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Rask Opts Out, Halak Leads Bruins To Win (Aug 16)

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Saturday started with a bombshell with the announcement of Tuukka Rask‘s decision to opt out of the NHL’s postseason. This announcement came just hours before the Bruins were set to face Carolina in Game 3.

From a human standpoint, I completely understand this decision. Rask has a newborn at home as well as two other children. Being away from family for an indefinite period won’t be easy, and being fully committed to a team’s Stanley Cup hopes is that much more difficult considering the times we now live in. This was no doubt a difficult decision that was weighing heavily on him. Now is not the time to be judging someone for a decision they make on whether to play or not to play, even if the timing isn’t ideal for the Bruins. Everyone’s situation is unique.

I also wonder if Rask’s decision is simply a one-off, or if it will create a domino effect for other players that have also been thinking about leaving the bubble. Rask is a high-profile player, and it’s human nature to wait for someone else to raise their hand before raising your own. He is obviously not the first player to opt out of the return to play, but I believe he is the first to opt out for non-injury reasons since actual games resumed.

From a hockey standpoint, Boston’s playoff hopes now ride on the shoulders of Jaroslav Halak. We’ve seen that he’s a great fit for the almost-even split in duties between him and Rask. However, he has struggled in the recent past when he was the #1 guy. I’m referencing the 3.22 GAA and .908 SV% from his 53 GP as an Islander in 2017-18, but that was under a much worse defensive system than what the Bruins have today. So it’s possible that Boston won’t skip a beat with Halak taking over. Carolina, with its ability to drive the play on its opponents, will be a big test.

Boston 3, Carolina 1 (Boston leads series 2-1)

It didn’t take long for us to find out how well Halak would fare as the starter. He stopped 29 of 30 shots to lead a focused Bruins team to a much-needed Game 3 win. His only mistake was on a third-period clearing attempt from behind his net, which went straight to Nino Niederreiter and into the open net. In spite of this one gaffe, Halak’s Game 3 performance was reassuring.

Niederreiter’s goal was his first in five postseason games. He returned to the Canes lineup after not dressing for Game 2.

Unfortunately, the Hurricanes could be looking at an injury to Andrei Svechnikov. His leg twisted awkwardly as he fell while getting tangled with Zdeno Chara. There may not be much in the way of updates here, but you’d have to bet on Svechnikov missing time. That would be a massive blow to the Canes.

Despite the loss, Petr Mrazek was named the second star on the NBC telecast. He stopped 36 of 38 Bruins shots he faced, as the third goal was an empty-netter. Based on this performance, Mrazek seems like the likely starter for Game 4 on Monday evening.

In a winning cause, Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle each scored a goal and added an assist. Marchand also fired six shots on goal for the Bruins, who were still without David Pastrnak in this one.

Arizona 4, Colorado 2 (Colorado leads series 2-1)

The Mountain Men were by far the better team in this game, but the goalie stole this one for the Desert Dogs. Darcy Kuemper stopped 49 of 51 shots he faced, giving the Coyotes a much-needed victory. I’m not surprised that Kuemper has been able to stand on his head. Earlier this season he looked like he was on his way to a Vezina Trophy nomination before an injury just before Christmas sidelined him for two months. It would be nearly a miracle if the Coyotes can pull off a series win against a much faster-paced Avalanche team, but they’ll need air-tight goaltending from Kuemper for that to happen.

The Avalanche decided to give Pavel Francouz a try for Game 3. He stopped 19 of 21 shots in the loss, so it might be back to Philipp Grubauer for Game 4. If the Avs have an Achilles heel, it might be in net.

Joonas Donskoi returned to the Avalanche lineup, although he played just 11 minutes.

With an assist, Nathan MacKinnon was able to continue his point streak intact. So far he has recorded at least one point in the Avs’ six games. MacKinnon also fired seven shots in Game 3, as did Cale Makar.

Tampa Bay 3, Columbus 2 (Tampa Bay leads series 2-1)

While we’re discussing point streaks, Brayden Point extended his to six games with the second-period goal he scored in Game 3. However, it was Victor Hedman‘s first goal of the playoffs later in the second period that held up as the game-winner.

Columbus took only 17 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy, scoring on two of them. They’ll need to increase that total in order to keep up with Tampa.

