By Lori Bennett
The NHL playoffs got off to a roaring start this past week. The Toronto Maple Leafs welcomed the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. The Lightning were sluggish and the Leafs came with a monkey to shake off their backs. Two goals from Auston Matthews and another from Mitch Marner contributed to a 5-0 shutout win for the Leafs.
In Game 2 on Wednesday, the Lightning veterans took over the game early with goals from Victor Hedman and Corey Perry, and Leaf veteran Wayne Simmonds took some ill-timed penalties that hurt Toronto in a 5-3 loss.
The teams were booked for two weekend meetings in Tampa Bay. The Lightning have skated a lot of miles in recent years with brief off-seasons to recover. This is a winnable series for the Leafs, but they must keep their composure against an opponent that is all about composure. They’d be wise to avoid a seventh game, since we all know how that typically ends for the Leafs.
The Oilers kicked off their series against the Los Angeles Kings in Edmonton last Monday. Phillip Danault and Anze Kopitar combined to mostly contain Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and stole the first game with a score of 4-3. On Wednesday, Mike Smith took the Oilers on his back in a 6-0 shutout win to end a seven-game postseason losing streak for the guys in orange and tie the series.
The series headed to the City of Angels for two weekend games. The Oilers need Smith to stay healthy and give them quality starts. You never know, if they can pull off a series win, they might be able to drag a smile out of McDavid.
The Calgary Flames greeted the Dallas Stars on Tuesday to begin their best of seven. Elias Lindholm scored early, and that was all they needed in a 1-0 win. On Thursday it was 23-year-old Jake Oettinger with the shoutout for Dallas in a 2-0 win. The Flames were the better team all season, but Dallas is finding a way to keep it close. The wily Darryl Sutter will have to go back to the whiteboard before the series heads to Texas.
On Tuesday, hockey icon Guy Lafleur was laid to rest. Lafleur died on April 22nd at the age of 70 following a lengthy battle with lung cancer. After lying in state at the Bell Centre, he was given a national funeral held at a packed Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, with crowds lining the streets in downtown Montreal, and countless others watching by television to hear comrades and dignitaries pay tribute to The Flower.
The 17-year NHL veteran was the first player in the NHL to score 50 goals in six consecutive seasons as well as 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons. Guy was a five-time Stanley Cup Champion, and he won the Art Ross Trophy three times, the Hart Trophy twice, the Conn Smythe Trophy on one occasion, along with several other awards.
Guy Lafleur will be missed, both as the superstar hockey player from our childhoods, and as a humble man who took countless photos with fans, signed countless jerseys and other memorabilia, and wholeheartedly understood what it meant to be a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Habs fans are hopeful that the contemporary team of kids that experienced the outpouring of love for Guy in recent days got a dose of inspiration from Le Demon Blonde.
Raptors Racket After being eliminated in six games by the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors are turning their attention to off-season work. Coach Nick Nurse and Vice-Chairman Masai Ujiri sat down with the media this week. Nurse, who is under contract with the Raptors for two more seasons, shut down rumours he may be leaving Toronto for Los Angeles and said he is focused on winning with this Raptors team.
The Raptors, whose finish was poor enough to land the fourth overall pick last season, over-achieved this year. No one was expecting a fifth place finish in the East, or for them to put up a fight against the 76ers, but the young squad can walk away from this season with heads held high.
This off-season, Ujiri and Nurse will be focused on filling some holes with a view to a deeper run next year. They’ll look for bench depth, after relying too heavily on their top seven players this past season. The Raptors will also be looking to improve in shooting, an area that was weak throughout the season and killed them in the elimination game against the 76ers.
Ujiri will be busy in free agency and will scour the trade market. But business gets underway on June 23rd when the Raptors will have a high second round pick at the NBA draft.
Blue Jays Babble
After winning two of three games against the visiting Houston Astros last weekend, the Jays greeted the New York Yankees for three.
On Monday night, the Jays bullpen couldn’t contain the Yankees in a 3-2 loss. The Blue Jays bats were cold again on Tuesday in a 9-1 loss. Toronto avoided the series sweep on Wednesday, on the strength of a Yusei Kikuchi pitching performance that won the rubber match 2-1.
On Thursday the Jays began a four-game series in Cleveland against the Guardians. They went into the series with a 16-10 record and in second place in the American League East behind the Yankees. It’s early days, Jays fans. Settle in for a long season.