR PROPERTY RESTORATION
Season Series: 2-1-0
Playoff All-Time Record:
Series: 6 Series (3 wins, 3 losses)
Games: 31gp (15-16)
PHI – Travis Konecny (24g-37a): 61 pts
MTL – Tomas Tatar (22g-39a): 61-pts
1. THE FLYERS BUBBLE…
The Flyers are one of only two teams to have won all four games they have played since entering the bubble (Vegas)… They did not trail at any point and outscored their opponent by a 14-5 margin… In the three-game Round Robin the Flyers did not allow a goal in the opening period and allowed just ONE goal in the third period (T-1st in NHL) against all three teams above them in the regular season standings… The Flyers also received scoring from eight different players, none of which were the Top 5 goal scorers of their regular season… Scott Laughton led the Flyers and was the only Flyer to score in all four games of the Return to Play, posting six points (4g-2a).
2. THE CANADIENS BUBBLE…
The Canadiens enter the First Round having already gone through a playoff series with a 3-1 series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins… In that series, the Habs defense recorded a total of 10 points (4g-6a) in the four games, which accounted for 40% of their offense… All 10 of their goals were scored at even strength… D-man and team captain, Shea Weber, led the team in scoring with four points (2g-2a) in the four-game series… Montreal scored the first goal in all three of their wins and dropped their only game when allowing the first goal… The Habs led all teams in the Qualifier & Round Robin for the most hits (171), which was a full 25 more hits than the next closest team, and ranked 4th with the most blocked shots (73).
3. RANDOM ONES
Per the NHL, the team that wins the Game 1 of a best-of-seven series goes on to win the series 478 of 697 times (68.6%)… The Flyers have an all-time record of 32-39 in Game 1’s and have won 23 of 32 series when winning Game 1, and have lost 24 of 39 series when losing Game 1… They have dropped six of their last eight Game 1’s, including their last three… Both teams failed to score on the power play in the Round Robin or Qualifier Series with the Flyers going 0-for-11 and Canadiens going 0-for-12… The defense pairing of Philippe Myers (+6) and Travis Sanheim (+5) combined for a +11 rating, while the Montreal pairing of Shea Weber (+5) and Ben Chiarot (+6) also combined for a +11.
4. PAST & PRESENT
Since the NHL’s original expansion in 1967, the Canadiens have the most wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (266) with the Flyers ranking third (224)… This is the seventh all-time playoff meetings between these two and first since the 2010 Conference Final which the Flyers won in 5 games (4-1)… Of the six previous series, none have gone past six games and the Flyers have won three of the last four… These teams finished their season series with the Flyers winning twice, but the Habs secured a point in all three games, going 1-0-2, dropping both games in overtime… Eight different Flyers scored all eight goals and six Flyers had two points, while Tomas Tatar had three goals and five points in the three games and Phillip Danault had five assists and was a +4.
5. PLAYERS TO WATCH
FLYERS (G: #79 – Carter Hart)
Not including the exhibition game, Hart has won 13 of his last 16 starts dating back to Jan. 8 of the regular season, posting a 1.94 GAA and .933 save percentage with a 13-3-0 record… He went 2-0-0 in the Round Robin, allowing just two goals on 59 shots and stopped all 26 shots he faced in the third period… Hart won his only start against Montreal this year, stopping 22 of 24 shots
CANADIENS (G: #31 – Carey Price)
Price led the NHL for most starts in net this year (58) and was T-5th for the most wins, posting a 27-25-6 record and earned 87% of the Canadiens wins this season (27 of 31)… Price posted a 1-0-1 mark this year against the Flyers with a 1.98 GAA and .952 save percentage… Over the last five seasons, Price has posted an 8-2-2 record against the Flyers with a 2.23 GAA and .930 save percentage.
Canucks 5, Blues 2: Stecher scores memorable winner in series opener – The Province
Here’s what we learned as the Canucks claimed a 5-2 victory in the series opener at Rogers Place in Edmonton:
Be careful what you wish for.
From the outside, that was the advice to the Vancouver Canucks, but they obviously weren’t listening.
They made their first playoff appearance in five years on Wednesday night against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. And if you thought a club that iced numerous first-round newbies was going to succumb to the strength and stamina of a seasoned NHL champion, you haven’t been paying attention.
Whether it was getting better with each qualifying-round victory, or youthful skill and naiveté having as much impact as playoff-starved veterans, the Canucks are hungry for more. And a 2-0-1 regular-season record against the 94-point club should accelerate that appetite in the best-of-seven series.
However, these aren’t the Blues who couldn’t create urgency with an 0-2-1 mark in the lethargic and meaningless round robin portion of the post-season for seeding purposes. Nobody was going home. Nobody was selling out on every shift.
“They know what it’s all about,” Canucks coach Travis Green said in advance of Game 1. “There are no secrets how they play. It’s going to be a hard test and a good challenge, but I’ve said many times, when our team is challenged, you find out a lot about your group.
“And I’ve never had a doubt because they have a lot of belief in themselves.”
Here’s what we learned as the Canucks claimed a 5-2 victory in the series opener at Rogers Place in Edmonton:
STECHER PROVES PROPHET
Troy Stecher knows his contract status and that the Canucks have roster options next season.
It’s why the Richmond native wanted this playoff sojourn to mean so much after losing his father, Peter, on Father’s Day and knowing that his club had so much to prove.
“I’m aware of my situation and my contract is up at the end of the year,” he said before Game 1. “Who knows what is going to happen. I’m excited and want to take over and help this team win.”
And he did just that.
