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Red-hot Oilers type of challenge Maple Leafs have been waiting for – Sportsnet.ca

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The trip west to Edmonton required a quick layover in the trainer’s room.

That’s where Auston Matthews, Joe Thornton, Jake Muzzin, Frederik Andersen and other key members of the Toronto Maple Leafs had to spend time before heading out on a five-games-in-eight-days roadie featuring a tasty mini-series against the Oilers.

On the surface it didn’t look like an ideal way to prepare for the scorching-hot team challenging their North Division supremacy, but there’s an argument to be made that the opposite is in fact true.

Fundamentally, this is the kind of opportunity the Leafs have been waiting for. The grind is real right now, both with the injuries and the fact many of them probably won’t even step outside from the moment they check into the JW Marriott until they’re boarding a bus to the airport late Wednesday night after playing the Oilers for a third straight time.

Their reward?

A game in Vancouver the very next night.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Muzzin. “This whole season has been different.”

It’s the kind of stretch a dominant regular season team finds a way to navigate with only limited damage. And the Leafs, who’ve roared out of the gates with a 15-4-2 start, are setting the internal bar at dominance.

They’ve spoken with respect in the past about the way a former Atlantic Division foe like the Boston Bruins always seemed to be winning or challenging for the Presidents’ Trophy no matter what kind of absences they incurred along the way.

That has not historically been a hallmark of their own group, but there are encouraging signs of growth so far this season. Toronto is fresh off a 1-1 split with the Calgary Flames in games where they had to start No. 3 goaltender Michael Hutchinson while Thornton, Muzzin, Wayne Simmonds and other trusted veterans watched injured from the stands.

Matthews has played most of this season with a nagging wrist issue and wasn’t able to take faceoffs for the final 24 minutes of Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime win over the Flames. Still, he managed to keep his tremendously productive run going by picking up assists on both of William Nylander’s goals.

“While he had to adapt his game and I had to adapt how we used him a little bit, he still competed his ass off right till the very end,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Friday of Matthews. “In fact, (he) makes a great play to give Willy the space to make the play he made on the overtime-winning goal.

“That’s a good sign for both: The fact that we feel like the injury isn’t something that’s going to slow him down too much here, but also just the fact that he just competes and finds ways to adapt and has done the things that he’s able to.”

The guess here is we’ll see Matthews go head-to-head with Connor McDavid on Saturday even though he didn’t take part in Friday’s practice. A final determination on his availability for the game won’t be made until the hours before puck drop, but he’s found a way to score a league-best 18 goals while managing the situation so far.

There will also be an “all hands on deck” approach with the way the Oilers have been rolling. They’ve picked up 11 wins in 13 games starting with the last meeting between the teams — a 4-3 overtime victory that ended with McDavid’s goal at Rogers Place on Jan. 30 — and are now within a whisper of the Leafs, just four points behind in the standings.

“They’re playing great team hockey right now,” said Thornton.

“We’re going to have to be ready. We looked at some stuff today,” added Muzzin. “They’re a team that’s firing right now. They’ve got good goaltending, their defence is doing well and the stars are playing hard.”

He’ll return for Saturday’s game and not a moment too soon. The Leafs have somewhat managed to contain McDavid in the 5-on-5 minutes against their top shutdown pair of Muzzin and Justin Holl this season, and that duo has had success against Leon Draisaitl as well.

Muzzin missed a week after breaking a bone below his right eye last Saturday night when Tyler Toffoli’s stick hit him on the follow through of a shot and described it as a harrowing experience.

“Yeah, a little bit scary, I’m not going to lie,” said Muzzin. “When you get hit in the face, you kind of black out a little bit and then you see the blood coming. So I was just praying that the eye was OK.”

Thornton also got nicked-up during that visit to Montreal and missed the subsequent two games. He hopes to return against Edmonton. And Jack Campbell should be ready to start in goal for the first time since injuring his leg on Jan. 24.

But even some of the guys who’ve been dressing are doing so at less than 100 per cent — Zach Hyman, notably, didn’t participate in special team’s drills during Friday’s practice after taking a couple of recent shots off the skate boot — because we’ve simply reached that point in the schedule.

The difference between good and great can be established by teams when they’re tired, banged-up and operating at reduced physical capacity. Everyone has to deal with those stretches at some point during the season.

Toronto is in one at a moment when the Oilers have eaten into their division lead and they’ve got three straight head-to-head meetings on deck.

“We feel like we’ve been going pretty well as a team here and it’s still real close [in the standings],” said Keefe. “You can’t take any games or any days off.”

If they can take care of their own business, the path ahead should get easier.

