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Quick Shifts: ‘Heart and soul’ Rielly pushes through pain for Maple Leafs –



A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. This week’s column was written while looking right and dekeing left.

1. Morgan Rielly has never played so many minutes.

And it’s never been more difficult for Rielly to play those minutes.


As the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ most-used and most-loyal defenceman told Jonas Sigel of The Athletic, he has battled “a pretty significant amount of pain” in his lower body while averaging a career- and team-high 23:53 every night for the Maple Leafs.

He’s had an MRI. He hasn’t skipped a game.

He’s taken multiple practices off, most recently an easy go during Thursday’s outdoor 3-on-3 exhibition at Nathan Phillips Square.

And he hasn’t grumbled once, at least publicly, as he’s watched friend and current partner Tyson Barrie take over his spot on the club’s lethal top power-play unit.

“Mo is a special guy, special player. He’s the heart and soul of this team. Guys love him in the room, and he’s battling some things, but he never complains about it,” Barrie said. “I love the guy, and I think everybody feels that way.”

Kasperi Kapanen echoes the sentiment.

“It just says he’s a pretty big warrior, and he’s just a really big part of our group,” Kapanen said. “That’s reason why he hasn’t been really skipping any games, and it’s huge for us. We need a guy like that on our team, and he’s a big presence in the locker room too. So, hats off to him.”

For months, Rielly, now the longest-tenured Leaf, has played his cards close to the chest — which is not a bad strategy under the Toronto microscope.

Hockey culture tells players not to make excuses. To suck it up when you’re not at your best, or — this week — when the best player on the planet posterizes you on national TV.

But for the first time in seven NHL seasons, Rielly has seen his personal results plummet.

It’s a result of a crazy-low shooting percentage (2.5); the aforementioned injury; the high standard he set in 2018-19’s breakout (which resulted in a high number of Norris, NHL All-Star and Lady Byng votes); the removal of a security-blanket partner in Ron Hainsey; and, now, decreased power-play time.

“It says just how committed he is to the team. That’s a big one. It speaks to his character and just the leadership,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said.

For all the justified press Keefe has received for boosting the non-Mike Babcock guys like Jason Spezza and Barrie, it’s worth noting that Rielly was a Babcock guy.

The former coach would never have demoted him to PP2.

“He’s a team-first guy and he’s out there doing everything he can for us, and we’re happy he’s feeling a little bit better these days. He’s an important guy for our team,” said Keefe, the one who had to tell Rielly to sacrifice his own assists for the sake of Barrie’s mojo.

“Right from my very first discussion with him, he’s recognized the importance of it in terms of getting Barrie more involved in what was happening and accepted that very well. And since then, his attitude towards it has been very good.

“He and Barrie have taken really good steps, with more consistency. Most importantly, Morgan with his attitude, has really shown that he really is about the team, but also recognizing, as I explained to him, that so many other things that he does are important for us, that lessening his load on the power-play may serve the greater good, and he recognizes that.”

2. The Frederik Andersen that smashed his helmet on the bench and got curt with a reporter following what he felt was a premature pull in the Leafs’ 6-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Monday night barely resembled the Andersen we saw at practice Tuesday morning. Chatty and happy, he held court with a few reporters for a good long stretch.

He’s a competitive man that hates to abandon the fight — but he flushed it fast.

Keefe typically allows goalie coach Steve Briere to do the bulk of communication. Keefe spoke to Andersen on the bench immediately after pulling him but understood that wasn’t enough.

So, the coach brought his No. 1 into his office prior to Tuesday’s practice to explain his decision: he didn’t like watching the players giving up the Grade-A chances that wear Andersen down, he wanted to grab the skaters’ attention and the club is trying to pick spots for backup Michael Hutchinson to pick up some slack and gain traction of his own.

“I just wanted to make sure I spent some time to elaborate on my brief conversation with him (on the bench). He was really good about it and understood it, recognizes it,” Keefe said. “If we’re going to talk about managing Freddy’s workload, I don’t see any reason why he should’ve been in the net anymore in that game.

“We’re trying to trying to get Freddy at a manageable number (of games played).”

Mitchell Marner was asked if he chooses to let his friend cool after an emotional loss like that or if he tries talking to him right away.

“I texted him (that) night asking if he wanted to play video games. But I think you kind of just let him calm down. We let him out to dry,” Marner replied. “It’s unfair to Freddy, the amount of times he saved us this year, to do that to him.”

The natural follow-up: Which video game?

“Nothing really one game. I got a couple. I’m not saying anymore because everyone just keeps messaging me asking me to play with them, so I’m keeping it dark now,” Marner said.

“He was actually playing a different game. I ain’t saying any games or anything.”

3. For 48 hours, the only thing hockey fans around Toronto wanted to talk about was Connor McDavid‘s goal. You know the one.

