Flames flatten Kings 4-1 as Jon Gillies wins in first start

“When you play behind an effort like that, it’s easy to see why they have had so much success this year and it’s nice to be a part of.”Gillies had been called up on an emergency basis from the club’s AHL affiliate after backup Chad Johnson suffered a lower-body injury against Anaheim on Tuesday. “It’s a big game, we can use it that way.”Wideman used his return after missing 10 games to pick up his fifth goal and show he was ready for the playoffs.Exiting the penalty box after a roughing call, Wideman was on the receiving end of Micheal Ferland’s alert pass and found himself all alone against Kings goalie Ben Bishop. Flames RW Kris Versteeg had a point for the fourth consecutive game. … Calgary scratched C Matt Stajan, sitting him after playing in the first 80 games this season. Sam Bennett added a power-play goal to open the scoring for the Flames, who broke a two-game losing streak.“That was an unbelievable effort by our team and it was fun to be behind and fun to play behind,” Gillies said. A victorious one, at that.Gillies made 27 saves in his first career start, and Dennis Wideman, Freddie Hamilton and Alex Chiasson scored second-period goals as the Calgary Flames defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 on Thursday night. … The equipment bag he was stuffing his gear into still said Stockton Heat on it, but Jon Gillies was now an NHL goalie. “He’s really good.”With his parents and younger brother in attendance to see him face his favourite team – at least until he was drafted by the Flames in 2012 – Gillies seemed like he was in for a rude awakening when Trevor Lewis’ shot whizzed past him 6:13 into the first.That was the wake-up call he needed, Gillies said.“I kind of thought to myself, ‘Well, welcome,“’ Gillies said. Wideman then put the puck between Bishop’s legs for a 2-1 lead the Flames would not relinquish in taking the season series against the Kings.Hamilton then scored on a backhand wraparound, followed by Chiasson tipping TJ Brodie’s slap shot and redirecting past Bishop to make it 4-1.“We don’t match up in our division very well, and we certainly did not tonight and it’s clear,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.Bishop made 20 saves for Los Angeles.NOTES: Bishop lost for the fifth time in seven starts (2-3-2) since being acquired from Tampa Bay. “And then from there on out, I just tried to play my game, and thankfully when I made a mistake, was down and out or had a bad rebound our guys were there to bail me out. The 23-year-old Gillies responded by helping Calgary inch closer to clinching the first wild card in the Western Conference.“I’ve seen that before in exhibitions and in Stockton, and I didn’t expect anything else,” Hamilton said. … After combining for 19 penalties and 74 penalty minutes in their last meeting on March 29, the Flames and Kings were whistled just five times. It was a really good team win.”It was also a much-needed win, as the Flames had dropped three of four coming in, including fight-filled losses to the Kings and Ducks.The Flames can now assure themselves a first-round matchup against the top team in the Pacific Division with a win against San Jose or a Nashville loss at Winnipeg on Saturday.“We want to ramp it up and make sure we’re playing in that game as we want to play in Game 1,” said Wideman of the season finale.

Milan Lucic’s hat trick leads Oilers past Sharks 4-2

“A big save there gave us confidence going forward. … 31. Cam Talbot made 13 saves to earn his franchise-record 41st win, breaking the mark set by Grant Fuhr in 1987-88.Brent Burns and Joel Ward scored for the banged-up Sharks, who have not beaten a Western Conference playoff team since a win over Chicago on Jan. “There’s a lot to play for heading into these two games. I think that was what I trying to establish there. “You throw the three goals out, even. Facing a third-period deficit in a game crucial for Edmonton’s playoff positioning was just the kind of situation the Oilers were thinking about when they acquired Milan Lucic last summer.He delivered in a big way.Lucic scored three goals in the third period and the Oilers took a big step toward claiming home-ice advantage in the first round of the post-season by beating the San Jose Sharks 4-2 Thursday night in a possible playoff preview. Sharks D Marc-Edouard Vlasic recorded his 200th career assist on Ward’s goal. We’re lucky to have him at this time of the year. Both players are skating and remain hopeful that they will be ready for the playoffs next week.The Sharks will need those two stars as they struggled to generate many scoring chances. His physicality, his ability to keep plays alive, power play execution, I thought he was tremendous. Seconds after the Sharks took a penalty for too many men on the ice, McDavid got the faceoff back to Klefbom, whose point shot was deflected by Lucic past Jones for the equalizer.A few minutes later, Klefbom sent a puck from behind the net into the crease and Lucic poked it in for his 22nd goal of the season to give the Oilers the lead.Lucic provided the insurance goal when he knocked in a rebound on a late power play.“The last three games pucks just find me in the right place and I’m able to pounce on it,” he said.The Oilers dominated play for long stretches after the opening minutes and finally got on the board early in the second when Klefbom’s shot pinballed off San Jose’s Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun before being kicked aside by Jones. “We would’ve loved to win this game and had a chance to secure home ice here on Saturday. Martin Jones made 28 saves.“We’re still confident,” forward Jannik Hansen said. San Jose’s Micheal Haley fought with Lucic late in the first period after the Sharks to offence to a hard hit on Chris Tierney. I was just trying to make him make the first move and stay patient.”Lucic then took over with his third career hat trick. That helped give him the longest point streak for an Oilers player since Esa Tikkanen (13 games) and Mark Messier (12 games) in 1989.The Sharks went back ahead midway through the second when Burns beat Talbot with a point shot through a screen for his 29th goal.San Jose’s other goal came when on a deflection by Ward early in the first.NOTES: McDavid has 22 points during his streak and leads the NHL with 97 overall this season. That’s exactly what we brought him in for.”The Oilers moved two points ahead of the Sharks in the Pacific Division and can clinch home ice in the first round by earning one point in their final two games against Vancouver. The puck went right to McDavid, who was alone at the side of net. Despite that, they led 2-1 heading into the third and had a golden chance to add to the lead when Marcus Sorensen earned a penalty shot early in the period that Talbot turned aside.“If he scores there, we might not come back and win the game,” Talbot said. … Edmonton also is still alive in the division race if it wins the final two games and Anaheim loses its finale in regulation.“We want to go into the playoffs with our game sharp and confident,” Lucic said. “His tonight was tremendous,” coach Todd McLellan said. Now it’s out of our hands.”San Jose played this crucial game without its top two centres with Joe Thornton (left knee) and Logan Couture (mouth) remaining sidelined by injuries. Nothing is guaranteed.”Connor McDavid scored his 30th goal to extend his point streak to 12 games and Oscar Klefbom had four assists for the Oilers, who have not started a playoff series at home since the 1991 Campbell Conference final.

