Settled back in his hometown of North Vancouver, Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly is still searching for a new normal amid the global COVID-19 pandemic that forced the NHL to pause its 2019-20 season three weeks ago.
“There’s no escaping it and it’s a strange time for everyone,” Rielly said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “It’s been challenging at times [to cope] but I know that we’re all experiencing that, we’re all in it together and nobody is really prepared to do the quarantine and experience this much alone time and downtime if you will.”
In the wide-ranging media session, Rielly touched on everything from his current hobbies and advancements in the kitchen, to the Leafs’ inconsistencies this year and his own recovery from a broken foot that stole eight weeks of his season.
Those topics and more are below in five takeaways from Rielly’s conference call.
1. No easy answers for NHL’s return
When the NHL halted operations on March 12, the league did so with no firm idea of when or if the 2019-20 campaign would start up again, either to finish out the regular season or even jump right into the playoffs. There’s been little clarity on the matter in weeks since, although public health and safety are obviously top concerns for the league and its teams in making a decision.
Like everyone else around the NHL, Rielly has theorized about what a resumption might look like but hasn’t landed on any good answers.
“I think that’s what we’re all kind of wondering right now,” Rielly said. “I don’t know. But I can tell you that we do have calls as a team and as players around the league, and we talk about those sorts of things. A point comes where it’s not really in our control. But I guess the question is how late is too late? I don’t know. I know as players, we all want to play, and have a chance to play in playoffs, but health comes first, there’s no question about that. So, we’re kind of in a holding pattern because we’re trying to do what’s best for general health, for people everywhere. It’s obviously much bigger than hockey. I can tell you that the players miss playing, want to play, and it’s certainly strange not being out there. But at this point, I think we have to do what’s best for the general health in the big picture.”
2. Foot healed just in time – for another pause
When Rielly blocked a shot in the first period of Toronto’s game against Florida on Jan.12, he ended up with a broken foot that took eight weeks to heal. When the blueliner returned to action, it was on March 10, in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at home.
The NHL hit pause two nights later, an especially frustrating development for Rielly after two long months of rehabbing. But he’s determined to see the positive in how that situation played out.
“I’m happy I played one [game], because I think I’d be going crazy if I hadn’t played since early January,” Rielly said. “That was truly a long process of trying to heal and trying to keep yourself in shape. Eight weeks go by and you’re really working hard to get back and then to play one game, it’s certainly not ideal. When you’re training in the gym and trying to get back to play, you’re picturing playing 12 or 13 games, and then playoffs, not taking a pause again. But in that same breath, if I hadn’t come back and played one game, it would make it worse.
“When I look back at the injured foot, that’s one of those things where you don’t have complete control over it, it’s a bump in the road over the course of a long year. It’s obviously not what you want when you prepare for a season and you try to stay healthy, you try to do what you can to keep yourself in the lineup and obviously I wasn’t expecting to miss eight weeks. That was a bit out of my control so you do your best to rehab and try to get healthy and I think I did that.”
3. Inconsistency issues everywhere
A year ago, Rielly was firmly in discussions as a potential Norris Trophy contender, putting up a career-high 72 points (20 goals, 52 assists) in 82 games over the 2018-19 season. His numbers took a dip in 2019-20, to where he sits with 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 47 games to date.
In many ways, Rielly’s own ups and downs have mirrored those of the Leafs, a team that went through a November coaching change, and slid in and out of the playoff picture before taking a firmer hold of third place in the Atlantic Division before the NHL’s pause.
“I think that there were times where I was good and I think that there are times where I felt that I could have been better,” Rielly said. “And I think that’s a bit how we as a team look back at the year and the games that we did play. Both [I] and the team would like to be more consistent and I think that’s a goal for us both moving forward. I think that’s my job as an individual to be prepared and be consistent and, as a group, we want to be more consistent than we were this year.
“With the bad is always good [though]. I thought that we answered the bell at times when we had to against some pretty good teams. And then the downs were the games where you’re supposed to win or you really expect a good team to be able to win and we weren’t able to execute that. But I can’t really put my finger on [why]. But I think you have to keep in mind that there were positives over the course of the season. And when hockey does resume, I think we know that we have to be better and we have to be more consistent and I think that this time [off] is important for the players to really think about that.”
4. Cooking it up, in good company
Rielly has been holed up at home in Vancouver with his girlfriend – Canadian Olympic figure skating champion Tessa Virtue, a relationship he’s reluctant to talk about but one that has helped get him through this unexpected stretch.
“We’re both in it together, we’re trying to keep each other sane and we’re doing what we can to do our part and just quarantine,” Rielly said. “I really won’t talk about it too much, I’ll just say that I’m glad I’m not alone because I think that can be challenging.”
