After their winning streak came to an end with an overtime loss to the Rangers, the increasingly banged-up Toronto Maple Leafs are in Minnesota for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the Wild (6 p.m. ET, Sportsnet).
The injuries continue to pile up as the Leafs hit the half-way point of the season tonight. Jake Muzzin’s injury diagnosis came out of the blue before Saturday’s game, giving the Leafs their first big injury on the back-end this season to add to their multiple absences at forward. Muzzin is a huge part of the Leafs defense core and his pairing with Justin Holl has provided the team with a capable tough-usage pairing that they’ve been searching for all season.
Speaking of Holl, for those that missed it, the 27-year-old Minnesota native signed a three-year contract extension with the club today before his first NHL game in his home state. The stopgap solution on Saturday, and to start the game tonight, will see Martin Marincin step into Muzzin’s spot next to Holl. That pairing, a regular feature for Sheldon Keefe during the Marlies‘ Calder Cup run, kept a clean sheet while controlling 67% of the shot attempts at 5v5 on Saturday, but fans could be excused for feeling less than comfortable with the state of the Leafs‘ top four at the moment sans Muzzin — and really the makeup of the entire group of six with the recent struggles of the Dermott-Ceci pairing.
Despite their reputation as a low-event, defensively-sound team in years past, Minnesota has been involved in a couple of barn-burners lately — with 8-5 and 6-4 wins coming against the Coyotes and Avalanche in the last two weeks — and they’re scoring over 3.1 goals per game (14th) while giving up 3.3 per game (27th). The Leafs are scoring the lights out under Sheldon Keefe while giving up more than their share at the other end, so this game could have the potential for some New Year’s Eve fireworks — although the Wild tend to keep things tighter on home ice, where they’re 10-3-3 this season (3.3 goals for per game, 2.74 against).
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on Justin Holl’s new three-year contract:
You’re really happy for him, of course, when you’ve been sort of a passenger on his journey here. The credit goes to him for the work he has put in through these years and for being resilient and staying positive and keeping the energy he has every day; continuing to work and waiting for his opportunity. When he got it this season, he hasn’t looked back. Really happy for him and his wife and family. It’s on him now to just keep working to continue to get better and on us to support him to keep doing so.
Keefe on Holl’s importance to the team this season:
Obviously, recently, we have increased his responsibilities both on the penalty kill and five on five in terms of giving us somebody to lean on heavily for defensive-zone situations and defensive assignments against good players. That means a lot to us and allows us to open up Tyson Barrie to play in a lot of offensive situations and has a positive trickle-down effect.
Justin Holl on his excitement about signing a new deal in Toronto:
We have such a great group — a lot of great players and a lot of great guys, and a great system. I think that is the most exciting part for me — being able to be a part of it for the next three years… The organization is such a great fit for me and we have such good players. It’s going to be exciting to be a part of.
Auston Matthews on Justin Holl:
Holler is a really popular guy on the team. He’s funny and he brings really good energy every day to the rink. He’s really taken a step this year. Obviously, he has been playing some big minutes for us and has been playing really well. I think everyone is extremely happy for him and excited he is going to stick around for a few more years.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#47 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #77 Adam Brooks
#44 Morgan Rielly – #94 Tyson Barrie
#52 Martin Marincin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #83 Cody Ceci
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Teemu Kivihalme
Injured: Andreas Johnsson, Trevor Moore, Ilya Mikheyev, Jake Muzzin
Minnesota Wild Projected Lines
#6 Ryan Donato – #12 Eric Staal – #36 Mats Zuccarello
#11 Zach Parise – #9 Mikko Koivu – #22 Kevin Fiala
#18 Jordan Greenway – #14 Joel Eriksson-Ek – #19 Luke Kunin
#17 Marcus Foligno – #49 Victor Rask – #38 Ryan Hartman
#20 Ryan Suter – #46 Jared Spurgeon
#25 Jonas Brodin – #21 Carson Soucy
#77 Brad Hunt – #24 Matthew Dumba
#40 Devan Dubnyk (starter)
#32 Alex Stalock
Injured: Jason Zucker, Greg Pateryn
Chiefs defeat Titans to advance to Super Bowl for first time in 50 years – Sportsnet.ca
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With his best imitation of a tightrope walker, Patrick Mahomes high-wired the Kansas City Chiefs into their first Super Bowl since 1970.
Oh sure, Mahomes did his usual superb job passing, but it was his 27-yard tap dance down the left sideline late in the first half that gave the Chiefs their first lead. From there, they outran the run-oriented Tennessee Titans and star back Derrick Henry for a 35-24 victory Sunday in the AFC championship.
At last, for the third time overall, the Chiefs (14-4) are Super Bowl bound.
In two weeks in Miami, they will play the winner of the NFC title game between Green Bay and San Francisco.
“I mean, it’s amazing. It really is,” said Mahomes, had 294 yards passing and three touchdown passes. “To be here, to be a part of Chiefs Kingdom and to be able to do it here at Arrowhead, these people deserve it. And we’re not done yet.”