Ed Hervey fired as Eskimos vice-president of football operations, GM

Winning wasn’t enough for Ed Hervey to remain with the Edmonton Eskimos.Hervey was fired as the club’s vice-president of football operations and general manager on Friday just over a year after leading Edmonton to a Grey Cup title. When you talk about access, that’s the major gap we had.”Last season, the CFL fined Edmonton $20,000 and Maas $15,000 after Maas and starter Mike Reilly refused to wear live microphones during a game against the Montreal Alouettes. “First, both parties could not agree to contract extension terms.“Secondly, there are differences in philosophy over the way we do business. Rhodes said while his search for Hervey’s successor begins immediately, he wouldn’t provide a timeline regarding when he’d like a new general manager in place.Rhodes said Maas, heading into his second season as Eskimos head coach, will remain in that post regardless of who’s hired as GM.“Jason Mass is our head coach, there is no doubt about that,” he said. He was taken in the fifth round, 166th overall, in the ‘95 NFL draft by Dallas following his collegiate career at USC.He appeared in 118 career games with Edmonton, registering 476 catches for 6,715 yards and 43 TDs over eight seasons. “A new GM is not coming in to fix something that’s not broken.”Hervey’s departure prompted an interesting response from Eskimos receiver Nate Coehoorn.“Crazy news out of Eskimo land. During the course of recent negotiations for a possible contract extension, it became clear that we would be unable to meet Ed’s expectations.”Paul Jones, Edmonton’s veteran executive director of player personnel, will serve as interim GM. Fan access, media access, season seat-holder access, sponsorship access and showcasing our athletes are all important areas allowing us to grow our fanbase and ultimately the success of the Edmonton Eskimos football club.”Hervey, 43, had served as Edmonton’s GM since December 2012 and added the vice-president of football operations job title in 2015.The six-foot-two, 195-pound Hervey joined the Eskimos as a receiver in 1999 after spending time in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. He won two Grey Cups as a player (2003, ‘05) and in ‘06 received the David Boone Memorial Award his contributions to the community.Hervey retired March 20, 2007 and served as a scout with Edmonton before being named the club’s GM on Dec. He added a third Grey Cup title in 2015 when the Eskimos beat the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 in Winnipeg.Overall, Edmonton posted a 40-32 record under Hervey, reaching the CFL playoffs in three of his four seasons at the helm.Last year, Hervey received a bachelor of arts degree in multidisciplinary studies from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, fulfilling a promise he’d made to his mother to earn a -college degree. I wonder if giving pay cuts to a lot of veteran players had anything to do with it,” he tweeted before deleting his post.Rhodes said philosophical differences regarding team access contributed to his decision to fire Hervey.“The resistance to provide access became increasingly an difficult issue over the past year,” Rhodes said. But Reilly didn’t play in the 41-17 home victory while Maas pretty much stood silent after relegating play-calling duties to his offensive assistants.Media access has also been a hot-button topic since 2014 when the community-owned Eskimos abruptly closed their locker-room to reporters. In 2015, Edmonton captured the Grey Cup.“Yes we did win a Grey Cup but it’s not enough,” Rhodes said. 6 against Toronto. 10, 2012. “It became a barrier to what we feel is required to grow our organization in terms of success in a marketplace that’s increasingly competitive.“We are a major brand in this community. Hervey was in the final year of his deal but president/CEO Len Rhodes said he decided — with the board of directors’ blessing — to terminate Hervey after the two sides had reached an impasse in contract negotiations. “We’ve got to approach this differently.“After winning the Grey Cup we didn’t fill the stands. “Two major reasons drove this decision,” Rhodes told reporters during a news conference in Edmonton. The club still makes its players available on the field after practice but since ‘14 has only opened up the locker-room following home games.Edmonton posted a 40-32 record over four seasons under Hervey, reaching the playoffs three times. The live microphones were part of a league-wide move to provide fans with access to the interactions between coaches and quarterbacks.In his ruling, commissioner Jeffrey Orridge said Maas’s failure to wear the mic “was a direct contravention of a directive for this league’s board of governors, a motion supported by all nine clubs.”Maas and Reilly wore live microphones in Edmonton’s regular-season finale Nov. We can’t be held back by our own barriers.

Sergio Garcia grabs share of Masters lead, Couples three back

But it was fine.”Fowler had the day’s lowest score after mixing five birdies with a bogey on another chilly, windy day at Augusta National and the world number eight expects ideal conditions over the final two rounds to make for an exciting finish.“This weekend is going to be definitely a lot of different golf … there are going to be a lot more birdies, some more eagles,” predicted Fowler.“These conditions were a bit more of a surprise. This was something different that we’re not used to seeing, so it’s going to be back to something a little bit more normal these next two days.”World number two Rory McIlroy (73), the highest-ranked player in the field after Dustin Johnson withdrew on Thursday, struggled to launch a move as he made five bogeys to offset four birdies and stood five strokes off the pace.The Northern Irishman had an unfortunate end to his round when he looked to have hit a perfect approach into the par-four 18th, only to see his ball hit the flag and bounce back off the green. Open winner Justin Rose (72), red-hot Spaniard Jon Rahm (70) and Ryan Moore (69) stood three shots off the pace.Three-times Masters winner Phil Mickelson (73) had two late bogeys and was a further shot back along with former champions Jordan Spieth and Australian Adam Scott, who both posted 69.Defending champion Danny Willett got off to a miserable start with a quadruple-bogey eight at the first and along with Swedish world number five Henrik Stenson and twice Masters winner Bubba Watson, who soared to a 78, were among those who missed the cut, set at six over par in the year’s first major.It appeared for a short time that Garcia’s charge had gone off track, when his score of bogey at the par-four 10th was changed to a triple-bogey on the leaderboard.A few holes later tournament officials acknowledged the error.The 37-year-old Garcia had hit a provisional ball following a poor tee shot but found his original ball, which had ricocheted off a tree and into the fairway, and went on to make a bogey-five instead of incurring a two-stroke penalty.“Shane (Lowry) hit two balls to the left and we were looking for one, we couldn’t find it, we found the second one,” said Garcia.“So we are all dressed in light color pants and blue sweaters, so I can see why they might have made the mistake. Masters lead on Friday at Augusta National where a number of major champions were in striking distance ready to pounce.Garcia, one of the best current players without a major win, shot a three-under-par 69 to reach four under for the tournament along with overnight leader Charley Hoffman (75), Rickie Fowler (67) and Masters rookie Thomas Pieters (68) of Belgium. Sergio Garcia charged into a four-way share of the second-round U.S. “I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to be healthy; that I’ve been able to play so many majors in a row … He went on to make bogey.“Disappointed to finish like that, but I’m still within five of the lead going into the weekend with better conditions on the way,” said McIlroy, who needs a win this week to complete a collection of all four of golf’s major titles.“I still feel like I’m right in this tournament.” and giving myself a lot of chances to win them,” said Spain’s Garcia, who has played in each of the last 71 majors.“That for me is already a win, and then, you know, if we can put the cherry on top, that would be even better.”The leaders had a two-shot lead over 37-year-old Masters rookie William McGirt (73), who missed the cut in three of his previous four majors.Fred Couples (70), a 57-year-old former Masters champion, 2013 U.S.