Staying indoors has meant a lot more home cooking for Rielly, who isn’t used to preparing quite so much of his own food but he’s found the process enjoyable.
“We’ve been cooking every meal and that’s new to me; normally you’d eat at the rink or you go out for dinner if you’re on the road,” he said.
“We’ve been barbecuing chicken and steak and then doing some pasta and stuff. The only thing I haven’t gotten to that I don’t have the confidence yet for is fish. I don’t want to undercook it and then we’ve got a whole other situation on our hands.”
When he’s not in the kitchen, Rielly’s been passing his time with movies, puzzles and books, including one on mental health gifted to him by Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas.
“If you’ve played for Kyle for long enough, he’s probably given you a book, whether it’s at Christmas or at the end of the year or something like that,” Rielly said. “I probably won’t give the name of it, just because it was personal, but it’s not anything that’s too serious. I’m pretty much open to just about anything. I just read ‘Shoe Dog’ [by Nike creator Phil Knight] which I liked a lot. And then I just read a book not too long ago called ‘Educated’ [by Tara Westover] which I really liked as well.”
5. Pause to reflect
If Rielly had his way, he and the Leafs would be finishing out the regular season and gearing up for the playoffs this week. Instead, he’s searching for a new routine that suits self-isolation and taking advantage of the opportunity to look back on what was – and what could still be ahead.
“I’ve just been trying to keep in touch with teammates and friends and family and do some home workouts and just try to keep your mind busy,” Rielly said. “It’s been important just to have a routine and try to create a schedule to keep yourself on pace to maintain a little bit of fitness. I’m still working at it, I certainly think that I can do a better job of maintaining my schedule but I’ve just been trying to keep myself on track, and that’s been home workouts in the morning, make some phone calls, read something and spend some time at home.
“During a pause like this, you have lots of time to process what happened over the course of the year so far. And you look back and you reflect and you picture things going differently, what you liked, what you didn’t like, and this is a really good opportunity for players to do some thinking about that kind of stuff. It’s hard not to do, especially when you get in touch with people from the team, or friends, you talk about the year. But you’re also focused on trying to keep yourself in shape in the event the year resumes. So I think it’s a mix of trying to keep yourself focused and also do some reflecting.”
Never mind the disallowed goal, Flames couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ track meet – Sportsnet.ca
The Calgary Flames built their reputation on Darryl Sutter Hockey – that heavy-forechecking, quality-defending style that smothers opponents and wins back pucks, which makes the burden of creating offence a struggle for their opposition. On the backs of that plan, the Flames allowed the third-fewest goals during the regular season. They were a force.
The Edmonton Oilers can be given no greater compliment than the way the Flames were reduced to playing in the Battle of Alberta, chasing more and more offence to try to keep up with an Oilers top-six that simply could not be stopped. There was a desperation there that we hadn’t seen from the Flames, and by Game 5 I kept thinking, “Just catch the pass and shoot it” rather than trying to rush a one-timer on a hot pass or on one that was in a bad spot. Their usual poise disappeared.
A look at a few of those fanned one-timers in Game 5:
By the end, little of the Flames’ identity was left, not the physical play, not the elite goaltending, or the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, which was arguably the best in the league in 2021-22.
The Flames played with offensive impatience, which left room for the Oilers to fly back the other way. Too often it became a track meet, and with that style imposed on the series, the Flames, ironically, were cooked. Rush chances were 11-3 for the Oilers in Game 5.
Apparently, there was also a goal disallowed, but the things below are about how the Oilers got the Flames in a position where one play not going their way could mean the end of the series, and their season.
How did the Oilers do it?
I was tempted to skip over this obvious point because you, the reader, are well aware of what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do. But I just couldn’t. How could I? Everything about the Oilers hinged on this, with two players combining for **checks stats** – no, that can’t be right – **checks again** 29 points in five games. They set all kinds of records.
The Flames got much better at slowing down McDavid in Games 4 and 5, but it took all their focus and attention, which opened them up everywhere else.
Depth contributions from Kane, Hyman, RNH
In Game 5, Zach Hyman had one goal and two assists for three points, he was plus-4, he had seven shots, he played nearly 24 minutes, he led the team in hits, he had a big blocked shot, there’s just not much more I can say about this guy.
In the summer, I use a plastic oar to stir my kids’ kiddie pool and get the water going in a “whirlpool,” and that’s what happens when Hyman is on the ice. He’s an oar, and he gets the play going in the direction he’s skating whenever he’s out there.
With McDavid and Draisaitl sucking up all the attention – as they have in years past – the question was asked of the Oilers depth: when those guys see all the best defending, can you capitalize on your extra space or weaker opposition?
Hyman said yes. Evander Kane said yes; he’s on pace to threaten the all-time playoff goals record of 19 (he has 12, so if they Oilers play two more rounds … ?). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had six points in five games; the Nuge said yes too.
