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Raptors-Nets preview: Guarding Caris LeVert, and why Pascal Siakam should feast – Yahoo Canada Sports

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The Toronto Raptors will play the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs. The Nets are essentially a band of strangers, as COVID-19 and long-term injuries sidelined just about every recognizable name on the roster. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and Spencer Dinwiddie will all be watching from home.

Having said that, the Nets won’t go down without a fight. Brooklyn won five of its eight seeding games, including victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers, and they finished second in assists among all teams inside the bubble. Although they are comically shorthanded, the Nets are fast, play together and carry themselves with confidence. Even if the Raptors take the series quickly, it will still be a hard-fought effort.

Here’s four things to know about Raptors-Nets:

Pascal Siakam should feast

Siakam’s struggles were a running theme throughout the seeding games, as he averaged 17 points on 39 percent shooting while recording as many turnovers as assists. Outside of a 26-point performance against the Memphis Grizzlies, it was a struggle for Siakam to establish his rhythm. With Kawhi Leonard gone, the expectation is for Siakam to fill in as the go-to scorer, and it’s mildly concerning that he looks so rusty.

This series against the Nets is an opportunity for Siakam to get right. Brooklyn has a very obvious weakness on defence, and it’s on the wing. They lack a defensive stopper to compete with the premium point forwards in the league, and it was evident inside the bubble. Leonard had 39, while Giannis Antetokounmpo shot 7-of-8 and finished with 16 points in the first half before resting thereafter. Against the Celtics, each one of Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown had 18 or more.

Siakam should have his way against Brooklyn. Their top choice to guard Siakam will be Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, who is short two inches and 30 pounds against Siakam. Their next-best option is Caris LeVert, who is scrappy and strong for his frame, but again is woefully undersized. Physically frail reserves like Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs won’t fare much better.

Because they are so small, the Nets will double Siakam with regularity. The Raptors should try to establish him in the post, draw the help, and use their passing to create an open look. They won’t need to use Siakam as much on the perimeter, where he is also capable. Oddly enough, it’s not the jumpshot that is the problem for Siakam. He’s shooting 36 percent from deep on six attempts per game, which is exactly where he stood before the shutdown. The issue is that Siakam seemed to lose his touch around the basket.

Pascal Siakam largely struggled in eight seeding games.

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Pascal Siakam largely struggled in eight seeding games.

With all due respect to the Nets, the goal for Siakam should be to reestablish his confidence and rhythm for the second round and beyond. Everything so far looks to be a bit loose — his jumpers are missing at odd angles, his handle isn’t compact — and that will need to change when the Raptors run into more formidable defences. Their second round opponent will likely be the Boston Celtics, who finished the year as the fourth-best defence in the league. Siakam needs to be as sharp as possible heading into that series.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 12: Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors drives to the basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 12, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 12: Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors drives to the basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 12, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

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Pascal Siakam should feast against the Nets. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen run a slick two-man game

Brooklyn’s leading scorer is LeVert, who earned second-team honours inside the bubble. LeVert is very talented as a scorer, but the Nets’ best offence has actually come from the two-man game between sharpshooter Joe Harris and lob target Jarrett Allen.

Harris has been doing his best Klay Thompson impersonation in the restart, scoring 20 points per game on 62 percent shooting from the field and 54 percent from deep. He’s not your average standstill shooter who just waits in the corner or comes around the occasional screen — Harris is showing that he’s a versatile scorer who can hit from everywhere. Harris is launching six threes per game, same as before the shutdown, but the uptick in his scoring is in the midrange and around the basket. Harris is catching defenders off guard by driving past the closeout and either stopping on a dime for the free-throw line jumper, or getting all the way to the hoop where he is a strong finisher despite not being particularly athletic. Harris stands 6-foot-6 and has good touch around the basket to finish at odd angles.

Harris is especially dangerous in tandem with Allen. The closest comparison would be how Joel Embiid and J.J. Redick used to operate with the Philadelphia 76ers. They split defence apart by pulling in opposite directions, with a lethal shooter in Harris stretching to the arc, while the 7-foot Allen drags defenders to him with the lob threat. Most of the Nets’ best plays sees Harris pitching the ball to Allen, reading the play, and taking what the defence gives them from there.

Allen is not your average roll man. He’s also a fairly clever passer, especially in finding the backdoor cutter. Defences often sag off Allen because he can’t shoot, but the Nets specifically look to exploit that space either by having Harris come off screens to shoot with no help defender in the picture, or by using that space for Allen to pick out passers.

