It is fair to say that the Toronto Raptors shocked the world of basketball in reaching the NBA Finals during the 2018/19 season, let alone going on to end the Golden State Warriors’ dominance of the championship game.
It was the first time that the Raptors had been crowned NBA champions in the franchise’s history, and they headed into the 2019/20 campaign fearing the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’.
And yet… everything has gone rather swimmingly so far.
Nick Nurse’s outfit has avoided key injuries to this point and sits top of the tough Atlantic Division, so far besting the likes of the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76’ers in the race for the play-offs.
It has not been completely plain sailing, but when writing up a mid-season report on the Toronto franchise’s efforts so far there would certainly be more superlatives than curse words on the page.
But how far can they go? Can they join the LA Lakers, Miami Heat and the Warriors in winning consecutive NBA Finals’? The sportsbooks aren’t overly positive on that front, and those interested in the NBA betting at William Hill will note that the Raptors, at the time of writing, are still available at +200 to win the Atlantic Division, +1100 to claim the Eastern Conference and +3000 to win the NBA championship.
Are those quotes pessimistic? The Atlantic Division will surely be closely fought until the final throes and throws, but the pedigree of the Raptors in these big games is second to none.
And, lest we forget, they have plenty of star quality to call upon.
Lowry Turns Back the Hands of Time
Preparing to turn 34 in March, Kyle Lowry is nearer the grave than the cradle as far as elite-level basketball is concerned.
It took him more than a decade to reach the top of the NBA, and yet Lowry is showing no signs of slowing down and remains a key figure for the Raptors.
He is a five-time All-Star, but generally, the 33-year-old hasn’t received the recognition he deserves throughout his career – with Jim Boeheim once describing him as ‘the best team player out of everybody’ during the US national team’s romp to the gold medal at the Olympic Games of 2016.
But finally, pundits are getting turned on to the fact that Lowry is a premium performer in the NBA.
Kerri Einarson wins Canadian women's curling championship – CBC.ca
A dream team of former skips came together to earn a Canadian women’s curling championship Sunday.
Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson beat Ontario’s Rachel Homan 8-7 in an extra end to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Einarson was heavy on a draw against two for the win the 10th, but did not make the same mistake in the 11th drawing for the point she needed.
“This means absolutely the world to me,” Einarson said. “I really wanted to do this for myself and my teammates. We really put it together this week and so proud of everyone.
“Relief, but joy as well.”
Einarson, vice Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur out of the Gimli Curling Club will represent Canada at the world championship March 14-22 in Prince George, B.C.
WATCH | Einarson wins Scotties for Manitoba:
Einarson also gets a return trip to next year’s Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.
Her foursome gains a berth in the 2021 Olympic trials and collects $105,000 of the $300,000 prize purse.
As this year’s national champions, the team is eligible for just under $170,000 in Sport Canada funding over a two-year period.
Homan is a three-time Canadian champion, but has lost back-to-back Hearts finals. Her team fell to Alberta’s Chelsea Carey last year in Sydney, N.S.
‘It’s awesome to lose to such a good team’
“It sucks to lose, but it’s awesome to lose to such a good team,” Homan said. “They’re going to be great representatives for Canada and good luck to them.
“We fought right to the end. In the end, she made a great shot.”
Einarson, Sweeting and Meilleur earned their first Canadian women’s titles.
Birchard won two years ago as a substitute third for Jennifer Jones, while regular vice Kaitlyn Lawes played mixed doubles at the Olympic Games.
Einarson and her teammates all skipped different teams in 2017-18 before joining forces.
That combination raised eyebrows given how specialized each position on a team has become.
They settled into their roles, but Einarson lost in the Hearts wild-card game in Sydney to fall short of a berth in the main draw.
She faced an Ontario lineup with more big-game experience Sunday.
Einarson stole a point in the second end and generated two in the fourth and the sixth.
Homan drew for her first deuce in the ninth and trailed 7-5 coming home without last-rock advantage.
Ontario’s skip attempted an intricate triple takeout for three in the seventh, but mustered just a point.
In a dramatic sixth end, stones of both colours clustered on and around the button with Manitoba counting two.
Homan’s raise pushed one of her counters to second shot, but Einarson then delicately nudged her own stone towards the pin for the two points.
Homan attempted a raise double, but left Manitoba shot stone in the fourth. Einarson drew the four-foot rings for two.
Homan attempted an angle raise for two in the second end. She missed to give up a steal and trail 2-0.
Sweeting lost back-to-back Canadian finals in 2014 and 2015
Sunday’s victory was particularly sweet for Sweeting.
She lost back-to-back Canadian finals skipping Alberta in 2014 and 2015, losing to Homan and Jones respectively.
Manitoba, Ontario and the Jones wild-card team each posted 9-2 records in the pool and championship rounds.
Einarson earned an express ticket to Sunday’s final downing six-time champion Jones 6-4 in Saturday’s playoff between the top two seeds.
