Warriors’ Kevin Durant cleared to resume full practice after knee injury

He can get his in any way, so we don’t really have to spoon feed him or force feed him. We don’t need him coming back trying to fit in with what’s going on. Nah. The Warriors lost four of their next six games, suffered consecutive regular-season defeats for the first time in nearly two years and even experienced a three-game skid for the first time since November 2013.They played eight games in 13 days with two cross-country trips, a return for one in Oakland before back-to-back defeats at Minnesota and San Antonio on March 10-11.No losses since. I think that’s what’s important. When Durant returns from a left knee injury Saturday barring any setbacks after missing more than a month, he will rejoin a Golden State group on a roll that appears poised for another deep post-season run. You do that with your team and their team play has been phenomenal, so they’re getting the best out of everybody.”Coach Steve Kerr can crack all the jokes he wants about Durant’s impending return.“I may not play him,” Kerr said. The depth of the team, you can’t replace a guy like Kevin individually. He wasn’t brought here to fit in, he was brought here to stand out. It shouldn’t be much of a transition back.”When Durant went down, Golden State had to find a way without him – and it wasn’t pretty for a while. We need him to come back and be KD. “KD’s such a smart player understanding his skill level and his talent that the things we’ve been doing well he will take us to another level, hopefully. I think that’s what people kind of get mixed up. “Where are they going to go when they get him back? He can come in and just fit right in and take over a game.” We can’t wait ‘til he gets back, for sure.”Golden State’s co-leading scorer along with Curry at 23.5 points per game and the top rebounder, Durant was hurt Feb. A season-best 13-game winning streak, the NBA’s best record and No. He is tentatively scheduled to play against New Orleans.Any challenges working KD back into the mix?“Hell no, absolutely not,” Green said. 28 at Washington when Marcin Gortat pushed Zaza Pachulia and Golden State’s centre fell into Durant, who has missed 19 games since with a Grade 2 MCL sprain and bruised tibia.“He’s been plugged in, understanding from game to game things we’ve been talking about, so mentally we’re all on the same page. I wouldn’t call it having to hit reset,” Curry said. Maybe bring him off the bench and play him spot minutes depending on matchups.”“I can tell you I’ll start him,” Kerr continued with the wisecracks, “I’m so smart like that.”Yet Kerr can and will be cautious in how much he plays Durant right away, especially given how great the supporting cast has performed.From Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala to newcomer Matt Barnes, who was added when Durant got hurt, Ian Clark and JaVale McGee, Golden State has received strong contributions from just about everybody on the roster during KD’s absence.Curry and Thompson have found their shooting grooves, too.“The chemistry the last couple years that we’ve had is so underrated, and I think Kevin, he really just fits in with that same chemistry,” Livingston said. And that’s what he’ll do. … Months ago when the season began, the Golden State Warriors focused all their energy on incorporating Kevin Durant.Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson figured out how to share the shots with another superstar added to the mix, while Draymond Green adjusted to fewer attempts on offence and welcomed another defender who could wreak havoc and block shots. It’d be foolish of anyone, especially us, to think that we’re a better team without him or we’ll do whatever we want to do. “He’ll fit in right in, but we don’t need him to fit in. 1 seed in the West for a third straight season.Opposing coaches can only brace for what the Warriors will look like when the playoffs begin next week with even more firepower.“You can’t overlook Kevin Durant being out,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We are so much better without him. The Warriors have said all along they will settle for nothing less than a second championship in three years after last season’s near miss.Durant was medically cleared during a day off Thursday to resume full practice beginning Friday. “You look at the guys out there, versatile. He’s probably the most versatile player out there.