Fortunately, the Raptors are well equipped to guard this action given their experience with Redick and Embiid last season. Marc Gasol is a master at pressuring on the perimeter, while also not giving up anything open in the paint. The Raptors can also assign either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet on Harris on the perimeter. Although Harris would have the height advantage, the Raptors should be able to pressure him on the ball and force turnovers since Harris isn’t much of a dribbler.

It would be great if Marc Gasol could score

“Skinny Marc” hasn’t really delivered an uptick in scoring as many had hoped for. Gasol averaged seven points in 21 minutes per game inside the bubble, and played the same role of recycling possessions as a screener and playmaker outside the three-point arc. He looked more balanced on his loopy turnaround jumpers out of the post, but those remain infrequent, about one or two every night.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This isn’t a series where the Raptors need Gasol to score, as there will be enough gaps in the defence for Siakam, Lowry, VanVleet, and Norman Powell to attack. But it would be nice if Gasol could capitalize, especially from outside the arc. Based on how the Nets guarded in the season series, they will have their centre dropped back deep inside the paint, which leaves Gasol open for the shot if he wants to take it. Gasol had his second-highest scoring output of the season (17) in his one and only outing against the Nets, and most of his success came on open threes. Gasol also has a significant size advantage against Allen, and there is the option to pummel him in the post.” data-reactid=”81″>This isn’t a series where the Raptors need Gasol to score, as there will be enough gaps in the defence for Siakam, Lowry, VanVleet, and Norman Powell to attack. But it would be nice if Gasol could capitalize, especially from outside the arc. Based on how the Nets guarded in the season series, they will have their centre dropped back deep inside the paint, which leaves Gasol open for the shot if he wants to take it. Gasol had his second-highest scoring output of the season (17) in his one and only outing against the Nets, and most of his success came on open threes. Gasol also has a significant size advantage against Allen, and there is the option to pummel him in the post.

This is also a good chance for Serge Ibaka to rediscover his form. Ibaka struggled mightily in the seeding games, averaging eight points on 42 percent shooting as the anchor of the second unit. The Nets don’t even really have a backup centre, with 6-foot-9 undrafted rookie Donta Hall as the reserve, and Ibaka should have his way. In four regular season meeting, Ibaka averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds against Brooklyn, and that was when they still had Jordan to match him.

Put OG Anunoby on Caris LeVert

LeVert is enjoying life as a No. 1 option, with averages of 25 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. His breakout moment was in their eighth game, when LeVert matched Damian Lillard shot for shot as part of a stellar 37-point, nine-assist performance that threatened to keep the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers out of the playoffs.

LeVert has always been a talented scorer, and he’s not doing anything new besides taking more shots. Raptors fans will remember his 37-point outburst in February that threatened to end Toronto’s 15-game win streak, one in which LeVert led a furious comeback before he was stopped by OG Anunoby on the final possession. When Brooklyn finally beat the Raptors a few days later, LeVert led the way with 20 points and four steals.

What makes LeVert special is his physicality and aggressiveness. He’s great at getting downhill to the basket, with or without a screen. Once he gets penetration, LeVert is tough to stop. He’s tricky with the handle and can attack going left or right, he’s clever with his fakes and his footwork, he’ll mix it up with a healthy dose of midrange pull-ups to go with a steady diet of hard drives to the rim, and most of all, he’s very strong for his size. LeVert makes a living by bumping into his man, freezing the defender to get his shot off, or drawing the contact and getting to the line.

For this reason, the Raptors should assign Anunoby to LeVert. Right away, it neutralizes most of his advantages. Anunoby is two inches taller and has 30 pounds on LeVert, so he’ll be able to hold his ground on LeVert’s bully-ball rushes to the rim. Anunoby also has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and will be able to contest most of LeVert’s jumpers. Anunoby’s strength will also deter LeVert from posting up on the left block, where he is dangerous as a face-up threat similar to DeMar DeRozan.

LeVert might wriggle free a few times because he’s quicker, but Anunoby should be fine so long as he eventually gets back into the play. LeVert has never been a great three-point shooter (26 percent in the bubble, 34 percent for his career) and it’s a win for the defence if he settles for outside shots. Where he becomes dangerous is when he draws a third defender to him at the basket, because LeVert also has the awareness to find the open shooter when help defenders close in.

