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The NHL is off to a pretty good start
It’s day 4 of hockey’s return and, so far, so good. The action on the ice is exciting, no one has tested positive for the coronavirus, and there are plenty of interesting storylines to follow. Here are a few things we’ve seen/learned so far, with a focus on the six Canadian teams left competing for the Stanley Cup:
Connor McDavid is on fire. The world’s best player scored his first career playoff hat trick last night and now has four goals and two assists through two games. McDavid’s second goal last night is the highlight of the playoffs so far. Check it out:
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo recaps NHL playoffs, McDavid’s strong Game 2:
Despite their captain’s heroics, the 5th-seeded Oilers are in a battle to survive their series against 12th-seeded Chicago. The underdogs stole Game 1 6-4 before Edmonton bounced back with a 6-3 win last night Game 3 of the best-of-five matchup is Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET. Read more about Game 2 and watch McDavid’s goals here.
Carey Price is hot too. The Canadiens goalie didn’t have a great season, but he’s tapping into his old MVP-calibre form right now against Pittsburgh. Price made 39 saves to lift Montreal to a 3-2 overtime upset in the opener of what was supposed to be the most lopsided first-round matchup. He gave the Habs a shot to steal Game 2 last night as well, stopping 35 shots in a 3-1 loss that was within reach until the Penguins scored an empty-netter with 10 seconds left. Game 4 is Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.
The Calgary-Winnipeg series is wild. A lot of people expected a close matchup between two teams that finished the regular season with nearly identical records. But it looked like a sweep might be in the offing after a disastrous opener for the Jets that saw them get trounced 4-1 and lose star players Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine to injuries. Wrong again! Winnipeg won Game 2 last night without its two most dangerous scorers. Game 3 is tonight at 6:45 p.m. ET. At our publish time, it was unclear whether Scheifele or Laine will play.
The pressure is on Toronto and Vancouver tonight. Both teams were favoured to win their series before getting shut out in their openers. Another loss would push them to the brink of elimination in these best-of-five matchups. The Canucks got blanked 3-0 in Game 1 by an underrated Minnesota team that generated some sleeper buzz heading into the playoffs. The Leafs lost 2-0 to a feisty Columbus team that’s looking to pull off another upset after shocking Tampa Bay last year. If Toronto, with its abundance of offensive talent, exits in the opening round for the fourth year in a row, it’ll be an interesting off-season to say the least.
The round-robin games just aren’t quite the same. The top four teams in each conference are involved in these, so there’s plenty of star power. But with all of them guaranteed to move on to the next round and only seeding at stake, these contests lack the drama of the best-of-five qualifiers, where the teams are playing for their lives. “Glorified exhibition games” is a fair description.
Not many players seem interested in protesting. In contrast to the NBA, where every player, coach and referee involved in the opening game last Thursday took a knee for the U.S. anthem, only a handful of NHLers have made such a move. On Sunday, Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba (a Canadian who identifies as half-Filipino) raised his fist on the bench during both the Canadian and American anthems. Dumba said he plans to do this for the rest of Minnesota’s games. Last night, Vegas forward Ryan Reaves and goalie Robin Lehner joined Dallas forwards Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson in kneeling on the ice during the anthems. Reaves is Black and the others are white. Read more about the protests here.
The bubbles appear to be working. The NHL announced yesterday that no players tested positive for COVID-19 since the 24 teams arrived at their sealed-off environments in either Edmonton or Toronto a week earlier. Meanwhile, the NBA has had zero positive tests since July 14 in its own bubble, which is located inside Disney World. Then there’s Major League Baseball, which has already been forced to postpone 21 games and has seen two teams (Miami and St. Louis) experience major outbreaks. Seems like the bubble is the way to go.
The Raptors are off to a great start too. In their first two games back, the defending NBA champs trounced the Western Conference-leading Lakers 107-92 on Saturday before beating a good Miami Heat team 107-103 yesterday. Kyle Lowry had 33 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and six assists vs. the Lakers, while Fred VanVleet dropped a career-high 36 points on Miami. Toronto won’t catch Milwaukee for top spot in the East, but it’s close to clinching the No. 2 seed. That would likely mean a first-round playoff matchup with either Orlando, who the Raptors defeated easily last year, or a depleted version of the Brooklyn Nets.