Adding to the joy of the achievement, coach Andy Reid and owner Clark Hunt accepted the Lamar Hunt Trophy — named after his father — emblematic of the AFC title. It was handed over to them by Chiefs Hall of Famer Bobby Bell, with Mahomes and safety Tyrann Mathieu jumping for joy on the makeshift stage.
Next up: chasing the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“Very excited and very emotional to win the trophy that has my dad’s name on it,” Hunt said. “Yeah, 50 years were too long, but we’re going to another Super Bowl.
“Chiefs Kingdom, we are going to the Super Bowl.”
The Chiefs lost in 1967 in the first AFL-NFL Championship Game — nope, it wasn’t called the Super Bowl yet — to the Lombardi Packers 35-10. Three years later, one year after the New York Jets shocked Baltimore to lay claim to the AFL being equal to the long-established NFL, Kansas City was back. This time, it was known as the Super Bowl — indeed, Lamar Hunt is credited with coming up with the name — and his Chiefs hammered Minnesota 23-7 with the typical Wild West offensive flair and a staunch defence. Those are characteristics that helped carry KC this season.
Reid isn’t as animated as Hall of Famer Hank Stram, who famously urged the Chiefs team to “keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys.” Caught up in the moment Sunday, Reid said, “It’s awesome,” before asking the crowd to chant “How about those Chiefs?”
Moments later, standout tight end Travis Kelce proclaimed, “You gotta fight for your right to party.”
There will be plenty of partying on South Beach for Chiefs Kingdom heading into the championship matchup.
“Fired up to go to Miami, got to get on a diet so I can fit into my clothes,” Reid said. “Very proud.”
THAT. WAS. INCREDIBLE.
— NFL (@NFL) January 19, 2020
As they had done in their past three “elimination” games, the sixth-seeded Titans (11-8) got started quickly. The difference at Arrowhead as opposed to Houston, New England and Baltimore was that the Chiefs had Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams on offence, and a vastly upgraded defence from when they lost in last year’s AFC title game. Henry was held to 7 yards rushing in the second half.
“They were doubling all these guys,” Mahomes said of his spectacular TD run on which he barely stayed in bounds. “I just ran it and got some good blocking at the end and found a way to get in the end zone.”
A week after they overcame a 24-0 deficit against Houston, the Chiefs had to rally again.
Down 10-0 and 17-7, Kansas City didn’t flinch, building a 35-17 lead while controlling the clock with a strong ground game. Naturally, Mahomes complemented that with sharp passing, spreading the ball on short and deep throws. The dagger came with a 60-yard completion to Watkins for the Chiefs’ 28th straight point midway in the final period.
Mahomes thrust both arms in the air as the crowd sang Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
That somebody will be either the 49ers or Packers in two weeks. They were deciding the NFC crown later Sunday in California.
After taking a 3-0 lead on Greg Joseph’s first field goal — with Tennessee’s penchant for scoring in the red zone, he hadn’t been called upon in his previous four games with the team — the Titans got a huge break. Bashaud Breeland appeared to make a diving interception, but replay review showed the ball hitting the ground.
Helped by consecutive offside penalties and a a fourth-down pass to Adam Humphries for his first career playoff reception, the Titans converted on, what else, Henry’s 4-yard run.
Then the Chiefs got rolling, scoring on three successive series. Hill took it in on a shovel pass, later beat top Titans cornerback Logan Ryan for a 20-yard reception, and Mahomes finished the half with his brilliant jaunt down the left sideline with half the Tennessee defence seemingly expecting him to step out of bounds.
That gave the Chiefs a 21-17 lead. It went to 28-17 on Williams’ 3-yard run to cap a seven-minute drive. Then Watkins toasted Logan for the clinching long pass.
Henry was held to 69 yards on 19 carries after rushing for 588 yards in the past three games as an unstoppable force.
“I feel like our backs were against the wall the whole season,” Henry said. “But we kept on fighting and kept on believing in each other. I think it speaks volumes about the team we have. We just came up short.”
The Chiefs easily outrushed the Titans on Sunday. Mahomes led the way with 53 of those yards and also was 23 for 35 for 294 yards passing.
Reid goes back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season, when his Eagles lost to New England. That gap is second longest to Dick Vermeil’s hiatus.
“So much effort that went into this,” said Reid, who joined the Chiefs in 2013 after 14 years in Philadelphia. “It takes an army, it is not one guy at all. I appreciate the effort by everybody.”
Last week, Henry threw a jump pass for a touchdown against Baltimore. On Sunday, Dennis Kelly emulated his coach, Mike Vrabel. He sneaked free for Ryan Tannehill’s lob, falling back awkwardly but holding on for Tennessee’s second TD. The backup tackle is the only offensive lineman since 2000 with two TDs receiving in a season. He also had one against Jacksonville.
Vrabel caught 12 touchdown passes as a linebacker, including one in the Super Bowl when his Patriots beat Reid’s Eagles.
Displaying the gambling nature of both coaches, fourth-down conversions were key on early scoring drives. Humphries, who missed the last six games with an ankle problem, caught a 3-yarder on fourth-and-2 at the KC 29. Two plays later, Henry scored.