McDavid and Draisaitl were like a collective boxer doing so much damage to the body in the early rounds that their opposition starts to drop their hands, while these guys were suddenly free to take shots at the head.
I thought Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft showed a willingness to be flexible and go away from what’s worked if it wasn’t working on a given night. Case in point: Kane had been on an unbelievable run alongside McDavid, as mentioned above. It would’ve been easy to leave him in that role, no matter what. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think the Oil loved how Kane defended a Flames set breakout early in the game, followed by his positioning on the Andrew Mangiapane goal. Whether it was that or something else, Woodcroft bumped Kane off that line for Hyman, who did … all the things I mentioned in the section above. It was the perfect change in a game McDavid didn’t have an inch of room and couldn’t create much or drive play. Hyman did it for that line at times.
I also given Woodcroft credit for sticking with what would give the team the best chance in the big picture: Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen. After Game 1, he could’ve bailed on Smith and been justified. Then Game 2 starts with two softies, where you’d think he’d have a hair trigger, but he stuck with Smith yet again. The roller coaster Mike Smith Experience includes the type of highs you need to get by great opponents, and Woodcroft gave their team the chance to see that through.
An exposed weakness, and a surprise goaltending slump
Flames coach Darryl Sutter gave a telling response in a post-game when he talked about their “inexperienced defence.” They don’t have guys who’ve seen deep runs playing D for them, and, in the end, the little defensive gaffes made just enough room for the Oilers (a miscommunication with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm on the OT winner cost them) to expose them. In Game 5, the Oilers had 18 slot shots to the Flames’ nine.
The Flames needed goaltending to bail them out, but Edmonton has had Jacob Markstrom’s number all year. He ended up posting just an .852 save percentage in the series, and the crease was supposed to be where the Flames had a clear advantage. I haven’t heard it said much lately, but McDavid is in an awkward body position on that OT winner and doesn’t get a ton on it. They needed a few more saves from Markstrom.
When all is said and done, the Battle of Alberta was decided because the Oilers’ best players had their ‘A’ games, and that dictated everything that came next from the Flames. Calgary was reduced to counterpunching, when it had been used to coming out swinging.
In the NHL, the sport’s all-time greats almost always find their way to a championship, as at some level they become all their opponents can think about and the team around them is free to rise up. That’s what’s been happening for the Oilers, and no matter who their next opponent is, that game plan has every chance of being effective in yet another round.
Rangers focused on forcing Hurricanes to deciding game – Sportsnet.ca
After Carolina won 3-1 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 series lead, the Rangers will be looking to force a deciding game in the second-round series when they host the Hurricanes in Game 6 on Saturday night (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN) on Sportsnet.
“We lost a game and we didn’t play as well as we could have, so I was disappointed,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. “That’s playoffs, that’s the way she goes. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow night and that’s what we’re looking forward to.
“Just worry about tomorrow and take care of business.”
A must-win game is nothing new for these Rangers. They trailed 3-1 against Pittsburgh in the first round, then won three straight — becoming the first team in NHL history to rally from a deficit in three consecutive elimination games — to advance.
“We’ve been in this position before,” New York forward Ryan Strome said. “I like our chances on home ice. … We’re familiar with the situation. Got a chance at home to push it to (Game) 7 and that’s all we’re worried about now.”
The Rangers also trailed in this series after losing the first two games in Carolina. They returned home and won Games 3 and 4 to even the series. Now, they have to win at home again to tie the series one more time.
“The feel in that dressing room is super confident at all times and I think the first series helped a little bit,” Strome said. “And having to win Games 3 and 4 (in this series), those are pretty must-win games and we did a pretty good job. We can draw from those experiences.”
And what those experiences have taught the Rangers is to have a singular focus on the task at hand, and not worry about the series or deficits.
“Well, your backs are against the wall,” Gallant said. “You go out and you play your game. You know if you lose this game there’s no tomorrow. We did that real well last series, hopefully we can do it again tomorrow. I don’t think we change anything strategy-wise. We just go out there and play our game.”
Forward Chris Kreider agreed, adding: “We’ve got to win one game. … Lot of things we could take from (Game 5 loss) and do a better job of. Learn from that and win one game. Win the first shift, win the first period and go from there.”
The Hurricanes are also trying to win one game — on the road, for the first time in the post-season. After their latest victory, they improved to 7-0 at home, but are 0-5 on the road.
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t concerned by the team’s lack of road wins, though he acknowledges people talk a lot about it.
“That’s a non-issue,” he said. “It’s all I hear about endlessly. We haven’t played poorly on the road. Our game’s been fine. There’s a couple of things that have gone squirrelly. … We’re playing good teams. That’s how it goes.”
