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Scoring chances are no fluke

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Which is why so many coaches put an onus on smart defensive play. Not just to prevent goals — reactionary defensive play, like plugging holes on a boat. I’m talking about preventative play, where you avoid the rocks that caused holes in the first place. That’s the kind of defensive play we saw from the third line on Wednesday night. The type of play that keeps opposing forwards to the outside of high-danger areas, forcing turnovers and creating counter rushes.

We recently discussed the impact of the third line in the Penguins series, and I’m happy to report they’re still the best 5-on-5 line in the series.

Despite some necessary line shuffling, the trio finished the night by controlling 100 percent of shots, as well as 100 percent of high-danger chances when they were on the ice. Yes, you read that correctly. 100 percent. Now, they didn’t spend as much time together as they had in previous games, and we must be mindful of their usage, but some analysts would suggest that controlling 100 percent of the shots is a fairly good outcome. Some would even say it’s excellent. Others would offer up the term ridiculous.

And some would even go as far as telling me to put down the thesaurus.

And it’s no fluke. Throughout the series, that line has controlled over 70 percent of shots, 85 percent of shots on net, 100 percent of high-danger chances, and they’ve yet to allow a goal against.

As per usual, it all starts with smart, defensive hockey. That’s exactly what we saw from Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the former forcing a turnover after the latter supported his defensemen by dropping deep into the defensive zone and applying pressure on the puck carrier.

Full marks to Shea Weber for generating not one, not two, but three high-danger chances on the same play, including the one that gave the Canadiens an early 1-0 lead.

It’s worth noting that Kotkaniemi leads all Canadiens forwards in shot share, high-danger shot share, and goal share. Some would say that’s…well, you probably know where I’m going with this.

He also leads all forwards in hits, which is a very encouraging sign given his line has controlled the puck during the vast majority of his shifts. He’s not chasing, he’s creating turnovers.

The good news is his confidence seems to be at an all-time high. The bad news is Canadiens fans will have to wait a few more years until he actually hits his statistical prime. Woe is us.

Speaking of Kotkaniemi, his work on the second Canadiens goal was yet another example of his ability to improve on perceived weaknesses. He has the size and the reach, but in his first two seasons, he did not always show the kind of speed needed to quickly pounce on loose pucks and avoid intense 1-on-1 battles.

Not only did he win a faceoff cleanly, a crucial offensive zone faceoff against Evgeni Malkin, he also used his foresight to predict where the puck would end up, quickly corralling the puck and keeping the play alive for the Canadiens.

Three Penguins converged on the young Finn, but it was much too little, much too late, as Weber, Ben Chiarot, and Jonathan Drouin combined for a goal shortly thereafter. It’s also worth mentioning Drouin had his best game of the series, by a significant margin.

 

You won’t find Kotkaniemi’s name on the scoresheet on this play, but make no mistake, he was a crucial element in the Canadiens’ comeback win, particularly on this play.

Meep Meep 

When it came to the Canadiens’ offensive prowess in the first two games, one of the biggest mitigating factors was the Penguins’ ability to clog the neutral zone and slow down the Habs’ puck carriers.

But you don’t slow down a roadrunner like Paul Byron. Sure, you can spend hours planning against him, perusing the ACME catalog for safes that can be dropped from a cliff or pianos that can be airlifted into position, but in the end, you’re usually left holding a cartoon “help” sign as Byron flies by, as was the case just prior to the Canadiens’ third goal of the game.

Full marks to Byron, who has been one of the best players in the series, and Nick Suzuki, who decided to forgo the fancy play and simply put the puck on net.

 

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Max Domi in this play because he also did something that didn’t show up on the scoresheet, but surely helped his team’s cause.

Take a look at the flight path Domi chose on the play.

Now take a closer look at the player he tied up, the space he created, and where Byron ended up scoring.

Any time you can keep a certain Sidney Crosby out of the play, you’re probably on the right track.

The epitome of clutch

“Petry was never a showman. He never sought attention.[…] While others were getting press and magazine articles and huge contracts, Petry simply did his job. […] He was serious about his craft and worked hard.”

While that certainly applies to Jeff, it’s actually an excerpt from the Society of Baseball Research’s website on Dan Petry, Jeff’s father.

But I may venture that even Dan would be impressed with just how good his son is at picking the perfect corner at the perfect time.