Brad Gushue beats Italy to clinch first seed at world curling playdowns

“We’re more than happy being tied up with the hammer coming home. The 2006 Olympic champion has a whopping 86-31 edge in overall points.“I’m a little bit surprised by it, but we’re playing at a very high level,” Gushue said. The teams shook hands after the minimum six ends.Gushue will try to complete a perfect run through the round-robin against Norway’s Steffen Walstad on Thursday night.Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker will have hammer in Friday’s Page playoff 1-2 game against Sweden.Edin (8-2) dropped a 7-3 decision to American John Shuster in the afternoon draw and closed out his round-robin against Dutch skip Jaap Van Dorp in the late game.Third-seeded Swiss skip Peter de Cruz (8-3) will play Shuster (8-3) in the Page 3-4 game on Saturday.“Those guys are capable of curling 95 per cent games,” Gushue told reporters after the morning draw. So this week has been a little bit odd for us to have these lopsided games.“But I think it just comes down to how well we’re playing and we’re getting some misses out of the other teams.”Gushue hasn’t really been tested since an 8-6 win over Sweden’s Niklas Edin last Sunday. Gushue’s latest victory was a 9-2 romp over Italy’s Joel Retornaz. “I’m a little bit surprised that some of the teams haven’t played a little bit better against us.“I think maybe we’ve put the pressure on them and maybe they’re trying a little bit too hard and trying some different things. He has been pushed to a full 10 ends on just two occasions.“Hopefully we continue to play the way we (have been),” Gushue said. I’ve seen some different calls.”Against Italy, Gushue scored a pair in the second end and put the game out of reach with five points in the fourth. Italy was next at 4-7, Germany was 3-8, the Netherlands was 1-9 and Russia was 0-10.This is Gushue’s first appearance at this competition. He’s not at all concerned about going undefeated along the way.“I’m 100 per cent genuine when I say I don’t care about it,” he said. Canada’s Brad Gushue is the first to admit his St. “I think if we do that, it’s going to take a hell of a game from someone to beat us. Burtnyk swept the 10-team field en route to the 1995 title in Brandon, Man.The world championship now features 12 teams and a different playoff system.Gushue said his main focus is getting to the championship game. One bad miss, an untimely miss, it can all switch around.”China, Japan, Norway and Scotland were tied at 5-5 entering the final draw. “When I look back at all the Briers and worlds, I couldn’t tell you anybody’s records.“All that really matters at the end is that your name is on the trophy.” The semifinal winner will play the 1-2 winner for the gold.Gushue has a chance to become the first skip since Winnipeg’s Kerry Burtnyk to run the table at this event. “We basically try to control the scoreboard,” Gushue said. “So even if we have control of the ice, even if we continue to play the way we’re playing, someone could still play better.“You guys know the nature of curling. John’s side is not known as a high-scoring team.You wouldn’t know it by looking at the scoresheet at the Ford World Men’s Curling Championship.The unbeaten skip locked up the first seed in the playoffs Thursday by posting his seventh straight rout at the Northlands Coliseum. But that’s not to say that it’s not going to happen.“And we still have to do our part to play that hell of a game.”The Page 1-2 winner will advance to Sunday’s gold-medal game and the loser will play the 3-4 winner in the semifinal Saturday night.The 3-4 loser and semifinal loser will play for bronze on Sunday.

Toronto FC originals look back at franchise’s first steps 10 years on

We were under the gun the whole game but I learned more in that hour playing beside Carl tactically than throughout six prior years.”Pozniak is now an assistant coach with Toronto FC 2, the team’s USL affiliate. Toronto was last in the 13-team league with a 6-17-7 mark.Like Brennan, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum was filled with emotion as he watched TFC take its first steps.“It’s hard to describe the pride we felt seeing a new team for our city take the field.” he said in an email. I remember a game in Houston where Mo Edu got sent off and I came on. The new kids on the North American soccer block threatened early through strikers Alecko Eskandarian and Edson Buddle but went into halftime trailing 1-0 after a ball looped over the backline in the 35th minute resulted in Ante Razov’s 99th MLS goal.Chivas took control in the second half and padded its lead in the 88th minute on a fine long-range shot from Sacha Kljestan, his first in the league.“There wasn’t too much in the game,” recalled Welsh international midfielder Carl Robinson, now manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps. They just didn’t do know who was doing what,” recalled Robinson, who came over from Norwich City. As Toronto FC’s first signing and captain, it was Jim Brennan’s honour to lead the fledgling Major League Soccer franchise out for the first time.Having played in England for Bristol City, Nottingham Forest, Norwich City and Southampton, the native of Newmarket, Ont., was no stranger to marquee moments. Reda played the year with a damaged knee that required surgery.But both take pride in being TFC originals.Toronto went on to experience more lean years on the field after the debut season. Former Toronto FC players look back at club’s first season (The Canadian Press)

