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Spencer Martin carries Canucks to shootout against Panthers – Vancouver Is Awesome

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On Friday night, the Vancouver Canucks showed exactly why it is so difficult to predict the outcome of a single hockey game.

On paper, the Florida Panthers should have dominated this game. Sure, they had just played the night before and were missing one of their top forwards, Sam Bennett, to injury. But they’re also the highest-scoring team in the NHL, with a deep bench that should’ve been able to easily absorb the loss of Bennett. They cruised to a 6-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers in their previous game and were able to limit the ice time of some of their best players to lessen the impact of games on back-to-back nights.

Besides, the Canucks’ lineup was a wreck.

With six players in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, the Canucks were missing all three of their top-scoring forwards — J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, and Conor Garland. More importantly, both Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak were unavailable, forcing the Canucks to go to the farm for the third-string goaltender.

That goaltender was Spencer Martin, who last played in the NHL back in 2017. He played all of three games for the Colorado Avalanche and didn’t win any of them, posting an .865 save percentage. 

Martin has been in the AHL ever since and never been particularly good. Even at just 26 years old, it must have seemed difficult to keep the dream of getting back to the NHL alive.

But then the Canucks traded for him. He joined the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL, where they already had two prospect goaltenders vying for time, Michael DiPietro and Arturs Silovs. But he worked with Canucks goaltending coaches Ian Clark and Curtis Sanford and gradually, as the season progressed, he outplayed both prospects, earning starts ahead of them.

“This organization is rich with goaltending prospects,” said Martin after the game. “To come in and join them and work with them, it was a good experience. I got some time at the beginning of the year where I wasn’t playing much to work with Clarky and Sandman in Abbotsford and that, I think, is a huge reason why I feel comfortable in the game now.”

So, when the Canucks needed a goaltender, they turned to the guy with a .921 save percentage in the AHL instead of one of their prospects with a sub-.900 save percentage.

“I just felt incredibly blessed,” said Martin after the game. “I know how hard it is to get to this level and how many experiences it takes to get opportunities…it felt incredible to get an opportunity.”

Martin came through. 

On paper, this game looked like it should’ve been a blowout, but, against the most dangerous offensive team in the NHL, Martin stopped 33 of 34 shots to get the game to overtime and earn his team a point, then to the shootout to give them a chance to earn another one.

“I love when American League players that have played there for a while get opportunities and show what they can do,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, who spent a great deal of time in the AHL himself as a player. “There’s a lot of good players that get overlooked because of their age or for whatever reason and they’re really good players. 

“So, for Spencer to come in and play a game like that against the highest-scoring team in the league, I thought it was really impressive.”

Indeed it was. I, for one, was impressed when I watched this game.

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  • Martin plays a very aggressive, athletic style that is common among undersized goaltenders, who have to put in a little more effort than a big goaltender to cover the net. Only, Martin is 6’3”, which was a bit jarring to discover. He plays like he’s 5’10”. But hey, if it works, it works. On Friday night, it worked.
     
  • Martin’s most chaotic moment came midway through the second period, when he was forced to scramble when a point shot was blocked. We’ll call it controlled chaos, though, as he kept his wherewithal enough to shoot out his left pad and kick the puck off of Ryan Lomberg’s stick before the Florida forward could even shoot the puck. Then he got the net knocked into the back of his head for good measure.
  • The kick save before the player could shoot makes me think of one of the NBA’s great unheralded defenders, Shane Battier, who used to “block” shots by knocking the ball out of his opponent’s hand as they were bringing the ball up into a shooting position, preventing them from getting a shot in the first place. He wouldn’t get credit for a block on the box score, even if the end result was the same. Like Battier, Martin didn’t get credit for a save for kicking the puck off Lomberg’s stick. 
     
  • This should have been Martin’s first career NHL win but his counterpart in the Panthers net matched him save for save. It was another Spencer: Spencer Knight. The difference is that Knight was a first-round pick for the Panthers and Martin was acquired for “future considerations,” which I don’t think have ever actually materialized.
  • The player Knight stymied the most was Nils Höglander, who had multiple Grade-A chances for the Canucks but couldn’t find the weak point in Knight’s armour. Höglander finished with a game-high six shots on goal on a line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, but couldn’t get a goal.
     