 

Petry’s wrist shot is one of the best offensive weapons on the blue line, any blue line, and he’s not afraid to use it, as we saw in Game 1 of the series, but to me, the most important aspect of the play, aside from the quick, crisp passing that led to the shot, was the patience displayed by Petry in evaluating his options prior to the shot.

It was his 15th career game-winning goal and his second in as many playoff wins.

Dan was a starter, but Jeff is clearly a closer.

Final Word

There was a lot to like on Wednesday night. Not only did the Canadiens do a better job controlling the play and generating quality chances, we saw yet another amazing performance from Carey Price.

Chiarot had his best game of the series, as did Weber, but there’s one defenseman who really impressed me with his defensive play; Brett Kulak.

He shut down Crosby 1-on-1 on at least three occasions, frustrating one of the best players in the world while providing the type of offensive support the Canadiens need from the blue line in order to generate enough goals to win the series.

The Canadiens aren’t done yet, there’s still a lot of work to do, especially against a team loaded with superstars, but if we see a full-team effort on Friday like the one we saw on Wednesday night, particularly in the last half of the game, there are pretty good odds we’ll be seeing more Canadiens hockey in the bubble.

(all statistics are 5-on-5 unless otherwise specified, via NaturalStatTrick.com) 
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Seahawks stuff Cam Newton on final play, beat Patriots in thriller – Sportsnet.ca

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SEATTLE — Russell Wilson continued his sizzling start throwing five more touchdown passes. Unheralded second-year defensive end L.J. Collier made the play that assured those five TD tosses came in a victory.

Collier stuffed Cam Newton at the 1-yard line on the final play, and the Seattle Seahawks held off the New England Patriots 35-30 on Sunday night.

Wilson and Newton — two of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL — claimed the spotlight in a wild primetime showcase. Wilson was masterful, leading Seattle to a 35-23 lead with less than 5 minutes remaining.

But Newton took over the final minutes and yet another Seahawks-Patriots matchup was decided in the closing moments on a play snapped at the 1.

This time, it was the Seahawks erupting off the sideline in celebration.

“It’s an extraordinary moment for football players and for a team. You either come through or you don’t,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “There’s so much intensity in that moment. The guys on the field will never forget it.”

Newton led New England 80 yards in the closing moments. They reached the 1 on a pass to N’Keal Harry with 3 seconds left. On the final play, Newton tried to run power to the left, but was upended by Collier in the biggest play of his young career. Newton, who had two rushing touchdowns in the game, never got close to the goal line.

Collier and Jamal Adams said from the formation it was clear where the Patriots were going with the play.

“Just to finish it off it’s a hell of a play. Imagine if we had fans here today. It would still be shaking,” Collier said.

Newton was excellent in his first road game with the Patriots throwing for 397 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He ran for another 47 yards, but couldn’t get the last three feet to give New England a victory.

“We put ourselves in position to win. When you do that, you’ve just got to finish and we didn’t do that,” Newton said.

Wilson was masterful on the other side, completing 21 of 28 passes for 288 yards. It was his fourth career game with five touchdown passes. Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, Freddie Swain and Chris Carson all took turns celebrating in the end zone. Carson was the last, running under a 18-yard rainbow toss from Wilson against the blitz with 4:32 left to give the Seahawks a 35-23 lead.

Wilson became the first QB in Seahawks history to throw at least four TDs in consecutive games after he had four TD tosses in Week 1 against Atlanta.

“They’ve got a great quarterback. Glad we only have to play him once every four years,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

The entire night in a normal setting would have left CenturyLink Field shaking with delirium, especially after the final play. But the stadium built for noise was empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving fans to celebrate Seattle improving to 2-0 for the second straight year at home.

“You missed the fun of it all. This game is meant to be played in front of thousands and thousands of people, it’s so special,” Wilson said.

Newton did his best to spoil any celebration. His second TD run pulled New England to 35-30 with 2:16 left. It was his eighth career game with at least two rushing TDs, setting an NFL record.

New England held the Seahawks to a three-and-out after Seattle threw on third-and-1 and Wilson couldn’t connect with Lockett on a deep shot.

Newton needed just five plays to move New England from its 19 to the Seattle 36 with 41 seconds left. After a penalty, Newton hit Edelman for 18 yards to the Seattle 13 with 20 seconds left and the pair nearly connected again in the end zone but Newton’s pass was high with 9 seconds remaining. Newton found Harry but was stopped at the 1 and New England used its final timeout, setting the stage for the final play.

