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Underdog Canucks out to ‘prove people wrong’ in another tough series – Sportsnet.ca

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Canada’s last team left standing in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs is still supposed to be building toward its best days.

For the Vancouver Canucks, this season was all about taking that next step, which we took to mean just getting to the playoffs and leaving them with valuable lessons. Even a first-round exit wouldn’t have been unacceptable.

Now we’re wondering how far this can go. The Canucks, a team driven by a young core and without much playoff experience even from its 30-year-old netminder, are fresh off their latest upset — a six-game triumph over the St. Louis Blues that we could one day look back on as having more than one franchise defining moment. Their reward? A second-round matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights, who were finalists just two years ago and are the current odds favourites to win it all in 2020.

“With Vegas, they got a lot of strengths,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “Speed is one of them. They’ve got skill, size. There are probably a lot of people who picked Vegas as one of the finalists for the Cup.

“Belief is just installed in your group. Part of it is talking about it, and not just the good things either. Being honest. But I do think our group has confidence in themselves going back to the beginning of the season. I don’t think anyone picked us to make the playoffs this past season and yet, inside the locker room, to a man I think we felt we were capable of making the playoffs. I think the belief started there.”

Look up and down the lineup and you’ll see someone who has had a key moment for these Canucks so far. From Elias Pettersson, who is second to Nathan MacKinnon in playoff scoring with 13 points in 10 games, to Tyler Motte, an unlikely goal scorer who had back-to-back two-goal games to close out the Blues series. From electrifying Quinn Hughes, who is opening everyone’s eyes to the fact that we need to get used to the idea of him being a Norris candidate before long, to Alexander Edler and Christopher Tanev, two grizzled veterans who are second and fourth in blocked shots these playoffs.

Jake Virtanen scored the tying goal in Game 5’s critical comeback against St. Louis. Troy Stecher scored two game-winners against the defending champs.

The Canucks got through the tight-checking and physical Blues and now draw a higher-tempo team in Vegas that has the league’s best 5-on-5 shot differential in both the regular season and playoffs this season. Vancouver ranked 25th in the regular season and is 20th in these playoffs by that measure. So of course, the same questions that were being asked about them last round are being raised again.

How can this inexperienced team that supposedly struggles with depth hang with an opponent whose window to win is so clearly open right now?

“When you hear rumblings of us being the underdogs obviously you want to prove people wrong,” said captain Bo Horvat, who himself had back-to-back two-goal games to open the St. Louis series. “I think that’s a lot of what drives people is proving people wrong and proving to yourself you can do it.”

Perhaps — perhaps — the Canucks could even start their Round 2 series with an early edge. Prior to Saturday’s Game 1 between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, Sportsnet’s Kevin Bieksa noted that often the team that starts on shorter rest comes out a little sharper and that’s exactly how the other West semifinal series started. Dallas, on one day’s rest, jumped out to an early lead and were the better team up and down in their 5-3 win.

Vegas comes into Round 2 on four days rest after knocking out the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, while the Canucks had only Saturday to recharge.

“Kinda happy just to get it going again,” Brandon Sutter said. “Maybe an extra day of rest would have been good but…when you’re rolling and playing well you just want to keep going. I think everyone seems to be. Obviously when you’re winning you feel confident, I don’t feel like you need too many days of practice. I’m ready to keep playing.”

This is the furthest any Canucks team has gone in the post-season since the 2011 run to the Stanley Cup Final. That team was at its peak and got there after three second round eliminations in four seasons. If the 2020 Canucks manage to get past Vegas, you might say they’re well ahead of schedule.

I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that last October.

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Denver Nuggets' Jamal Murray remembers his Kitchener roots before semi-final game – CBC.ca

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Denver Nuggets star point guard Jamal Murray reminisced about his hometown of Kitchener during a media scrum Thursday night.

He goes up against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA’s western conference final Friday at 9 p.m., but Murray says he still remembers time spent playing in and around the Stanley Park Community Centre. 

“I was out playing at the court every day, not knowing that I would be in the western conference finals at 23 years old,” he said. 

Murray noted that being from Canada has often lead people to doubt his ability and it feels good to do well on the court and prove those people wrong. 

He also had a message for any kids in Kitchener who had dreams of making it the the NBA like he did.

“I was a kid just like you guys,” he said. “Orangeville helped a lot.”

Murray initially went to high school at Grand River Collegiate Institute before transferring to Orangeville Prep, a basketball program that now attracts top tier talent from Canada and around the world.

