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.

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.