With his tour de force performance Wednesday, I couldn’t help but wonder if Auston Matthews almost took it a little personally that another superstar strolled into his building and ran the show.

Beast-mode Matthews is something to behold, and naturally his dying-seconds one-timer gained praise. But he nearly scored on a between-the-legs shot at speed.

This is a guy who has already twice attempted “The Svech” this season. He craves highlights, thrives off creativity.

Matthews also back-checked like a hound and had a game-high three takeaways in that game.

For all the scrutiny Matthews receives for his defensive game, the 22-year-old now has 50 takeaways. Only Selke finalist Mark Stone has more (63).

4. Some weeks I just feel extra lucky to have the job I do. This was one of them.

Seeing the McDavid goal unfold in real time Monday at Scotiabank Arena, then that exhilarating 3-on-3 exhibition between the Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday was a blessing.

As glowingly a review was made of that 3-on-3 OT, the ensuing shootout wasn’t too shabby.

Blake Wheeler‘s chin-strap-snapping, helmet-tipping celebration after foiling Andersen with a change of gears for the fourth-round winner was beautifully arrogant. I loved it:

Following the victory, Wheeler gave a nice, detailed account of his shootout strategy on that particular snipe:

“I saw with the first few guys, (Andersen) was playing pretty deep in the net, so I tried to show him a little bit of speed and back him off, and then slow down on him. Our goalies tell us all the time, ‘It’s so hard when you’re stopped on the goal line and you’re trying to read what’s coming next.’

“So, from there, I think the goalies are just trying to get big and take away the bottom part of the net, and you know that five-hole will get open. So I was able to sneak it through just quick enough.”

5. A nice touch by Wheeler ahead of Wednesday’s ceremonial puck drop.

With eight members of Team Canada’s golden world junior squad walking the blue carpet to drop a ceremonial puck at the Jets-Leafs one-anthem game, Winnipeg’s American captain suggested Kitchener, Ont.–born Mark Scheifele glide to centre ice in his stead.

“I was pretty happy to do that,” said Scheifele, who was glued to Sunday’s final. “It was pretty cool to see. It’s always awesome when Canada wins and pretty gutsy when by them.”

So you get a photo op with Akil Thomas & Co. plus Scheifele and Leafs captain John Tavares, who have four world junior tournaments and three medals between them.

6. It’s interesting that only five days prior to Peter Laviolette’s firing, he took time to explain his key to growing as a coach.

“If you’re passionate about what you do as far as being a coach, like if you love what you do and you’re passionate about what you do, that’s probably the best influence that you can have on your team,” Laviolette said.

“I’ve learned that players want to go out on the ice, and they want to work hard, and they want to have fun. I think your job as a coach is to let them do that. So that’s always been kind of a mindset for me: to do the best that you can to, to bring passion to the game to inspire people, to motivate people, and then let them go on the ice and have some fun.”

Maurice, the best dry wit in the biz, considered the list of respected coaches who’ve all lost employment this season, specifically lifers like Laviolette, Peter DeBoer and Mike Babcock.

“I’m concerned about the trend. They’re coming for you one day, right? All of us, no matter what, you’re going to get fired,” Maurice said.

“All three of those guys are coming back. The difference is now they’ve all got huge contracts that they’re sitting on at home and enjoying Christmas — and when they come back, they’re probably making more.”

7. Great final question by Jeff Marek to Maurice, wondering if there has ever been a ruling worth losing $20,000 over.

Better answer by the coach (watch below), who once bought a diamond for his wife with fine money he wanted to spend on blasting an official. Instead he bit his lip and named the diamond after the referee.

“True story,” he said.

8. Wild week for Igor Shesterkin, the highly anticipated New York Rangers goaltending prospect and presumed heir to The King’s throne. The Russian celebrated his 24th birthday, was named to the AHL all-star game and was victorious in his NHL debut (he won his second start, too).

The day he was called up from the AHL, Shesterkin ranked first in goals-against average (1.93), second in save percentage (.932), second in wins (15) and third in shutouts (3).

He could no longer be denied, and the Rangers must see what they have in the 24-year-old ahead of the trade deadline.

As a result, we have ourselves an intriguing crowded-crease dilemma.

Henrik Lundqvist won’t be going anywhere, and 23-year-old backup Alexandar Georgiev (career .913 save percentage) is no longer waivers exempt.

Georgiev is the final season of a cap-friendly deal ($792,500) and surely would get scooped if he hit the wire.

This is a spicy one.

Lundqvist starts Saturday versus the St. Louis Blues, Georgiev backs up and Shesterkin wears the civvies.

The Rangers are a step below the Metropolitan powers and should be sellers. It’ll be fascinating to watch GM Jeff Gorton’s next move.