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray gestures after hitting a 3-point basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Denver. The Cavaliers won 111-103. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

Larry Blunt served as the head coach of Orangeville Prep when Murray attended. He is now assistant coach at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. 

“Guys like Jamal are the reason why I’m where I am,” he said. “Jamal was going to be special wherever he went.”

He said Murray had a drive and love for the game that made him stand out.

“If you wanted him to stop working on his game you would have to cut the lights off at the gym, and then he would still shoot in the dark … and then if you took the balls away he would be in a pitch black gym, with the rims raised, and he would be in running sprints and working on his conditioning,” Blunt said.

“He is just relentless.”

When asked about life inside the NBA bubble at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Murray explained life was fairly simple.

“I’ll have practice and I’ll get some food. Then I’ll go back to my room, I’ll sleep, and then I’ll have a game, then I’ll sleep, then I’ll eat,” he said. 

Watch some of Murray’s press conference:

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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Reed takes lead in difficult conditions at U.S. Open

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MAMARONECK, N.Y. — This was the Winged Foot everyone has heard about. This is the U.S. Open everyone expected.

Patrick Reed answered the first big test Friday when the wind arrived out of the north, bringing a little chill and a lot of trouble. He never got flustered by bogeys and made enough birdie putts and key saves for an even-par 70.

It felt just as rewarding as the 66 he shot in the opening round, and it gave him a one-shot lead over Bryson DeChambeau, who powered and putted his way to a 68.

The opening round featured soft greens, a few accessible pins and 21 rounds under par. Friday was the epitome of a major long known as the toughest test in golf.

Three players broke par. Nine others shot even par. Everyone else was hanging on for dear life. As the final groups tried to beat darkness in this September U.S. Open, only six players remained in red numbers.

“It’s almost like they set it up to ease our way into it, and then showed us what it’s supposed to really be like,” Reed said.

Television showed his five birdies. What took him to the 36-hole lead at 4-under 136 was a collection of pars from bunkers and from thick grass just over the greens. He managed them all with grit, a common trait among U.S. Open champions.

DeChambeau showed plenty of resiliency, too, bouncing back with birdies after all five of his bogeys and finishing the best round of the day with a pitching wedge on the downwind, 557-yard, par-5 ninth to 6 feet for eagle.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain and Harris English each had a 70 and were at 2-under 138.

They were joined by Justin Thomas, who opened with a 65 — the lowest ever at Winged Foot for a U.S. Open — and lost all those shots to par after 10 holes. Thomas then delivered a 5-wood from 228 yards into the wind on the par-3 third hole and made a slick, 15-foot, double-breaking birdie putt to steady himself. He scratched out a 73 and is right in it.

Jason Kokrak (71) was the only other player under par at 1-under 139.

“This isn’t exactly a place where you go out and try to shoot 6 or 7 under to catch up,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to worry about what everyone else is doing because you could shoot 80 just as easily as you could shoot 68. I just need to stay focused, and most importantly, go home and get some rest. Because I’m pretty tired.”

There’s still 36 holes to go, and no indication that Winged Foot is going to get any easier.

“The rough is still really thick. I don’t think they’re planning on cutting it,” Matthew Wolff said after salvaging a 74 that left him four shots behind. “The greens are only going to get firmer, and the scores are only going to get higher.”

Tiger Woods is among those who won’t be around to experience it. He had a pair of double bogeys at the end of the back nine, and two birdies over his last three holes gave him a 77. He missed the cut by four shots, the eighth time in his last 15 majors he won’t be around for the weekend.

“It feels like the way the golf course is changing, is turning, that anybody who makes the cut has the opportunity to win this championship,” Woods said. “I didn’t get myself that opportunity.”

Neither did Phil Mickelson, who had his highest 36-hole score in 29 appearances in the one major he hasn’t won. Ditto for Jordan Spieth, whose 81 was his highest score in a major. PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole that cost him a chance to keep playing.

Reed turned in a workman-like performance, making birdies when he had the chance, saving par when needed. This is the kind of golf he loves. It’s a grind. And it’s about feel. He was most pleased with his birdie on No. 1 after he made the turn, going with a chip 8-iron from 147 yards into the wind and riding the slope at the back of the green to tap-in range.

“I love when it’s hard, when you have to be creative on all different golf shots,” he said.

There were plenty of great rounds on such a demanding course, many of which fell apart at the end. Louis Oosthuizen was 3 under in the morning when he finished bogey-bogey-double bogey for a 74. Xander Schauffele was 3 under until he bogeyed three of his last five holes.