The Hurricanes regained the series lead with a strong defensive effort in Game 5, limiting the Rangers to 17 shots on goal — including five in each of the first two periods.
“Does it transfer over, obviously we hope so,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t usually take a lot of stock one game into the next, good or bad. It’s always about the next game and it takes a life of it’s own but definitely the way we want to do it.”
If the Hurricanes keep up their trend this post-season, the deciding Game 7 would be Monday night at home. But that’s not something they want to think about right now.
“We’re going to give it our best,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re going to try to win (Saturday). We do every night. Nothing really changes. Obviously, we don’t want to come back (home) and have another game. We’re going to do everything we can to win tomorrow night.”
Warriors top Mavs in Game 5, advance to NBA Finals – TSN
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As the clock ticked down the final seconds, Klay Thompson began dancing on the sideline before nearly being moved to tears during a celebration with his teammates.
After two major surgeries and two years of grueling rehabilitation, Thompson is rounding back into form and shot the Golden State Warriors back into the NBA Finals.
Thompson shimmied his way to 32 points and the Warriors advanced to their sixth finals in the past eight seasons by beating the Dallas Mavericks 120-110 in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night.
“It’s hard to put into words really,” Thompson said. “This time last year, I was just starting to jog again and get up and down the court. Now to be feeling like myself, feeling explosive, feeling sure in my movements, I’m just grateful.”
Thompson tore his left ACL during a season-ending Game 6 loss in the 2019 NBA Finals against Toronto and then tore his right Achilles’ tendon just before the start of the 2020-21 season. After Golden State missed the postseason in both seasons he was sidelined, Thompson finally returned to action in January.
The performance against the Mavericks showed he is getting close to returning to his old level of stardom.
Thompson scored 19 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer that he punctuated with teammate Stephen Curry‘s signature shake as the Warriors raced out to a 17-point halftime lead and coasted the rest of the way.
“You could see how much was missing the last couple of years,” Draymond Green said. ”We’re lucky to have the Klay Thompson we know back because we know how good he is.”
Andrew Wiggins added 18 points and 10 rebounds, Green scored 17 points and Curry had 15 points and nine assists. He was named the MVP of the series.
Luka Doncic overcame a slow start to score 28 points for the Mavericks. Spencer Dinwiddie added 26.
After missing the playoffs in 2020 and ’21 in back-to back injury-plagued seasons, the Warriors are returning to a familiar stage. They join the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the 1980s and Bill Russell’s Celtics in the 1950s and ’60s as the only franchises to make it to the NBA Finals at least six times in an eight-year span.
“For our team, our guys, especially the core group, to be part of that six times in eight years, I don’t even know what to say,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It just takes an enormous amount of skill and determination and work.”
Golden State will host the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Miami on June 2 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics hold a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 at home on Friday night.
The Warriors followed their pattern from the first two rounds by bouncing back after squandering a chance to end a series on the road by winning at home. Golden State is now 9-0 at the Chase Center this postseason, tying the 2017 team for the the most consecutive home wins in a single postseason in NBA history.
After making just seven 3-pointers in the first four games of the series, Thompson had eight this game for the record-setting fifth time in the playoffs.
The last two have come in clinchers the last two rounds against Memphis and Dallas, prompting the question on whether his nickname should switch from “Game 6 Klay” for his history in that game to “Clinching Klay.”
“I’m satisfied with ‘Game 6 Klay.’ I don’t need another nickname,” Thompson said with a smile. “It’s nice not having to bring him out yet.”
Thompson gave the Warriors a 13-point lead in the first half when he hit one from the corner before dancing and added two early in the third quarter for a 23-point lead.
Dallas cut a 25-point deficit down to eight in the final minute of the third quarter but couldn’t get over the hump in the fourth.
“I don’t like losing, especially not like this,” Doncic said. “I played terrible. But if we’re talking about our season, I’m really proud of this team. … Nobody had us here. But I promise we fought until the end.”
Doncic had a rough start, shooting 2 for 10 in the first quarter. His eight misses were tied for the most in the opening quarter of a playoff game since LeBron James missed all nine of his attempts in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta in 2015.
Doncic was held to six points in the first half, his lowest opening half of his postseason career, on 2-for-12 shooting before finding his stroke in the third quarter.
“We need Luka to go big a lot of nights just to give us a chance, and unfortunately the ball just didn’t go for him tonight,” coach Jason Kidd said. “I think he carries the load as well as anyone, and I think for us as an organization, we’ll help lighten that load as we go forward.”
With Otto Porter (left foot) sidelined for a second straight game, the Warriors got a big boost in the first half from 19-year-old rookie Moses Moody.
Moody scored all of his seven points in the second quarter with his 3-pointer giving Golden State a 56-38 lead. Moody scored just six points the first three games of this series for the Warriors before scoring 17 the past two games with Porter sidelined.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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