Charlotte is eligible to host 2019 All-Star Game: Silver

While the new law ended the HB2 provision requiring transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to their birth certificates, state lawmakers remain in charge of future bathroom policies.The president of the Washington-based advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, said Friday: “It is deeply disappointing to see the NBA reward North Carolina for doubling down on discrimination.”Democratic Gov. Los Angeles hosts the game in 2018.Charlotte was scheduled to host the game this year, but the NBA relocated it because of the law also commonly referred to as the “bathroom bill.” The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority estimated the yanked event would have generated about $100-million in economic impact. We were part of the movement, pushing for that change. That was part of more than $3.76-billion over a dozen years in lost business as a consequence of HB2, an Associated Press analysis found.Gay-rights advocates have denounced the North Carolina legislation enacted last week to undo HB2 as inadequate.The mayors of New York, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City and other cities announced this week that previous municipal bans on taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina will stay in place because discrimination persists in the replacement law.The measure left some LGBT restrictions in place, including a moratorium until December 2020 on local governments passing broad nondiscrimination ordinances covering sexual orientation and gender identity. “The most recent change in the law does not mean the fundamental issues are resolved. Roy Cooper has said it was the best compromise that the Republican-controlled legislature would approve. “It’s incremental change. Charlotte will be eligible to host the 2019 NBA All-Star Game after a compromise deal to replace a North Carolina law that limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people, the league’s commissioner said Friday.“It’s not a done deal yet,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. The deal was done ahead of a deadline by the NCAA, which removed championship events from basketball-crazy North Carolina for the current academic year and threatened to exclude the state from hosting any new ones through 2022.On Tuesday, the collegiate athletic association expressed concerns about the new law’s provisions but said it “meets the minimal NCAA requirements” to keep North Carolina in consideration as a host for championship events.In a statement Friday, Cooper applauded the NBA announcement and added: “I will continue to fight for statewide antidiscrimination protections for our LGBT North Carolinians.” That “shares our long-held belief that private businesses, including potential host venues, have every right to expand on federal non-discrimination policies however they wish,” Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement Friday.Silver said last year that returning the game to Charlotte in 2019 was “a high priority,” provided there was a resolution to conflicts over House Bill 2. It’s not everything we could have hoped for, but we’re prepared to go back.”The NBA’s Charlotte Hornets issued a statement that the team would work with the league on returning the event, adding that “our city, our fans and our business community remain extremely enthusiastic in support of hosting.”North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders said they would be OK with whatever hosting agreement the NBA strikes with Charlotte businesses. But Silver said it’s his expectation that Charlotte would get the game if those assurances are met within the next month or so.Silver said he was proud the league opposed the law known as House Bill 2, and added: “And I’m also proud that we’re going back.”“I understand that there is a segment of our fan base that believes that the change from HB2 to the new law is not enough, but it is change,” he said. But after considering all points of view, we determined that Charlotte will be eligible to host.”

The league’s Board of Governors discussed it during their meetings this week and made what Silver said was “not an easy decision.” The league will develop an anti-discrimination policy that participating groups including host sites, hotels and businesses would have to abide by before the 2019 game is committed to Charlotte.

Women’s world championship bleeds into Olympic prep for Canada

The logistics of relocating coaches and players who don’t live in Calgary are in place.But a potential wrinkle arose from the NHL’s recent announcement its players won’t participate in the men’s Olympic tournament.Hockey Canada will go to a Plan B for its men’s team. 10-22, 2018. women.The Alberta Midget Hockey League is on board again, Davidson said. “I just think it would be great for development reasons.“It sets us up for so much success as individuals and as a team together. On the heels of the women’s world hockey championship, Canada will immediately begin working toward getting the gold at next year’s Winter Olympics.The country’s top female hockey talent will find out within the next two weeks whether they’re among the 28 invited to try out for a team that has won four straight Olympic gold medals. The 23 chosen will be decided over months of games and training.The invited players will participate in a June boot camp to give them a taste of the physical and mental grind that’s to come before reporting Aug. Davidson doesn’t yet know how that could impact Own The Podium’s 2017-18 funding for the women’s team.The women received $1.5 million in 2009-10 and $1.6 million in 2013-14 from OTP.The men’s team of NHL players wasn’t a full-time program and thus got $600,000 from OTP each time.How OTP now divides the allotment to Hockey Canada’s for men’s, women’s and sledge teams remains to be seen.“Those Own The Podium decisions are getting made in the next month,” Davidson said. We’re with each other every day trying to prepare for the Olympics over five or six months.“We get to play a lot of games, which we’re not used to, against midget triple-A guys, which is a lot of fun. Centralization is the fastest, largest step forward they take in their hockey development.“I’ve head quite a bit about it,” defenceman Renata Fast said. You do feel like a pro athlete.”Those players who haven’t experienced centralization hear plenty of stories about it from the veterans.But whether those rookies make the Olympic team or not, they come out of it a different player. “That could affect us.”If more OTP funds are diverted to the men and less to the women, the centralized players might not feel it, but the under-18 and development women’s teams would, she said.Centralization is designed to be punishing mentally and physically as the women are pushed beyond their limits to establish new ones.“It does break you, but you have 27 other teammates you can rely on to pick you back up,” said defenceman Lauriane Rougeau.Centralization is also as close as the Canadian women currently come to being professional athletes.Between the carding money and grants they get from Sport Canada and Hockey Canada topping up their living expenses while centralized, they can live comfortably on about $5,000 per month and focus on nothing but hockey.Their training base at WinSport, where Hockey Canada is headquartered, has an Olympic ice surface and a high-performance training centre. For me, personally, I think I’d learn a ton and it would be awesome to be together with the girls for an extended period of time and be similar to a pro team playing lots of games.” “That’s what you do. Toronto’s Laura Schuler, who played in the 1998 Winter Olympics, has been head coach for two years.The woman overseeing centralization has been involved in the last four.Melody Davidson, general manager of national women’s teams programs, was Canada’s assistant coach in 2002, a head coach in 2006 and 2010, and GM in 2014.Centralization has been a winning formula, so many elements remain the same. We get so close and I feel like it’s my second family.”The Olympic women’s hockey tournament is Feb. Training and playing together for six months separates the women into those who make the cut and those who don’t.Playing a regular schedule of games against midget triple-A boys has been one of the key components of centralization since 2005-6, as the pace of those games mimic playing the U.S. The U.S., Finland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and host South Korea round out of the field.Hockey Canada has yet to announce the Olympic women’s coaching staff. The women will have access to sport science and medical services there.“You eat, sleep and play hockey,” Rougeau said. 1 to Calgary for what’s known as “centralization.”“What do I love about centralization?” mused two-time Olympian Rebecca Johnston.“It’s a pretty cool experience because we’re playing full time together.