“It was a lot of excitement, especially for the local guys because we wore that jersey with pride, representing Toronto,” Brennan recalled. It was more just ‘All right, let’s just go out and enjoy it and see what happens,’” said the Hamilton-born ‘keeper.The pressure would mount as Toronto lost its first four games including the home opener against Kansas City, outscored 10-0 during that stretch. “A lot of us were born in this city so it meant an awful lot.”“I remember walking out and thinking ‘OK, well this is it guys. “You could see as soon as he came in. Brennan is executive director of Aurora FC, formerly known as the Aurora Youth Soccer Club, while Reda is the boys’ technical director at the Woodbridge Soccer Club.While Toronto had the might of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment behind it, there were hiccups leading up to the Chivas game.“They had all the pieces in place. “To see the growth over the past few years, however, with the expansion of BMO Field and a season (ticket) seat base of 21,000 members is incredibly exciting and something that we are all very proud of.”Brennan, Pozniak, Reda, Robinson and Sutton, among others, helped build that TFC foundation “We were part of that first little group and now Michael Bradley and (Jozy) Altidore, (Jonathan) Osorio, (Sebastian) Giovinco and all these guys now, they take it to the next level,” said Brennan, who takes pride in seeing his kids wearing Toronto jerseys these days.“And then another 10 years down the line, then the next group comes in and they keep building and building and building until you know you build a culture and a history – something that’s going to be around for the next few hundred years.” Last season, Toronto came within one kick of winning the MLS Cup.“As a franchise, TFC is a model club within MLS and that is something that was always an expectation of ours, as it is with all of our teams at MLSE,” Tanenbaum said. But his emotions were running high for Toronto’s MLS debut on April 7, 2007, against Chivas USA in Carson, Calif. Let’s get going and put on a show here,“’ he added.They did – at least for the first half. He always spoke to everyone.“And he was a good organizer. Johnston, who was bumped up to manager of soccer after one season as head coach, eventually hired Preki as TFC’s fourth ever coach in November 2009.The two were fired together in September 2010.Toronto played a 3-5-2 against Chivas, a formation that the current edition of the team also uses.Back then, Chivas goalkeeper Brad Guzan had hair.Jesse Marsch, current New York Red Bulls coach, also started for Chivas that night. Dichio coaches Toronto FC 3, the team’s top academy team.Other original TFC players are giving back to local soccer. In the broadcast booth, commentator Gerry Dobson referred to Toronto several times as Canada during the telecast.In the stands, horns annoyingly droned throughout the game as a crowd of 14,351 saw Chivas spoil Toronto’s big night.The Sportsnet game broadcast featured commercials for a pair of new movies: Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory and Nicolas Cage’s Next. I learned a lot playing beside him. So did Honduran midfielder Amado Guevara, who would wear Toronto red the next two seasons and become a fan favourite for his slick skills.Robinson, meanwhile, was directing traffic for Toronto.“He was a manager before he was a manager,” said Canadian defender-midfielder Chris Pozniak, who was injured at the start of the season but went on to play 22 games for Toronto that first year. A sports update reported that a Kyle Wellwood goal had given the Maple Leafs a 6-5 win over the Montreal Canadiens.Other Canadians wearing the somewhat drab grey Toronto jersey that night at the Home Depot Center were goalkeeper Greg Sutton and defenders Marco Reda and Miguel Canizalez. Defender Adam Braz came off the bench in the second half.It was special for all of them.Reda, from Woodbridge, Ont., had been playing in Norway but had written into his last contract that if a Canadian MLS team came along, he would be available for a free transfer.“It was no-brainer for me,” said Reda.“It was nice to come full circle for me because I had started my career in Toronto (with the Lynx) and I’d always wanted to see the game take off in the city,” he added.For Sutton, it was a new MLS lease on life after seeing little action with Chicago, the MetroStars and Dallas in his first go-round.“I don’t think we felt as much pressure going into that first game as we did in subsequent games … But while the team struggled on the field, it set a new standard for the league in terms of fan support.The revolving door-approach to playing talent and the front office would finally end under president Bill Manning, GM Tim Bezbatchenko and coach Greg Vanney. It took more than a month before Danny Dichio’s historic goal ended the drought and sparked a 3-1 first-ever win over Chicago.Looking back, there are some interesting notes that night against Chivas.When Toronto coach Mo Johnston looked down at Chivas counterpart Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic, he must have seen something he liked. Within a week, he had a relationship with everybody on the squad as well as everybody at the club. “There was also excitement and amazement that it had all come together and we were witnessing the birth of a new Toronto sports franchise.“I think there was also some anxiety as we realized how much work was still ahead of us.”It was new for everyone. “Roles were clearly not defined exactly and Mo ended up doing probably four or five different roles within the organization as well as managing the team as well as being general manager as well as trying to find players as well as managing upstairs.”“So it was a little bit disjointed but you could see there was huge potential there.”Toronto unveiled Reda, Pozniak, Braz and Irish winger Ronnie O’Brien (who missed the Chivas game through injury) at a news conference 114 floors up at the CN Tower, where O’Brien confessed he didn’t like heights.Finding a place to train sometimes was an issue with BMO Field hosting other events. So the player sometimes had to go by van to the Ontario Soccer Centre north of the city.Injuries would spoil the season for Sutton, sidelined by a concussion. “I don’t think we deserved to lose 2-0 but we probably didn’t do enough to win the game based upon the 90 minutes.”Chivas, which closed shop after the 2014 season, went on to finish first in the Western Conference with a 15-7-8 record.