Bianca Andreescu is officially entered in the U.S. Open, but Rafael Nadal pulled out. Women’s world No. 1 Ash Barty had already withdrawn from the first tennis major to be played since the pandemic hit, but everyone else in the top 28 appeared on the initial entry list released today. That includes the sixth-ranked Andreescu, who it appears is planning to defend her women’s singles title when the tournament begins Aug. 31 in New York City. The Canadian is not competing at this week’s Palermo Open in Italy, which is the first event staged by either the women’s or men’s tour in five months. The field is made up almost entirely of European players, and none of the top 14 in the world rankings are there. On the men’s side of the U.S. Open, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was on today’s entry list, but the second-ranked Nadal announced he won’t defend his title because he’d “rather not travel” right now. Roger Federer, who’s ranked fourth in the world, is out for the year after having knee surgery. Read more about who’s out and who’s in (at the moment) for the U.S. Open here.
The Blue Jays return tonight. They got an unexpected four-day weekend off when their series against Philadelphia was postponed because two Phillies staff members tested positive for COVID-19. No other tests came back positive, and Philly was allowed to return from a seven-day layoff yesterday to face the Yankees. Tonight, Toronto will play its first game since last Thursday’s loss to Washington when it opens a three-game series at Atlanta. The Jays are 3-4, which puts them right in the middle of the five-team AL East.
Mike Soroka is not having a happy birthday. The Canadian pitcher, who was the runner-up for National League rookie of the year last season and is the ace of the Atlanta staff, tore his right Achilles during last night’s game and is out for the year. Soroka turned 23 today. The Calgarian went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA last year to finish sixth in NL Cy Young voting. He picked up where he left off, allowing just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his first two starts of 2020 before the Mets roughed him up last night prior to the injury. Read more about Soroka and his season-ending injury here.
Baseball’s Field of Dreams game was postponed. Just as the Miami Marlins are finally getting ready to return to action tonight after a week-long hiatus caused by 18 players and two coaches testing positive for COVID-19, baseball is dealing with another big outbreak. Seven players and six staff members from the St. Louis Cardinals have tested positive, including nine-time all-star catcher Yadier Molina. This resulted in the postponement of last week’s four-game series with Milwaukee and this week’s four-game set with Detroit. Also cancelled was the so-called Field of Dreams game on Aug. 13. The Cardinals and Chicago White Sox were scheduled to play that day in a newly-built ballpark in Iowa, located on the cornfield next to where the 1989 movie was shot. The plan is to play the game next year, with the White Sox facing a TBD opponent. Also, one final pandemic-related baseball note: two fairly big-name players opted out of the season over the weekend: the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes and the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain.
The Grand Prix of Figure Skating is going local. In a normal year, the world’s best skaters are free to compete in any two of the six stops on the tour. There’s one in Canada, the U.S., Russia, France, China and Japan. After those, the top six skaters get invited to the Grand Prix Final in early December, which is scheduled to be in Beijing this year. But today, figure skating’s world governing body announced that, due to pandemic-related concerns, the six regular competitions will be limited to domestic skaters, skaters already training in that country, and skaters assigned to that event for geographical reasons. Skate Canada is scheduled for Oct. 29-Nov. 1 in Ottawa, a week after the season-opening Skate America in Las Vegas. No decision has been made yet about what to do with the Grand Prix Final. Read more about the changes to the upcoming figure skating season here.
Today on CBC Sports
The Canadian Elite Basketball League’s Summer Series tournament continues with the Hamilton Honey Badgers vs. the Saskatchewan Rattlers at 5 p.m. ET and the Niagara River Lions vs. the Ottawa Blackjacks at 7:30 p.m. ET. Saskatchewan (1-3) and Niagara (1-4) especially need wins today. They rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the seven-team tournament, and the last-place team after the round-robin is eliminated. Watch today’s games, and every game in the tournament, live here or on the CBC Sports app or the CBC Gem streaming service.
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