After long season, Leafs happy to be in playoff hunt

3 teams in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets, to be sure of landing the second wild-card spot in the conference.“We’re not very happy with the way we played [Thursday night] but we have a chance to go out [Saturday night], win a big game, and then we have another chance to win and be in a great spot,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. I listen to the country and western station and they don’t have anything on the Leafs.”By losing to the Lightning, the Leafs can now pretty much forget about finishing second or third in the Atlantic Division and getting a better playoff matchup against either the Ottawa Senators or the Boston Bruins. It’s a matter of going out and executing. At this point, it looks as though that will be Sunday against the New York Rangers, which is good for the Leafs.“We’ll see [Saturday], I think it’s close to playing,” Malkin said after taking limited contact in the Penguins’ optional practice at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto. Now, unless both the Lightning and the New York Islanders fall flat in their last two games of the regular season, the Leafs need to get at least two points out of their last two games, a back-to-back set Saturday and Sunday against the No. When the puck drops that [nervousness] pretty much takes care of itself.”Babcock did not want to discuss what he told his youngsters but he did have an opinion on how they could lessen their anxiety – avoid the sports media.“[The players] could go home and watch you guys all day long,” he said. “What I would suggest is watching the hunting channel. You’ve got to take the positives and move on.“We talked a lot about playing with confidence and poise. The moments get big and you’ve got to be able to push through it. Another saying heard around the NHL is that a team can be too young and oblivious to be scared of the pressure. “It’s close to playing, a couple more days.”On the minus side, both the Lightning and the Islanders have easier opponents, none of whom have any compelling reason to win. He doesn’t want them overwhelmed by the challenge of beating the Stanley Cup defending champion Penguins or the Blue Jackets.“I think Tampa came out hard and we watched for a bit of the game,” said one of the Leafs’ eight rookies, forward Connor Brown. Our structure and how we play is ingrained in us. There’s nothing on the Leafs on the hunting channel. He returned to a full practice on Friday and is expected to play in one of the team’s last two regular-season games. 2 and No. A lot of the time, it’s just whistling past the graveyard because the players know they blew a great opportunity and the momentum is now with the opposition. It has already been determined the Penguins and Blue Jackets will play each other in the first round. Neither team can advance its position, so both may elect to rest a few key players and, in Columbus’s case, start the backup goaltender.Penguins star Evgeni Malkin has been out since March 15 with a shoulder injury. The Lightning played the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night and finish with the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. “It’s nice we still control our own fate and we did a good job all year to set ourselves up like this. “There’s pressure on every team to make the playoffs, not just us.“If you had told us in October we’re in position where we can win a game or two and be in a playoff spot, we’ll take that all the time.”Just where the Toronto Maple Leafs fit on the spectrum of wishful thinking and taking care of business is unknown. There is a favourite saying in the NHL, one that usually comes out when a team blows a lead in a playoff series and has to play the seventh and deciding game.“If you had told me in October that at this time of year we can play one game to get into [insert next round of playoffs here], I’d take it six ways from Sunday,” is the way it goes. But in Thursday’s loss to the injury-riddled Lightning, the Leafs had the look of those caught in the headlights of the pressure train.Leafs head coach Mike Babcock held a team meeting before Friday’s optional practice to impress on his young charges the need to forget about how excited a playoff-charged city is getting and to play the game they were taught. As the second wild-card team, the Leafs would face the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the first-place overall Washington Capitals, hardly an appetizing prospect.But there are a couple of factors going their way. And sometimes the players simply get down to business, put away the team they should have eliminated two games ago and move on.Versions of that saying were going around the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room on Friday, as they missed a great chance to clinch a playoff spot Thursday night, losing 4-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders play the New Jersey Devils and the Senators.

