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Unlikely Maple Leafs heroes shine in comeback win: ‘Hammer time, baby!’ –



“Sometimes you can’t score, but I just keep working.” — Ilya Mikheyev

Renown sharpshooter William Nylander was alone and opened up on the left circle, his right-curved weapon cocked back in anticipation, eager to break a 1-1 defensive struggle wide open in the third period.

Surely, pointman Justin Holl — he of 10 shots all year — would feed Nylander in his wheelhouse as the Toronto Maple Leafs broke into the Montreal Canadiens’ zone.

After all, the teammates had recently debated whether Holl was a disher or shooter, and Holl had been confident he was the former.

But sometimes a man just feels the urge to shoot his shot.

Caution to wind.

“Right when I wound up, I saw Willie out of the corner of my eye beaver-tailing,” Holl said, describing Wednesday’s turning point. “So, as I came down, I was like, ‘Oh, man. Willie’s going to want this biscuit,’ you know? But it went in, and all’s well that ends well.”

As Holl and the Toronto Maple Leafs snatched a lead on enemy Bell Centre ice, Nylander embraced his neglecter with a message: “You are a shooter.”

“So, it’s confirmed,” Holl deadpanned.

“It’s actually been a while since I scored on a goalie. I think my last one was an empty-netter, and then it was a while previously before that one. It feels good.”

Before Holl could retreat to the visitors’ room and celebrate the timely snuffing of his 350-day goal drought, Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukaukas asked if he’d envisioned his first of 2021 being a rocket, long-range slapshot that zipped high past Carey Price.

“Oh, yeah. Hammertime, baby!” Holl responded. “Just kidding.”

A grin, and a win.

Another one.

The Maple Leafs’ league-best 11th victory — a gutty, come-from-behind 4-2 triumph over their nearest North Division pursuers — didn’t look quite like the 10 that preceded it.

After red-hot Josh Anderson beat Frederik Andersen on Montreal’s first shot of the night, Toronto’s box-score heroes were the most unlikely sort.

Defenceman Travis Dermott has been in and out of the lineup all year, first for the club’s evaluation of newcomer Mikko Lehtonen and more recently with a nasty charley horse. But Dermott made no mistake when given a shooting lane after an extended shift of O-zone pressure wore down Montreal.

He sniped high-blocker on Price, beating the future Hall of Famer clean for his first in 405 days.

Dermott’s celebratory “Woooo!” could be heard clear over the fake crowd noise.

“Nice to get one,” Dermott said. “I wasn’t planning on coming out and scoring goals today.”

Holl and Dermott set the table for the longest drought-buster of all: Ilya Mikheyev scored his first goal, the eventual winner, in 411 days.

The last time the Russian lit the lamp was on that horrifying night in New Jersey, Dec. 27, 2019, when he sped off the ice with a lacerated wrist and was whisked to the hospital.

The winger says he doesn’t think of his long journey between goals, that he’s just been trying to help the team in any way possible.

But Mikheyev was no less pleased to see his 23rd shot of the year finally strike gold. Ditto his teammates.

“He must’ve had the most chances in the league without one yet,” said John Tavares, who gathered two assists.

Auston Matthews lit up with a chance to big-up Mikheyev.

“He’s so fast,” Matthews said. “You see it every night, his ability to get around defenders and get in there on the forecheck first. He’s had plenty of instances this season where he’s just blown by the defence and he’s hit crossbars or the goalie’s made a good save.

“It just builds confidence throughout the lineup. Dermy’s been out for a bit. He comes back, scores a big, big goal for us. Holl as well. Mickey gets his first. I think that’s just all really positive stuff for us. Those guys start feeling it, get confidence, they start rolling. It’s great. It was a huge win for us tonight as well.”

With Matthews and Mitch Marner screaming into Montreal with eight-game goal and point streaks, respectively, who’d have picked those streaks to get snuffed?

Instead, 1,166 collective days of individual Leafs’ goal slumping came to an end. On Carey Price, no less.

“They only pull it out when it counts the most,” said coach Sheldon Keefe of Dermott and Holl. “In both cases, the defenders and probably the goaltender aren’t expecting them to shoot like that and take them on.”

With Montreal dominating possession if not the Grade-A’s in a tied game, Keefe had challenged his troops in the second intermission to deliver their best period of the year.

Holl’s blast arrived 1:50 into the third frame. Mikheyev’s crease-crashing marker came 42 seconds later.

Toronto has strengthened its reputation as a deep team patient enough to snatch two points in a burst.

It’s about time the role players got a little shine.

“We obviously rely heavily on our star players, and they’re bringing it every night. But on the odd night that they’re held in check,” Holl said, “it’s nice to see some secondary scoring. That’s the mark of really good teams.”

Heck, Holl might not even bother considering Nylander’s feelings next time he loads up the Howitzer.

“I’ve uncorked it now,” Holl smiled. “There’s no turning back.”

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Einarson defends Scotties title with win over Homan – TSN



CALGARY — Kerri Einarson’s second Canadian women’s curling championship was very different from her first.