9. The Svech is having a trickle-down effect, folks. Here’s betting we’re going to see two of these a season throughout the 2020s.

10. When the Jets cruised through Madison Square Garden last season, Maurice threw three of his most dangerous weapons — Scheifele, Wheeler and Kyle Connor — over the boards for puck drop.

Rangers coach David Quinn countered with Marc Staal… “and some kid named Pionk,” Maurice recalls. “And I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be really good for us,’ and we’re down 3-0 after two. Who is this kid? We had a look at him up close there.

“You’re walking off the bench thinking, ‘Who the hell is Neal Pionk? And why’s he shutting down our No. 1 line?’ ”

Since trading cap-crunching Jacob Trouba for Pionk in the off-season, the Jets have been “exceptionally pleased” with their unsung return.

Despite getting thrown together with a mixture of D partners and having his fitness tested by a career-high usage (23:18), the consistent Pionk is posting personal bests in points (29), plus/minus (+5) and Corsi (51 per cent).

Maurice uses the name Joshua Morrissey when describing Pionk’s puck-moving style. Anytime you’re being compared to the club’s best defenceman, it’s a pretty good look.

11. We’re past the halfway mark, and potential Hall of Famer Phil Kessel has nine goals, 18 assists and is a team-worst (by a mile) minus-18 for the Arizona Coyotes. Only three of his goals have arrived at even strength, and he’s on track for his worst stat line in 12 years.

Sure, an 8.7 shooting percentage explains some of the drop-off, but yikes.

12. The Maple Leafs held a skills-only session Tuesday, splitting their forwards and defencemen onto two separate pads.

At one point, six coaches were working with the six Maple Leafs defenders on breakouts and puck retrievals — a student-to-teacher ratio that would embarrass the Toronto District School Board.

“The more the better, especially when working with smaller groups like that,” Keefe said of his posse of helper elves. “We’re very fortunate to have development coaches with very good expertise and experience, some beyond what we focus on as coaches every single day. So it’s a different voice and, in some cases, a more specialized voice in terms of what they what they’re working on.”

In the slog that is 82-game grind, Keefe believes skills development can give his group both a mental and physical break from the constant talk of systems. Plus, when all the drills are 5-on-5, individuals don’t get as many puck touches.

Marner describes it as an energizing reset.

“It’ll show up in games and make a big difference,” Justin Holl added. “Even though we’re at highest level, there’s things we need to improve upon, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing it.”

There is a benefit to introducing new skills as well as refining and reinforcing basic ones, like making quick pulls off the boards for a fast first pass.

“Those details get lost over the course of the season,” Keefe said. “(When) you’re always working at big-picture things and structural things, always working with five players together, you lose the detail.

“It’s a time to really identify certain areas of the game that important or it’s just about getting the players a lot of feel, a lot of touches in a short amount of time.”

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Heat ride 17-5 run in 4th quarter to draw even with Nuggets in NBA Finals – CBC Sports



Staring down a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals, as the visitors in a hostile arena where no road team had prevailed in more than two months, the Miami Heat decided to do what they’ve done throughout the post-season.

They found a way. Against all odds. Again.

The Heat tied the NBA Finals and had to overcome a monster 41-point effort from Nikola Jokic to do it. Gabe Vincent scored 23 points, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each had 21 and Heat beat the Denver Nuggets 111-108 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

“Our guys are competitors,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They love these kind of moments.”



They were down by as many as 15 points, down eight going into the fourth, and those numbers signified they were going to lose. Denver was 11-0 in these playoffs when leading by double digits at any point in a game, and 37-1 this season overall when leading by at least eight going into the fourth.

The Heat didn’t care. They outscored Denver 17-5 in the first 3:17 of the fourth to take the lead for good, eventually went up by 12, then frittered most of it away and had to survive a 3-point try by Jamal Murray as time expired.

“This is the finals,” Adebayo said. “We gutted one out.”

Game 3 is Wednesday in Miami.

Max Strus scored 14 and Duncan Robinson had 10 — all of them in the fourth — for the Heat, who had a big early lead, then got down by as many as 15. They had no answers for Jokic, who was 16 of 28 from the floor, the last of those shots a 4-footer with 36 seconds left to get the Nuggets within three.

Denver elected not to foul on the ensuing Miami possession and it paid off. Butler missed a 3, and with a chance to tie, Murray missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“I just contested it,” Butler said. “Pretty glad that he missed it.”

‘Let’s talk about effort’

Denver lost at home for the first time since March 30, and for the first time in 10 home playoff games this year. And just as he did after a Game 1 win, Nuggets coach Michael Malone sounded the alarm after a Game 2 loss.

“Let’s talk about effort,” Malone said. “I mean, this is the NBA Finals and we’re talking about effort. That’s a huge concern of mine. You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. … This is not the preseason. This is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals.”

