HOUSTON — Carlos Correa paused a few seconds at the plate, tapping the spot on his wrist where a watch would be, after hitting a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning that propelled the Houston Astros over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 Friday night in the AL Championship Series opener.
“It’s my time,” he screamed before trotting around the bases.
That it is.
And if his time with the Astros runs out at the end of this season, the star shortstop sure is making this an October to remember.
Correa teamed with Jose Altuve to do just enough to overcome the heroics of Kike Hernandez, who starred with his bat and glove for the wild-card Red Sox.
Altuve tied the game with a two-run shot in the sixth before Correa connected off losing pitcher Hansel Robles with two outs in the seventh to put the Astros ahead 4-3.
Correa, who has been with the Astros since being selected first overall in 2012, becomes a free agent at season’s end and it seems likely that he won’t remain in Houston.
Correa has a history of big hits for Houston that includes 18 postseason home runs, several of them in key, late situations.
“Playoff time, baby,” Correa said.
“We want to be in the spotlight,” he said. “We want to be in the moment.”
Hernandez, who won a World Series with the Dodgers last year, homered twice among his four hits and likely saved multiple runs with two terrific catches.
His second homer came off closer Ryan Pressly to start the ninth and cut the lead to 5-4. But Pressly retired the next three batters to get the save.
Game 2 is Saturday in Houston.
Ahead 4-3, the Astros loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth when Hirokazu Sawamura plunked Martin Maldonado. Houston added some insurance when Yuli Gurriel slid in just before the tag to score on a sacrifice fly by Altuve that made it 5-3, beating a terrific throw by Hernandez.
Hernandez has been red hot for the Red Sox this October, with 13 hits in his last four games to set an MLB record for most hits in a four-game span in one postseason. He passed Billy Hatcher (1999), Marquis Grissom (1995), Hideki Matsui (2004) and Randy Arozarena (2020), who all had 11.
“Enrique is en fuego,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.
Chas McCormick singled with one out in the sixth before Altuve became the fourth player in MLB history to hit at least 20 postseason homers with his shot to left-center off Tanner Houck that tied it at 3.
Hernandez opened a three-run third with his soaring homer to centre field to tie it at 1-all.
Xander Bogaerts walked with one out and Rafael Devers singled. J.D. Martinez hit a grounder to Altuve for what should have been a routine play. But the ball grazed his glove and rolled between his legs to allow Martinez to reach and Bogaerts to score to put Boston up 2-1.
Hunter Renfroe then hit an RBI double to left field to extend it to 3-1 before Houston’s two brightest stars came through late.
“Experience matters,” Correa said.
Altuve and Correa, connecting again for a team trying to reach the World Series for the second time in three years. The Astros also won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal.
Both teams leaned heavily on their bullpens after both Boston starter Chris Sale and Houston’s Framber Valdez were chased in the third.
Ryne Stanek got the last out of the seventh for the win.
“We stay in the moment. You win, you turn the page, you prepare for tomorrow. You lose, you turn the page, you prepare for tomorrow,” Cora said.
“We lost the first three games of the season to Baltimore, and we felt like Game 4 against Tampa was the season, to be honest with you. We’ve been living like this for a while, so we’ll be ready for tomorrow,” he said.
Sale, who was tagged for five runs in one inning in his previous start against Tampa Bay in the AL Division Series, permitted five hits and a run in 2 2/3 innings Friday. Valdez gave up six hits and three runs — two earned — while also getting just eight outs.
The Astros led 1-0 after Altuve scored on a sacrifice fly by Yordan Alvarez in the first.
For the next few innings it looked like it wouldn’t be the Astros’ night.
Houston loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Altuve struck out before Sale escaped the jam with a huge assist from Hernandez in center field. Hernandez, whose MLB debut came when he subbed for Altuve late in a game in 2014, sprinted to rob Michael Brantley with a diving catch in shallow center to end the inning.
The Astros had runners at first and second with two outs in the fifth when Hernandez struck again. He made a back-handed grab in right-center on a ball hit by Kyle Tucker to leave them empty-handed once more.
Hernandez even seemed surprised he made the grab, contorting his face into a shocked look after the ball hit his glove.
Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 2.61 ERA) will have a homecoming of sorts Saturday when he starts opposite rookie Luis Garcia (0-0, 16.88). Eovaldi grew up in the Houston suburb of Alvin, also home to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and visited the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park often growing up.