Einarson didn’t throw her last stone Sunday in a 9-7 win over Ontario’s Rachel Homan in Calgary, in contrast to her nail-biting last draw to beat Homan in an extra end last year in Moose Jaw, Sask.

Einarson and her teammates also celebrated Sunday in the silence in an empty arena without applause and adulation of spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the skip insists it still felt sweet to repeat.

“It means the absolute world to be able to repeat,” Einarson said. “It’s something that is very hard to do.”

Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur from Manitoba’s Gimli Curling Club were the first to claim back-to-back titles at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts since Homan in 2013 and 2014.

Homan has lost three straight Hearts finals going back to 2019 when her team lost in an extra end to Chelsea Carey in Sydney, N.S.

Einarson had a better feel for ice conditions Sunday than Homan, who is pregnant and due in April.

“I’m unbelievably proud of these girls for battling all week and sticking with me and doing all the extra stuff I couldn’t do,” Homan said. “We had a chance right to the end, but it didn’t go our way.

“I pushed as hard as I could and went as far as we were able to go as a team. It was a phenomenal team effort to make this happen this week.”

Einarson controlled most of the game leading 5-3 after five ends and 7-4 after seven.

But Homan scored a point in the eighth and stole two in the ninth to tie it coming home.

Einarson lay two in the rings when Homan’s attempted freeze slid too deep into the rings.

“Definitely felt extremely weird not being able to run and hug my girls and my parents and family and friends,” Einarson said.

Einarson retains the Maple Leaf as Team Canada for the 2022 national championship in Thunder Bay, Ont., and picked up $100,000 in first-place prize money.

Einarson faces the prospect of missing out on a women’s world championship again.

The World Curling Federation cancelled the March 20-28 tournament in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, because the local Swiss health authority would not support it in a global pandemic.

Einarson and her teammates had arrived in Prince George, B.C., for the 2020 world championship when it was called off.

The WCF pulled the plug Feb. 8 on this year’s championship. An announcement has yet to be made on whether it will be rescheduled to another date and location.

“My husband said to me before I came here ‘you could be the first person to not go to worlds and win twice,'” Einarson said.

“I don’t know. Hopefully something can happen for us.”

Einarson beat Alberta’s Laura Walker 9-3 in the afternoon semifinal to earn a championship showdown with Homan.

Walker eliminated six-time champion Jennifer Jones of Manitoba with a 9-8 win in a morning tiebreaker.

Homan earned prize money of $60,000 as the runner-up. Walker collected $40,000 for third place.

The Hearts was the first of four Curling Canada events shifted to a spectator-free, controlled environment at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre in an effort to have a season and get curling on TSN.

The Canadian men’s championship starts Friday, followed by national mixed doubles and the men’s world championship April 3-11.

Two Grand Slam events, which are Rogers Sportsnet’s properties, are planned for later in April.

Tourism Calgary predicts the six curling events in Calgary will inject $11 million into the local economy.

The Hearts was the first test of the curling bubble. No positive tests for the virus were reported as of Sunday.

“I think it went really smoothly. It felt good to be out there doing what we love,” Sweeting said. “Even though there were no fans, it was still special for us.”

Teams arrived in Calgary with a few games played this winter, and depending on pandemic restrictions in their region, not much practice time at their local clubs.

Homan lacked ice time to adapt her stone delivery to her changing body before arriving in Calgary.

“Can we talk for a second about skipper over here?” Homan’s third Emma Miskew said. “Unbelievable you curled that well. It’s just amazing.”

Ontario also incorporated lineup changes on the fly at the Hearts.

Homan dropped longtime lead Lisa Weagle last year for Wilkes to play second, and shifted Joanne Courtney to lead.

They didn’t have the benefit of 50 games to re-establish chemistry and communication.

Einarson’s advantage was an unchanged lineup from the team that bested Homan a year earlier.

Birchard and Meilleur both posted shooting percentages higher than counterparts Wilkes and Courtney in Sunday’s final.

Einarson, Sweeting and Birchard were named to the tournament’s first all-star team at their positions with Manitoba lead Weagle breaking up an Einarson sweep.

Homan, Wild Card One third Selena Njegovan, Manitoba second Jocelyn Peterman and Courtney were second-team all-star picks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

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Sheldon Keefe on Jack Campbell: "He has earned the confidence of his teammates" – Maple Leafs Hot Stove



After practice on Sunday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the status of Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen for Monday night’s rematch in Edmonton, the Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman line, and the team’s confidence level coming off one of its best wins of the season on Saturday.

Practice Lines – February 28

How did Auston Matthews look out there and what is his status here today?

Keefe: He has progressed here today compared to where he has been in the last few days. That is very positive. He is not ruled out for tomorrow. We are just going to have to see how he is.

Was he limited in any way in practice? Was he able to do all the drills?

Keefe: I would say he was limited, yeah. He wasn’t on a regular line and he didn’t do all of the reps.

Are there any things from last night that you are looking to improve on, figuring that Edmonton will come out with a strong push?