The Bolts were still without Steven Stamkos, who has still not played a game since February.

Vegas 2, Chicago 1 (Vegas leads series 3-0)

There were several lineup changes for the Golden Knights in this game, the most noticeable of which was Marc-Andre Fleury making his first start in this series. Giving Fleury the start over Robin Lehner made sense because this was the first game of a back-to-back. Expect Lehner to be better rested today (Sunday) as the Golden Knights attempt to sweep Chicago. Fleury was solid in this game, stopping 26 of 27 shots in earning the win. If Vegas plays more back-to-backs, then expect more splits like this. Otherwise, Lehner should be considered the Vegas starter in this year’s playoffs.

Max Pacioretty also returned to the lineup in Game 3 after missing Game 2. He was held without a point, although he was back on his usual line with Mark Stone. Vegas was without Paul Stastny for this game, which meant that Chandler Stephenson was able to stay in the top 6 on the line with Patches and Stone.

Since this series is all but over, we should place the Golden Knights on the short list on teams that can win the Stanley Cup. If there was any worry about round-robin teams not being ready for teams playing must-wins in the play-in round, Vegas simply does not fall into that category. They’ve now won all six of their postseason games. Having said that, they will be facing tougher tests than Chicago. Those should be entertaining matches to watch.

As for Chicago, can we say that they’ve actually exceeded expectations in this postseason, even if they’re on the verge of getting swept? This was a team that wouldn’t have made the playoffs had the NHL season been able to finish as normal. Yet the Hawks took out Edmonton, even though they were a clear underdog. If you drafted Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, or Dominik Kubalik in your postseason pool, you got your money’s worth with all three players scoring at a point per game. There’s enough young talent in Chicago (Kubalik, Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, Adam Boqvist) that they might not bottom out completely like many other teams that reach the top of the mountain.

Experts Panel: Playoff Round 1 Predictions

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One other thing: Look for the Top 100 Roto Rankings to be posted later today.

For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.

Source: – dobberhockey.com

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Astros sweep series as Twins lose 18th straight in playoffs – Sportsnet.ca

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MINNEAPOLIS — Shaken up by a scandal before the virus outbreak shrunk the season, the Houston Astros barely played well enough to reach the playoffs — with the rest of baseball actively rooting against them.

Well, they’re not ready to leave yet.

Carlos Correa hit a two-out, tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning for the Astros, who produced another stifling pitching performance and swept Minnesota over two games with a 3-1 victory Wednesday that sent the Twins to a record 18th straight post-season loss.

“I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here,” Correa said. “But what are they going to say now?”

Nine months after Houston’s rules-breaking, sign-stealing system was revealed, the Astros advanced to the Division Series in Los Angeles. As the sixth seed, they’ll face the Oakland Athletics or Chicago White Sox in a best-of-five matchup starting Monday at Dodger Stadium.

“I don’t think they necessarily thought that they had anything to prove. They just had to play ball,” said manager Dusty Baker, who took his fifth different team to the playoffs and advanced for the first time in seven rounds since winning the 2003 NL Division Series with the Chicago Cubs.

The Twins are 0-18 in the playoffs since winning Game 1 of their Division Series at the New York Yankees on Oct. 5, 2004, a total of seven rounds lost. Since that date, the Astros are 43-35 in post-season play, winning 10 of 15 rounds with three trips to the World Series.

Kyle Tucker hit two RBI singles for the Astros and made a key throw from left field for the inning-ending out in the fifth.

Rookie Cristian Javier worked three hitless innings in relief for the victory in his post-season debut and Ryan Pressly pitched a perfect ninth against his former team, giving the Houston bullpen a total of 9 2/3 scoreless innings in this wild card series with three hits allowed.

“From the very beginning, we envisioned ourselves back in the playoffs and playing real well,” Tucker said. “So we never counted ourselves out at any point.”

Nobody on this Twins team has had a hand in more than six of the playoffs losses, but for the second straight year one of baseball’s most potent lineups limped through a brief post-season cameo. In a three-game division series sweep by the Yankees last year, the Twins totalled seven runs and 22 hits. Against the Astros, they mustered only two runs and seven hits.

“We put a lot of balls in play, it seemed like, but they were up in the air and, yeah, it seemed like we played into their trap,” said Max Kepler, one of four starters who went hitless in the series. “At the end of the day, we didn’t get the job done.”