  • Höglander’s best chance came in the second period after he made a nice defensive play to break up a Panthers chance in the slot. He and his linemates broke the other way and Pettersson sucked in the defenceman, then made a nifty move to evade the defender’s stick and send Höglander in alone on Knight, who deflected Höglander’s lancing shot away with his shield. Er, I mean blocker.
  • With Horvat and Miller out, the Canucks put together a ramshackle power play with Tanner Pearson and Alex Chiasson joining Pettersson, Boeser, and Quinn Hughes. Of course, Pearson and Chiasson immediately factored into the opening goal: Pearson tipped a Hughes point shot and the pluck fluttered up off Chiasson’s hip and into the net. Unlike Shakira, Chiasson’s hips did lie, fooling Knight completely. 
     
  • Martin was very appreciative of the goal, which was delightful. We don’t often see goaltenders celebrate goals and now I’m thinking we should always see goaltenders celebrate goals.
  • Martin held strong for two periods but the Panthers struck on an early third period power play on a bit of a soft call on Höglander. It was a broken play: Matthew Highmore knocked down a saucer pass and it just happened to go straight to Sam Reinhart, who tucked in the puck as Martin was sliding across to play the original pass. It was frustrating to see the Canucks penalty kill finally breaking up a cross-seam pass only to have it immediately backfire.
     
  • One of the weaknesses of Pettersson’s game has been faceoffs but he’s been gradually getting better. Still, he lost his first seven faceoffs in this game and he started taking turns on faceoffs with Boeser. There didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason — the right-handed Boeser wasn’t taking all of the faceoffs on his strong side, for instance — but it seemed to work: Boeser only went 3-for-8 but Pettersson went 7-for-10 the rest of the game.
     
  • Pettersson’s calm under pressure, on the other hand, is a clear strength. This moment in the third period when Pettersson recovered a poor pass from Tyler Myers is a perfect example, as he eludes three Panthers players to patiently maintain control until he can make a pass, which just happened to lead to a drawn penalty. 
  • On the power play, Pettersson showcased some more outrageous skill. After double-clutching on a pass to Hughes at the point, Pettersson recovered to make a ridiculous move underneath a sliding Eetu Luostarinen to keep the possession going.
  • Tyler Myers gave all of Canucks nation a collective heart attack in the final minute of the game. With the score tied and the Canucks just trying to get the game to overtime, he sent a puck right up the middle of the ice from behind his own net, turning it over and forcing Martin to make another aggressive save at the top of the crease. To increase the difficulty, Matthew Highmore also tipped the shot on its way to the net. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think they didn’t like Martin.
  • It’s obvious why Tyler Motte has so many fans in Vancouver, aside from his laudable openness about his mental health. On the ice, Motte gives his all, all the time. This sequence was fantastic, as he stole the puck in the neutral zone, drove back into the offensive zone for a scoring chance, probably should’ve drawn a penalty, then delivered a huge hit on the forecheck.
  • Still, that doesn’t mean that Motte should be a go-to option in overtime. He came on for the second shift of overtime after Pettersson and Boeser. More inexplicably, the next two forwards on were Highmore and Juho Lammikko. I know the Canucks were missing three top-six forwards, but really?
     
  • It was pretty predictable: Lammikkko and Highmore, along with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, got hemmed into the Canucks zone for over three full minutes. To their credit, they managed to avoid getting scored on but it was a pretty clear illustration that whatever their strengths may be, they definitely do not extend to 3-on-3 overtime.
     
  • Part of the justification Boudreau made for putting Motte, Highmore, and Lammikko on in overtime is that he thought their speed would be an asset, but if you’ve watched a lot of 3-on-3 overtime, you know that despite the open ice, it’s not typically all that fast. In fact, it’s usually pretty methodical, with skilled players controlling possession and looking for ways to crack open the other team’s three-man structure. Speed rarely enters into it.
     
  • Honestly, I’m okay with Motte in overtime. He does have some skill when he’s got space to use it and, with the players they had out of the lineup, Motte was an acceptable option. But Lammikko and Highmore are literally the last two players I would use in that situation.
     
  • Meanwhile, Höglander, who was one of the Canucks’ most dangerous forwards, didn’t see a single second in overtime. Neither did Vasily Podkolzin. Boeser got just the one shift.
     
  • Boeser did get to go first in the shootout and made it look easy with a quick deke to the backhand. Pettersson and Hughes were less successful with their own attempts and two Panthers shooters scored on impressive moves, particularly Aleksander Barkov, who somehow shot a backhand with just one hand on his stick.
     
  • “I’ll have to see the replay there because he made a really interesting move,” said Martin. “Hopefully, I didn’t look too bad.”
     
  • Yeah, like the guy who made 33 saves on 34 shots against the highest-scoring team in the NHL could look bad. Sure. Pull the other one. 
     