On the Chiefs’ ensuing possession, they went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Titans 28. Travis Kelce’s 4-yard reception continued a march to Hill’s first TD.
Titans: Figuring out if they ran out of gas or were beaten by a more talented team as they head into the off-season.
Chiefs: The Tomahawk Chop will be heard at Hard Rock Stadium in the Super Bowl.
Maple Leafs head into all-star break on a wave of boos, jeers and ridicule after thumping by Blackhawks – The Globe and Mail
The Toronto Maple Leafs headed into the all-star break on Saturday night amid boos and jeers and ridicule. It is not the way any team with postseason aspirations wants to enter its bye week.
Toronto played dreadfully in a 6-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, and the crowd assembled at Scotiabank Arena voiced its dislike. Catcalls accompanied the players as they filed down the tunnel during the intermissions. In the second period, when Frederik Andersen stopped an easy shot, the crowd cheered to mock him.
Until then, shots had bounced off, and gone around and through the Maple Leafs goaltender, who has not looked like one of the National Hockey League’s elite netminders for weeks. He was credited with 28 saves, but most came when the outcome was already decided.
“I think it’s time now for everyone here to look in the mirror, myself included,” Andersen said. “It’s not a time to point fingers or anything like that.
“[We have] to use this week to reflect, and make sure we come with more intensity and more purpose after the break.”
Toronto lost two of three games last week and has only one victory in its past six. Thanks to this clunker, it no longer holds down a playoff position.
It took Drake Caggiula 21 seconds to score the Blackhawks’ first goal and they led 3-0 after 20 minutes.
“I didn’t have that vibe going into it, but clearly from the drop of the puck we just didn’t have a lot of life,” said Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe. “Then we’re down, we’re down early and it’s a tough game.
“It’s frustrating. I think when you go through these types of things … it’s a sign of where you are and that you’re not where you want to be. We’re not performing or playing with any level of discipline or consistency. We were an immature team here today.”
Afterward, players exhibited the same hangdog look as when they stumbled out of the gate to start the season. They talked about a lack of attention to details and being unprepared to play. They seemed puzzled by their lack of energy and ineptitude.
That is a bad sign 49 games into an 82-game regular season.
“We were sloppy and we missed assignments, and were careless with the puck,” John Tavares, the team captain, said. “It put us behind and gave [the Blackhawks] a lot of confidence, and got them feeling good about themselves. We were not good enough.
“It is not a good feeling. We have to dig down and ask ourselves where we want to get to.”
Toronto has won 12 of 25 games at home. It is playing without its top defenceman, Morgan Rielly, and one of its next best in Jake Muzzin. The latter’s broken foot may be healed well enough for him to be back in the lineup when regular-season games resume on Jan. 27.
The Maple Leafs begin the grind toward April with road games in Nashville and Dallas. They don’t play at home again until the Ottawa Senators visit on Feb. 1.
After a poor start to the season, they regained ground and seemingly were on the right path. It is hard to say that with certainty now.
As per usual on Saturday, they were outhit and had more shots blocked by an opponent than they did themselves. They were outworked and Andersen failed to come up with a big save when it was needed.
Teammates go out of their way not to criticize him and blame themselves instead for his erratic play. That does not make it any less disconcerting. Forty-two shots have made it past him in the past dozen games. His save percentage has fallen to .909, the lowest of his career.
Andersen is on his way to the all-star game proceedings with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. There is not a lot of criticism that can be directed at them. Matthews leads the team with 34 goals and 57 points. Marner, who missed 11 games with an ankle injury, has 47 points.
While the all-stars are in St. Louis, the remaining players will be resting and girding themselves for the gruelling task of securing a spot in the playoffs. By no means is it guaranteed, and that would be a terrible disappointment for this team.
“I think we just hit the reset button and have a nice week to rest and recharge,” Matthews said Saturday night. “Hopefully guys that have been out with injury can get themselves back and ready to play, but there’s really no excuse for how we played tonight.
“It doesn’t really matter who we’re missing or what guys are out. The way we played wasn’t really good enough. I don’t really know what else to say.”
That has been said too many times this season.
Patrick Mahomes' incredible touchdown run adds to dominant postseason – Touchdown Wire
The Titans had this one. They really had it. They put up a 17-7 second-quarter lead in the AFC Championship game over the Chiefs, thanks to a sleight-of-hand touchdown run by Derrick Henry and a tricky touchdown pass to offensive tackle Dennis Kelly. But when you’re the Chiefs, and you have Patrick Mahomes on the field, anything is possible.
Mahomes threw two touchdowns to Tyreek Hill to keep the game close, and then, with 11 seconds left in the first half, Mahomes did THIS from the Tennessee 27-yard line.
Was Mahomes helped by the rules and officiating perceptions that protect quarterbacks whether they’re in or out of the pocket? Perhaps. But Mahomes hasn’t needed any refs to put up the ridiculous numbers he has so far this postseason.
First, it was a five-touchdown performance against the Ravens in the divisional round, bringing Kansas City back from a 24-0 deficit. Now this, and the Chiefs went into the half with a 21-17 lead. No matter what happens in this game, Patrick Mahomes continues to define his legend as a player.
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