Series prediction

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="With all due respect to the Nets, they just don’t have the firepower to pull off an upset. They can get hot from deep and steal a game because they share the ball and have willing shooters on the wing, but the Raptors are too experienced and have far too much size for the Nets to beat. Prediction: Raptors in 5.” data-reactid=”92″>With all due respect to the Nets, they just don’t have the firepower to pull off an upset. They can get hot from deep and steal a game because they share the ball and have willing shooters on the wing, but the Raptors are too experienced and have far too much size for the Nets to beat. Prediction: Raptors in 5.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="More Raptors coverage on Yahoo Sports Canada” data-reactid=”93″>More Raptors coverage on Yahoo Sports Canada

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Craig Anderson’s time in Ottawa comes to an end – TSN

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A few minutes into Wednesday’s video conference call with reporters, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion mentioned the club would not be offering a contract extension to veteran goalie Craig Anderson.

It was a low-key, modest announcement – almost a throwaway nugget of information in a session dominated by talk of the upcoming NHL Draft and the opening of free agency.

But in a strange twist, it was the perfect exit for the netminder who never sought the limelight of the No. 1 goalie job in a Canadian market. The 39-year-old would not have wanted a splashy farewell press conference or an emotional goodbye with fans and media.

At some point, Anderson should get an opportunity to re-connect with the Ottawa fan base for an emotional evening. His Senators resume, which boasts more than 400 games and 200 wins, has certainly etched his name as a future addition to the club’s Ring of Honour inside Canadian Tire Centre.

But beyond the dominating statistical profile – which includes virtually every meaningful goalie record in franchise history – Anderson singlehandedly transformed the way Ottawa fans viewed the position in their own market

Prior to Anderson’s arrival, Senators fans often felt nervous about their situation in the crease. Ottawa had earned the reputation of being a goalie graveyard – a place where netminders melted under the pressure of playing in a hockey-mad market.

There was Patrick Lalime’s infamous Game 7 meltdown against Toronto.

The ill-advised, splashy free agent signing of Martin Gerber.

The tumultuous tenure of Ray Emery.

The injury-plagued career of Pascal Leclaire.

Even Stanley Cup-winning goalies such as Tom Barrasso and Dominik Hasek couldn’t seem to shake the curse.

Ottawa was a place that offered job security for public service workers, not goaltenders.

But when Bryan Murray pulled off a trade in February of 2011, sending Brian Elliott – himself a victim of Ottawa’s haunted crease – to Colorado for Anderson, all of that changed. 

In many ways, Anderson’s departure from Ottawa was as understated as his arrival.

Murray brought in Anderson for a test drive – hoping that he could convince the pending free agent to sign with the Senators before hitting the market in the summer of 2011.

Anderson immediately endeared himself to Ottawa fans, posting a 47-save shutout in Toronto on a Saturday night in his first start in a Senators jersey.

Anderson sparkled in his first stint with the Senators down the stretch of the 2010-11 campaign, with an 11-5-1 record and a .939 save percentage. Some fans grumbled that Anderson’s stellar play in that run cost the club the first-overall draft pick – ultimately dropping them down to the sixth spot.

But in hindsight, that was a small price to pay to land a franchise goalie.

For almost a decade, Anderson was the epitome of cool and calm in a tumultuous environment that would have tested the mental resolve of any netminder. While the roster was overhauled around him multiple times, Anderson never once publicly demanded a trade to a better situation, even as veteran teammates were being jettisoned all around him.

Anderson was at his best in the playoffs, establishing himself as a reliable postseason netminder. In 41 career playoff games with Ottawa, he boasted a .928 save percentage – a metric that should have earned him more than just one trip to the conference final.

He held his own in playoff series against the likes of Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist – goalies with Hall of Fame resumes who made nearly double what Anderson was being paid.

Even when his team would lose a playoff series with Anderson in net – and they did on four different occasions – nobody pointed a finger at the goaltending position. It was a stark departure from the previous playoff meltdowns in Ottawa, where the No. 1 goalie was often the prime culprit.

But when Ottawa fans think of Anderson’s signature performance with the club, their minds don’t immediately jump to a high-stakes playoff game.

Instead, most Ottawa fans remember the night of Oct. 30, 2016, when Anderson posted a 37-save shutout against the Edmonton Oilers. With the hockey world aware that his wife, Nicholle, was battling cancer, Anderson turned aside every Edmonton shot during the game – then had to turn aside tears as he was feted by the Edmonton crowd afterwards.