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Rocket advance with win in 3OT thriller | TheAHL.com – American Hockey League

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The Laval Rocket are off to the Eastern Conference Finals after a wild 6-5 triple-overtime victory over the Rochester Americans on Wednesday night.

The Rocket completed a three-game sweep of the Amerks and will face either Charlotte or Springfield in the next round.

Working on a power play following a delay of game penalty against Rochester, former Amerk Jean-Sébastien Dea wristed a shot that beat Aaron Dell at 1:51 of the third OT period to give the Rocket the victory. It was the second goal of the night for Dea, and came on Laval’s 60th shot of the evening.

Rochester nearly escaped with a Game 3 victory, scoring three times in the third period to take a 5-4 lead before Jesse Ylönen netted the equalizer for the Rocket with 1:07 remaining in regulation.

Back home in front of an energetic crowd of 10,662 fans at Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks struck quickly when Mark Jankowski pounced on a loose puck and scored his sixth goal of the playoffs just 1:04 into the contest.

JJ Peterka made it 2-0 in favor of Rochester with a power-play goal at 8:05, and that lead held until late in the second period, when Laval scored four goals in a span of 3:56 to swing the game in their favor.

Brandon Gignac started the comeback with 6:08 to go in the second period with a nifty deflection of a Corey Schueneman shot from the point. Danick Martel tied things up 55 seconds later, taking Gabriel Bourque’s pass from behind the net and snapping home his fifth goal of the series.

Just 76 seconds after that, the Rocket took their first lead of the night as Xavier Ouellet floated a shot from the left point through traffic that found the top corner over the glove of Aaron Dell.

And with 2:12 to go before intermission, Dea put Laval in front by two, hitting an open cage with Dell out of position following a collision with a teammate in front.

Rochester regrouped during the break and needed just 1:32 to tie things back up. Brett Murray scored 13 seconds into the third period to pull the Amerks to within 4-3, and Peterka got his second of the night 1:19 later off a slick feed from Peyton Krebs.

Murray then scored his second of the period at 8:35, getting a piece of Ethan Prow’s shot from the point and deflecting it home to put Rochester back in front.

Laval outshot Rochester 24-12 during sudden death and killed off two Amerks power plays before converting on their own for the winner.

Cayden Primeau (6-1) made 34 saves and earned his fourth consecutive victory in net for the Rocket. Dell (5-5) stopped a career-high 54 shots for Rochester.

North Division Finals (best-of-5)
N3-Laval Rocket vs. N5-Rochester Americans
Game 1 – Sun., May 22 – LAVAL 6, Rochester 1
Game 2 – Mon., May 23 – LAVAL 3, Rochester 1
Game 3 – Wed., May 25 – Laval 6, ROCHESTER 5 (3OT)

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Bozak scores OT winner, Blues rally vs. Avs to stave off elimination – Sportsnet.ca

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DENVER (AP) — Tyler Bozak and the St. Louis Blues experienced just about every emotion imaginable over the course of a win-or-season-ends game in which they fell behind by three goals.

Ultimately, they landed on this improbable one — elation.

Bozak scored 3:38 into overtime and the Blues fended off elimination in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, overcoming a pair of deficits in a 5-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.

Bozak, a fourth-line center, unleashed a shot from near the blueline that got past Darcy Kuemper, capping a remarkable comeback for St. Louis.

“It was an amazing hockey game,” Bozak said. “I’m sure everyone that was watching thought the same thing.”

Robert Thomas had two goals, including the tying tally with 56 seconds left in regulation, for a resilient Blues team. It’s the latest game-tying goal for the Blues when facing elimination, according to NHL Stats. Vladimir Tarasenko and Justin Faulk also scored, Nick Leddy had four assists and Pavel Buchnevich had two.

They never doubted — even down 3-0 late in the second period and 4-3 late in the third.

“You’ve got nothing to lose, you might as well throw it all out there,” Thomas said. “That was our mentality.”

The comeback offset a hat trick from Nathan MacKinnon, who looked like he might have just turned in a signature moment with goal No. 3. He went end-to-end, working his way around Blues defenseman Leddy with nifty stick work and lifting a shot over goaltender Ville Husso for a 4-3 lead. It was his second career postseason hat trick.

Hats hit the ice.

“Doesn’t matter,” MacKinnon said of his feat. “Looking to get a win.”

Thomas tied it up with Husso on the bench for an extra skater, setting the stage for Bozak, who played college hockey down the road at the University of Denver.

To think, he didn’t play much down the stretch of the third period, with the Blues rolling out just three lines. When he got his chance in OT, he made the most of it.