Canada beats Finland, gets another chance to end world title drought

captain Meghan Duggan said. seven. We’ll be ready to go.”Poulin scored a goal and an assisted on another in the span of two and a half minutes to put Canada up 3-0 after two periods Thursday.Sarah Potomak, Emily Clark and Rebecca Johnston scored their second goals of the tournament. Over a third of the current team hasn’t experienced victory in a world final.“It’s hard to put into words, but we really want it,” forward Brianne Jenner said. and Finland, while the Americans have yet to lose and have given up just three goals in four games.“We’ve put ourselves in a great position right now, obviously, going into tomorrow’s game,” U.S. A third relegation game will be played Friday. women running the table of world titles heading into 2018 is not a comfortable prospect for the Canadian women.“We’re on a mission right now,” Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin said. “We want to bring it back home.”Canada got off to a rocky start in the tournament with losses to the U.S. Canada has won 10 times and the U.S. You’re not going to score on her from the blue line.”The Finns and Germans will play for bronze Friday prior to the championship game at USA Hockey Arena.Russia, last year’s bronze medallists, edged Sweden 4-3 in a shootout to finish fifth.Switzerland downed the Czech Republic 3-2 in overtime in a relegation-round game. having played the afternoon semifinal, but the U.S. “We’ll bring the right game. World championships scarce lately for the Canadian women’s hockey team, they’re getting another chance to end their drought.Friday’s final against the United States marks the 18th time in 18 championships the archrivals have clashed for gold.Winner of three in a row, the American women intend to have their storybook ending on home ice with a fourth. Shannon Szabados earned her second shutout with 23 saves.Noora Raty stopped 31-of-35 shots for Finland, which beat Canada for the first time ever 4-3 in the preliminary round.The Canadians were quicker to, and harder on, the puck Thursday than they’d been five days earlier.“Even from before the drop of the puck, our girls were ready to go and ignited,” head coach Laura Schuler said.“I think today’s game was important in our habit and our details and that’s what we’re going to have to bring tomorrow.”Canada will have a few more hours of recovery than the U.S. Clark scored shorthanded into an empty net on the first.Szabados shut down Linda Valimaki with a pad save as the Finn attempted a wrap-around goal in the second.“Obviously we needed a lot more people in front of her,” Raty said. “It would mean a lot to a lot of us here.”Canada blanked Finland 4-0 and the United States shut out surprise semifinalist Germany 11-0 on Thursday to advance.The Canadians edged the Americans 3-2 in an overtime thriller to win Olympic gold in 2014.But the U.S. “She’s one of the best goalies in the world. The Americans have beaten Canada in six of the last seven, including last year’s 1-0 overtime victory in Kamloops, B.C.Canada hasn’t claimed gold since 2012 in Burlington, Vt. didn’t overtax themselves thumping Germany.The Finns, who beat Sweden 4-0 in Tuesday’s quarter-final to gain a rematch with Canada, lacked the ferocity and sharpness of their preliminary-round victory.The Finns were scoreless on six power-play chances, while Canada went 1-for-4.Poulin circled in front of the net and let fly a wrist shot from a sharp angle that popped the water bottle off the net behind Raty at 6:07 of the second period.“She always scores outstanding goals,” Schuler said.“What makes it outstanding is her work ethic to get there, whether it’s beating an opponent to get the inside positioning to get her shot off, or just her raw talent.Poulin then sent the puck down the boards to Johnston, who walked out and scored on a wrister at 7:33.Potomak, Canada’s youngest player at 19, scored with just over a minute to go in the first period banging the puck by Raty from the slot.Szabados had to work for her shutout late in the third when Raty was pulled during a pair of Canadian penalties for two extra attackers.