“It’s definitely one of my favorite ballparks to pitch in,” Eovaldi said.
Saturday will be his third start this postseason. He struck out eight in 5 1/3 innings and got the win in the wild-card victory over the Yankees. He also started Game 3 of the ALDS but did not factor in the decision in a 6-4 Red Sox win.
Garcia struggled in a Game 3 start in the division series, permitting five runs in just 2 2/3 innings of a 12-6 loss.
Mark Scheifele completes hat trick to lead Jets over Devils – Sportsnet.ca
Scheifele earned his fourth career hat trick on Friday night to lead the Winnipeg Jets to an 8-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Canada Life Centre on Friday night.
“We had a tough stretch of hockey,” Scheifele said. “We weren’t happy with our game. But when you do the right things over and over, do the simple things, good things happen. I think tonight was just an example of that.”
Scheifele completed the hat trick when he scored on a one-timer on a pass from captain Blake Wheeler at the 9:36 mark of the third period to give Winnipeg a 7-4 lead. Wheeler assisted on two of Scheifele’s three goals as the Jets’ offence came alive after a lengthy dry spell.
“We were able to get some rest, we were able to get fresh legs and you guys saw that tonight, a lot of guys had a little more pop in their step,” said Scheifele. “Having that much time off is huge after having the amount of games we’ve played in such a short time. We used that to our advantage.”
Nikolaj Ehlers also broke out of a five-game goalless streak with two of his own for Winnipeg (11-8-4), while Kristian Vesalainen, Josh Morrissey and Adam Lowry also scored. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 33 saves for the win.
“It (two goals) obviously means a lot,” Ehlers said. “You want to help the team any way you can and a lot of the guys were able to get a point on a goal.
“Scoring points is fun, there’s no secret to that. But I think, overall, we played a game that gave us a chance to win and we deserve it.”
Nico Hischier and Ryan Graves both scored to give New Jersey (9-8-4) a 4-3 lead by the 1:16 mark of the second period. Jack Hughes and Damon Severson had first-period goals.
“Obviously good since we won the game, but it should have never gotten to that,” Ehlers said. “I think after 3-0, we stopped playing and gave them time and space to make their plays.”
Devils goalie Jonathan Bernier, who made 26 saves on 32 shots, was replaced by Mackenzie Blackwood to start the third period. Blackwood stopped 6-of-8 shots.
After blowing a 3-0 lead, the Jets took a 6-4 lead into the third period.
“We were down 3-0, we battled back hard,” said Devils coach Lindy Ruff. “The first eight minutes (of the second period) was just all us. Did some fatigue hit us? Yes.
“It’s always frustrating to work that hard and not be able to complete the deal ? We had all kinds of opportunities to keep coming back but we didn’t complete the deal.”
After Hischier and Graves gave New Jersey its brief lead, Ehlers tied the score at 4-4 with his second goal of the game at the 10:39 mark of the second period. Andrew Copp, with his 100th career helper, assisted on the goal.
“We have to clean up our D-zone,” Hischier said. “There’s no way in this league you’re going to win hockey games when you get scored on that many times, and that’s what happened today. So, we definitely got to clean up.”
Winnipeg will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, the same day the Winnipeg Blue Bombers host the West Final versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Wheeler is scheduled to play his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday,
The Devils return home to host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.
Sheldon Keefe on the Mitch Marner-Jake Muzzin incident in practice: "Our team is really close and that kind of stuff will be shaken off really quickly" – Maple Leafs Hotstove – Maple Leafs Hot Stove
After practice on Friday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the injury status of Mitch Marner, Ilya Mikheyev, Ondrej Kase, and Joe Woll as well as the challenge ahead against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
Mitch Marner left early after a collision with Jake Muzzin. Any concern he might not be able to play?
Keefe: It’s precautionary. We will see how he is in the morning. It is not looking like anything serious at this point. He is going to travel and prepare to play. We will see how he is in the morning.
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 3, 2021
After the collision, Marner and Muzzin had words at the bench, and it seemed a little heated. What is your perspective on that? Are you glad to see competitors going at it? Do you check in to make sure it is all good?
Keefe: I was told that there was a little bit of an exchange right before I came out here, but especially with those two guys, I don’t worry about that kind of stuff at all. Things happen out there, whether it is in practice or games. Our team is really close and that kind of stuff will be shaken off really quickly.
What has allowed Rasmus Sandin to become an everyday guy and someone you move up on the power play?
