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Why Maple Leafs’ top line may be the most complete in hockey – Sportsnet.ca

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One line.

One half period.

One more denial of a contender to the throne.

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ best line smothered the Winnipeg Jets early and often Wednesday night to extend their lead atop the Canadian division to three points and into a fourth month.

Funny. Much of the pre-game discussion for Round 5 of Jets-Leafs circled around line matchups. How Paul Maurice’s last change and ability to throw bubble-burster Pierre-Luc Dubois and responsible veterans Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny over the boards against Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman could be the solution.

“That’s really what the regular season is all about, right?” Maurice had said, regarding his personnel adjustments, those tiny tweaks that can unlock the recipe to solving a specific opponent. “You have to understand your team by the time the regular season is over.”

But the way Hyman-Matthews-Marner steamrolled a tired Jets squad, we’re not sure any combination of players could’ve contained them.

Before a game billed as a battle for first place was 11 minutes old, Matthews and Hyman had each scored, Marner pocketed himself another gif-worthy setup, and all three had themselves two-point nights as the Leafs cruised to 3-1 victory.

“We were just thinking about our game and how important it is to get out to a lead,” Hyman said. “They’re a really good team, so we wanted to jump on them quick.”

Mission accomplished.

Caught flat-footed in their first game date after a seven-game road trip, the Jets were beset with both insult and injury in the first period and never recovered. Dubois trucked over defenceman Derek Forbort during a sloppy D-zone sequence that resulted in Matthews cleaning up a Hyman rebound. And Wheeler departed the game with an undisclosed injury. (Clarity on the severity of Wheeler’s condition will wait “a couple days,” per Maurice.)

“They came out hard,” summed up defenceman Josh Morrissey. “We lost the first period, and we ended up losing the game.”

Morrissey, the Jets’ lone goal-getter, found twine while T.J. Brodie served a double minor for high-sticking Stastny’s tooth out of his gums. But Alexander Kerfoot sniped top-shelf on a speedy shorthanded breakaway to even out the special teams.

Maurice’s squad was shut out at even strength, and Friday’s rematch will be another opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t.

It should now be understood that his counterpart, Sheldon Keefe, will rely exclusively on Hyman-Matthews-Marner as his default top trio. The trial of 41-year-old Joe Thornton as a top-line winger shrinks further in the rear-view mirror.

In their 10:37 together, Hyman-Matthews-Marner not only scored twice but generated 98.4 per cent of expected goals and created eight high-danger scoring chances while allowing none. Hyman, causing turnovers and driving the blue paint all night, had six shots himself in the first period.

“Those two are superstars. I just try to go out and do my job,” Hyman demurred.

Such dominance is all the more impressive when you realize they started the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone and were called upon to lock up the Jets’ final six-on-five push.

“They had a lot of jump. They were around the puck, and they attacked the net. That’s the source of two goals for us. Nothing too fancy about it. Just work from all three of them,” Keefe said. “Those three guys really came out and were really driven to make a difference.”

On the season, Hyman-Matthews-Marner has now outscored its opposition 18-8 when together. Marner (plus-18), Hyman (plus-17) and Matthews (plus-14) ranks one-two-three in team plus/minus. All three rank top 10 league-wide among forwards in the category.

“[Matthews and Marner] have been really good defensively right from the start of the season,” Keefe said. “Both guys have really worked, really focused on it. Pretty much every night they’re playing against the other team’s best players. Often these are some of the best players in the world. Here tonight again very similar, and those guys do the job.”

A question worth asking: Is this the best 200-foot line in the NHL?

“I just think as incredible as they look offensively, it’s amazing how strong players they are and how hard they work defensively and coming back and the little plays they make. All of them come back, take pucks away, stick checking, taking the body. They just make amazing plays,” said goalie Jack Campbell, improving his perfect record to 7-0-0.

“Mitchy is one of the best penalty killers I’ve ever seen. He’s so smart out there. And for them to play together, they just seem to have amazing chemistry and have amazing results.”

Campbell’s own results aren’t so shabby.

His save percentage is a sparkling .948, and he’s allowed two goals or fewer in six of his seven scattered starts — all while battling a leg injury that had him squeezing in extra work with goalie coach Steve Briere prior to the Leafs charter to Manitoba Tuesday.

“As a competitor and a teammate, I feel bad sometimes I get days off when the other guys are grinding. It puts more fire in my belly to perform when I’m called upon,” said Campbell, forever plumbing the positive from the well of adversity.