The image of his Oilers counterpart Cam Talbot cheering him on the bench remains one of the most powerful moments in Senators history.

Anderson authored so many memorable moments in the blue paint in Ottawa, but none come close to having the impact of that singular start in Edmonton four years ago.

In the months that followed, Anderson cemented his status as a fan favourite – ultimately taking the Senators to double-overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against Pittsburgh that spring.

You would be hard-pressed to find a Senators fan who put any blame on Anderson for the Chris Kunitz game-winning goal, which serves as a firm reminder of how far the pendulum has swung when it comes to goaltending in Ottawa.

Before Anderson came along, it would have been unfathomable for the Senators to suffer a crippling Game 7 loss without a significant share of the blame landing on the goaltender’s shoulders.

But over the course of a decade Anderson managed to change the narrative on goaltending in Ottawa –  a feat that is more impressive than anything on his goaltending resume.

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Lightning, Stars resume punishing Stanley Cup Final as Stamkos nears return – Sportsnet.ca

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Steven Stamkos has been out so long, there’s probably a “believe it when I see it” element to his potential return for fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The coach of the Dallas Stars, however, is operating on the assumption No. 91 could be cocking his stick from the top of the circle any moment now.

“I bumped into him the other day in the hallway,” Stars bench boss Rick Bowness said with a chuckle before Wednesday night’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. “When I see him walking out to the ice surface in full gear, I know where he’s going and he can’t be that far away [from playing]. We’re prepared.”

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

Tampa coach Jon Cooper said his team’s captain is “inching closer” to skating in his first NHL game since Feb. 25. While acknowledging a lot would go into Stamkos’s return in terms of shaking the rust, Cooper also emphasized the obvious: Put a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner back in the lineup and it’s bound to move the needle.

“He’s a threat,” Cooper said. “So he’s just another thing for a team to think about when he’s out there. Whether that’s on the power play or five-on-five, you get another player who, if the puck gets on his stick in the offensive zone, it might go in the net.”

Preventing the Bolts from scoring in Game 3 could actually get easier for the Stars. Regardless of whether or not Stamkos comes back, Dallas will be the home team for the first time in the 1-1 series, giving Bowness the last-change advantage of lining up his preferred defence pair against whoever Tampa is throwing at him.

“We’ve always put more emphasis on getting the right D out there [compared to matching forward lines],” Bowness said. “Some of these matchup decisions are based on score, time on the clock, if you need a goal you put your offensive guys out. A lot of factors come into play, but the constant one will be getting the right ‘D’ out there against the top lines.”

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One person Bowness hopes can become a tougher defensive matchup for the other squad is his leading goal-scorer from the regular season, Denis Gurianov. The 23-year-old Russian — though still second on the team with nine playoff goals — has hit the net just once in his past 10 outings. He played fewer than 11 minutes in Game 1 and just over 13 in Game 2.

“Nervous,” is how Bowness assessed Gurianov’s play from the most recent contest. “He was nervous.”

When people aren’t speculating about the possibility of a Stamkos sighting, much of the talk through two games has been on how punishing the series has been as both games featured over 100 hits apiece. Early in Game 2, superstar Tampa right winger Nikita Kucherov took a couple of serious knocks before setting up a pair of goals in his side’s 3-2 win. Dallas’s Blake Comeau was rocked by Ryan McDonagh in the second period and did not return. Bowness said Comeau is a game-time decision for Wednesday’s tilt.

Tampa’s Tyler Johnson was asked if the suppressed existence everyone is experiencing with bubble life could be contributing to the nastier scene once the puck drops, as the teams kick off a particularly gruelling stretch of three games in four nights.

“I think everyone is [feeling] couped up a little bit, so you let your anger out on the ice,” Johnson said, perhaps only slightly kidding. “Going into this, I think a lot of people [were wondering] what the playoff hockey would be like: I think the questions have been answered that the guys are competing and working hard and it’s been physical and guys are doing everything they can to win.”

Few in the league have a longer history of mixing it up when it matters most than Dallas veteran Corey Perry. Back in the Final for the first time since winning a ring with the Ducks in 2007, Perry had no trouble identifying the root of the acrimony.