With the clubs locked in a 2-2 draw in the third period, Stecher let loose a slapper that beat Jordan Binnington between the arm and body. He then looked to the heavens and screamed in joy. Horvat then followed up with his second goal of the night on a bull rush, deke and stick-side snapper to close scoring.
For Stecher, the magnitude of his special moment was not lost on him or his teammates or his coach.
“It’s been tough at certain moments through this process,” Stecher said post game. “I’m thankful to be surrounded by my teammates and I had a couple of seconds to reflect on my dad. And the biggest thing was everybody showed their support on the bench instantly and motivated me to keep going.”
Elias Pettersson was the first to reach out. Stecher was already having a good night in a shutdown pairing with Alex Edler. The winning goal was a just reward for a guy who has given so much to the team.
“What he went through in the summer was devastating and I just wanted to hug him,” said the centre.
Jacob Markstrom and Zack MacEwen also lost their fathers this season, so the joy they felt for Stecher was obvious.
“Very emotional for him,” said Markstrom. “I know what he’s going through and it’s not easy. For him to show that kind of emotion, I was just so happy he got it (goal). I gave him a big hug after the game and to be rewarded with a goal in a big game with everything he has been going through is huge.”
MARKSTROM’S REST BEST
Two days off and two days of practice and video worked wonders for Markstrom.
He was sharp early and often and the starter had to be. The Blues kept coming, kept putting pucks through traffic and crowded his crease extra whacks after saves. And they studied video.
Zach Sanford tested the short side early before Markstrom made back-to-back saves off Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly, who tried to go 5-hole and score from the side respectively.
The Blues finally got to him when David Perron, who now has a dozen career goals against the Canucks, found a small opening on the glove side with a half-slapper slot effort on the power play. Jaden Schwartz then sped away on a breakaway — after Chris Tanev tried to play the puck at the opposition blue-line and then fell — before tucking a puck between the goalie’s pads on a deke.
Markstrom made a spectacular late left-toe save in which the puck was heading to the goalline but didn’t cross it as the Canucks clung to a 4-2 advantage.
“They kind of threw it in far side and they probably shot it for a rebound and I tried to kick it out and it hit Eagle (Edler) in the leg and back to the net,” recalled Markstrom, who finished with 29 saves. “It was kind of a desperation save and it went right to O’Reilly and we were quick to get a stick and he missed the net.
“They had a lot of pressure at the end and we were sacrificing a lot and blocking shots.”
POWER IN THEIR PLAY
The Canucks went 1-for-12 with the man advantage in the season series — a 5-on-3 — and managed 13 shots.
In their playoff opener, there were better entries, better passing and a few new wrinkles in striking three times on the power play. Horvat worked the bumper position to perfection to open scoring and found open ice to take a feed from Quinn Hughes in the slot and whip a shot home.
The Canucks struck again in the second period when Pettersson, who was playing down low on the first advantage, got to his sweet shooting spot on a rotation and whipped a shot high glove side while falling backward. J.T Miller scored the third late in the third period.
As for Horvat, the captain has taken his game to another level. His stride is stronger, his finish is better and his determination has never been higher — as he demonstrated on his bull-rush goal. He finished with four shots and six attempts and won 54 per cent of his draws.
“You need everybody to win, but you especially need the power play to produce in the playoffs and we’ve done a great job spreading the scoring around,” said Horvat. “Guys are stepping up at key times and you want to get up for the big games and be a difference-maker. Playing the Stanley Cup champs is easy to get up for and these are the moments you want to be in.”
Especially when the power play is clicking.
“All five of us are confident,” said Pettersson. “We practise it a lot and it’s a good weapon to have. It’s going to win us games.”
“The chemistry just continues to grow,” added Hughes. “We’re at a point where we all have our one, two or three plays and guys can react to what is going to happen. Guys are hungry to score and we’ve been dialled in.”
So has the captain. Whether at even strength, the power play or in a match-up situation, his elevated game was lauded by Green.
“He was a horse tonight and kind of found his game,” said Green. “He looks like he has the jump back and is strong on the puck and does a lot of things that a team needs to win. He’s playing at his best when he has that 200-foot game. And when his skating is going, he’s phenomenal and players go through that where they’re feeling really good on the ice.”
“He’s fast, confident and strong.”
THE MILLER MYSTERY
J.T. Miller didn’t take the warm-up as Adam Gaudette took line rushes with Pettersson and Brock Boeser but was then a late addition to the lineup at bottom of the roster card. He didn’t look quite right at the bench to start the game.
Whether the winger is a little dinged up or was sick, he proved fit enough to play with a strong first period. The club’s leading scorer started the passing sequence on the opening goal, won four of six faceoffs and logged the most minutes of any Canucks forward at 7:33. As for his absence in the warm-up, Green didn’t share much.
“I’m not going to go into detail,” he said. “He couldn’t get out for warm-up and obviously played the game, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
HUGHES IS TARGET
First is was Troy Brouwer mugging Hughes and then it was Perron.
The Calder Trophy finalist started getting extra attention in the second half of this shortened season and had to channel his anger. He learned that hacks and whacks come with the territory and as a dominant rookie who attacks, spins, shoots and drives the opposition crazy, the best revenge Wednesday was playing even better.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough — it’s a physical sport,” said Hughes, who logged 21:28 and had an assist, two shots and five attempts. “Honestly, it’s kind of an honour that they’re going to key on me and that’s how I take it. I know I have teammates who have my back. I just have to play my game to the best of my ability.”
Friday | Game 2
Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues
3:30 p.m., Rogers Place (Edmonton), TV: CBC, Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM
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