“I mean, I’m playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s pretty cool. So, nothing to be bitter about any time. I’m pretty lucky and spoiled to be here. Get to hang out with a bunch of cool dudes and play some hockey, so it’s not a bad time.”

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Olympics-U.S. women to face Australia in women’s football at Tokyo Games

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(Reuters) – The U.S. women’s national team will face Australia, Sweden and New Zealand at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, while in the men’s competition 2016 winners Brazil will take on Germany following the group stage draw on Wednesday.

The American women’s team are the reigning world champions and four-time winners of the Olympic tournament and will start as favourites in Tokyo, with Rio 2016 winners Germany failing to qualify.

Team GB women have drawn 2016 bronze medallists Canada, Chile and hosts Japan. Making only their second Olympic tournament appearance, Team GB will be led by England’s interim coach Hege Riise.

On the men’s side, Brazil will take on Germany, Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia.

Mexico, the 2012 gold medallists, were pitted against hosts Japan, South Africa and France.

The men’s team are usually restricted to selecting players under the age of 23, with just three overage players allowed.

However, the age bracket has been raised for the Tokyo Games in line with the one-year postponement of the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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Rafael Nadal rallies from set down to advance in Barcelona

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Top seed Rafael Nadal rallied from a set back to beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday in the second round at the Barcelona Open in Spain.

Nadal lost serve in the opening game of the match and wasn’t able to break Ivashka’s serve throughout the first set. He won just 70.6 percent of points on his first serve, was broken twice and had two double faults in an uncharacteristically poor showing on service in the opening set.

By the second set, he had righted his serve, winning 86.7 percent of points on his first serve in the second set and 83.3 percent in the third. He didn’t face a break point in either set.

In other action, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, No. 3 Andrey Rublev of Russia, No. 4 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, No. 6 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain and No. 10 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada were among those advancing.

No. 9 Fabio Fognini of Italy defaulted for verbal abuse. He was losing 6-0, 4-4 to Zapata Miralles of Spain when the line judge reported him for swearing after a foot fault. He had been warned earlier in the match

Serbia Open

Top seed and home-country favorite Novak Djokovic needed just 68 minutes to top South Korean Soon-woo Kwon 6-1, 6-3 and advance to the quarterfinals in Belgrade, Serbia.

Djokovic capitalized on five of his eight service break opportunities in the win. In the next round, he’ll meet fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, the eighth seed, who needed three sets to oust Arthur Rinderknech of France 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Also advancing was the No. 2 seed, Matteo Berrettini, who defeated fellow Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 6-3. Fifth seed Filip Krajinovic beat Nikola Milojevic 6-1, 6-1 in an all-Serb match.

 

(Field Level Media)

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Ice hockey-Women’s world championships cancelled due to COVID-19

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(Reuters) -The women’s ice hockey world championships set to be played in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia have been cancelled because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in Canada, Hockey Canada said on Wednesday.

The announcement came one day before the 10 teams were to arrive to begin their quarantine ahead of the May 6-16 tournament.

“This is very disappointing news to receive with just a few weeks until the tournament was to begin,” said International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel in a statement.

“We strongly believe that we had the adequate safety measures in place. In the end, we must accept the decision of the government.”

The IIHF and Hockey Canada were informed by the Nova Scotia provincial government on Wednesday that the 10-country tournament could not go ahead due to safety concerns associated with COVID-19.

Still the news came as a shock after Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer had 24 hours earlier given the event the thumbs- up.

“At five o’clock this morning we were full go and at 7:30 am we were not,” explained Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney. “That is the way the world is right now and there is only so much we can control.

“At the end of the day there is a bigger game than the one we play here and quite honestly it is about the safety of the general public.”

The cancellation was another blow for the women’s game that has endured a number of recent setbacks, including the folding of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

It was also the second consecutive year the Nova Scotia world championships have been stopped by COVID-19.

“Definitely, a little bit of disbelief, a little shock, a lot of emotion,” said Canadian coach Gina Kingsbury, who pulled some players off the ice to deliver the bad news. “This is a group that has been through a lot this past year and two years so they are definitely familiar with disappointing news.”

Both the IIHF and Hockey Canada indicated they plan to play the world championships this year, possibly this summer, in Canada.

“Our intention, and that of the IIHF, is to reconnect with this event as a world championship in 2021 in Canada,” said Renney. “That’s our number one objective. We have every desire to hold this event in Canada.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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