Kelly: After Day 1 of the Masters, the only loser is Dustin Johnson

One found oneself standing in the shade under the sprawling oak outside the main clubhouse, noticing for the first time that it appears to be held together by a latticework of steel cables and then deciding to move out of easy crushing range.As the day went on and the wind swirled, swings became more tentative and the results of them less predictable.“The only thing keeping the scores from being ridiculous was the softness of the greens,” Canadian debutant Adam Hadwin said. Then he seemed to lose patience, stopped and announced to anyone who happened to be standing nearby that he was pulling out.“It sucks,” Johnson said.It was about the wittiest thing he’s said here all week.On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson ran into the garage of his Augusta rental house, intending to move his car. As it turns out, that might have been a miscalculation.The conditions in Day 1 started out fine. Ask Tiger Woods. 1 quit the Masters a minute or so before he was to start it on Thursday. But it takes a long time to get from arriving in Augusta to anyone actually playing golf, so somebody has to soak up most of the media sunshine in the interim.Tiger Woods enjoyed (and, occasionally, really didn’t enjoy) the focus here for 15 years. By 2 p.m. Barring an honest-to-God miracle, his Masters will end Friday. Instead it was world No. Dustin Johnson drops out of Masters after back injury (Reuters)

Being the man everyone expects to win this tournament is the sort of blessing that is quite often a curse.But it rarely bites you as quickly as it did this year’s fair-haired boy, Dustin Johnson.The 32-year-old world No. Even the history of overdoing the party favours makes him seem more everyman than most golfers.As such, this was a huge opportunity to truly stake his claim as the world’s most famous golfer. He pooched it almost immediately. Instead, he got to watch a couple of journeymen take his place. 52 Charley Hoffman who finished with a remarkable seven under. But this one has got to be true. That’s one very good reason why Johnson would take a pass here.But he also said that he expected whatever is ailing him right now to be healed in “two days.”Johnson isn’t quite a late bloomer, but nor is he young. No sport in the world depends on suppleness through your trunk quite so much as golf. Hoffman has the clear advantage going into the second round, but if he stumbles, any one of two-dozen players have a chance.The only real loser on the day was Johnson.Backs are funny. Rory McIlroy had a turn. Before doing so, there was a lot of aimless, Phil Spector-ish pottering about between the practice greens and the first tee.Johnson looked as though he was going to have a try, but thought better of it.He wandered back toward the clubhouse with a small pack trailing him. Instead, he took a header off the stairs in stocking feet and did his back in.Since Johnson has a history of hard partying, golfing conspiracy theorists were coming up with all sorts of wild stuff that might actually have happened. “I can’t make a normal swing. Open). I could go back to about 80 per cent.”The implication was that no man operating at four-fifths capacity could hope to compete here. Just as Jordan Spieth had achieved atmosphere last year, five bad minutes at the 12th ruined his Masters and nearly derailed his year. The timing does not get any more propitious than that.He’s probably not the champion the Masters needs to assume Woods’s mantle – though tall, handsome and famously married, he has as much charisma as a turnip – but he’d do.There is something very Tin Cup about his muscular approach to the game. – the time Johnson was to begin – they had become positively typhoon-ish. On Thursday, he seemed pleased with himself at having survived.The other Canadian rookie, Mackenzie Hughes, had a more difficult time of it at seven over. On a calmer day, it would have been a disappointment. Many were willing to do so.As a result, relatively few competitors will feel they blew it on Thursday. By noon, they were getting blustery. Johnson would have been the very last of them. He won his first major last year (the U.S. There are various favourites – sentimental and betting – at the Masters each year. At four over, Mike Weir looked more assured than he has in years at the Masters.Up at the top of the leaderboard, the weather flattened out the field, pushing everyone toward competence rather than any one man toward brilliance. For reasons only he can really know, he left it untaken. Ditto for Spieth, and Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.At one point in midafternoon, more than six hours after the day had started, 15 players were tied for the lead. Once you’ve injured one, they can get funnier fast. He noted that the best way to gauge the wind was to hope a playing partner shot first, then rush your own approach hoping to correct the error that had just preceded you.Hadwin finished three over par. No explanation that stupid could possibly be a lie.“I can’t swing full,” Johnson said. (The rest of the field combined for 273 over.) Once more famous for his mullet than his performances, Hoffman is one-quarter of the way toward something special.Like Hoffman, most of the guys in the lead tend to have a similar shape and game – wide-bodied, purposeful and built close to the ground.Second-place finisher William McGirt, a middle-aged Carolinian who looks like a fire hydrant wearing a puffer vest, described his approach thusly:“I kind of plod my way around the golf course and take what it gives me.”It was a take-what-you-get sort of day. Belgian rookie Thomas Pieters rushed out from the pack and then rushed back in just as fast. That doesn’t happen very often.Then the wind quieted down and the late starters got the advantage of it. Going into Augusta, he’d won his three previous tournaments.