Homan denied Winnipeg’s Jones a chance at a record-setting seventh defeating the latter 8-3 in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal.
Trade to Capitals may not be the end for Kovalchuk and the Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca
MONTREAL — Perhaps this isn’t goodbye, but more like see you later.
For Ilya Kovalchuk came to Montreal and truly fell in love with being a Canadien, and there’s a chance he’ll return as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and sign the contract that was presented to him before he was traded to the Washington Capitals on Sunday and given a chance to continue his lifelong pursuit of a Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens got a 2020 third-round pick back from Washington and retained 50 per cent of Kovalchuk’s prorated $700,000 contract, which he signed on Jan. 3 — just two weeks after he and the Los Angeles Kings terminated his three-year, $18.75-million contract before it was halfway through. And though it doesn’t seem like enough given Kovalchuk’s torrid start in Montreal, it was all GM Marc Bergevin was able to attain after the 36-year-old produced just one point over his last seven games.
Should Bergevin have pulled the trigger earlier?
It seems that way, with Kovalchuk scoring six goals and 12 points in his first 14 games with Montreal and the Canadiens not gaining any significant ground in the playoff race. There were at least four other teams outside of Washington that expressed varying degrees of interest in his services, though no formal offers worth accepting came across Bergevin’s desk at that time.
There were other factors at hand here, too.
• That Kovalchuk and the Canadiens hadn’t abandoned hope that they could pull off the improbable after winning eight of those first 14 games.
• That there were other dominoes that needed to fall before the Canadiens could hope to obtain what they were looking for (a second-round pick, or at worst a conditional third that would become a second) in a Kovalchuk trade.
• That his offence dried up at the precise moment they moved him into the type of role he was more likely to fill with any of the teams that were interested in acquiring him.
Now Kovlachuk is gone to the Capitals to join the Great 8 and a team that’s just one season removed from being crowned Cup champions. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Vrana, Carlson, Holtby, Samsonov — among others; they were a threat before Kovalchuk arrived.
But now? Watch out.
Don’t think for a second that the big Russian isn’t grateful to the Canadiens and Bergevin. Kovalchuk was holding out hope a contender would sign him out of his contract termination with the Kings, but none were willing to take that risk before seeing him prove he could be infinitely more effective than he was in Los Angeles. The Canadiens gave him an opportunity to salvage his NHL career, they immediately put him with their best players, they gave him a top-line power-play role, and they gave him 18:54 of ice-time per game.
He took advantage of it, and his gratitude was on full display from Day 1.
“I love everything about this team,” Kovalchuk said back on Super Bowl Sunday, following the team’s 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. “The way everyone has welcomed me to the fans, who are unbelievable.”
“This group of guys is special,” he added. “They all care, they want to win, they want to be better. And all the young guys like (Nick) Suzuki … and (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and (Cale) Fleury — they sent them down, but they’re all ready to play. This team has a bright future, and if I can be part of it that would be really good.”
Kovalchuk was with the team for 51 days and his impact on its future was felt throughout.
He blew his young teammates away with his dazzling skill, with his size and strength, with his commitment away from the puck, with his practice habits, with his determination, with his kindness (he bought Brett Kulak a Rolex for giving up No. 17 upon his arrival), but most of all with his passion.
The older guys were equally taken aback.
“It’s how much he loves the game,” said 28-year-old Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot moments after Kovalchuk scored his fourth game-deciding goal — and this one against the Toronto Maple Leafs — on Feb. 8. “He’s not the youngest guy anymore, but every day he’s… whatever he’s working on in the gym, on the ice… he’s as passionate of a guy as I’ve ever seen playing the game. That’s what’s made him one of the best players for his generation, one of the best goal scorers; it’s just how much he loves the game. And that’s what’s common among the great players is just how much they love the game. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler — guys like that come to mind when I think of guys who have the same kind of passion for the game that Kovy does.”
It’s a passion that legitimately could be rewarded with a Stanley Cup this spring.
And then, perhaps, Kovalchuk will come back to Montreal and put pen to paper on a deal that will be waiting for him from the Canadiens. There are no guarantees of it happening, but it’s also not a given that this is goodbye.
Canadiens deal Kovalchuk to Capitals – CBC.ca
The Ilya Kovalchuk era in Montreal has come to an end.
The Canadiens traded Kovalchuk to the Washington Capitals for a 2020 third-round pick on Sunday, ending the Russian winger’s time in Montreal after 22 games.
At the time of the trade, Montreal was six points out of a playoff spot, while the Capitals sat in first in the Metropolitan Division.
The 36-year-old sniper, who has 442 goals and 872 points in 919 career NHL games, signed a one-year, US$700,000 deal with the Canadiens on Jan. 3 after being waived by the Los Angeles Kings a month earlier.
Montreal has agreed to retain 50 per cent of Kovalchuk’s salary and cap hit.
Kovalchuk had three goals and nine points over 17 games this season with the Kings, and another six goals and 13 points in 22 games with the Canadiens.
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