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Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka to meet in Madrid final – WTA roundup

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Top-seeded Ashleigh Barty and fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka traversed through their semifinal matches on Thursday to advance to the championship match of the Mutua Madrid Open.

Barty recorded six aces while dispatching Spanish wildcard Paula Badosa 6-4, 6-3, while Sabalenka notched a 6-2, 6-3 triumph over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia.

Saturday’s clash will mark the second time in less than two weeks that Barty and Sabalenka will meet in a final. The Australian rallied for a 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 win over Sabalenka to win in Stuttgart on April 25.

Sabalenka, who had 21 winners against 11 unforced errors in Thursday’s semis, is ready to take another swing at Barty.

“Physically I have to be ready for this match,” said Sabalenka, who is from Belarus. “She’s No.1, she’s great. I played her in Stuttgart. It’s not an easy game. I will do everything I can to prepare myself as good as I can. Just looking forward for this battle.”

Barty holds a 4-3 edge in career matches against Sabalenka.

Barty played her semifinal match prior to knowing there would be another tussle with Sabalenka.

But she was pleased with her performance and the victory was her 16th straight on clay surfaces.

“I’ve learned a lot more about it, without a doubt,” Barty said of clay. “I promise you, I’m still counting down to the grass court season. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. I think the memories and the learnings now that we’re getting from the red clay has been really cool, to be able to challenge myself in different ways.”

Thursday’s victory also was important to Barty because she was upset by Bodosa 6-4, 6-3 last month in the quarterfinals of the Volvo Car Open at Charleston, S.C.

“You have to learn from every game, every match you play against an opponent,” Barty said. “I definitely learned a lot from the match we played in Charleston. There was a small adjustment. I think just learning from some of her patterns, tendencies that came through and showed through in that match in Charleston.

“I think I was just able to control the court a little bit better.”

L’Open 35 de Saint-Malo

Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus upset fourth-seeded Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia to advance to the quarterfinals at Saint-Malo, France.

Second-seeded Rebecca Peterson of Sweden also moved on with a 4-6, 6-4, 4-0 win over Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya, who retired in the third set.

Russia’s Varvara Gracheva beat Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova when the latter retired. Gracheva won the first set 6-4 and the second was tied at 5-5.

–Field Level Media

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Baseball lifts San Diego’s spirits. Can it revive a pandemic-stricken U.S. economy?

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By Daniel Trotta, Howard Schneider and Chris Canipe

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – It was Saturday night in downtown San Diego, and J Street near the Petco Park baseball stadium was bustling.

Fans of the hometown Padres, many decked out in team gear, packed the bars and restaurants with more waiting in line and happy to do so after a year of pandemic lockdown.

“It’s definitely a feel-good time,” said lawyer Chris Schon, 33, as he waited for a table outside Bub’s at the Ballpark, a sports bar.

However festive the scene, it nonetheless highlights some of the limits emerging in the U.S. economic recovery.

The Padres have been “selling out” most every game since Major League Baseball’s reopening a month ago, but in the age of coronavirus that means hitting an attendance cap of around 15,000, or roughly a third of capacity. Elsewhere in the league, results are lagging.

The surrounding restaurants, dependent on summertime ballpark crowds, remain limited to 50% capacity in California for at least another month. Owners expect depressed revenue through 2021 and worry that even as restrictions are lifted people will hesitate to join standing-room-only crowds.

“Back in the good old days, we were four or five deep at the bar, slinging beers…. Are people going to get turned off by that?” wondered Brant Crenshaw, a partner in the Social Tap bar and restaurant where big-screen TVs and picture window views of the ballpark are a draw.

His opening day revenue this year? Around $15,000 versus $30,000 to $40,000 in prior years.

‘NOT BACK TO WHERE WE WERE’

The start of a full baseball season with 162 games on tap was a milestone in the U.S. reopening. The 2020 season, shortened to 60 games and played in empty stadiums, gave way to the fanfare of Opening Day 2021 and dreams of playoff games packed with cheering crowds come October.

Restrictions are being eased as coronavirus vaccinations proceed and daily infections and deaths ebb.

Among the largest U.S. states, Texas and Florida have dropped all COVID-related limits, New York is allowing restaurants to reopen at full capacity on May 19, and California plans to lift most remaining restrictions on June 15.

However, data including national travel statistics as well as stadium-by-stadium baseball attendance https://tmsnrt.rs/3nOh7Wa compiled by Reuters suggests people remain hesitant, putting a potential brake on how quickly some parts of the economy will improve.

The 29 U.S.-based MLB stadiums are selling an average of just under 74.8% of the limited numbers of seats each team has made available. That compares with an average paid attendance of 67.6% at fully open stadiums before the pandemic. While higher now, it’s not break-down-the-doors higher at a time when households have record levels of cash saved over the past year.