Kendrys Morales’s grand slam lifts Blue Jays over Rays

Fear not, Toronto Blue Jays loyalists. side, subduing the Rays in a dominant performance.Stroman pitched six-plus innings and stifled the Rays to one run off six hits while striking out five.A lack of offence was never anticipated to be a real concern for the Blue Jays this season, even without the looming presence of Edwin Encarnacion, the noted big bopper, who skedaddled during the off-season as a free agent to Cleveland.Still, with just three runs to show for 18 hits over the first two games – and zero home runs – one begins to wonder. And with one mighty swing of the bat in the third inning, Toronto’s Kendrys Morales helped clear both the air of any offensive uncertainty and the bags of Blue Jays baserunners.Morales’s grand slam, his first home run of the season and first as a Blue Jay, went a long way toward helping to lift the Blue Jays (1-2) to a 5-2 win over the Rays (2-2).Marcus Stroman also played no small role in the breakthrough triumph in his season debut.The tightly wound and combative Toronto starter picked up where he left off as the most valuable player in the recently completed World Baseball Classic for the gold-medal-winning U.S. Maybe it is just the early season blues to be blamed, where the pitchers are truly ahead of the hitters during the season’s infancy.“You never know,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said when that proposition was put to him before the game.“I chalk it up to, I thought the guys in Baltimore pitched pretty good,” Gibbons continued. at the plate in the fifth inning with just a bit of help from catcher Russell Martin, who hung onto a high throw despite a hearty collision at the plate.Snell wasn’t doing that bad on his own accord for Tampa early on, not allowing a Toronto hit through the first two innings before things went sideways.It started with a one-out single by Barney and continued with back-to-back two-out walks to Donaldson and Bautista to load the bases for Morales.It was the signing of Morales during free agency that paved the way for the exit of Encarnacion and the former Kansas City Royals star came through, teeing off on an 0-1 Snell fastball that vaulted Toronto in front 4-0.The Rays finally broke through in the seventh inning, when Stroman gave up three of his hits, including a single by Logan Morrison that scored Evan Longoria from second.That spelled the end of the night for Stroman.Jason Grilli came into the game in the bottom of the ninth with runners at second and third and one out and served up a wild pitch that carded the second Tampa run. He struck out the side in the first inning and the first four batters overall. He was locating the ball well and getting the groundouts when needed.The defence was also there to pick him up when required with three double plays turned behind him.Stroman also threw out Steven Souza Jr. But Grilli struck out Adam Morrison and then Rickie Weeks Jr. “Our pitching basically shut them down, but they got a couple of big home runs – the walk off and then the two-runner by Jones and then Chris Davis. There is still a ton of time to turn this thing around.The offence has been chugging like an old Volkswagen Beetle as the Blue Jays dropped the first two games of the season in Baltimore to the Orioles before the opening trip of the year continued Thursday night at Tropicana Field. The Blue Jays only counted six hits on Thursday, but made the most of them.Troy Tulowitzki, for instance, continued a shaky beginning with the bat, going hitless in four trips to the plate Thursday night to move him to 0-for-13 on the season.And Jose Bautista, who did have two walks and scored a run, went 0-for-2 and is now 1-for-11 after three games.After completing the four-game set against the Rays the Blue Jays return to Toronto for a nine-game home stand, beginning Tuesday night at Rogers Centre against the Milwaukee Brewers.And the good news for that game for the Blue Jays is that closer Roberto Osuna, who was placed on the disabled list with a sore neck, is expected back in the lineup.Gibbons gave Devon Travis the game off on Thursday, giving Darwin Barney the start at second base and moving left fielder Steve Pearce into the leadoff spot in the batting order.Stroman served notice early on it was to be a good night for him. Which is kind of our game too, but they got them, we didn’t.”The Toronto offence still has some work to do, and it is early. to earn the save.

Senators beat Bruins in shootout to clinch playoff spot, move up in race

Craig Anderson stopped 28 shots in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout Thursday night to help the Ottawa Senators beat Boston 2-1, clinching a spot in the playoffs while snapping the Bruins’ six-game winning streak.The Senators also pulled ahead of the Bruins in the Atlantic Division standings. The Senators still have two games remaining – one more than the Bruins – and also have the head-to-head tiebreaker but not the most important one: regulation and overtime wins.Stafford gave Boston a 1-0 lead on a power play in the first, but the Senators tied it in the second on Burrows’ unassisted goal.The Bruins were without leading scorer Brad Marchand, who was suspended earlier in the day for the last two games of the regular season for spearing Tampa Bay defenceman Jake Dotchin in Boston’s 4-0 win on Tuesday. Marchand lifted his stick with force into Dotchin’s groin while the two were battling in front of the Lightning net.The Bruins gadfly said it was a “very, very selfish and undisciplined” move but said he was glad the team had already qualified for the playoffs. Kyle Turris scored the only goal in the shootout. Anderson stopped Drew Stafford, who scored Boston’s only regulation goal, and Ryan Spooner before straddling the goalpost to turn away David Pastrnak’s attempt at the end.Tuukka Rask stopped 25 shots for Boston, which went 0-4 against Ottawa this season. The Senators had never swept the Bruins in a season series.Ottawa, which got a goal in the second from Alexandre Burrows, now has 96 points to 95 for Boston after entering the night tied.