“We’re battling for the Stanley Cup — plain and simple,” he said. “Nobody is going to give you any room on the ice, you’re going to have to earn it. They’ve been here before and we have some guys in our room who have been here before, so we know what it takes as well.”

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3 Keys: Lightning vs. Stars, Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final – NHL.com

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Lightning vs. Stars

8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

Best-of-7 series tied, 1-1

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars each will try to take a step toward winning the Stanley Cup when they play Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday.

The Lightning evened the best-of-7 series with a 3-2 win in Game 2 on Monday after the Stars’ 4-1 victory in Game 1.

The winner of Game 3 when a best-of-7 Final is tied is 22-7 (75.9 percent) in the series. 

“We now are in a best three-out-of-five to win the Stanley Cup,” Dallas coach Rick Bowness said. 

The Stars are 6-2-0 following a loss this postseason, including 5-1 when goalie Anton Khudobin starts. Khudobin is expected to make his 10th straight start.

The Lightning have not won back-to-back games since Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Islanders, going 3-3 in their past six postseason games. 

Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos could make his postseason debut. The forward, who hasn’t played since Feb. 25, sustained a lower-body injury before the Lightning returned in July for training camp in advance of the postseason.

“There’s a lot of things that are going to have to go into this beforehand, but he’s getting closer,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.

Here are 3 keys to Game 3:

1. Hit and be hit

There have been 207 hits in Games 1 and 2, with the Lightning holding a 107-100 advantage.

The series figures to remain physical, so the first team to give an inch in this area could find itself getting knocked off the puck enough to lead to chances the other way.

“It’s been physical and guys are doing everything they can to win,” Tampa Bay forward Tyler Johnson said Wednesday. “Dallas is a bigger team, strong, and they play good defensively, structured. We do too. When you get two teams like that, it’s going to be a hard-fought battle. Both teams, going this far, you’re so close yet you’re still far away and you’re literally doing everything right now. We’ve had some good games so far and we’re just trying to keep that compete up.”

2. Stars maintaining discipline

Each team has been on the penalty kill seven times, but it’s Dallas that needs to be more wary about the penalties it takes and when it takes them because the Tampa Bay power play clicked in Game 2, going 2-for-4 after it was 0-for-14 in its previous four games.

The Stars were shorthanded three times in the first period of Game 2, including two penalties in a span of 2:13. The Lightning scored on each power play.

Dallas was shorthanded three times in the third period of Game 1 protecting a two-goal lead. The Stars killed all three penalties.

“I didn’t like the [undisciplined] penalties we took (in Game 2),” Bowness said. “Maybe you take one of those per period. What we’ve done the last two games is taken three in a period, one after another after another, and that just kills our team. And clearly that power play is going to score if you keep giving them undisciplined opportunities.”

3. Start on time

The team that has scored first has won each game, partly because the goal was part of a strong first period.

The Lightning were up 3-0 and outshot the Stars 14-6 in the first period of Game 2. Game 1 was tied 1-1 after the first period, but Dallas was controlling the game defensively and led to a game-changing second period on the way to taking a 3-1 lead.

Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov

Alex KillornAnthony Cirelli — Tyler Johnson

Barclay GoodrowYanni GourdeBlake Coleman

Pat MaroonCedric PaquetteCarter Verhaeghe

Victor HedmanJan Rutta

Ryan McDonaghKevin Shattenkirk

Mikhail SergachevErik Cernak

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Mathieu Joseph, Mitchell Stephens, Alexander Volkov, Braydon Coburn, Scott Wedgewood, Luke Schenn, Zach Bogosian

Unfit to play: Steven Stamkos

Stars projected lineup

Jamie BennTyler SeguinAlexander Radulov

Mattias JanmarkJoe PavelskiDenis Gurianov

Joel KivirantaRoope HintzCorey Perry

Andrew CoglianoJason DickinsonBlake Comeau

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg

Jamie OleksiakMiro Heiskanen

Andrej SekeraJoel Hanley

Anton Khudobin

Jake Oettinger

Scratched: Nick Caamano, Ty Dellandrea, Jason Robertson, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley, Landon Bow, Justin Dowling, Taylor Fedun

Unfit to play: Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Radek Faksa

Status report

Comeau, who did not participate in the morning skate Wednesday, will be a game-time decision. He left Game 2 in the second period after an open-ice hit by by McDonagh and did not return for the third period. Caamano, a forward, could replace Comeau if he does not play. It would be his NHL postseason debut.

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