McDavid’s value to Oilers sets him apart in Hart discussion

Patrick Laine, Winnipeg; 3. And lest people forget, the Norris officially goes to the player deemed to have “the greatest all-around ability in the position.”SELKE TROPHYBest defensive forward1. Cam Talbot, Edmonton.Columbus has a lot of hardware candidates, but no player has contributed more to the turnaround than a healthy Bobrovsky, the 2013 Vézina Trophy winner, who practically played every game in the first half, thanks to a comparatively light schedule and turned a deep but not particularly star-studded team into a regular-season powerhouse.NORRIS TROPHYTop defenceman1. They want to approach immortality and, helpfully for their respective clubs, would set aside personal accolades to achieve team goals. Captain Serious helped the Blackhawks become the class of the west with his faceoff proficiency, attention to defensive detail and saw his game spiced with an extra offensive dimension this year.Eric Duhatschek Most nights, they have to settle for limiting his impact. Crosby also won the Hart trophy in his second NHL season and has since gone on to win the Stanley Cup twice.McDavid currently leads the NHL’s overall scoring race with 97 points – but the real measure of his success (and why he will ultimately romp to the Hart) is how his performance has had an impact on the Oilers’ results.With him limited by injury last year, the Oilers missed the playoffs, finished last in the conference and were 29th overall. If that pattern holds, it’ll be a three-horse race among McLellan, Babcock and Columbus’s John Tortorella, who steered three of the four worst teams in the NHL from a year ago straight up the standings. Jonathan Toews, Chicago; 2. But Matthews and Laine genuinely lived up to their 1-2 billing in last June’s entry draft. But Karlsson has added a shot-blocking component to his other many attributes and helped turn a team that was 25th defensively a year ago into a far stingier group. Officially, the Hart goes to the player “adjudged to be most valuable to his team” – a small, but nuanced difference from “most outstanding player,” which is actually what the Ted Lindsay Award honours and is voted on by the players themselves. Ryan Kesler, Anaheim; 3. This year, they will make the playoffs, and with two games remaining in the season, need only a single point to become the first Oilers’ team since 1986-87 to earn 100 points in the standing.In a year in which there is no shortage of qualified Hart Trophy candidates, including Crosby, that sort of impact sets McDavid apart. Auston Matthews, Toronto; 2. Even as accomplished and experienced a player as Anze Kopitar, who is wearing the C for the first time in Los Angeles this season, saw the extra weight of the responsibility spill into his on-ice performance.But McDavid and that singularly driven personality of his has handled it all in stride, the way he has handled practically everything in stride thus far in his NHL career.Nerves don’t seem to bother him. Last year, it was Sidney Crosby; the year before, Carey Price. He has been a consistently unstoppable force – his speed, his reach and his puck-handling skills making him the most consistently dangerous offensive player in the league.In two years, he has become the undisputed face of a franchise that has seen a parade of No. Now in his sophomore season after a broken collarbone limited him to only 45 of a possible 82 games a year ago, McDavid met and exceeded all the hype and hyperbole that accompanied his NHL arrival which is, in itself, a remarkable development.When teams play Edmonton, their game plans centre on stopping McDavid. Joel Quenneville, Chicago; 2. But there have also been years when a dominant NHL team has co-MVPs, which then diminished the Hart Trophy aspirations of each.This year has been unique because, for the longest time, there were three serious candidates, one at each position – goal, defence and forward.In goal, you had the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky, who took last year’s 27th-ranked team and had it in contention for the President’s Trophy right up until the final fortnight of the season.Until the early part of March, San Jose Sharks defenceman Brent Burns was the undisputed catalyst, offensively and defensively, for a team that led the Pacific Division most of the season. Gabriel Landeskog has struggled with his on-ice game since he became captain in Colorado. Zach Werenski, Columbus.In terms of immediate impact, the NHL’s rookie class of 2017 just might be the greatest in history, with up to eight first-year players who would be under serious consideration for the Calder in a different year. 1 overall draft choices come in, unable to produce that sort of impact.In fact, it was McDavid’s emergence that gave GM Peter Chiarelli the will and impetus to trade away two previous No. Todd McLellan, Edmonton; 3. Some years, a single dominant Hart Trophy candidate neatly fits the bill for both definitions. Victor Hedman, Tampa.All three of the primary Norris candidates delivered eye-catching offensive numbers. The Hart Memorial Trophy for the NHL’s most valuable player almost always trips up voters because of the way the award is narrowly defined. But Quenneville has taken a Chicago team in constant transition – seven Calder eligible players played for the Hawks this year – and consistently kept them at the top of the NHL charts, an extraordinary if frequently overlooked skill.VÉZINA TROPHYTop goalie1. Braden Holtby, Washington; 3. The only genuinely accurate comparison is to the young Crosby who, a dozen years into his career, still has that enduring passion to get incrementally better every year.For both Crosby and McDavid, being great isn’t good enough. 1 overall picks, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov, to clear the way for McDavid, and his right-hand man, Leon Draisaitl, to take over the team’s leadership group.McDavid was the youngest captain in NHL history and sometimes, in the past, that distinction has proved to be counterproductive. Mike Babcock, Toronto.Usually, the broadcasters who vote for this award tend to give it to the coach who oversaw the biggest year-over-year turnaround. The fact that the Leafs are in the playoff hunt while the Jets aren’t will ultimately tilt it toward Matthews.JACK ADAMS AWARDCoach of the year1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus; 2. Pressure galvanizes rather than paralyzes him. Mikko Koivu, Minnesota.Over time, the Selke has morphed into a different animal and doesn’t just celebrate defensive prowess. No NHL defenceman has won the scoring title since Bobby Orr in 1975 but Burns was in the mix for three quarters of the season, an extraordinary achievement in this low-scoring era.But for all that Bobrovsky and Burns meant to Columbus and San Jose, it is impossible to dispute the remarkable value that Connor McDavid has brought to the Edmonton Oilers. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; 2. For most of the season, Burns was actually hovering among the NHL’s overall scoring leaders before his totals dropped off in the final month. Matthews is a complete two-way talent a la Anze Kopitar and Laine a remarkable finisher, a la Alex Ovechkin. Instead, it generally goes to the NHL’s best all-around forward, which this year happened to be the remarkably efficient Toews. Brent Burns, San Jose; 3. No one playing in the NHL did it better this season – or has been more valuable to his team.———————————CALDER TROPHYRookie of the year1. Vincent Lecavalier wasn’t ready for it when he was appointed a young captain in Tampa.

Team meeting at Brier sparked Gushue rink to string of victories

“There was no finger-pointing or anything like that. We put it all out on the table.”Some feelings were hurt at the time. The momentum has carried over to this week’s Ford World Men’s Curling Championship.Gushue won all 11 round-robin games at the Northlands Coliseum, most of them in blowout fashion. They started engaging with the adoring crowds at Mile One Centre instead of being worried.The current four-man lineup — joined by alternate Tom Sallows this week — has been together almost three seasons.Their chemistry is evident. “I could see it in the guys after I did that — they lit up. Normal pre-shot processes were breaking down. A 7-5 victory followed and Gushue improved to 4-2.“We were totally engaged on it and put it to 1.4 centimetres to win that draw to the button,” Gushue said. We were going to go one way or the other. Gushue called a team meeting with Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker after the game.Coach Jules Owchar said the skip was diplomatic, but pointed out something was wrong and that the focus wasn’t there.“Everybody expressed their views, they agreed, and that was just enough,” Owchar said. “The guys I think sort of had stage fright.”Gushue looks back on it now as a definitive turning point. They would later talk things through and emerged better for it.Everyone realized that a re-focused, re-energized approach would help them achieve their goals of winning national and world championships.“We know that sometimes when you put it all out there and you’re honest, it may be hard initially but it’s going to pay dividends down the road,” Gushue said.The team has been dominant at the world championship with only two games going the 10-end distance.Gushue scored 94 points in the round-robin and gave up just 35.“He pushes everyone around him to be better,” Nichols said. “Through his work ethic and his drive to be one of the best players in the world and be the best team in the world, it drives us to work as hard as him to get there.“He’s really led this team down that road to putting us in a position to win a world championship this week.”The United States and Switzerland will meet in the Page playoff 3-4 game on Saturday. John’s was having an obvious effect.Gushue’s team was noticeably flat in the early going. The players are good friends on and off the ice and the camaraderie is noticeable.That can make things difficult for the skip, who’s usually the one to call a meeting if the team’s performance starts going sideways.Gushue said it was the first time a meeting like that was needed with this lineup.“Voices were raised, it was intense,” Gushue said. He earned the top seed for Friday night’s Page playoff 1-2 game against Sweden’s Niklas Edin.It’s a run of stellar form that was triggered by the steps taken after the Koe loss a month ago.“(Gushue) saved us the first four or five games (at the Brier), we could have been 1-and-4,” Owchar said. The players were no longer uptight. The three of them knew that they had to pick it up.”That meeting kickstarted a run of eight straight victories and gave them their first national men’s title. The top-ranked team in the country was on the verge of playing itself out of contention. In Brad Gushue’s case, one defeat in particular helped propel his rink on a spectacular run.The weight of being hometown favourites at last month’s Tim Hortons Brier in St. The meeting was key, as was the last stone draw before his game against Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs later that day.“What came out of that shot, was what came out of that meeting,” Gushue said Friday.Jacobs covered most of the pin with his throw but the Newfoundland and Labrador stone stopped just a few millimetres inside it to get hammer. Sometimes a loss can do wonders for a team. From there on in, we were so engaged in every shot and we have been this week (too).”The team had regained its edge. An 8-4 loss to Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories was the last straw. The medal games are scheduled for Sunday. “Everybody knew that we were at a turning point.