Edelman finished with eight catches for 179 yards.

RARE TD

Metcalf’s 54-yard TD catch came against Stephon Gilmore, the reigning defensive player of the year. It was the first TD allowed by Gilmore as the primary defender since 2018. Gilmore shadowed Metcalf most of the night and at one point the two tussled into the Seattle bench.

“Like I said, it’s a physical game,” Metcalf said.

NO WHITE

New England played without running back James White after his father was killed Sunday in a car crash in Florida, authorities said. The wreck that killed Tyrone White happened around 1 p.m. in Cooper City, Florida, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. White, who was the captain of the Miami-Dade Police Department, was pronounced dead at the scene.

SAFETY PLAN

Seattle lost its starting and backup free safeties in the first half. Starter Quandre Diggs was ejected late in the first quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on New England’s N’Keal Harry. On fourth-and-3 from the Seattle 30, Newton hit Harry on a slant for 13 yards. The rookie was immediately hit by Diggs in a violent collision that snapped Harry’s head backward. The penalty helped lead to Newton’s 1-yard TD run.

Diggs was the first Seattle player ejected since 2017 when Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Jefferson were both ejected in a loss at Jacksonville.

Marquise Blair moved from nickel cornerback to safety in place of Diggs, but left with a right knee injury in the second quarter. Blair had to be helped off the field and the team immediately ruled him out. Lano Hill took over at free safety with Blair out.

Carroll said Blair still needs and MRI but they believe it to be a significant injury.

UP NEXT

Patriots: Return home to host Las Vegas.

Seahawks: Host Dallas next Sunday.

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Davis hits game-winning 3 at buzzer, Lakers take 2-0 lead on Nuggets – TSN

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Anthony Davis has never been this deep in the playoffs, never had the chance to take such an important shot.

It’s nothing new for the Los Angeles Lakers, though.

So when Davis’ 3-pointer swished through the net as time expired to give the Lakers a 105-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, coach Frank Vogel thought of a Laker who had done it before.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “To me, AD coming off, just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it’s a Mamba shot.”

The Lakers were wearing their Black Mamba jerseys. They were co-designed by Bryant, their Hall of Fame guard who died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash. Davis said wearing the jerseys that mean so much to the team made his winner feel even better.

“In the jersey we wore tonight, it just makes it even more special,” he said.

Davis finished with 31 points. He scored Los Angeles’ last 10 points and had 22 in the second half to help the Lakers avoid becoming the latest victim of a Denver comeback.

“Special moment for a special player. Happy to be a part of it,” said LeBron James, who had 26 points and 11 rebounds.

The Nuggets had trailed by as much as 16, but Nikola Jokic scored 11 straight Denver points down the stretch, including a basket that made it 103-102 with 20 seconds to play.

Alex Caruso then missed a 3-pointer and Jamal Murray blocked Danny Green‘s shot out of bounds with 2.1 seconds to play. Rajon Rondo inbounded under the basket and found Davis curling toward the sideline, and the All-Star forward swished it to put the Lakers halfway to the NBA Finals.

Jokic said there was miscommunication on the final play, when it appeared centre Mason Plumlee let Davis drift free believing there was going to be a switch. Jokic raced out to him, but too late.

“Great players make great shots and he did it, so he’s a really good player,” Jokic said.

Jokic had 30 points and nine assists, and Murray scored 25 points.

Game 3 is Tuesday night.

James carried the Lakers early, with 20 points in the first half. But they went more in the second half to Davis, who had 37 in an easy Game 1 victory.

This one was much tighter and appeared it would be another huge rally by the Nuggets, who were down 16, 19 and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers, when they erased a 3-1 deficit.

They had climbed all the way out this hole when Murray scored for an 87-86 lead with 7:26 to play. But Green and Rondo hit 3-pointers and, after a basket by PJ Dozier, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made another 3 to make it 95-89.

It was 100-92 after another 3 by Davis before Jokic answered with nine straight, tipping in a miss by Murray to give Denver a 101-100 edge with 31 seconds to play. Davis put the Lakers back on top with a basket in the lane, but Jokic backed him down on the other end to put the Nuggets back on top with 20 seconds remaining.

James started 5 of 6 while the rest of the Lakers missed their first 12 shots before Green’s layup 7 1/2 minutes in gave them a 14-12 lead.