“There’s definitely no such thing as a bad shot,” Bozak said. “So just tried to get it through the traffic and it went in. So that’s awesome.”

Game 6 is Friday in St. Louis.

The Blues have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take a playoff series twice in their history _ 1999 against Phoenix and 1991 versus Detroit.

They’re looking to write another chapter.

“This team’s come from behind quite a bit this year in games so they don’t give up,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog also scored and Bowen Byram had two assists for the Avalanche, who were on the verge of advancing to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2002.

Instead, they have to wait — and wonder. The second-round has proven to be a big hurdle for the Avalanche. They’ve been eliminated at this stage in each of the last three postseasons.

“You sulk for three minutes and you move on. Simple as that,” Landeskog said. “It’s playoff hockey. It’s not supposed to be easy.”

Husso made 30 saves for St. Louis. He took over in Game 3 when Jordan Binnington was injured following a collision between Nazem Kadri and Blues defenseman Calle Rosen that caused Kadri to crash into Binnington.

Afterward, Kadri received racist death threats on social media, which led to increased security to protect him. He responded in Game 4 with a hat trick. On Wednesday, fans along the boards held up signs that read “Stand with Naz.”

Kuemper stopped 25 shots.

MacKinnon came out flying in the first period, taking five shots and scoring twice to give the Colorado an early 2-0 lead. Those were the first two goals of the series for MacKinnon, who has seven in the postseason.

The speedy MacKinnon also had an assist to give him 82 career playoff points. He became the fourth player in franchise history with 80 or more postseason points, joining the company of Sakic (188), Peter Forsberg (159) and Peter Stastny (81).

After Landeskog made it 3-0 just over 4 minutes into the second period, Tarasenko knocked in his first goal of the series 10 1/2 minutes later to jumpstart the Blues.

“We got on our heels a little bit,” said MacKinnon, whose team is 4-0 on the road in these playoffs. “We wanted it so bad, I guess. … Win the third, go to the conference finals, whatever. It’s one period. Got to keep our game going, stay aggressive. That’s what we’ll do.”

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Canada Soccer cancels men’s national team friendly vs. Iran in Vancouver – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Canada Soccer has cancelled a planned friendly with Iran in the face of growing criticism.

In a one-paragraph statement, the governing body gave no reason for the cancellation of the scheduled June 5 game at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.

But the idea of hosting the Iranian team, ranked 21st in the world, has drawn fire since it was first announced.

At issue is whether Canada should be hosting Iran given the Canadians who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, minutes after taking off from Tehran, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. The Canadian government says 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people killed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week the game “wasn’t a very good idea,” pointing the finger at Canada Soccer. The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims called for Canada Soccer “to cancel the game immediately.”

Association spokesman Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and young daughter Reera were among those who died on Flight 752, said in an interview last week. “What kind of friendship do we have with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

“We want the (Canadian) government to take them to international court. And instead of that, we get humiliated by them … I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back — (as well as) the other family members. After 28 months we don’t see any sign of seeking justice here. We don’t see sign of taking Iran to any international forum. And instead of that they invite the (Iran) soccer team here.”

Conservative MPs added their voice to the protest on Wednesday. And the PM said this week that it will be up to the Canada Border Services Agency whether the Iran team is allowed into the country.

The Iran game was to be the first of a two-game Vancouver homestand. The Canadian men open CONCACAF Nations League A play there against Curacao on June 9 before closing out the FIFA international window with another CONCACAF Nations League game against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on June 13.

Canada, ranked 38th in the world, and Iran are both preparing for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this November.

For Canada Soccer, the Iran contest was a rare chance to test the Canadian men against a team outside of their CONCACAF confederation, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Canadians have played just two teams from outside their region since John Herdman took over as coach in January 2018: a 1-0 loss to Iceland in January 2020 and a 1-0 win over New Zealand in March 2018.

The FIFA International window opens Monday, with players arriving from their clubs from around the world. Now they will get extended training time rather than a match ahead of the CONCACAF Nations League fixtures.

Canada has not played on home soil since qualifying for the World Cup in a 4-0 win over Jamaica at Toronto’s BMO Field on March 27. The Canadian men last played at B.C. Place in March 2019 when they beat French Guiana 4-1 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.

The Canadians topped the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with an 8-2-4 record. Their last game was a 1-0 loss in Panama on March 30.

Canada has a 1-2-0 all-time record against Iran, winning the most recent encounter 1-0 in April 2001 in Cairo. Iran posted 1-0 wins in 1997 and 1999 games in Toronto and Edmonton, respectively.

Canada opens World Cup play Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before facing No. 16 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.

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