Kelly: Regrets, Sergio Garcia has had more than a few

Here was the rivalry that would give the sport its narrative thrust for years to come.It wasn’t a Bird versus Magic scenario. After a poor third round at the 2012 Masters, Sergio Garcia had a public breakdown.“I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have,” Garcia said in Spanish. He hired and fired caddies. “If things don’t work out, there’s another round to play tomorrow.”He was half right. He fidgeted with a bottle of water and stared at his hands while answering questions.Pressed to be reflective, the best Garcia could come up with about how his life has changed between then and now was, “Being surrounded by great people that are not afraid of telling you what’s wrong with something when you do something wrong, that’s something that I feel like I’ve always been very blessed with.”It’s an oddly sombre way of looking at things. “In 13 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”Someone asked, “In the Masters?”“In any major,” Garcia spat back. The question generally contains its own answer: probably not.Garcia muddled competently through on Thursday. On Friday, he shot three-under par while many of his colleagues were making the course look like it had been oiled overnight. Given his history, no close observer of the game will believe it until Garcia’s tucked up in the Butler Cabin chatting banally with Jim Nantz.You’d guess that that group of doubters includes the man himself. In the midst of one tournament, Garcia yanked off one of his shoes and flung it into the crowd.“I tell myself, ‘Hombre, no pasa nada [Man, it’s no big deal],’” Garcia said at the time. There was always another round to play. Of current PGA Tour regulars, only Lee Westwood has played in more majors without a victory.Whenever a sure thing fizzles, the story will inevitably take on a moral cast. He has become golf’s born loser.In many minds, he remains the winsome teenage newcomer. He played his first European Tour event at 15. He wasn’t intended to be golf’s Robin so much as Batman’s understudy. Compatriots Mackenzie Hughes and Mike Weir did not.Before any of that happened, Garcia was already dissembling on the topic of whether he could finally manage you-know-what.“Being part of a major, it’s exciting already. This man’s been crushed by his own boulder on 22 occasions – the number of times Garcia has finished top-10 in a major. But if you’re inclined to believe in them, the omens are lining up.“Things are … things are … um … happening at the moment,” Garcia said when asked if he thought so, too.Having seen a lot of things before, too many things maybe, exactly what sort of things Garcia wouldn’t say. All he knows how to do any more is to keep pushing.So once he’d finished his round, he did not look very contented. He was good, but not in any notable way. In the middle of his round, he was able to shrug off an hour-long period in which he was misidentified for a rules infraction and incorrectly penalized two strokes.Garcia ended his afternoon at four under in a tie for the lead with journeyman Charley Hoffman. Afterward, he was in an anti-reflective frame of mind.Talking to Garcia in early middle age is about as close as anyone will get to interviewing Sisyphus. That’s the difference between winning and losing.Going into this year’s Masters, Garcia had passed into the trivia phase of his career (”Is this the year that X does Y?”). But things continued not working out.He won, but not enough and never at the right time. It wasn’t that Garcia wasn’t talented enough. Upon turning pro, Garcia’s rocket boosters disengaged and gravity got hold of him. He’d won a club championship at 12. He has been too close too often. Garcia was not meant to be the antithesis of Woods. That’s because nearly two decades into his career, Garcia’s height remains the moment just before this sport became his job.He entered the public consciousness in 1999. At five over, Canada’s Adam Hadwin made the cut in his first Masters. Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods aside, he may have been the most fetishized amateur ever.He took up golf at three years old. Mostly, he seemed antsy. Garcia would put on the cape whenever the real Bruce Wayne had a day off.It didn’t work out that way. Few have suffered as many emotional disappointments as the 37-year-old Spaniard. It’s the sort of answer some other minutely observed prodigy, say a Mozart, might have given.By the end of the day, American Rickie Fowler and Belgian Thomas Pieters had joined the top pair in a tie for the lead. For golf, the timing was a sign from the gods of marketing.It was generally decided that Garcia’s role would be to press a then-24-year-old Woods. And winning it, I’m sure it’s amazing.”It’s hard to feel sorry for the professional disappointments of someone who’s banked $45-million (U.S.) in prize money, but right there, a roomful of people got close.Can he do it this time? It is in the nature of professional golf that it occasionally breaks the spirit of people who play it. The pair were alike in too many ways – photogenic wunderkind, obscure personalities, imbued with anti-establishment bona fides as golf began its move away from the country-club cabal.Instead, Garcia would serve as Woods’s spur and occasional foil. Eventually, the problem was variously that he was too erratic, too mentally fragile or too under the thumb of various authority figures.Where Woods was seen as boyish, Garcia was childish. Having a chance is the best thing. No one took much notice. In that same year, he became the youngest European amateur champion in history.Aged 19, he was the best of the non-professionals at his first Masters in ’99.