Keefe: First of all, the power play and he is ability to contribute on that is a big part of it. He has a unique skill set in that regard when you look at the group that we have. Those same skills that allow him to play on the power play is also unique to our D group in terms of breaking the puck out and helping us move through the neutral zone and at the offensive blue line.
Those things really help him stay in. Those are important intangibles that he brings to the lineup when he is in. The other part of it is just the maturity that he has shown as a young player even since he came in with the Marlies. All of that is part of it.
He is still, just like the other guys, in a competition here for a spot and for his ice time. He has to continue to stay on top of that. We believe in him. He has played very well for us. But you talk about him being an every day player — and he has only sat one game to this point — but like Liljegren, Dermott, and Justin Holl, all of those guys who have sat games while healthy have to be at their best every day.
That is the biggest challenge in the NHL — to do that. Part of that for us is making sure we keep him healthy, fresh, and at the point where he can be at his best more often than not.
Are you happy with the “next man up” mentality and that you have the depth to deal with any unforeseen injuries and bumps and bruises?
Keefe: For sure. We have been talking about it. We have seven defensemen, so that has contributed. We have won games with each of them in. You don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Just like everything else that is out of your control, if you are wasting your time thinking about that, you are taking away time from worrying about the things you can control.
We do like our depth. Whether it is the seventh defenseman who has played, or whether it is Joey Anderson, Kyle Clifford, or Joe Woll that have come in, they have all come in at times when we have needed help and have done the job. More importantly, the rest of our group that is playing has just picked up the group.
Will Ondrej Kase play tomorrow night?
Keefe: Kase got through practice today. It was very positive. It looks like he is trending towards a return here. He is going to travel with the group. We are going to travel out to Minnesota, see how he is in the morning, and take it from there.
What have your early looks at the Wild told you about the difficulty of the matchup?
Keefe: Even throughout last season as well, they have really established themselves as a very difficult team to play against. They are very structured and play extremely hard. They are big and strong and hungry around the net.
There are lots of really good traits that are easy to pick out about their team because it is so deliberate and obvious — especially when you look at how they are around the net. Our ability to protect our net, keep pucks away from there, and keep bodies away from there are really important.
We’re looking to play through pressure. They are a team that plays very hard. The play very well particularly on home ice. Just like we had to prep for Colorado the other night, we have a lot of respect for the opponent. We will just have to make sure we are prepared.
How many games do you think Petr Mrazek will play with the Marlies?
Keefe: I think we will take it one at a time. The Marlies were supposed to play tomorrow night, but that has been postponed. He will play on Sunday, and we will take it from there.
Will Ilya Mikheyev come on the trip with you?
Keefe: Yeah, Miky is going to travel with us, too. It is really nice to see him taking those steps. Part of it is the conditioning piece and getting back out on the ice and being around more than just an open sheet of ice. Having lots of guys out there is part of making your way back.
The other piece is just being with your teammates again. He has been injured a lot, as injured players tend to be. We have been trying to get him into our meetings and such in the last little while. Coming on the road now is a big part of that, too.
Is Joe Woll going to get a start this weekend?
Keefe: I think we are going to bring three goaltenders. With Joe, just like the others who are a little banged up, we are just going to have to see how they respond in the morning tomorrow and take it from there.
Is there another level to the Matthews-Marner chemistry, or is it just sort of picking up where they left off?
Keefe: I like to think that two players like that, especially at their age, there is room to grow there still — room to grow in their chemistry and in their games individually. I don’t think we would say they have maxed out their potential in any regard, especially with players with that drive that they have paired with the talent and competitiveness. I wouldn’t limit those guys at all. It is certainly nice to see them connecting. You can’t leave out the fact that Bunting has really contributed well to that line as well.
McDavid overtakes Crosby as Canada's king of the ice – The Globe and Mail
It is not that we did not know this before, but this week Connor McDavid made it eminently clear that he has surpassed Sidney Crosby to become the best Canadian on hockey’s landscape.
This is not a swipe at the Penguins’ venerable captain because he has delivered so many thrills in 17 years as the sport’s marquee player. It is more a recognition that McDavid has elevated the level of his game to a place where it is no longer arguable.
McDavid had a goal and three assists in Edmonton’s 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He was on the ice each time the Oilers scored, which made him plus-five for the night. Crosby had a mostly quiet-to-difficult evening: he had an assist but ended up minus-four. We can say with certainty that has rarely if ever happened to him.