The lead was five midway through the second quarter before the Lakers had an 11-0 run that featured a steal and dunk and a 3-pointer by Alex Caruso that pushed it to 52-36 with about 4 minutes remaining in the half. Denver trimmed it to 60-50 at the break.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver is 8-8 in this post-season. … Michael Porter Jr. had 15 points. … Dozier was 1 for 5 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

Lakers: Los Angeles missed nine of its first 10 shots. … Green and Caldwell-Pope both scored 11 points.

BUZZER BEATERS

The Lakers said Davis was just the seventh Laker to make a buzzer-beater in the playoffs, a list that includes Bryant. Also on the list: Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Metta World Peace.

THROUGH THIRTY

This was the 30th post-season game between the Lakers and Nuggets. The Lakers lead 23-7 and have won all six series.

___

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Anthony Davis hits buzzer-beater as Lakers grab 2-0 lead over Nuggets – Sportsnet.ca

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Anthony Davis has never been this deep in the playoffs, never had the chance to take such an important shot.

It’s nothing new for the Los Angeles Lakers, though.

So when Davis’ 3-pointer swished through the net as time expired to give the Lakers a 105-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, coach Frank Vogel thought of a Laker who had done it before.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “To me, AD coming off, just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it’s a Mamba shot.”

The Lakers were wearing their black Mamba jerseys. They were co-designed by Bryant, their Hall of Fame guard who died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash. Davis said wearing the jerseys that mean so much to the team made his winner feel even better.

“In the jersey we wore tonight, it just makes it even more special,” he said.

Davis finished with 31 points. He scored Los Angeles’ last 10 points and had 22 in the second half to help the Lakers avoid becoming the latest victim of a Denver comeback.

“Special moment for a special player. Happy to be a part of it,” said LeBron James, who had 26 points and 11 rebounds.

The Nuggets had trailed by as much as 16, but Nikola Jokic scored 11 straight Denver points down the stretch, including a basket that made it 103-102 with 20 seconds to play.

Alex Caruso then missed a 3-pointer and Jamal Murray blocked Danny Green’s shot out of bounds with 2.1 seconds to play. Rajon Rondo inbounded under the basket and found Davis curling toward the sideline, and the All-Star forward swished it to put the Lakers halfway to the NBA Finals.

Jokic said there was miscommunication on the final play, when it appeared centre Mason Plumlee let Davis drift free believing there was going to be a switch. Jokic raced out to him, but too late.

“Great players make great shots and he did it, so he’s a really good player,” Jokic said.

Jokic had 30 points and nine assists, and Murray scored 25 points.

Game 3 is Tuesday night.

James carried the Lakers early, with 20 points in the first half. But they went more in the second half to Davis, who had 37 in an easy Game 1 victory.

This one was much tighter and appeared it would be another huge rally by the Nuggets, who were down 16, 19 and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers, when they erased a 3-1 deficit.

They had climbed all the way out this hole when Murray scored for an 87-86 lead with 7:26 to play. But Green and Rondo hit 3-pointers and, after a basket by PJ Dozier, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made another 3 to make it 95-89.

It was 100-92 after another 3 by Davis before Jokic answered with nine straight, tipping in a miss by Murray to give Denver a 101-100 edge with 31 seconds to play. Davis put the Lakers back on top with a basket in the lane, but Jokic backed him down on the other end to put the Nuggets back on top with 20 seconds remaining.

James started 5 of 6 while the rest of the Lakers missed their first 12 shots before Green’s layup 7 1/2 minutes in gave them a 14-12 lead.

The lead was five midway through the second quarter before the Lakers had an 11-0 run that featured a steal and dunk and a 3-pointer by Alex Caruso that pushed it to 52-36 with about 4 minutes remaining in the half. Denver trimmed it to 60-50 at the break.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver is 8-8 in this post-season. … Michael Porter Jr. had 15 points. … Dozier was 1 for 5 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

Lakers: Los Angeles missed nine of its first 10 shots. … Green and Caldwell-Pope both scored 11 points.

BUZZER BEATERS

The Lakers said Davis was just the seventh Laker to make a buzzer-beater in the playoffs, a list that includes playoffs. Also on the list: Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Metta World Peace.

THROUGH THIRTY

This was the 30th post-season game between the Lakers and Nuggets. The Lakers lead 23-7 and have won all six series.

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