U.S. beats Canada in OT to capture women’s world hockey gold

The United States won their fourth straight women’s world hockey championship with a 3-2 overtime win over Canada on Friday.Hilary Knight scored the winner at 10:17 of the extra period in front of a sellout crowd of 3,500 at USA Hockey Arena.“It hurts. women’s individual talent and speed take over.Those edges are slight, however. Five of the last six world championship finals have been decided by one goal.The American women were an empowered group upon their delayed arrival in Plymouth.Tired of negotiations they said were going nowhere, the host team threatened to boycott the tournament if USA Hockey didn’t increase their financial support more in line with what the men get.They carried their point in the showdown with their federation. Our medicine probably will be that those aspiring for a spot on the roster have to practise with boys during the season. A series of Szabados saves during an American power play late in regulation sent the final to overtime for the fourth time in the last six world championships.“The biggest thing to take out of this is to get more shots on net and more quality shots,” said Agosta.“It’s really tough but we need to bounce back and focus on the things we’re not so good at it so that next time we’re in this situation we’re ready to do whatever it takes.”After a scoreless second period, Jenner scored a power-play goal to tie it 2-2 at 9:44 of the third. has now won seven of the last eight gold medals, while Canada hasn’t finished first since 2012.The American women have also run the table of titles this Olympic quadrennial since falling 3-2 in overtime to Canada in the gold-medal game of the 2014 Olympics.Meghan Agosta and Brianne Jenner replied for Canada. outshot Canada 15-6 in the third period. centring pass in front of Szabados and skated the puck back on an odd-man rush with Agosta, who beat Hensley stick side 61 seconds after the opening faceoff.So why has Canada won four straight Olympic gold medals, but can’t beat the U.S. offer a spot for every member of the women’s team to practise with boys’ teams.”Russia placed fifth and Sweden sixth. didn’t get a full training camp because of the dispute, but that didn’t hamper them.“The negotiation process took a toll and our camp was shorter, but knew it was going to be a bond that was unbreakable,” said Knight.They opened the tournament beating Canada 2-0 and allowed just five goals in five games.Finland won bronze Friday with an 8-0 win over Germany. The goal was initially waived off, but awarded after video review.Hensley slid her pad back into the net while making the save and the puck crossed the goal line.Bellamy scored put the U.S. Over 100 women inside and outside the national team pool joined the movement and refused USA Hockey’s invitation to be replacement players.According to The Associated Press, their compensation during the six months they’re together training full time for the Olympics tripled to roughly $3,000 per month.They got the same insurance protection and business class travel the men get to the world championship.The U.S. have clashed for gold in all 18 women’s world championships dating back to Ottawa in 1990.The U.S. Shannon Szabados made 37 saves in her first international women’s hockey final since the 2014 Olympics.Canada scored once on five power-play chances, while the U.S. “You never want to hear another person’s anthem.”Kacey Bellamy scored twice for the Americans and goaltender Nicole Hensley made 28 saves in the win.Canada and the U.S. take big strides forward as full-time teams.“Those financial resources, we don’t have,” head coach Pasi Mustonen said.“We have to find a medicine for that. for world championship gold?When it comes to the Olympics, the Canadians have the advantage in preparation as they play about 30 games against midget triple-A boys during their six months of preparation.They’re more battled-hardened and their execution of systems is superior.But when both teams have just a few days of training camp prior to the world championship, the U.S. up 2-1 just 42 seconds into the third off Knight’s between-the-legs, backhand pass.Bellamy scored her first on a slapshot from the blue line through traffic at 4:34 of the first period.Jennifer Wakefield gathered up a U.S. Now it’s time for the Finnish male hockey to show they really want to support us… went 0-for-5.The U.S. Increasing from eight to 10 countries in 2019 will be put to a vote at the International Ice Hockey Federation congress in May.This year’s world championship averaged 800 spectators per game at USA Hockey Arena, which houses two rinks. Fourth is the best result ever for that country.The Finns are now playing a system capable of beating Canada and the U.S.The question is whether they can maintain their gains on the North Americans next winter when Canada and the U.S. There’s no doubt about that,” said Canada coach Laura Schuler. Switzerland downed the Czech Republic 3-1 to win the relegation round, but the Czechs may not be relegated to the second-tier world championships.Women’s world championships are not held in Olympic years.

Raptors hold off Heat in final home game of regular season

The Heat came to Toronto still jockeying for the last two playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference with the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.“Our guys want this,” insisted Heat coach Eric Spoelstra before the game.Kyle Lowry was playing in just his second game back – his first at home – since missing the previous 21 games after surgery on his right wrist.For the first six minutes of the night, the Raptors made just one of their first nine field-goal attempts, while Miami built a 10-3 lead.Things seemed a little disjointed for Toronto at first. Suddenly, the Raptors led by just five.Even though Dwyane Wade is no longer in Miami, shades of last year’s dramatic second-round playoff series between the Heat and Raptors were on display.Jonas Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside were tangling for rebounds and Goran Dragic was manufacturing steals and he and Lowry were stuck to one another like glue. Tucker gave Toronto more grit.Even with home-court advantage in the playoffs already secured, the Raptors weren’t willing to rest players or ease up down the stretch – not at the risk of losing games. By halftime, DeRozan had extended that tally to 25 points as the defensively tough Raptors held a 53-43 lead.Former Raptor James Johnson, a player many fans complained was underutilized during his time in Toronto, displayed why he’s a staple of the Heat’s starting lineup. With four minutes left, the game was tied.“You definitely don’t want to see Miami in the first round,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said before the game.This time though, Johnson added even more physicality for Miami, while Ibaka and P.J. The Heat made a late charge in the period and the Raptors went a little cold offensively, managing just 17 points in the quarter. When a pass from Lowry to Ibaka got intercepted, Lowry took a foul on the defensive end and got in Ibaka’s face for the error, trying to get the two on the same page.But DeRozan caught fire midway through the first, scoring 16 points in six minutes and hoisting Toronto to a 26-19 lead. Nearly 40 pounds lighter than he had been last year as a Raptor, Johnson was nabbing rebounds Friday night, playing physical defence, scoring and even throwing down one of his athletic dunks.Late in the third quarter, Ibaka picked up his fourth foul and came out of the game. Lowry is still getting used to new starting power forward Serge Ibaka. In the Toronto Raptors’ final home game of the regular season, they faced a Miami Heat squad fighting for its postseason life – an opponent who gave the Raps a solid test of toughness before the playoffs.Behind a 38-point night by DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors battled to a nail-biting 96-94 win, denying the hard-charging Heat in a playoff-like game. With Lowry’s late-season return, the team is trying to get the all-star point guard back in a groove, get Cory Joseph used to coming in for Lowry off the bench again, and get some semblance of a playoff rotation.The two teams were separated by just four points in the final 25 seconds, and Ibaka had fouled out, so Valanciunas had to fill some rare fourth-quarter clutch-time minutes. Tucker, Joseph, DeRozan, Lowry and Patrick Patterson handled the dying seconds.On Wednesday, Lowry had scored 27 points in 42 minutes, plus 10 assists, five boards and two steals, spearheading Toronto’s come-from-behind win over the Detroit Pistons.This time, he had 12 points, six assists and seven rebounds over 36 minutes. Joseph had 14 points, while Ibaka had 11 points and nine boards, and Valanciunas had nine points and 10 rebounds.“They’re a championship-contending team, said Spoelstra of the Raptors.Johnson had 22 points and 10 boards, leading the way for Miami.The Raptors (49-31) conclude the season on the road this week, visiting the New York Knicks on Sunday and the Cavaliers on Wednesday in Cleveland.