Maple Leafs fall to Lightning amid race for final playoff spot

With apologies to The Who, the kids were not all right for the second game in succession, and now the NHL playoffs look a little uncertain.On a night when the Ottawa Senators clinched a playoff spot with a 2-1 shootout win over the Boston Bruins, and the New York Islanders stayed alive by beating the Carolina Hurricanes, the Leafs were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-1 loss by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Leafs’ second loss in a row by that score. The Lightning regained the lead two minutes later when Nikita Kucherov put a tremendous shot past goaltender Frederik Anderson for his 39th goal of the season.Another rallying point for the Leafs, a great glove save on Jonathan Drouin by Andersen late in the second period, also faded. “I didn’t think it was before. “It’s been frustrating, obviously, whenever you have to deal with a major injury. “It doesn’t matter what Pittsburgh does, we have to get ourselves right to play and play like we normally do and don’t let the excitement of the moment or the energy of the moment get in the way of who we are.“Forget about that, just do what you do, Play d-zone like you do, win faceoffs like you do, get through the neutral zone like you do, fore-check like you do. In the meantime, the Bolts made good on their only power-play chance to open the scoring.Rookie centre Brayden Point scored the first of his two goals at 7:34 of the second period with Leaf defenceman Roman Polak off for interference. The Leafs now have the big challenge of taking at least two points in their season-ending back-to-back set this weekend against two formidable opponents, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. “But we didn’t do our job. That’s why you go through these opportunities, so this will be a good lesson for us.”What the Leafs have to do now, Babcock said, is forget about all the outside pressure, of a city that is sky-high at the prospect of seeing playoff hockey, of how good the Penguins are and remember how to play the game that got them this far on Saturday night.“We’ll fix this, look at this totally and we’ll get ourselves right,” Babcock said. We have to focus on what we need to do against Pittsburgh.”Not even seeing their prize rookie, centre Auston Matthews, take a knee-hit from Lightning defenceman Jake Dotchkin late in the first period, could get the Leafs fired up. The Leaf fans were enraged, especially Matthews’ parents, who were in the stands. Hedman assisted on that one, too, for his third of the game. I’ve been unfortunate the last couple years having dealt with a few too many.” “[The Lightning] did their job and we didn’t do what we needed to do.”There was some speculation Stamkos would make his return to action Thursday night after missing most of the season with a knee injury. They did a good job, they answered  the bell and took the wind out of our sails.“We have to work in practice [Friday]. Dotchkin, who was already on the Leafs’ radar for a hit in an American Hockey League game in January that left another Leaf rookie, Kasperi Kapanen, out for a month with a leg injury, drove his knee into Matthews’ left thigh on a rush.Matthews went down hard and was in obvious pain but eventually skated to the bench. The Lightning were missing centres Steven Stamkos, who is still not ready to return from a knee injury sustained last November, and Tyler Johnson, who was ruled out at game time. The Leafs do have a chance to make the post-season even if they don’t get two points in their weekend set but only if the Lightning and Islanders fade in their last two games.A team that seemingly was too young and too oblivious of what is at stake to be scared was finally looking nervous and frustrated by the end of Thursday’s game. They came out flat again for the third period and the Lightning took a 3-1 lead two minutes in on a goal by Michael Bournival, another part-time NHLer. His mom was caught by the television cameras letting fly with a nasty word.Matthews drew a measure of revenge when he caught Lightning defenceman Andrej Sustr in a corner with a shoulder hit.Dotchkin came to the attention of most NHL fans last week when he was the victim of a dirty play. After the Leafs opened the game with a decent enough couple of minutes, the Lightning took over and earned a 2-1 lead through the first 40 minutes as the Leafs only sporadically asserted themselves.Afterwards, there was a sense in the Leafs’ dressing room that the players realized what an opportunity they missed. Also out with injuries were forward Ryan Callahan, who had surgery on his hip in January, and defenceman Jason Garrison.The Lightning may have iced a team made up of minor-league call-ups and inexperienced NHLers but they were a determined group. No penalty was called, although Matthews was able to return for his next shift and appeared back up to speed on a good rush and scoring chance. Leafs head coach Mike Babcock admitted that might have been the case.“I thought it was [Thursday night],” he said. Point scored his second goal of the game late in the third to slam the door shut on the Leafs.“We played hard but we didn’t come up to the level we [can],” said Leafs winger Leo Komarov. They sit in the second wild-card spot with 93 points, three ahead of both the Lightning and the Islanders. And blowouts of opposing teams were rare as well.Everything was in place for the Leafs to take charge right from the start. Just focus on doing your job and good things happen to you.”One thing certain about the Maple Leafs this season is they never made it easy on themselves. Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand earned a two-game suspension, considered a light punishment by many around the NHL, when he speared Dobkin in the groin.The Leafs power play had enough chances to get something going but went 0-for-four. But he ruled himself out after the morning skate. The Leafs came back quickly at 9:42 when Nazem Kadri deflected a shot by defenceman Matt Hunwick for his 32nd goal of the season but it was a short-lived rally. A win against a depleted lineup would have assured the Leafs a playoff spot.“We knew what we had to do,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said. Earlier this season, it was all about blown third-period leads and one-goal losses. This also kept the Lightning alive in the chase for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot, which seems to be what the Leafs will have to settle for. It now looks like he won’t play at all as the regular season winds down.“It’s probably not looking that good,” Stamkos said.

