Canadian teams are driving the NHL playoffs
Big upsets brewing in Habs', Oilers' series
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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
The NHL playoffs are heating up
Six days into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, things are getting really interesting. Here's a quick rundown:
It's a big day for Canadian teams. At our publish time, Vancouver was facing Minnesota in Game 3 of a best-of-five series that's tied one game apiece. Toronto and Columbus are in the same boat tonight at 8 p.m. ET. And to cap the night off, Calgary can eliminate Winnipeg by winning their Game 4, which starts at 10:30 p.m. ET.
The other two Canadian teams went in opposite directions last night. Montreal rallied from 3-1 down to stun Pittsburgh 4-3 and take a surprising 2-1 series lead. Defenceman Jeff Petry was the unlikely sniper on this beautiful game-winner:
Jeff Petry (<a href="https://twitter.com/PetryJ?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PetryJ</a>) 🔝🧀. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StanleyCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StanleyCup</a> Qualifiers<br><br>🇺🇸: <a href="https://t.co/DRGdK3dqvw">https://t.co/DRGdK3dqvw</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/NHLonNBCSports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NHLonNBCSports</a> <br>🇨🇦: <a href="https://t.co/EWsKtTv8xK">https://t.co/EWsKtTv8xK</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Sportsnet?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Sportsnet</a> <a href="https://t.co/dNZQRMgshm">pic.twitter.com/dNZQRMgshm</a>—@NHL
Montreal is seeded 12th in the Eastern Conference and was generally considered the weakest of the 24 playoff teams. Hardly anyone picked them to beat the 5th-seeded Penguins, who are led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Edmonton is on the flip side of a similar storyline. Their matchup vs. Chicago seemed more competitive than Habs-Pens, but most people had the 5th-seeded Oilers taking it. And yet, 12th-seeded Chicago is one win away from stealing the series after scoring two late goals last night to take Game 3, 4-3. The Oilers and Canadiens play their Game 4s tomorrow, and so do the Leafs and Canucks.
The Bruins deserve better. Boston finished the truncated regular season 44-14-12, putting it eight points clear of the field for the NHL's best record. But the league decided to have the top four teams in each conference play a round robin for seeding, and the Bruins no longer have a chance to keep their No. 1 spot (or even get No. 2) after losing their first two games to Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Defending on what happens in their final game vs. Washington on Sunday, the Bruins could slip all the way to No. 4. That's not as big a deal this year with Game 7 home-ice advantage being eliminated by the neutral sites, but it may result in a tougher matchup for Boston in the next round. Heading into today's games, Tampa Bay (2-0) and Colorado (2-0) topped their respective conferences.
Edmonton fans really love to gamble. The pot for the 50/50 draw during last night's Oilers game reached a staggering $5.4 million, meaning a $2.7-million take for the winner. Interest in the lottery got so high that the online sale had to be closed nearly six hours before the puck dropped because the maximum number of tickets was sold. A typical Oilers 50/50 draw, where tickets are sold in the arena at home games, is worth about $100,000. But after Alberta officials allowed online sales for the first time because no fans are allowed at this year's playoff games, the pots have skyrocketed. For Game 1, it topped $762,000. For Game 2, $3.2 million. And then last night's madness. Read more about the Oilers 50/50 fever here.
Basketball is plenty exciting right now too
Three different leagues are in action, and there's interesting stuff happening in each:
The Raptors haven't missed a beat. The defending NBA champs won their last four games before the season shut down, and they've extended their streak to seven with wins over the Lakers, Heat and Magic so far in the Disney bubble. Last night, Fred VanVleet followed up his career-high 36-point performance vs. Miami by dropping 21 points and 10 assists on Orlando. Toronto's next game is an important one: a win over Boston clinches the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. That would likely mean a first-round playoff matchup with either Orlando or Brooklyn, who are both firmly below .500. It would also remove the possibility of facing Philadelphia, a flawed but dangerous team. Read more about last night's win over the Magic here.
The Canadian Elite Basketball League will crown a new champion. The Saskatchewan Rattlers won the title in the league's inaugural season a year ago. But they were eliminated after finishing 1-5 in the round robin of the CEBL's Summer Series tournament, which is replacing the regular season and playoffs this year due to the pandemic. The final spot in the quarter-finals was up for grabs in last night's round-robin finale between Saskatchewan and Ottawa, but the defending champs got rolled by the expansion Blackjacks 87-68. Ottawa is right back on the court tonight for another elimination game, against Guelph at 7:30 p.m. ET. The other quarter-final is Hamilton vs. Niagara at 5 p.m. ET. The winners advance to face Edmonton and Fraser Valley, who earned a bye to Saturday's semifinals by finishing first and second, respectively, in the round robin. The final is Sunday. You can watch every game live here or on the CBC Sports app or the CBC Gem streaming service.
Canadian Bridget Carleton had her WNBA breakout. Making her first start in her 13th WNBA game last night, Carleton scored 25 points (nearly doubling her career total) to help Minnesota blow out New York 92-66. Carleton is a 23-year-old, 6-foot-1 forward from Chatham, Ont., who played her college ball at Iowa State and recently helped Canada qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. She also plays in the Australian league during the WNBA off-season. Carleton hit 11 of her 15 shots last night, including all three three-pointers. Read more about her big game here.
Kia Nurse had another rough night. Carleton's Canadian national teammate settled for 10 points on an awful 3-of-16 shooting for New York. Nurse has played three games since hurting her ankle in the season opener, and in those games she's shot a combined 7 for 39 (18 per cent), though she's perfect on her 10 free-throw attempts this season. The Liberty are 0-5 and also may have lost star No. 1-overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu for the shortened season. She suffered a severe ankle sprain last Friday.
WNBA players are trying to get a team owner defeated in her election. Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler angered a lot of players by opposing the league's embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Republican is trying to get re-elected to her U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, where the Democratic nominee is a Black pastor named Raphael Warnock. Earlier this week, players from Loeffler's own Atlanta team, along with others on the Seattle, Chicago and Phoenix franchises, wore "Vote Warnock" t-shirts before their games. Loeffler reacted with a statement in which she said "This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It's clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball." Read more about the anti-Loeffler campaign here.
The first golf major of the year is underway. The PGA Championship started at 10 a.m. ET today at San Francisco's Harding Park, so a lot of golfers were either still on the course or hadn't even teed off yet at our publish time. The clubhouse leader at the moment was Jason Day at 5-under. Brooks Koepka, who's trying to become the first player in 93 years to win this tournament three times in a row, was 4-under through 16 holes. The top Canadian was Corey Conners, who was tied for 33rd at even-par through 12. Read more about the players to watch at the PGA here.
The Marlins won again. Despite having to bring in 18 new players (including a former Olympic short track speed skater) to fill in for the regulars who tested positive for COVID-19, Miami beat Baltimore for the second time in as many days last night. The Marlins are now 5-1, which puts them atop the National League East and ties them with the 10-2 Cubs and Twins for the best record in baseball in terms of winning percentage.
On a related note, Major League Baseball is cracking down. New rules have been introduced in hopes of avoiding another big outbreak like the ones that knocked the Marlins and Cardinals out of action and have caused 21 games to be postponed. Players and staff now have to wear masks in the dugout, the bullpen and everywhere else except when they're on the field of play. On road trips, players need special permission to leave the team hotel. At home, they're banned from visiting bars, casinos, malls and anywhere else where large groups gather. Read more about the tightened-up regulations here.
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