By Lori Bennett
The Stanley Cup Final continued this week. After delivering a 7-0 whooping to the defending champs on Saturday night, the Colorado Avalanche were headed to Tampa Bay knowing the Lightning could not be regarded as in trouble until they had lost one at home.
On Monday night it was the Lightning that delivered the whooping, chasing goaltender Darcy Kuemper from his net with a 6-2 win over Colorado. Now we had a series, and the teams were back at it on Wednesday.
Game 4 was a 60-minute battle that needed overtime to resolve. At 12:02 of the extra period, the goal that beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to win the game came with a little drama. Nazem Kadri was the hero, in his first game back from what was believed to be season-ending hand surgery. The puck he roofed on the winner was literally stuck in the roof of the net and the call was a little delayed. Nonetheless, the goal counted, despite post-game complaints about an uncalled, lazy-change, “too many men” penalty. I wonder if anyone in Toronto is second-guessing the decision to give up on Kadri for his playoff antics.
The series was due to return to Colorado on Friday night for Game 5, where the Avalanche would have a chance to win the Cup on home ice.
Musical chairs continued in the coaching department this week. Last Sunday news broke that Peter DeBoer would be named the next coach of the Dallas Stars. DeBoer was fired by the Vegas Golden Knights on May 16th after the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in their brief history. Then on Tuesday, the Edmonton Oilers removed the Interim Coach label from Jay Woodcroft and gave him a three-year contract extension.
On Wednesday, the Florida Panthers won the awkward award, choosing not to remove the Interim label from Coach Andrew Brunette and replacing him with Paul Maurice as their new head coach. Maurice had stepped down from the head coach role with the Winnipeg Jets in December.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans were given a reason to cheer in June, thanks to the NHL Awards. Auston Matthews, following a dynamic regular season, was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Matthews also took home the Ted Lindsay Award, which is the award voted on by the players to select the most outstanding player for the regular season. Matthews won the Rocket Richard Trophy earlier this year for most regular season goals.
The Norris Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defenceman, went to Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche. The Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year went to Moritz Seider of the Detroit Red Wings. Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers won the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best goalie.
In free agency news, the Vancouver Canucks got out of the gate early this week. Free agency officially opens on July 13th, but Russian forward Andrei Kuzmenko has been meeting with NHL teams with a view to coming to North America next season. The Canucks have reportedly won the sweepstakes and Kuzmenko has committed to sign in Vancouver. Kuzmenko is an undrafted late bloomer who finished second in scoring in the KHL this year.
Blue Jays Babble
Last weekend’s series against the New York Yankees did not go quite as hoped for the Toronto Blue Jays. They were pummeled 12-3 on Friday and shutout 4-0 on Saturday before claiming a 10-9 win on Sunday.
The Yankees are the measuring stick for the Jays, and after their weekend series Toronto was 4-8 against the pin-striped fellows. The best comparison point may be this: following the series, the Yankees were 20-8 against teams playing at .500 or better, while the Blue Jays were 17-20. Of course, this record also establishes that Toronto has had the tougher schedule so far and may make up ground against lesser opponents.
On Monday, the Jays headed to Chicago for a three-game series against the White Sox. In the opener, Jose Berrios struggled and allowed six runs in four innings in an 8-7 loss. On Tuesday night the Jays bats were active, and Kevin Gausman pitched six decent innings, but it wasn’t enough as the Sox won 7-6 in extra innings. Ross Stripling had a strong start on Wednesday, Bo Bichette hit a grand slam, and the bullpen nearly blew it, but the Jays held on for a 9-5 win on Wednesday.
The Jays had Thursday off before heading to Milwaukee for a weekend series against the Brewers. The Jays need to start stringing some wins together if they want to be regarded as a serious contender in the American League, and management may need to come through with some bullpen help to make that happen.
The NBA entry draft took place on Thursday night. The Raptors did not own a first round pick, having previously traded it to the San Antonio Spurs in the Thaddeus Young deal. At 33rd overall, the Raptors selected Christian Koloko, a 7’1” Centre who is known for his defending. Koloko fills a need for a big man in the middle who can protect the rim and is expected to fit well within the young core.
Free agency opens on June 30th, and Raptors fans are hoping Masai Ujiri can make a splash on the open market to continue improving this young team.