Trouba scores twice as Jets beat slumping Blue Jackets

… Momentum is critical heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are struggling to find some as the regular season winds down.The Blue Jackets, who will face Pittsburgh in the opening round of the post-season next week, dropped their fifth straight game and gave away home-ice advantage in the first-round series with a 5-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night. Matt Calvert returned after being a healthy scratch against Pittsburgh on Tuesday for Sonny Milano, who was returned to Cleveland of the AHL. “We’ll keep on banging away here this week and see if we can get going on all cylinders by the time we start the playoffs,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. Scheifele has a point in 18 of his last 23 games. We’re all looking forward to next week for sure.”Columbus already had a series of good opportunities 6:58 into the game when Foligno picked up the puck off the boards, evaded defender Josh Morrissey and went high with a wrist shot for his 26th goal of the season.Trouba tied it 1-1 with a one-timer later in the period, near the end of a 4-minute Jets power play. Blue Jackets C Lukas Sedlak missed his third game and D Zach Werenski missed his second due to injuries. … … Scheifele got his 32nd of the season 1 1/2 minutes later when he found himself uncovered in front of the cage and scored from 12 feet out to make it 2-1 at the first intermission.Perreault put the Jets up 3-1 when he shook off defender Seth Jones and beat Korpisalo 3:49 into the second period.Saad injected some energy back into the building when he got a breakaway and beat Comrie 7:12 into the second. “There definitely were times in the game we didn’t play very well and kind of hung our goalie out to dry, and he made some big saves for us.”Brandon Saad had two goals, Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner scored, and Joonas Korpisalo had 27 saves for the Blue Jackets. … A bright spot for Columbus was more goal production from its forwards – something that has been sorely lacking lately.But the Blue Jackets were again up and down, and can’t seem to grab the momentum in a game and keep it. Saad struck again later in the period, poking in a rebound to tie it up.Trouba found an opening with a slap shot from just below the blue line on a power play just over four minutes into the third period, and Bryan Little got the fifth on a breakaway.Jenner closed it to 5-4 with six minutes left when he tapped in a terrific pass from Scott Hartnell.NOTES: Winnipeg has won six of its last eight games against Columbus. Winnipeg C Jack Roslovic, who grew up in Columbus and played at Miami University near Cincinnati, also made his NHL debut. “No time to get down.”Jacob Trouba scored twice and Eric Comrie had 35 saves in his NHL debut as the Jets held off a late Columbus rally to win their sixth straight. Winnipeg F Blake Wheeler, who had an assist on Scheifele’s goal, has a seven-game point streak.UP NEXT:Jets: At Nashville on Saturday to close the season.Blue Jackets: At Philadelphia on Saturday before finishing the regular season Sunday at Toronto. They finish the season with a back-to-back on the road Saturday and Sunday and hope to find the mojo that helped them win a franchise-record 16 straight games earlier this season.“I think we’re all a little bit antsy,” Saad said. “You can’t call these games meaningless, but for us it’s just making sure we’re sharp going into the real fun. Bryan Little had a goal and three assists, and Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault also scored.“It wasn’t the prettiest game out there,” Little said.