The 30-team MLB’s one non-U.S. club, the Toronto Blue Jays, are playing at a minor league stadium in Florida because of travel restrictions between Canada and the United States.

More broadly, air travel has climbed back to only around 60% of pre-pandemic levels. An April Conference Board survey found 43% of respondents planned a vacation within the next six months, up from around 30% during the pandemic but well off the 55% or more before the health crisis.

Consumers spent heavily on goods during much of the pandemic, but services account for two-thirds of the economy so a fulsome recovery needs spending on everything from healthcare to baseball games to find its way back.

“When are things going to get back to normal? When people don’t worry about the virus anymore,” said Tim Duy, chief U.S. economist at SGH Macro Advisors and an economics professor at the University of Oregon. “If you are still not willing to go to a ballgame, if you cannot get more than 60% travel, we are not back to where we were.”

‘APOCALYPSE’ GIVES WAY TO ‘ELECTRIC’

Near Petco Park, but for the few face masks in the crowd, things appeared much as they did before the pandemic. Firefighters played Wiffle ball outside their station. A jazz band played around the corner.

If last year’s emptied downtown “was the apocalypse,” said Cory Whitmore, 44, a cyber security engineer who wore his “Friar Faithful” jersey to Basic Bar/Pizza, the Saturday scene had now turned “electric.”

Erik Tesmer, Basic’s general manager and part owner, said the baseball season pulls in roughly 70% of the business at his industrial brick building, previously home to a horse carriage repair shop and a surfboard company.

Revenue plummeted to 25% of normal in 2020, and the restaurant survived only thanks to two Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government. Basic was able to keep about 15 employees on payroll, down from 50, Tesmer said.

Baseball may be back, and for long-suffering Padres fans there is even hope the team’s off-season spending on players will mean wins – and sellouts – as stadium attendance limits are likely raised through the summer.

But Tesmer notes the gaps still in San Diego’s larger ecosystem. Comic-Con, a summertime comic book and entertainment convention, was canceled last year and again in 2021, as was a music festival set to move downtown. Basic will be lucky to generate 50% of typical revenue this year, Tesmer said.

His best hope, he said, is for a winning Padres season.

“With a good season … we could be packed wall to wall and everybody is in a good mood and ready to get back to normal,” he said. “It certainly would help us if there are playoff games.”

 

(Daniel Trotta reported from San Diego; Howard Schneider reported from Washington; Chris Canipe reported from Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by Dan Burns and Howard Goller)

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Advantages of Live Casino Games

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Casino Games

Seeing as the Internet has taken the world by storm, playing a mega role in day to day human life, more betting businesses are taking advantage of the numerous opportunities that the online gambling scene presents them. Today, any huge casino that you can think of has some form of online presence. As a matter of fact, playing Live casino with real money on the go has become so easy, as gaming websites are being developed to be highly mobile friendly!

The Good Side of Online Casinos

As mentioned before, live casinos are seemingly blowing up, given the tons of opportunities that are available online. Ever since live casino games were introduced online, gaming enthusiasts have had a reason to smile. The convenience that online gaming brings, alongside the same thrill gotten from a physical casino location is just out of this world.

Let us highlight just some of the pros of live casino gaming now, explained in the live casino guide prepared by industry experts from CanadaCasinoHub.com.

Get to enjoy games in real time with Live Dealers!

This one tops the list of online casino games pros. The fact that you can enjoy your favorite table game with a real dealer in real time is just mind blowing! With this special feature, you get to witness state of the art gambling in a super authentic setting, giving off the land based casino version vibes. Players can follow through the Dealer’s actions closely and observe the gaming action as it unfolds. In addition to this, the dealers in leading live casino brands are all well trained professionals, leaving players rest assured of proper, safe and fair gaming.

Indulge in your favorite Live Casino Games from anywhere and at any Time!

Playing on the go has never been so easy. Never has it ever been so effortless and easy to access fun gaming, with the best thing being the fact that you need not travel for miles on end to be able to do this. Not only do you get to cut on all those travel expenses, but you also get the chance to enjoy high quality gaming just as if you were in an actual brick and mortar location.

Top notch quality technology

Nearly all leading live casinos will integrate high quality gaming technology and systems, offering players a smooth wagering process. Thanks to the live streaming feature, gamers can observe all action to detail as it happens from the beginning of the game to the end of it. This high level tech also comes with high level kind of protection to user information, adding on to the peace of mind.

 Live Chat

Thanks to cutting edge technology, bettors can interact with other game participants and the dealer as well. This not only makes the game more enjoyable and real, but the personal connection established takes things to a whole new level.

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