“The wind can make a par-3 course difficult, so put that on a U.S. Open setup, it’s going to be even more so,” Schauffele said. “It’ll be a fun afternoon to watch on TV.”

Rory McIlroy’s problems started early. He was 5 over through seven holes, including a birdie at the start, and shot 76 to fall seven shots behind. Dustin Johnson was bogey-free through 16 holes until a pair of bad tee shots led to bogey. He had a 76 and was in the group at 3-over 143.

All of them still feel as though the U.S. Open is in sight.

“I’m confident now, after seeing what was out there this afternoon, over par will win this tournament,” Adam Scott said a 74 left him nine shots back. “The greens finally dried out. If there’s any breeze, over par is winning.”

It usually does at Winged Foot.

Source: – pgatour.com

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Lightning, Stars ready to make history in unprecedented Stanley Cup Final – NHL.com

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It was Media Day at the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, and Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper wore a gray Cup Final sweatshirt in front of a black Cup Final backdrop as he answered questions at the JW Marriott in Edmonton. Maybe on video it looked normal.

It was anything but.

At one point, Cooper heard the voice of Edmonton Journal writer Jim Matheson, whose plaque hangs at the Hockey Hall of Fame as a winner of the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for bringing honor to journalism and hockey. Cooper couldn’t see him.

“Jim, did you ask that question on the other side of the fence?” Cooper said. “Are you close by?”

They laughed together, but separately.

Matheson was at his condo, 10 minutes from the hotel meeting room the Lightning and the Dallas Stars used to preview the Cup Final on Friday. Game 1 is at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the best-of-7 series, on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

No media were in person at Media Day, just as no media have been in the bubble and no fans have been in the stands this postseason because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Normally, reporters crowd around each other and their subjects at Media Day, jostling for position, shouting questions. This time, whether close by or across the continent, they did what they’ve had to do for months: ask questions via video conference.

“It’s different,” said Stars center Tyler Seguin, who had been through Media Day at the Cup Final with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and 2013. “Someone just said to me outside that this probably must be better, just having to go in a room. But honestly, you definitely miss those days. … There’s so much media and cameras in your face, and that atmosphere’s buzzing. It’s definitely surreal.”

Surreal is an understatement.

After the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association came up with a Return to Play Plan with an unprecedented 24-team postseason tournament.

Twelve teams from the Eastern Conference went into the bubble in Toronto on July 26. Twelve teams from the Western Conference went into the bubble in Edmonton the same day. Now, 55 days later, we’re down to two finalists.

At the time of year we should be playing the preseason, we have two southern American teams playing the Cup Final in a northern Canadian city.

This is historic.

You have to go back 70 years to find the last time Cup Final games were played at a neutral site. In 1950, thanks to a scheduling conflict with a circus at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers hosted the Detroit Red Wings in Games 2 and 3 of the Cup Final at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. At least there were fans in the stands.

Video: Stars, Lightning set to battle in Stanley Cup Final

You have to go back 101 years to find the last time a Stanley Cup series was disrupted by a pandemic. The Montreal Canadiens played the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in Seattle in 1919, but the series was halted after five games due to the Spanish flu. With the series 2-2-1, the Cup was not awarded. Multiple players got sick. Canadiens defenseman Joe Hall died.

Which brings us to what’s most important.

The goal all along has been to keep everyone safe and award the Stanley Cup with integrity. As of Monday, no one in the bubble has tested positive for COVID-19. As of Friday, we’re eight to 13 days from the Lightning or the Stars hoisting the Cup, and the debate isn’t whether this championship will be legitimate. It’s whether this will go down as the hardest to win in NHL history.

“It’s definitely been a weird season, obviously with everything that’s been going on,” Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said. “It’s been a long season considering we were off for four months, I think. But yeah, we’re grateful that we have this opportunity to play here in the bubble, that we’re still playing hockey for the Stanley Cup.”

Grateful is a good word. None of this has been ideal, not for the media and fans unable to be there, not for the teams and staff isolated from the world to put on the show. But the show has gone on, and we’re set for an emotional finale. After all this, who wants to go home from the bubble without the Cup?

“Usually, we know, we’re dealing face to face with all of you, so everything about that is different,” Stars coach Rick Bowness told reporters at Media Day. “But when it comes right down to it — and this is what we tell our players — this is the game, man. We’ve got to focus on the game. We’re here to win the Stanley Cup.

“All of these things outside of it have changed. It’s all different. But we’re used to that now. We’ve been here for almost eight weeks. But the most important thing is, when you stay focused on the goal, then the goal is the same regardless of the circumstances.”

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