Keefe: Yes, absolutely. First of all, we know that Edmonton is going to have that push. There are things we can continue to do better throughout the game. We talked about some of those things here before practice, and then we got on the ice and worked at them.

What is Jack Campbell’s status today?

Keefe: We gave him the day off here today. Coming off of the injury that he has, we want to make sure that we manage that properly.

All things considered, are you thinking Campbell will be back in tomorrow?

Keefe: With Campbell and Fred’s situations, we have a lot of things to sort through here. I don’t suspect we will get it sorted out until tomorrow night.

How did you feel about Pierre Engvall’s game last night and how he has been playing in general?

Keefe: I liked his game a lot. I thought he skated very well. When he is skating like that, and in particular when he has Mikheyev and Hyman on his wings skating and working the way that they are, it makes the line real hard to play against. It helps us defensively. I liked a lot of things about his game and felt really confident putting him on the ice.

Is Frederik Andersen a possibility to play tomorrow?

Keefe: It is not looking that way if we are being honest. With his injury, basically where we are at here now is waiting for him to be comfortable. Today, he was on the ice for the better part of an hour and took lots of shots. We are essentially just waiting for him to feel comfortable. We don’t know when that will be, but today was a very positive step towards that.

Whether it is goaltending or it is Auston up front or some of our other situations, we will have a lot of question marks that we probably won’t have answered until tomorrow.

It’s not often teams keep both Draisaitl and McDavid off of the scoreboard. What has to happen tomorrow night to repeat that feat?

Keefe: I think we have to continue to have the level of commitment defensively when the puck changes hands. We have to be in really good spots and look to slow them down when we can. There are only so many things you can do as a group. We did our part yesterday, but sometimes your best players are going to have an off night. Those guys have had a lot of nights where they are on. You have to manage that as best as you can as a team.

For us, we are expecting them to be more like themselves tomorrow. We have got to be prepared to be even better. Obviously, we stayed out of the penalty box. We’d like to do that again, but the odds are we are going to get caught on a couple and take some penalties. We will have to manage that because that is a big part of offensive people getting confidence and feeling good in the game. The fact that there were no power plays yesterday helped our cause in terms of not letting their guys get into the game.

The lack of power plays yesterday — was it down to good positioning and discipline? What did you chalk that up to?

Keefe: There was probably a little bit of luck attached to it. I thought we did skate and we worked. We have been caught in the past — as we all know — with our stick getting caught in feet on tripping penalties and hooks and interference. We really skated well yesterday and used our body to establish positioning rather than our sticks. The more consistently we can do that, it is going to help. Some of it is probably flat-out luck and circumstance, too.

The group was probably already pretty confident heading into the road trip. What does a win like last night’s without Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen do for the team?

Keefe: It certainly should do a lot for us. Some of that confidence was earned even earlier in the season. This wasn’t the first time that we have played without Auston or played against the Oilers without Auston. You had that [to go on].

Obviously, we didn’t have Frederik in net, but Jack was coming back, and that gives us a boost. He has a ton of energy and has played extremely well. He has earned the confidence of his teammates for how he has played not just this season but last. Our guys felt good going in.

At the same time, we are being real here. We had a great game. That is good. We liked a lot about it. But the puck is going to drop again tomorrow night and the scoreboard is going to be back to 0-0. You’ve got to be able to do it again.

We didn’t come here just to get one win. We have to continue to refocus and get better as we get through this road trip.

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Matthews practices with Maple Leafs, 'not ruled out' against Oilers –



Auston Matthews practiced with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, and the NHL goals leader could play at the Edmonton Oilers on Monday after missing a 4-0 win in the opener of a three-game set Saturday because of a wrist injury.

“He’s progressed here today compared to where he’s been in the last few days,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “That’s very positive here. He’s not ruled out for tomorrow. We’re just going to have to see how he is.”

Keefe said Matthews was limited in drills and did not skate on a regular line.

Matthews has 18 goals and 31 points in 20 games. He skated before the game Saturday.

Goalie Frederik Andersen practiced Sunday, but Keefe said it does not appear he will be available Monday (10 p.m. ET; SN1, SNO, SNW, ESPN+, NHL.TV).  Andersen has missed the past three games because of a lower-body injury.

“It’s not looking that way, if we’re being honest,” Keefe said. “His injury, basically where we’re at here now is waiting for him to be comfortable. Today, he was on the ice for the better part of an hour and took lots of shots, so we’re essentially just waiting for him to feel comfortable. We don’t really know when that’s going to be, but today was a very positive step towards that.

“Whether it’s goaltending or it’s Auston up front or some of our other situations, we’ve got a lot of question marks that probably won’t get answered until game time tomorrow.”

Jack Campbell returned Saturday and made 30 saves for the shutout. He was out 14 games with a leg injury.

The Maple Leafs (16-4-2) are in first place in the Scotia North Division. After Monday, they will play at Edmonton on Wednesday before finishing a five-game road trip with two at the Vancouver Canucks, on Thursday and Saturday.

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