Nelson Cruz gave the Twins an RBI double for a second straight game, this time in the fourth inning against starter Jose Urquidy. Luis Arraez aggressively tried to score from first base, but Correa took the throw from Tucker and fired home to beat Arraez to the plate to preserve the tie after third base coach Tony Diaz waved him in.

“I don’t know why he sent him,” Correa said.

Then in the seventh against losing pitcher Cody Stashak, Correa drove a 1-0 slider into the tarp-covered seats above right-centre field for his 12th home run in 52 playoff games.

After winning 101, 103 and 107 games in the last three regular seasons, winning the 2017 World Series and losing the championship in seven games to the Washington Nationals last year, the Astros stumbled through the 2020 season at 29-31 under Baker and new general manager James Click with a slew of injuries after the COVID-19 pandemic cut the schedule to 60 games.

They had the third-worst road record in the major leagues, too, but none of that mattered this week against the third-seeded Twins, who were out of sorts in their two biggest games this year.

Jose Berrios was one of the few who were locked in with five strong innings to start, with just two hits allowed. His two walks were costly, though, issued right before Tucker’s single in the fourth.

“I don’t think anyone was ready to leave, to end this way,” Cruz said. “That’s life.”

KIRILLOFF FOR BUXTON

Already missing third baseman Josh Donaldson, the Twins held another one of their most valuable players out: centre fielder Byron Buxton. Baldelli declined to confirm whether Buxton was experiencing a recurrence of concussion symptoms that kept him out of the last two regular season games. Buxton was picked off first base after pinch running for Cruz in the eighth.

Kepler moved to centre, and Alex Kirilloff — the 2016 first-round draft pick — played right field to become the first Twins player in history to make his major league debut in a post-season game. Kirilloff singled in the fourth. With the bases loaded in the first, he flied out to end the inning.

FEELING BLUE

Both teams took issue with plate umpire Manny Gonzalez’s strike zone, with Astros slugger George Springer the first to visibly complain. After being called out on strikes in the fourth, Springer barked, “No way, man!” multiple times on his way back to the dugout.

Then in the sixth, the Twins lost left fielder Eddie Rosario to ejection after he argued a called strike two that would’ve given him a walk if it were called a ball. After swinging and missing at strike three, Rosario yelled again and was quickly tossed.

First base umpire Tim Timmons missed consecutive calls in the eighth inning on grounders by the Astros when he called the runners safe. Both were reversed to outs after replay review.

UP NEXT

The Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series in each of the last three years, will play Monday against either the A’s or the White Sox. RHP Lance McCullers Jr. is the only member of their regular season rotation who did not pitch in Minnesota.

The Twins enter the off-season with 10 players set to become free agents, including the 40-year-old Cruz who led the team in home runs and batting average (among players with a qualifying amount of at-bats) for a second straight season. Their 2021 opener is scheduled for April 1 at Milwaukee.

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Report: Heat G Dragic tears plantar fascia – TSN

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Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic reportedly suffered a torn plantar fascia in his left foot during Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN confirmed the injury and tweeted that Dragic has been able to put pressure on the foot and hasn’t ruled out returning to play in the series.

The Lakers won the opener 116-98 behind 34 points from Anthony Davis and 25 from LeBron James.

Dragic played 14:50 in Game 1 and contributed six points, three assists and two steals before leaving the game.

Game 2 of the series is Friday night in the Orlando bubble.

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Blue Jays' latest implosion shows big changes are needed – The Globe and Mail

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Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette tags out Tampa Bay Rays’ Randy Arozarena as he gets caught attempting to steal second base during the sixth inning of Game 2 of their American League wild-card baseball series Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Chris O’Meara/The Associated Press

The book on the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays went like this – mercurial, prone to gaffes, will surprise you.

They managed all three on Wednesday, especially the last one. Because even the greatest Jays cynic (raises hand) could not have seen this collapse coming.

Toronto is one of those teams that puts a great deal of faith in the big-numbers theory of baseball. Make this little move or that little change and you increase your odds incrementally over time, which may result in 0.15 more wins.

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We saw this approach in Tuesday’s Game 1 when cruising starter Matt Shoemaker was pulled early because a computer somewhere said so.

