By Lori Bennett
Hockey fans continue to enjoy the second round of the 2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs, despite the absence of favourites like the Leafs, Bruins and Habs.
On Tuesday night the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning completed the sweep of the President’s Trophy winning Florida Panthers. For me, the best story of the Battle of Florida was Corey Perry. Montreal Canadiens fans will recall how important “Scorey” was in their deep run last season, and he’s doing it again this year.
Perry has five goals and an assist in 11 playoff games while averaging less than 12 minutes of ice time per game. Four of those points came in the Florida series, where the wily veteran gave the Panthers a lesson in the kind of players that get you through the playoffs. Andrei Vasilevskiy was also back to dominance in this series after the Toronto Maple Leafs were unable to capitalize on his average performance in the first round.
In the other Eastern Conference match-up, the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers has had some ugly moments. The Hurricanes took a 3-2 series lead on Thursday night, maintaining a perfect record for the home team. What was expected to be an offensive showcase is racking up considerably more penalty minutes than goals. The winner will move on to the third round to face the Lightning.
Speaking of ugliness, the series between the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues has also had its moments. Heading into the weekend, the Avalanche led the series 3-2, but the story stealing the headlines revolved around Nazem Kadri. In Game 3, Kadri – who has a history of questionable behaviour in the post-season – collided with Blues goalie Jordan Binnington while chasing a loose puck to the net. Binnington was injured on the play and eliminated from the rest of the series.
Kadri wasn’t penalized and didn’t receive any supplemental discipline, but that didn’t stop Blues fans from striking out. Racist attacks against Kadri, a Muslim of Lebanese descent, were made public when his wife posted samples on social media. Kadri responded to the keyboard warriors with a hat-trick in a Game 4 win.
The series that caught the attenion of Canadian fans was the Battle of Alberta, which ended on Thursday night. Needing the home win to stay alive, the Calgary Flames took the lead on goals from Andrew Mangiapane and Mikael Backlund. It looked like Calgary had found some life.
Then the Edmonton Oilers took over offensively with three straight goals before the teams exchanged tallies to end the second. The third period was scoreless, and overtime was necessary to settle a 4-4 draw at the end of regulation. In the extra frame it was, of course, Connor McDavid finishing it on a pass from Leon Draisaitl.
Based on the regular season, one would have predicted the Flames to be the team to beat on the strength of coaching and goaltending. Instead, the Oilers have come together under Coach Jay Woodcroft, who replaced Dave Tippet in February. Mike Smith was not as solid in this round as he was against the Los Angeles Kings, but his performance was enough to win the goalie draw.
The Oilers offence also continued to shine, with both McDavid and Draisaitl registering seven goals and 19 assists in 12 playoff games so far. Evander Kane is making GM Ken Holland look like a genius with his 12 goals.
In the meanwhile, the Flames struggled to establish their game against the Oilers, allowing the affair to turn into a game of pond hockey at times. Jacob Markstrom,who boasted a .943 save percentage in the series win against the Dallas Stars, went into the final game of the Alberta series with just an .850 save percentage. The Vezina Trophy finalist was unable to perform at a high level to give Calgary a chance to win, and Coach Darryl Sutter did not make the necessary adjustments and his team was simply over-powered in the end.
The Oilers will head to the third round where they will face the winner of the Avalanche-Blues series.
Blue Jays Babble
On Thursday night the Toronto Blue Jays were in California to begin a four-game weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels. The Jays went into the series with a re-cord of 23-20 and in third place in the American League East behind the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.
The Blue Birds are always in tough in their division. The Yankees are a powerhouse, year after year, and it feels like the Rays and the Boston Red Sox take turns edging out the Jays. The question each summer is whether enough change happened in the off-season to get Toronto out of their own division.
Expectations are high for this version of the Blue Jays but, so far, the start to the season has been underwhelming. The starting rotation has been solid, with Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah off to strong starts. The bullpen and defence have been fine, but the Toronto bats have run hot and cold. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have not gotten their numbers up to the level we saw last year.
The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s way too early to get too concerned. Fans are hoping the current road trip to the warm temperatures of the Golden State is enough to heat up those bats.
CFL Catch Up
It came down to the wire, but on Thursday CFL players voted to ratify a tentative collective agreement and the 2022 CFL pre-season was due to get underway on Friday. The regular season starts on June 9th.