“He’s just so good at creating something from nothing,” Crosby said of McDavid, who has risen from heir-apparent to unrivalled. “There is not a lot of danger and all of a sudden he’s on a 2-on-1 or he’s got a fast break. It’s a pretty small margin for error.”
McDavid skates so fast and handles the puck so adroitly that he almost plays at video-game speed. He defies how much anyone can dominate the game in an era in which players are bigger and quicker and stronger than they have ever been.
McDavid set up Zach Hyman for Edmonton’s first goal on its first shot. He then slipped another perfect pass to the former Maple Leaf on a 2 on 1 for the Oilers’ second. Later he put a puck right on Evan Bouchard’s stick for an easy tap-in during another 2 on 1. Then he scored an empty-netter with a little more than two minutes remaining to leave no doubt about the outcome.
On that play, McDavid preferred to pass to Hyman for what would have been his first career hat trick but Hyman waved him off at the last second because he could not free himself of a defender.
“I was trying to get him the puck,” McDavid said. “I almost felt guilty putting it in the net.”
Earlier, Hyman had one wiped out by an offsides penalty on Kailer Yamamoto.
“I don’t think about it too much,” Hyman said of getting his first three-goal game. He has scored two a dozen times. “I think eventually it will happen.”
McDavid had 15 goals and 40 points in 21 outings as he headed into Friday night’s clash with the Kraken in Seattle. As remarkable as those numbers are, he was only second in the NHL in scoring. His teammate Leon Draisaitl had 20 goals and 41 points.
Edmonton is 16-5 and jostling with the Calgary Flames for first place atop the Pacific Division. The Oilers’ start is their best since 1984, when Wayne Gretzky helped them burst from the gate to 12-0-3.
Naysayers will complain that Edmonton is really just a two-man team. I don’t recall if hockey fans said the same thing about Crosby and Mario Lemieux early on in Pittsburgh, or if anyone said, “Yes, but how good would the Blackhawks be without Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane?”
The difference, of course, is that the Oilers have only won a playoff series once in McDavid’s six seasons, and the franchise won its most recent Stanley Cup in 1990. Edmonton needs to make a long playoff run to turn some doubters into believers.
In that way the Oilers are not unlike the Maple Leafs. At this point, what Toronto accomplishes in the regular season barely matters. Despite the Leafs’ record, nobody will toss them bouquets until they prove their worth in the postseason. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2004.
McDavid is 24 and entering his prime now. Draisaitl is 26 and doing the same. Between them they have 81 points in 21 games. That is Gretzky-esque and Messier-like in a harder time for anyone to shine so brightly.
Crosby said this week that McDavid is playing at such a high level that it is hard to believe that he can find an even higher one.
“I think he’s done that,” Crosby said. “That’s the most impressive part about it.”
The Oilers have struggled to find any consistency in recent seasons. But their roster is much stronger now.
Hyman has a dozen goals and 17 points. Jesse Puljujarvi has seven goals and also has 17 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has scored just twice but has 20 points. Mikko Koskinen is 12-2 in the net. Edmonton beat Pittsburgh with Darnell Nurse, Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci all out with injuries. It lost its top four guys on the blueline in four games and still went 3-1. On Wednesday, it dressed four defencemen who had played a combined 74 games in the NHL.
Imagine how Toronto would fare without Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie and Rasmus Sandin. Probably not too well.
The Oilers were outshot by Pittsburgh 26-13 in the first two periods but went into the final 20 minutes with the score tied 2-2. Then they blew the Penguins away. They scored four times on 21 shots against Tristan Jarry, who had allowed three goals on 175 shots in the previous six games.
This is no longer a one- or two-trick-pony team.
“We kind of held on for the first 40 minutes,” McDavid said. “We kind of worked our way through the game, capitalized on our chances and got some timely saves.”
There will undoubtedly be some ups and downs over 82 games. But the Oilers have been more than good enough so far.
McDavid and Crosby have faced one another only eight times. In those games, Edmonton’s captain has four goals and 10 assists. Crosby has scored twice and assisted on five others.
On Wednesday night, McDavid won the opening faceoff against Crosby. He has worked hard to improve in that area. He remembered the first time he lined up across from Crosby in the faceoff circle as a rookie.
“I was all excited and ready for the faceoff and he flicked it away from me before I even knew it,” McDavid said. “I never even had a chance.”
Time flies, and so does Connor McDavid.
Mark Scheifele completes hat trick to lead Jets over Devils – Sportsnet.ca
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