Lightning keep playoff hopes alive with win over Canadiens

Tampa Bay was coming off a win Thursday night in Toronto. Dwight King and Artturi Lehkonen scored for the Canadiens (46-25-9), who end the regular season Saturday night in Detroit. Montreal opens the playoffs Wednesday night against the New York Rangers.Montreal outshot Tampa Bay 29-22.The desperate Bolts faced a Canadiens team that had already clinched first place in the Atlantic Division and rested three banged up starting defencemen – Shea Weber, Jordie Benn and Alexei Emelin.Kucherov could have had three goals in the first period.The 23-year-old Russian was robbed by Carey Price 3:59 into the game, then froze the Montreal defence on a rush and hit a post from the slot at 11:42, but Gourde fired in the rebound to open the scoring.At 19:50, Ondrej Palat flipped a pass into the neutral zone that the speeding Kucherov controlled with a quick slap of the stick before beating Price inside the near post.Lehkonen found King coming off the bench with a stretch pass. Rookie Yanni Gourde scored two goals and Nikita Kucherov got his 40th goal of the season as the Tampa Bay Lightning kept their playoff hopes alive with a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night.Alex Killorn also scored for the Lightning (41-30-10), who need to win their final regular season game Sunday against Buffalo and have Toronto and the New York Islanders lose to take the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The former Los Angeles King went in alone to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pads for his first goal in 16 games as a Canadien at 9:59 of the second frame.Killorn got it back at 14:19 on a rush after Cory Conacher forced a turnover at the Tampa Bay blue line.Lehkonen saw his pass go in off a skate at 4:36 of the third but, only 21 seconds later, Gourde was left alone on the left side and put a Conacher pass into an open side for a fifth goal in his last seven games.Tribute was paid in the first period to three Canadian athletes who won world championships in the winter season – cross country skier Alex Harvey, alpine skier Erik Guay and snowboarder Laurie Blouin.

Liriano has nightmare outing as Toronto Blue Jays lose to Tampa Bay Rays

In Sunday’s finale, Toronto’s Marco Estrada will make his second outing against Tampa Bay’s Jake Odorizzi. Francisco Liriano is the wildcard of the Toronto Blue Jays starting pitching staff.If the veteran lefthander can return to the form that he displayed over the second half of the season with the Blue Jays last year Toronto’s chances of a third straight playoff berth will be greatly enhanced.If not, the starting pitching-thin American League club could be in for a trying year. Howell that potted the first two runs that shifted the Rays back in front, 8-7.It was a quirky game all around, littered with curious little twists and turns and walks, lots of walks – 12 in total, seven by the Blue Jays. The flurry of offence was about the only redeeming factor in a game that sadly lacked in both substance and style.The Rays would eventually earn bragging rights, clinging to a 10-8 triumph in game that surpassed the three-hour mark – before the start of the seventh inning.“You just kind of chalk that one up and move on,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said after this three-hour, 53-minute agony had ended.Tampa trailed 7-6 heading into the sixth where the Rays scored three times off four hits and two walks to take the lead for good.The big blow was provided by Steven Souza Jr., who poked a bases-loaded double to the wall in right-centre off Toronto reliever J.P. “It was just one of those games, you just go out there and you don’t even know what you’re doing,” he said.The unravelling began with a two-run home run shot off the bat of Evan Longoria that knotted the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the first.A couple walks then followed before Brad Miller chipped in with a double that scored two more and put Tampa Bay in front.Another walk, followed by a single by Daniel Robertson, and the pitcher’s night was mercifully over. Not even a week into the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season is far too early to be passing any definitive judgements.But the deep thinkers who operate the Blue Jays have to be squirming in their skivvies after witnessing Liriano’s undressing here Friday night at Tropicana Field.The 33-year-old had trouble locating the ball, and when he did manage to put one near the vicinity of the plate the Rays were able to make short work of the pitch.It all amounted to one very messy and very brief appearance which was somehow fitting for this marathon disguised as baseball game. but instead the ball clanked out of his glove for the error and Donaldson was able to scurry home on what was scored a sacrifice fly.Smoak would then double home Bautista from second and Tampa’s lead was pared to 6-5.The four-game series will continue here on Saturday when Aaron Sanchez will make his season debut against Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer. One-third of an inning worked marked the shortest appearance in his 12 years in the majors.Enter reliever Dominic Leone for his first appearance as a Blue Jay and a ground-out struck by Peter Bourjos scored Tampa Bay’s fifth marker of what was a 42-minute inning.With the Rays leading 6-3 heading into the Toronto fifth, Jose Bautista lifted a fly ball to right field with Donaldson stationed at third base.It should have been the easy first out of the inning for Souza Jr. That equaled the number of pitchers who came and went – mostly went.The tone was set even before the first pitch with the late arrival of the umpires.Driving in from nearby Tampa, the crew got snarled in a huge traffic jam as firefighters battled a serious brush fire just off the interstate on the outskirts of town.But the umpires struck back, calling for a police escort that got them to the Tropicana in time for first pitch.Things looked bright for the Blue Jays early on when Troy Tulowitzki finally got off the snide of a 0-13 hitting slump, his worst start to a season in his career, poking a double in the top of the first that provided Toronto with a 2-0 lead.Tulowitzki would also stroke a home run in the game, in the fourth inning, knocking in four of the Toronto runs Josh Donaldson added another in the eighth.The early Toronto lead was shortlived thanks to Liriano, who could only manage to get one out in the first inning, where the Rays pounded him for five runs off three hits in his first start of the season.Did we forget to mention the wild pitch that Liriano also served up, or the four walks?Liriano said it was a night where he just could not execute any of his pitchers.