The Kitchener, Ont., native Murray had 18 points and 10 assists for Denver, while Aaron Gordon had 12 points and Bruce Brown scored 11.

“They just played hard, and like I said, it was more discipline,” Murray said. “It’s defeating when you’re giving up mistake after mistake, and it’s not them beating you, you’re giving them open dunks or open shots. That’s tough to come back from.”

WATCH | Kitchener, Ont., cheering on Murray:

Canadian NBA star Jamal Murray gets hometown love in Kitchener, Ont.

14 hours ago

Duration 1:56

Fans in Canadian basketball star Jamal Murray’s hometown of Kitchener, Ont., are ecstatic as he and the Denver Nuggets drive for a historic NBA championship victory over the Miami Heat.

Strus, who was 0 for 10 in Game 1, had four 3-pointers in the first quarter of Game 2. Butler made a jumper with 4:56 left in the opening quarter to put Miami up 21-10, tying the second-biggest lead any opponent had built in Denver so far in these playoffs.

In a flash, it was gone — and then some.

The Nuggets outscored Miami 32-11 over the next 9 minutes, turning the double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead thanks to an absolute 3-point barrage.

In a 70-second span early in the second quarter, Denver got four 3s — more points than Miami got in that entire 9-minute stretch — and they came from four different players: Brown, then Jeff Green, then Murray, then Gordon.

Boom, boom, boom, and boom. Murray had five straight points to end the flurry, and Denver led 44-32 when it was over. It looked like everything was going Denver’s way.

Miami insisted otherwise. And for the 44th time this season, the Heat won a game by five points or less. None of them was bigger than this one.

“When it comes down to the wire,” Vincent said, “we’re strangely comfortable.”

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Montreal Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to eight-year contract extension – Habs Eyes on the Prize



The forward re-signs with the team for the maximum length.

Montreal Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to eight-year contract extension
Anton Rasegard

The Montreal Canadiens have signed forward Cole Caufield to an eight-year contract extension, the team announced on Monday.

The contract will have an average cap hit of $7.85 million per season, just under the AAV for the same length of contract signed by team captain Nick Suzuki last year. The contract will last until the end of the 2030-31 season.

Caufield finished last season with 26 goals, and held the team lead in that category for most of the season despite playing only 46 games before undergoing shoulder surgery. He also had 10 assists.

The contract now locks in the two franchise cornerstones Caufield and Suzuki for the maximum length and cap hits under $8 million. It’s a good bit of business for Kent Hughes to get this done before free agency, and has the potential for great cap management as the years go by.

In the sixth year of the contract, per CapFriendly, there is a 15 team no-trade clause that drops to 10 teams in year seven and five in year eight.

Patrik Bexell, Matt Drake, and Jared Book discuss the contract in a special Habsent Minded Extra.

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Blue Jays’ Chris Bassitt announces birth of child to cap ‘perfect weekend’



The Toronto Blue Jays had a memorable few days in New York, thanks to a three-game sweep of the Mets, but that’s not the biggest reason starting pitcher Chris Bassitt is all smiles these days.

Bassitt and his wife, Jessica, welcomed their second child over the weekend, with the veteran right-hander reporting that both mother and baby are doing well.

“Perfect weekend complete,” Bassitt wrote on Twitter. “Momma and Colson are doing great.”

Jessica went into labour Friday, while her husband took his normal turn in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Bassitt channelled all of his “dad strength” in that outing against the Mets, firing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts in a 3-0 Toronto win. In a cruel twist from the universe, the start of the game was delayed more than 90 minutes due to inclement weather.


Once his outing was over, Bassitt rushed back to Toronto via private plane to be with Jessica for Colson’s birth. He made it in plenty of time, tweeting Saturday morning that the baby hadn’t arrived yet.

The 34-year-old will now be able to enjoy a few days with his family, as the Blue Jays placed him on the paternity list Saturday. Reliever Jay Jackson took his place on the 26-man roster.

Blue Jays pitcher Chris Bassitt dominated the Mets in his outing Friday. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Blue Jays pitcher Chris Bassitt dominated the Mets in his outing Friday. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Bassitt’s Blue Jays teammates gave him even more reason to cheer by eking out a 2-1 victory Saturday before getting the brooms out with a 6-4 win in the series finale.

Brandon Belt was the hero Sunday, connecting for a go-ahead, two-run home run in the seventh inning after Toronto squandered an early 4-0 advantage. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also went deep for the Blue Jays, while Whit Merrifield delivered a two-run double in the second inning.

Next up, Toronto welcomes the Houston Astros to Rogers Centre for a four-game series that begins Monday. Bassitt is listed as the probable starter for Wednesday’s contest.



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