That loss set up for a more mundane approach in Game 2 – roll out your best pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and pray.

When the Jays spent US$80-million last summer on Ryu, it was a statement of intent. After several years of giving up, they were going to start trying again.

For the most part, Ryu performed as advertised. You could say of him the best thing you can say about any superstar free agent – he earned his money.

But on Wednesday, when it actually mattered, Ryu wasn’t bad. He was much, much worse than that.

Throwing a fastball that drifted toward the plate like a spiked beachball, Ryu could not consistently get north of 90 miles an hour. Without that effective deterrent, Tampa ran wild on all his offerings.

Ryu’s resultant boxscore read like a pitching coroner’s report – seven runs on eight hits in less than two innings, including two home runs.

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That was that. All that remained was for the rest of us to spend two hours listening to the homers on the Sportsnet broadcast trying to convince themselves that a seven-run disadvantage against the best team in the American League isn’t that bad. It ended 8-2.

“That’s what happens in the playoffs,” Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said afterward. “Not always the good players hit.”

Amazingly, Ryu was not the worst Blue Jay in this game. Because while he was ineffective (which will occur), Bo Bichette was careless (which shouldn’t).

Bichette made two terrible errors in the early going. The second of them killed the Jays – extending an inning that should have been over and setting up a Tampa grand slam.

“It happens,” Montoyo said.

Bichette is the future of the Blue Jays, but on the evidence of Wednesday afternoon, he isn’t the present. That’s a tidy way of summing up where the Jays are right now.

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Is this team good? Yes.

Is it good enough? Not even close.

The risk now is letting one weird season obscure that reality.

The main thing the Jays did this year was changing their fundamental question.

For most of the Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins era, the question was, ‘When will this team be good?’

Management devoted most of their effort to obscuring the answer. They loved talking about their processes and talent-acquisition stratagems and performance maximization. Anything to avoid giving a deadline.

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This year, the question became, “How good can we be?”

During their run at the Yankees in early September, they looked very good indeed. But baseball isn’t about the streaks. What matters is aggregate performance over the longest season in sports.

At what point this year did the Jays seem like a team that could regularly dominate the opposition? That point never arrived.

The team is young, and it plays that way. The players don’t know what they don’t know. They win games they shouldn’t and lose others they should.

In the midst of all this to’ing and fro’ing, Montoyo carries himself like a guy who still can’t believe he’s got the top job. Perhaps because it often feels as though he hasn’t. You think it was Montoyo’s idea to pull Shoemaker in Game 1? Because no fully empowered manager does that.

Do you work well when you feel micromanaged? People who are pressed on too hard are erratic. They may perform in spurts, but they have a tendency to crack when it matters.

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How else would you describe what happened on Wednesday? The Jays didn’t lose. They imploded.

“Sky’s the limit,” Montoyo said, sounding far too happy for a manager who’d just lost the way he’d lost. “We’re just kids.”

“Days like today happen,” Bichette said.

There’s no point in self-flagellation, but a few light lashes might’ve suited the result better. It’s great they have all this perspective, but they did just get wiped out.

In the long run, it can be a good thing. That learning experience so-so teams always talk about when they’ve been run over by a much better team. But some things have to change.

For one, this club needs room to breathe. A good first move in that regard would be letting Montoyo do his job without a bunch of baseball-ops wonks sitting in his lap as he does it.

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Second, investment. The expansion of the playoffs has widened the contention window for every team in baseball. But it does not follow that every team will do well in this new free-for-all.

The Jays have an opportunity this off-season to marry some experience to their surfeit of innocence. A few steadying hands on the roster might eliminate all the late-game collapses and post-season detonations.

Third and most important, the Jays oughtn’t kid themselves into feeling satisfied. If coming in third in the AL East is cause for celebration, the club should give former managers such as Jim Fregosi, Carlos Tosca and Tim Johnson a call. Someone in Toronto owes them a Champagne shower.

The only way this Jays season can be considered a success if it’s the beginning of actual success in the seasons to come. Not theoretical seasons years from now. Next season.

The short-term goal should be turning that institutional question into a statement: “We’re good.”

How will we know when that’s happened? When this team stops talking as though there’s nothing wrong with losing as long as you’ve won a little bit more than everyone expected.

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